FCC cracking down on Colorado pirates

Way High Radio’s studio.

(Source: Westword via Mike Hansgen)

Will the FCC Sink Pirate Radio in Colorado?

Word spread quickly about the mysterious unmarked black SUV parked at a highway exit just outside the town of Ward on January 24. In the self-sufficient mountain community perched at 9,500 feet, strangers always attract attention. But the strangers in the SUV weren’t just a curiosity; they were enforcement agents with the Federal Communications Commission, and they presented a real threat to a beloved community resource.

Since 1997, Ward had played host to an unlicensed FM radio station called Way High Radio. Colloquially known as “pirate” stations, radio operations such as Way High Radio are expressly forbidden by the FCC, which regulates America’s airwaves. That the station had been able to illegally broadcast from 90.5 FM for so many years was largely thanks to the isolation of the mountain town, roughly an hour-and-a-half drive from the FCC’s enforcement office in Denver.

When DJ Willy (not his real name) heard about the federal agents parked near town, he got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. This was a moment he’d been dreading for a long time. But he’d also studied up on FCC enforcement, and knew the agents would want to catch someone actually inside the radio station’s studio, a small trailer located next to Ward’s town hall with an antenna on top and a wooden sign that proclaimed “Office of Human Rights.”[…]

Continue reading the full article at Westword.

Click here to view Way High Radio’s website.

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14 thoughts on “FCC cracking down on Colorado pirates

  1. Michael Black

    Do people know the history of radio regulation?

    Marconi spanned the Atlantic in 1901, and took radio out of the laboratory. So individuals got interested in building radio equipment and getting on the air, there were no rules at all. That changed in increments, though I can’t remember the proper sequence. Technology at the time meant everyone was operating in a very small segment of the radio spectrum, with broad signals and not much calibration, and no rules at all. One could deliberately interfere with navy signals and other ships at sea, which were the earliest practical uses. So the US Radio Act of 1910 required ships at sea above some limits to have wireless aboard. When the Titanic sank in 1912, the US Radio Act of 1912 was issued, requiring all radio stations to be licensed, and ships at sea were required to monitor distress frequencies. I don’t think there was resting for amateur radio at the time, just get the license.

    It went from very vague to more rigid, changing as radio changed. What to use it for was still being determined. Ham Radio got tests, but also some talk of shutting it down. WWI caused amateur radio to shut down, and afterwards questioning whether they should be allowed back on the air. Eventually stations were allocated specific frequencies, and ham radio “banished” to the “useless frequencies” above the current AM broadcast band. They showed the value of shortwave, which then meant others moved up there. People started broadcasting, aware that there were more people with receivers than transmitters, informal at first and then broadcasting as we know it, requiring more regulation.

    Radio regulations came in as a safety issue. There’s no value in requiring that ship to carry radio if someone could interfere without retribution. I think at some point the military wanted radio all or mostly to itself. Commerce didn’t become an issue until 1922 when the likes of KDKA started broadcasting. It took some time to get the right model, initially a station was seen as advertising for something, like a radio store, but selling ads came later.

    Every radio service, excepting one, requires approved equipment, and technical work done by authorized third parties. The exception is ham radio, the least controlled of the radio services, but of course requiring testing on technical matters to make sure they don’t cause problems.

    Pirate radio is some guy deciding he’s capable enough to put out a clean signal. Not just not interfering with other broadcast stations (here all the FM channels are used up, unless someone decides closer spacing us viable), but not putting out spurious signals that interfere with public service or aircraft radio. That’s not about protecting commerce. Except for a few slices of the spectrum, with mostly 100mW input (CB is now unlicensed and 5W input is allowed there), a license is required. People can argue that the spectrum is sliced up wrong, but there does seem to be a fair set of rules in place, and for good reasons.


  2. rtc

    If you read the Eham forum on ham clubs you’ll find most are this way
    now.They have been ruined by personal egos and have become cliques.

    Went to the local park a few years back to see the Field Day setup…
    what turned out to be Whackers were set up,complete with a brand
    new Airstream trailer all tricked out and new Icom HF gear and new
    HT’s,every bit of which were paid for by the county EMA…they were
    running around in khakis and green polo shirts with the county EMA
    logo on them.

    Everyone was at least a captain;the “commander” was a retired
    air force col. from another state who appeared to be alcohol-powered.
    Everyone was tense in white knuckle mode.

    The expression “MY God! Can’t you see we’re trying to save the world?”
    was heard repeatedly.
    One guy was overheard telling an inquiring older lady that “Ham radio is
    only to be used in emergencies”.

    Worse still,one guy was a high school teacher who had some of his
    (white knuckle) students along on the “mission” (odd,if they went to
    the bathroom it was a “mission”).

