FCC Commissioner pushing for aggressive pirate radio enforcement

Many thanks to an SWLing Post contributor who shares this FCC PDF document: Remarks of FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly Before the 2017 Hispanic Radio Conference, Fort Lauderdale, Florida March 28, 2017.

Note O’Rielly’s remarks regarding pirate radio enforcement in the south Florida radio market:

“Many of you may have heard me speak before about pirate radio, a huge problem here in South Florida and one that has a disproportionate impact on the Hispanic radio community. The failure to properly address it highlights a deficiency in the Commission’s enforcement tools and undermines our overall credibility. Today, these squatters are infecting the radio band at the expense of listeners of legitimate radio stations, causing great harm to emergency preparedness within covered areas and undercutting the financial stability of licensed radio stations, your stations.

To that point, I could use your assistance in batting down arguments that pirate radio stations are somehow training grounds for those seeking to enter the field or that these “stations” bring a unique service to primarily minority communities, and therefore should be left alone. Few people actually have your background, experience, and history of serving these important communities, so your voice and words would be a welcome rejoinder to these baseless claims.

On my part, just this morning, I spent some time with the FCC’s Miami Field Office to ring the figurative fire alarm on overall efforts to combat pirate radio stations. Quite frankly, I sought answers on why these stations weren’t already eradicated. In particular, I discussed their recent enforcement actions in this market, what obstacles they face in expediting cases, and what additional authority may be of assistance. I also raised the issue of whether the ability to seize pirate equipment found in common areas could aid their efforts. In addition, we discussed whether our current fines should be increased, and if imposing penalties on those that directly and intentionally facilitate pirate stations could be helpful. It was a very positive meeting, and I walked away with renewed belief that the Miami Team was up to the task. But, they are also on notice that I expect to see this situation addressed quickly and sufficiently.”

Click here to read Commissioner O’Reilly’s full remarks (PDF).

In addition, this reader notes a new job posting with the FCC for an enforcement officer:


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13 thoughts on “FCC Commissioner pushing for aggressive pirate radio enforcement

  1. John

    Out-of-banders, crazy fishermen, and other assorted fools often cause problems with designated HF bands. The aeronautical bands are often a target and authorities have to use countermesures to thwart these irresponsible clowns as they interfere with essential services.

    Pirates are more like responsible anarchists. Of course, the FCC and other enforcement bodies only care about extracting as much wealth as possible from its users to justify its existence.

    The airwaves should ideally be free. Responsibility is another issue though.

  2. Edward

    Pirates are filling a need in the marketplace not being met by established broadcasters, and since their goal is not to intentionally jam anyone, maybe the FCC should open up new frequencies and simplify application processes to go legit.

    1. Thomas Post author

      I’ve actually wondered if the FCC could make a streamlined process for pirates to become legal, say, on the portion of the FM spectrum just below the N Am broadcast portion. Say between 70-87 MHz or so. With the FM chips in most smart phones, I bet you could create an app to tune in those stations.

      I agree with all previous comments about the FCC ignoring the RFI issues out there. I feel there’s little to no effective enforcement.

      Pirate Radio is, in a sense, a Red Herring. “Hey, stop worrying about ubiquitous RFI and look over here at these pirates!” 🙂 . Oh well. I do get cynical at times. 🙂

  3. Jim Tedford

    Good for you, Commissioner O’Rielly. I wish you and your fellow commissioners and FCC staff would spend a fraction of the time and energy focusing on resolving RFI issues as you do resolving pirate radio.

    Interference to licensed broadcast signals due to RFI from leaky power and cable TV lines, street lights and poorly-installed electrical service in overpriced particle board homes are a hundred times more of a problem than pirate radio stations.

    Of course, focusing on real interference would require you to challenge (i.e. regulate) many established industries. And we all get that you don’t do that any more.

    1. Tom Reitzel

      Right on target. Many utilities are notorious emitters of RFI. This commissioner needs to be removed in my opinion and replaced with someone focused on unintentional emitters of RF such as utilities.

