Remarks on the Growth of Pirate Radio from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Communications and Technology Subcommittee, November 17, 2015:
“I know that this committee is concerned about pirate radio. During my tenure we have taken 280 enforcement actions against pirate radio, that’s in the last two years. Commissioner [Michael] O’Rielly has been a real leader in keeping us focused on this. We’re working with the NAB [National Association of Broadcasters] on a joint task force on pirate radio. But we need more tools.
“We’re playing whack-a-mole with pirate radio. Every time a pirate radio station pops up, we whack it. We need to have consequences for those who facilitate those stations popping up. The landlords who look the other way, because helping pirates is risk-free.
“Congress could make it illegal to aid or abet pirate radio operations. Denying them the opportunity to operate in this way would be a significant means of thwarting the continued growth of pirate radio.”
This Ofcom press release focuses on the FM pirate radio scene in London–if interested, you might also check out this short documentary on London pirates.
A new approach to tackling pirate radio has eradicated the problem in one London borough, and could save up to £1 million for Londoners by being rolled out across the capital.
Pirate radio harms local communities and the critical communications used by the emergency services. Ofcom, which manages radio frequencies, is hosting a summit on 3 November to explore the new approach to tackling the problem.
Pirate stations typically use high-rise buildings for their broadcasts, with illegal transmitters installed on rooftops or hidden in lift shafts. This damages residential properties owned by local authorities, disrupting residents’ lives and putting people at risk from falling equipment.
Ofcom has been working in north London, one of the UK’s most affected areas, with public housing body Homes for Haringey. In 2014, 19 pirate radio stations were illegally broadcasting in Haringey. By quickly removing their transmitters and regularly patrolling and securing rooftops, pirate radio has now been eradicated in the borough.
As a result, Homes for Haringey has saved £90,000 in enforcement and maintenance costs over the past year.
On 3 November, Ofcom is meeting with local authorities from across London to share the success of the Homes for Haringey partnership. If this collaborative and proactive approach is rolled out across the capital, local authorities stand to save an estimated total of £1 million per year.
Clive Corrie, Head of Ofcom’s Spectrum Enforcement team, said: “Illegal broadcasting harms local communities and risks lives by interfering with vital communications used by the emergency services and air traffic control.
“By working in partnership with local authorities, Ofcom is tackling this problem. We also strongly urge those broadcasting illegally to get involved with internet or community radio, a legitimate route on to the airwaves.”
Astrid Kjellberg-Obst, Executive Director of Operations at Homes for Haringey, said: “Pirate radio stations damage people’s homes and can be extremely distressing to our residents.
“We’ve seen huge success in tackling the problem with the measures that we’ve introduced, removing all pirate radio stations from Haringey and saving the borough tens of thousands of pounds in the process. We will continue to work with Ofcom to keep Haringey pirate-free.”
Harmful interference to emergency services
Pirate radio causes interference to critical radio services, including those used by the emergency services and air traffic control.
In 2014, the UK’s air traffic control service NATS has reported 55 cases of communications interference from pirate radio.
Ofcom also receives reports each week from the emergency services and other, legitimate radio services of illegal interference.
Ofcom has powers to seize illegal broadcasting equipment and prosecute those involved.
Accessible, legal alternatives to get on to the airwaves
For anyone wanting to broadcast a radio station, Ofcom offers accessible, legal alternatives to get on to the airwaves. Since 2005, Ofcom has issued community radio licenses, enabling small stations across the UK to get on-air right and serve their local communities. More than 200 community radio services are now broadcasting.
Ofcom is also supporting a new, innovative way for smaller stations to broadcast on digital radio. If tests are successful the system, called ‘small scale DAB’, promises to open up digital radio to smaller broadcasters for a fraction of current costs.
Thanks to many of you who sent me a link to this article in the New York Post. Here’s an excerpt:
Brooklyn radio fans are fighting a pirate invasion — demanding a crackdown on illicit Caribbean, Hebrew and shock-jock stations hijacking the airwaves.
Dozens of unlicensed shows operate in New York City on an average evening and the state is home to 25 percent of the nation’s pirate transmissions, according to the FCC.
But many radio amateurs aren’t forced to walk the plank. Instead, they find new hideaways for their equipment as FCC budget cuts decrease enforcement.
There were 46 FCC field actions in New York City in 2013, compared to just 20 through July 31 of this year, government data show.
