The FCC’s busting more pirates in smaller markets.
True, the Dallas office issues two Notices of Unlicensed Operation for an 87.9 in Houston, run out of New Beginnings Fellowship Church. But agents from Dallas also found a pirate FM at 93.5 up in the smallish Texas Panhandle town of Amarillo. (That one was also operated out of a church, the Iglesia Bautista Renovacion Ministerio Internacional.) The spectrum cops from Dallas also detected a 95.9 in Port Arthur, Texas. And out in California, agents from the L.A. office ventured up to Oxnard to respond to a complaint about a 99.1 operating from a business. (It was a business run by Maria Gonzalez, who gets the NOUO.) So while the traditional pirate radio hotbeds in South Florida, the New York City area and Boston get attention, there seem to be more complaints and more investigations in smaller markets. If the “PIRATE Act” that passed the House ever makes it through the Senate and is signed into law, the FCC would be required to make twice-yearly sweeps of the five most active areas for pirates. But it seems illegal FMs may simply be popping up in less-likely places. The equipment’s cheap and you might not get caught. Though one pirate in Miami got nabbed doing something novel – operating a pirate station out of a parked RV. (Sure keeps the costs down.)
Are the protected night signals of monster 50,000-watt AMs “an anachronism?”
And is the FCC poised to do something that will frustrate late-night DX’ers? The Commission tries again to balance the role of Class A signals like KMOX St. Louis/1120, designed to serve listeners hundreds of miles away, with the desires of local AMs. The “skywave” debate is decades-old – but particularly urgent now, given the rising noise floor from all kinds of interference. The Commission just issued a “Second further notice of proposed rulemaking,” noting the rise of “FM stations, satellite radio and other media.” The first notice drew “a voluminous and diverse set of comments,” with some pointing out that “AM skywave service is sporadic and unreliable, often subject to overwhelming environmental interference, and unlikely to consist of programming tailored to the needs of distant communities.” But then there are questions about hurricane and other weather/safety warnings. In this notice, the Commission has ideas about changes to daytime, “critical hours” operation after sunrise and before sunset, and “nighttime hours.” One observer tells this NOW Newsletter says that cutting through the thicket of details, “It’s clear that there will be a further reduction in protection to the clear channel Class A stations, particularly at night. The main questions are how much protection they will retain.”
The FCC last night reported that more FMs were out (20) than AMs (three). While nearly 14% of cell sites in the affected areas were out of service – and like the AM/FM picture, virtually all the outages are in coastal North Carolina. Forecasters had predicted the brunt of the storm would fall around Wilmington and New Bern, and that’s how it played out, in slow motion. Friday morning’s NOW reported the Curtis Media radio stations in New Bern were off, as well as Sinclair’s ABC-TV affiliate, WCTI-TV. Both Channel 12 and the Curtis cluster are located very hear the Neuse River, and Sinclair was forced to originate programming from Greenville, instead. WCTI-TV’s still off, as well as sister Fox affiliate WYDO (digital channel 47/virtual channel 12). Likewise, a range of radio stations including Cumulus-owned classic hits “94.5 the Hawk” WKXS and not-for-profit EMF’s contemporary Christian “K-Love” affiliate, WBNK/92.7. One of the three silent AMs carries an ominous name for the current conditions – Cumulus-owned talk “980 the Wave” WAAV. Read last night’s FCC “Status Report” here. The agency’s main page for Hurricane Florence communications is here.
FCC staff will be “cops on the beat” against pirates.
Chairman Ajit Pai had his stats ready for yesterday’s House Oversight Hearing – the FCC’s issued 39 NOUOs (Notice of Unlicensed Operation) this year, among other enforcement actions. Pai knew the question about the effect of closing of 11 field offices was coming from somewhere, and it was posed by Tampa-area Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis. Pai says as a Commissioner, “I had substantial disagreements with the original” plan of then-Chair Tom Wheeler. The compromise worked out with Congress included closing the Tampa field office – but Pai says the Commission’s doing its best to address the pirate problem that is “a problem all across the East coast.” That when he says the staff is determined to be “cops on the beat” against unlicensed operators. That seemed to satisfy Bilirakis. More from the hearing – there’s support for a new minority tax certificate plan. It would incentivize an owner to sell to a qualified minority by offering a tax break or deferral. And we haven’t mentioned the #1 complaint around telecom – doing something to choke off robocalls and “spoof calls.”
Check out the full Tom Taylor Now newsletter which also includes questions posed to Chairman Pai, about defining Net Neutrality.
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