  4. Stefano Mollo

    Ok, I am watching the TV series “The Man in the High Castle”; this guy Michael O’Reilly uses words and terminology identical to what is used in this fictional series by the Nazis. Only, this is for real !

    “Eradicate”, “Pirate Radio a huge problem” = “Jews is a huge problem”, they are “squatters infecting the radio bands” = “rats infesting our cities”.

    His description of his meeting with the FCC Field office people could very well be the description of Himmler visiting Auschwitz and complaining to the SS as to why it takes so long to exterminate few millions Jews!

    I am disgusted!

    I could go on. You know that.

    Pirate radio is the natural, human response to a regulation which is too strict and in fact a senseless dictatorial prohibition. The smaller you make the cage, the more is people motivated to break out of it.

    Why don’t you direct you energies and efforts to create regulations and legislation that would allow people to legally and easily get a proper license?

    To the avoidance of the doubt and to be clear: if you prohibit people to grow food, then the population will go hungry. And yes, while stealing is indeed illegal, people will steal to eat. What you are saying is that is right to put in jail people who steal food to survive.

    It’s the same thing; who that can’t see it, is bound for defeat.

    I am appalled by the words and attitude of this individual which definitely does NOT represent the best interest of the Community.

    Stefano Mollo.

  5. Geir

    I admit I don’t especially follow the pirate radio scenes so much. But I am interested and always read new posts about this theme.

    What my impression is, -is that the pirate stations almost never are complained about from the general public. It may happen or it might have happened, but I haven’t seen or heard of any such complaints from others than the authorities them selves. So I tend to agree with Jay here: “Nothing like a monopoly”.

    If I where about to set up a pirate station, I would certainly not choose a frequency already in use. That would logically also seriously impacted my own station’s chance to be heard of my target audience. So I find this QRM argument also somewhat fishy. But again, I don’t know everything so this may happen from time to time, but doubt it is as big a problem as reported above.

    1. Thomas Post author

      I think very few pirates intentionally try to interfere with other broadcasters. Very few are actually “jammers” because it’s not typically their goal. FM pirates in crowded markets do have to worry about this more than our HF pirates who essentially occupy an otherwise lifeless portion of the shortwave bands. The pirates I listen to are even careful about not transmitting on top of each other.

      I certainly disagree with the commissioner when he implies pirate stations don’t “bring a unique service to primarily minority communities.” I think they often do–especially some of the stations I’ve heard in the Brooklyn area. Many serve a specific language/ethnic communities only a few blocks wide.

      1. Geir

        Exactly Thomas. And those of us which still can remember Radio Caroline and other such pirates in the 60’s and 70’s. They had one thing in common, they was loved by their audiences, but hated by the authorities. Radio Caroline was even boarded by the authorities when their ship’s anchor chain once broke without the Caroline staff’s knowledge and they slowly drifted inside the U.K. zone from international waters. The fight which happened aboard Caroline could even be heard by the station’s listeners at the time. At that time, I often listened at Radio Caroline myself, but unfortunately I missed that particular day.

        So this pirate radio love / hate stuff seems to be a repeating and never ending story the authorities never will win. Sure, they will have their small victories, but that’s all.

    2. Ike

      On any given night or weekend in southern Brooklyn, there are 35+ FM pirates operating, many of them interfering with legitimate stations. Fitting that many pirates onto the FM dial without them interfering with heaps of licensed stations is beyond impossible. Check out “Brooklyn Pirate Watch” on Twitter. I’ll include that link below.

      Fans of WQXR have had problems and this got some attention in local papers. (That pirate must not have liked that heat, because it seems to have vanished.) At various times, listeners to WBGO, WNYC, WKCR, and others have had problems as well. WFMU-91.1 pretty much has a continuous ongoing problem with 90.9 pirate interference, not just in Brooklyn but also in several other areas including Elizabeth NJ, the Bronx, and western Queens. So, this may not be an issue in areas with a few pirates, but when you’ve got 20, 30, or 40 of them, it’s ridiculous and seriously damaging to licensed stations.

      (Sorry for the late reply.)


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