FCC clamps down on pirate radio

In the USA pirate radio is frequently associated with the belief that governmental spectrum regulatory schemes favor the interests of large corporations which can afford the high licensing costs. Pirate broadcasters consider their transmissions to be a challenge to that authority.

Part 15 of the FCC rules allows the use of radio spectrum without a license. But Part 15 broadcasting is not practical due to extremely restrictive power levels (250 uV/m at 3 meters) which drastically limits range. Part 15 is really intended to allow for operation of a broad range of low power electrical devices such as garage door openers. Some low power broadcast stations claim to be Part 15 compliant but their field strengths exceed what is permitted under the rule.

Because low power FM radio transmission equipment is relatively easy to obtain or build and relatively easy to hide, the FCC is kept pretty busy finding and proceeding against offenders who transmit without a license. Finding, identifying and even corresponding with pirate radio stations is, for many radio enthusiasts, itself a hobby. Unlicensed micro-broadcasters generally favor the FM band but they also can be found on medium wave AM and shortwave.

There are a wide variety of unlicensed broadcast stations, probably thousands of them. Some just play music; others are political or consider themselves as the voice of the neighborhood or a particular group. Clandestine radio stations — especially those that cause interference to licensed users — are usually uncovered by FCC agents using a mobile spectrum analyzer which is driven around the affected area.

On July 7, 2011, agents from the FCC’s San Francisco office confirmed by direction finding techniques that radio signals on 104.1 MHz were coming from a residence located at 3115 Filbert St., Oakland, California.

Berkeley Liberation Radio was sent a formal Notice of Unlicensed Operation on September 21, 2011, warning them that “…operation of radio transmitting equipment without a valid radio station authorization constitutes a violation of Federal laws and could subject the operator to severe penalties, including, but not limited to, substantial monetary forfeitures, in rem arrest action against the offending radio equipment, and criminal sanctions including imprisonment.”

Berkeley Liberation Radio (BLR) says it “works to facilitate ordinary non-commercial community access to the airwaves for the purpose of political discourse as well as cultural enhancement.” BLR has been broadcasting on 104.1 FM since 1999 and serves Berkeley and Oakland, California. It even has its own website which brags about its “100 watts of free speech since 1999” and an online blog.

On August 8 and 12, 2011, another long term pirate broadcaster, Free Radio Santa Cruz was also uncovered operating from 811 Broadway in Santa Cruz, California, on 101.1 MHz and sent a similar Notice of Unlicensed Operation. It has been on the air since 1995.

Back on September 29, 2004, the station was raided by FCC agents backed by federal marshals. No arrests were made, but the station was shut down and the equipment seized which was never returned. Free Radio Santa Cruz was back on the air on 101.1 FM less than a month after the raid and continues to broadcast 24 hours a day.

Many other pirate broadcasters were also cited by the FCC during September, 2011. Among them : Emmanuel Noel (Providence, RI) 107.7 MHz.; Christine Bolghand (San Mateo, CA) 104.1 MHz (owner of residence from where BLR was broadcasting); Rev. Esteban González (Yakima, Washington) 100.5 MHz.; Arturo Valle Benitez (Jurupa Valley, CA) 87.9 MHz.; John Harvey Burrows III (Olympia, Washington) 103.5 MHz,; Tom K. Jones (San Francisco, CA) 102.5 MHz.; Jessie L. Flores, Jr. (Salinas, CA) 88.3 MHz.; Neal Langholz (Santa Cruz, CA) 101.1 MHz. (owner of residence from where Free Radio Santa Cruz was broadcasting).; Vincent A. Peralez, Sr. (Soledad, CA) 88.3 MHz.; Paul P. Chacon, Jr. (Salinas, CA) 88.3 MHz,; and Marta L. Rodriguez (San Francisco) 102.5 MHz. !source FCC clamps down on pirate radio – October 2011


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