    I’ve been a ham since i was a kid,1962…this is not ham radio.It is
    a twisted egocentric Pharisee-like quest for recognition and the praise
    of men.That’s why these clowns do it.

    When the FCC wrote the emergency rules they had private groups in
    mind (NGO’s) not local gov’t;these folks were unpaid county employees.
    They need to go back to React and CB channel 9 where they came from.
    They’re not “us” but the public will think all hams are like this.

  3. Lou

    Now that I’ve read the article, I’m left thinking why hasn’t the FCC carved out a citizen’s FM allocation below 88 MHz? They were going to originally extend the FM band to match the range of the Japanese FM allocations after the digital TV transition.

    I guess it’s a case of following the money which doesn’t seem to go out of style regardless of which party is running the FCC.

    I’d love to run a community based FM station but it boils down to Part 15 or operate as a pirate since the requirements for a LPFM station go beyond just having a clear frequency to broadcast on.

    1. Phil from Darwin

      It’s an interesting article. Not living in the USA I don’t have first hand knowledge of the FCC, but it strikes me that this is all about protecting the vested interests who run the major media companies. It’s no better in Australia I suspect. Our politicians are captives of big business. The community can go jump for all they care.

  4. Lou

    This is exactly why I don’t belong to any of my local amateur radio clubs. They haven’t been about technical advancement or encouraging younger folks in many years. It’s ARES this and Emcomm that with a very healthy dose of club politics.

    I would venture to say that in the next 10-20 years, most of these clubs will be a thing of the past as a majority of their membership has shuffled off to the great buffet & hamfest in the sky.

  5. Tom Reitzel

    Ha ha ha … LoL …

    Yes, I want amateur radio operators by LAW required to assist with state enforcement of local interference and it can NOT happen quick enough. The federal FCC needs to be largely disbanded and that power and RESPONSIBILITY transferred to the states since the FCC can’t or won’t do it.

    If hams, appropriate in this case evidently ;), want to rip up their licenses, then so be it. Start shredding. 🙂

    1. rtc

      Or give the radio stuff back to the Dept. of Commerce where it was prior to the FCC.
      They should properly be called the FBC,Federal Broadband Commission.
      That’s all they care about other than $.

  6. rtc

    Egads…the idea of the local Whackers running around with their camo
    vehicles,light bars,pseudo military rank and Cartman-like “You will obey my authoriti”
    is flat scary if they were to get some actual authoriti.

  7. Dan

    Sorry, but if Im required to assist the FCC in shutting down pirates in order to maintain my amateur license, then it gets ripped up and thrown in the trash.

    Some of these pirates carry guns y’all…I can just see a patrol of ham whackers on scooters wearing orange vests and carrying HT’s being dispatched to shut down a pirate broadcaster. Please…

  8. Tom Reitzel

    Money AND power, but the FCC doesn’t want the RESPONSIBILITY to enforce FCC regulations, i.e. issues of actual interference which SHOULD be the FCC’s primary mission. Right, Don R. of the Dallas FCC? 😉 I’m not through with the hypocrisy of the FCC, I’m just getting started.

    BTW, most of the FCC should be disbanded and the majority of its current power to regulate interference TRANSFERRED to the states where the state’s equivalent of the FCC could then QUICKLY dispatch amateur radio operators in any local area to investigate and correct issues of local interference. For an amateur license, the FCC should require amateur operators to cooperate with the state’s equivalent of the FCC in investigating and correcting such issues. Consequently, issues of local interference might actually be fixed within weeks instead of years or not at all.

    1. DanH

      “BTW, most of the FCC should be disbanded and the majority of its current power to regulate interference TRANSFERRED to the states where the state’s equivalent of the FCC could then QUICKLY dispatch amateur radio operators in any local area to investigate and correct issues of local interference.”

      OK, all hams are henceforth deputized and will enforce state laws regarding radio interference. Gun racks and pickup trucks recommended. That’s a big 10-4, good buddy.

      1. Dan

        I don’t know about where you live, but in my area, where the hams already have “Joe Responder” syndrome with their vests and badges, actually GIVING them AUTHORITY to ENFORCE something is just a recipe for for a bad newspaper article.

      2. Michael Black

        Don’t forget there is self-policing within amateur radio, including the ARRL’s “Official Observer” program, if it still exists. And hams often will track down interference, because it’s bothering them, sometimes finding very odd sources. I remember one letter to QST about a repetitive bit of interference, only to discover a radio scanner, the local oscillator radiating too much. Direction finding is one of those niches within ham radio, both a fun activity and a means of finding an interfering signal.


  9. Eddie Walden

    So what is the REAL reason the FCC is putting all of this time and effort into shutting down the pirate radio stations? Anybody care to follow the money?


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