Ike, a Sunset Park resident, launched Brooklyn Pirate Watch, a Twitter feed — @BkPirateWatch — to track rogue radio transmissions.
“I’m fascinated by the pirates,” he said. “Especially .?.?. their ability to get support from advertisers who .?.?. don’t care that they’re advertising on illegal stations.”
“Brooklyn Pirate Watch” has clocked one pirate at 94.3 FM, where a host shouted for female listeners to tune in while wearing lingerie. There’s also Radyo Independans, a
Haitian Creole station squatting on 90.9 FM, according to Jersey City indie station WFMU — which claims its legal broadcasts at 91.1 FM are often interrupted by its illicit rival.
[…] Pirates are going strong because the radio tools are cheap and their audiences are often “way less wired,” WFMU general manager Ken Freedman said.
I love that last quote by WFMU general manager, Ken Freedman. If listeners in Brooklyn, New York are “way less wired” imagine how shortwave listeners are in, say, South Sudan?
Indeed, there are few “jammers” on the air; most pirates broadcast on unoccupied frequencies and play content that isn’t widely available on the commercial airwaves.
Many thanks to Mike Hansgen for sharing this article from The Boston Globe which takes a sympathetic view of FM pirates who had served minority communities–at least, before they were shut down by the FCC:
“Although illegal, such radio stations are a vital resource in immigrant and minority neighborhoods that are underserved by commercial mainstream broadcasters, advocates contend. In addition to playing music with an ethnic flair that’s heard nowhere else on the dial, many unlicensed community radio stations feature talk programming that encourages listener participation on topical issues such as immigration, local and international politics, and sports from back home.
“It’s sad to see that [federal agents] shut them down, because even though they are pirate stations, they truly are the main source of communication in those communities,” said Yessenia Alfaro, director of organizing at Chelsea Collaborative , a social justice nonprofit. “It certainly has a negative impact when they shut these down. They are the main outreach vehicle for people who speak a different language.”
Some outfits, like Radio Uganda Boston in Waltham, opt to have an online presence outside of radio, but many new immigrants and low-income families have no access to computers or can’t afford the monthly bills for Internet access, Alfaro said. Many also cannot read, even in their native language, rendering radio the only source for information, she added.
Despite the potential for tens of thousands of dollars in fines and seizure of transmitting equipment, “pirates” continue to take the risk in order to serve the underserved, said Bruce Conti, a longtime radio enthusiast from Nashua and the international radio columnist for the National Radio Club magazine DX News.
Even if they have tried to operate legally, most individuals have been priced out of potential station ownership under relaxed FCC rules that have the majority of radio stations owned by large corporations, like Clear Channel and CBS, Conti said in an e-mail. There are also no available open broadcasting channels to be had in Greater Boston.
“So an interested buyer can only wait for an existing radio station to become available/for sale, again driving up the cost of entry,” he wrote. “Licensed commercial radio stations in the Boston metro area have abandoned service to the inner city, so most . . . pirate radio stations in Boston are filling a void.”
It was a mystery no one could solve — until now.
For months, dozens of people could not use their keyless entry systems to unlock or start their cars whenever they parked near the Hollywood Police Department. Once the cars were towed to the dealers, the problem miraculously disappeared.
Police have since cracked the case.
Turns out the problem wasn’t with the cars, the batteries or even user error, but an illegal pirate radio station that was jamming the signal from keyless entry systems of several makes of cars, including Lexus and Toyota. The man behind the bootleg operation likely had no idea it would lock people out of their cars, police say.
Lynn Jacobson, who lives on Van Buren Street a mile west of police headquarters, was frustrated for months trying to get into her car.
“It was happening every day,” Jacobson said. “We were getting desperate. It got to where every time I went out to the car I’d say, ‘Please let it open.'”
Detectives are still searching for the man who set up the bootleg station on the roof of the eight-story Regents bank building at 450 Park Road, a block north of police headquarters. The station was broadcasting Caribbean music around the clock through 104.7 FM, police say.
If found, the man could be arrested on felony charges and face a fine of at least $10,000 from the Federal Communications Commission. [Continue reading…]
Note that it’s not just pirate stations that unintentionally jam keyless entry. I know an AM broadcaster on 1290 kHz that blocks keyless entry on many GM cars for a one mile radius around their tower. Doesn’t seem to bother Toyota, though. Guess they prefer FM pirates.