Boston pirate radio: a “vital resource” in minority neighborhoods

AlwaysBeAPirateMany assume that pirate radio operators only exist to interfere with commercial broadcasters–this couldn’t be further from the truth.

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.”

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3 thoughts on “Boston pirate radio: a “vital resource” in minority neighborhoods

  1. Jason VE3MAL

    They do have provisions for non-profits to run low-power FM stations for free. Of course, there is too much red tape, but this is the exact purpose for those stations and they can transmit to a significant fraction of a city. That is really what FM should be anyway. High powered generic music stations blanketing large areas can be a waste.

    Will this be posted? attempt 9 at captca…

    1. Thomas Post author


      I’m going to send you a login for the SWLing Post as a subscriber. If you log in to the site, you will not have to use Captcha going forward.

      Indeed, I’d be happy to add any regular contributors, Simply comment that you would like a login and I will send you onevia email. Just send me the following:

      -Your email address
      -What you would like your username to be

      I can also add a url to your website (if you have one) and add your first/last name if you wish.

      I used to have registration open to everyone, but it became a nasty back door for MalWare. Let’s give this a go!


  2. Heinz H

    This article touched sensitive vein. I came to the US from a country (West Germany) where in my youth I had to pay for being able to listen to the radio. The idiocy went so far that even in public swimming pools you had to carry with you the last billing statement – itself larger than my transistor radio. In Europe during the 70-ties and 80-ties the public broadcasting institutions, the parliaments and not least, the two churches did EVERYTHING to prevent you from listening to American music, to JAZZ (the reason for the success of VOA), to the US Hit Parade. EVERYTHING included: Govt. operated radio stations asking neighbors to inform on neighbors. Setting up radio transmitters “frequency-wise directly” next to, say the Austrian radio station. 10-s of thousands Yagi antennas were sold in the city of Munich alone to people still wanting to listen to ‘Austria’ rather than the politically correct ‘Bavaria’. The towing-in of “pirate”-ships, anchored just outside of Dutch ports..
    Now the US is following the deplorable practices of ethical ‘mind control’ and ‘politically directing’ what is good for you. Shame!


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