FCC Raids 15 Pirate Radio Stations In Miami

The bust is being touted as the largest of its kind in history.

In a full-fledged attack on unlicensed radio in Miami, the Federal Communications
Commission announced Tuesday that it recently shut down 15 stations in the Miami area
during a raid called the largest single crackdown on pirate radio stations in U.S. history.

Thirteen of the 15 shutdowns of stations, which were known to air techno and dance
music, took place between July 27-31, according to the FCC, which serves as the U.S.
government’s watchdog for communications law. Seized by court order in the sweep
were all varieties of broadcasting equipment, from homemade components to imported,
professional gear, including two 2,000-watt transmitters.

In the statement issued after the Miami operation, FCC Chairman William Kennard called
the crackdown “the most successful, large-scale enforcement action against unlicensed
operators to date.” “This commission has enforced and will continue vigorously to
enforce the law against unlicensed broadcasters,” he said.

According to the FCC, pirate stations have the potential to cause interference with
licensed communications, such as aviation and public-safety frequencies.

The recently announced July raid came as no surprise to some in the well-networked
pirate radio community. Some are saying they’d long ago fingered Miami as a target for
a crackdown because of the large number of pirate stations in that metropolitan region.

“That scene has been raging for a long time, to the point where there are far more illegal
radio stations in Miami than there were properly licensed ones,” said Paige, the operator
of Los Angeles’ KBLT pirate station, who asked that her last name not be used.

Operating a radio station without an FCC license is a federal crime that can land
first-time offenders a fine of up to $100,000 and/or a year in prison, according to a
release from the FCC’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. Representatives from the FCC
declined to comment on the raid beyond what was issued in that statement.

In recent years, pirate radio has become increasingly popular in the music community as
a way to subvert the corporate radio structure. For about $1,000, enterprising
broadcasters can set up a rudimentary — or so-called micro-radio — station and begin
broadcasting their own music or talk programs. The FCC did not reveal whether any
arrests had been made in the raid.

Former Minutemen and fIREHOSE bassist Mike Watt logs regular DJ time on Paige’s
KBLT, and Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris also has taken a turn at KBLT’s mic. In June,
the Red Hot Chili Peppers chose that station to broadcast the live debut of their
revamped lineup, while Pearl Jam have, on past tours, operated their own pirate station
from a van before concerts.

Still, micro-radio-station operators are apparently willing to risk such penalties to get
their voice on a radio band that they say is dominated by big-money stations.

“It’s the whole DIY [do it yourself] movement, gone to radio,” said Paige, who said she’s
never been approached by authorities during KBLT’s three years of operation. “[These
are] people who realize it doesn’t take much money to say what’s really going on
in music. Nowadays, one company can own hundreds of radio stations — this is a
reaction to that homogenization.”

Many of the stations shut down in the Miami raid broadcast techno, rave or dance music,
according to Reuters. Paige doubted that the type of music influenced the federal
action. “They’ve been clearly sweeping the country trying to shut down the hotbeds of
pirate activity,” she said.

One reason that Miami boasted so many unlicensed stations is that the city’s flat
landscape makes it easy to broadcast to a wide area from almost any rooftop, she said,
adding that the two 2,000-watt transmitters seized were so powerful that they are almost
too big to qualify as micro-radio.

One factor that may have played a role in the bust, Paige said, is the recent shutdown of
Free Radio Berkeley, a micro-radio station in Berkeley, Calif., that successfully fought
closure by the FCC by defending itself in court on First Amendment grounds. In July,
however, the station was enjoined from broadcasting.