New York State passes Anti Pirate Radio law (S-5739, A-326)

I wrote about this before, garnering several negative comments, both from the cost and effectiveness perspectives. Prompted by the New York State Broadcasters Association, the Senate and Assembly passed the legislation on Wednesday. It was refined somewhat, with frequencies specified in the AM broadcast and FM broadcast band.  The revised writing softens the criminality somewhat, making the first offense a class A misdemeanor and subsequent offenses class D felonies.

It also broadens the enforcement actions to allow seizure and destruction of radio transmission equipment, antennas, computers, and studio equipment used during the act. The law provides no provision for part 15 broadcasting, which is defined as license free operation under FCC rules.

The law amends the NY State Penal code, by adding section 190:

S 190.72 UNAUTHORIZED RADIO TRANSMISSION IN THE SECOND DEGREE.
 A PERSON IS GUILTY OF AN UNAUTHORIZED RADIO TRANSMISSION IN THE SECOND
 DEGREE WHEN SUCH PERSON:
 1.  KNOWINGLY  MAKES OR CAUSES TO BE MADE A RADIO TRANSMISSION IN THIS
 STATE, ON RADIO FREQUENCIES ASSIGNED AND LICENSED BY THE FEDERAL  COMMU
 NICATIONS  COMMISSION  FOR USE BY AM RADIO STATIONS BETWEEN THE FREQUEN
 CIES OF 530 KHZ TO 1700 KHZ, OR FM RADIO STATIONS BETWEEN  THE  FREQUEN
 CIES  OF  88  MHZ TO 108 MHZ, WITHOUT FIRST HAVING OBTAINED A LICENSE OR
 OTHER AUTHORIZATION FROM THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, OR  DULY
 AUTHORIZED FEDERAL AGENCY; OR
 2.  KNOWINGLY  CAUSES,  EITHER DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY, INTERFERENCE TO
 ANY AM RADIO STATIONS BETWEEN THE FREQUENCIES OF 530 KHZ TO 1700 KHZ, OR
 FM RADIO STATIONS BETWEEN THE FREQUENCIES OF 88 MHZ TO 108  MHZ  WITHOUT
 AUTHORIZATION  BY  THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION OR DULY AUTHOR
 IZED FEDERAL AGENCY.
 ANY EQUIPMENT, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE TRANSMITTING  ANTENNA,
 TRANSMITTER, MASTER CONTROL, SERVERS AND COMPUTERS, USED TO PROVIDE SUCH
 ILLEGAL  RADIO  TRANSMISSIONS  SHALL  BE  SUBJECT  TO  SEIZURE AND, UPON
 CONVICTION, SUBJECT TO DESTRUCTION  PURSUANT  TO  ARTICLE  FOUR  HUNDRED
 SEVENTEEN OF THIS CHAPTER.
 UNAUTHORIZED  RADIO  TRANSMISSION  IN  THE  SECOND DEGREE IS A CLASS A
 MISDEMEANOR.

S 2. The penal law is amended by adding a new section 190.73  to  read
 as follows:

S 190.73 UNAUTHORIZED RADIO TRANSMISSION IN THE FIRST DEGREE.
 A  PERSON  IS  GUILTY  OF UNAUTHORIZED RADIO TRANSMISSION IN THE FIRST
 DEGREE WHEN HE OR SHE COMMITS THE CRIME  OF  UNAUTHORIZED  RADIO  TRANS
 MISSION  IN THE SECOND DEGREE PURSUANT TO SECTION 190.72 OF THIS ARTICLE
 AND HAS PREVIOUSLY BEEN CONVICTED WITHIN  THE  PRECEDING  TEN  YEARS  OF
 UNAUTHORIZED  RADIO  TRANSMISSION  IN  THE SECOND DEGREE. ANY EQUIPMENT,
 INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED  TO  THE  TRANSMITTING  ANTENNA,  TRANSMITTER,
 MASTER  CONTROL,  SERVERS  AND  COMPUTERS,  USED TO PROVIDE SUCH ILLEGAL
 RADIO TRANSMISSIONS SHALL BE SUBJECT TO SEIZURE  AND,  UPON  CONVICTION,
 SUBJECT  TO  DESTRUCTION  PURSUANT  TO ARTICLE FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTEEN OF
 THIS CHAPTER.  UNAUTHORIZED RADIO TRANSMISSION IN THE FIRST DEGREE IS A CLASS D
 FELONY.

S 3. The penal law is amended by adding a new article 417 to  read  as
 follows:
 ARTICLE 417
 SEIZURE AND DESTRUCTION OF TRANSMITTING ANTENNA, TRANSMITTER,
 MASTER CONTROL, SERVERS AND COMPUTERS, USED TO PROVIDE ILLEGAL
 RADIO TRANSMISSIONS
 SECTION 417.00 SEIZURE  AND  DESTRUCTION OF TRANSMITTING ANTENNA, TRANS
 MITTER, MASTER CONTROL, SERVERS AND COMPUTERS, USED  TO
 PROVIDE ILLEGAL RADIO TRANSMISSIONS.

S  417.00  SEIZURE AND DESTRUCTION OF TRANSMITTING ANTENNA, TRANSMITTER,
 MASTER CONTROL, SERVERS AND COMPUTERS, USED TO PROVIDE ILLEGAL RADIO TRANSMISSIONS.
 ANY EQUIPMENT UTILIZED IN VIOLATION OF SECTION  190.72  OR  190.73  OF
 THIS  CHAPTER MAY BE SEIZED BY ANY POLICE OFFICER UPON THE ARREST OF ANY
 INDIVIDUAL IN POSSESSION OF THE SAME. UPON FINAL  DETERMINATION  OF  THE
 CHARGES,  THE COURT SHALL, UPON NOTICE FROM THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY, ENTER
 AN  ORDER  PRESERVING  ANY  TRANSMITTING  ANTENNA,  TRANSMITTER,  MASTER
 CONTROL,  SERVERS  AND  COMPUTERS,  USED TO PROVIDE ILLEGAL RADIO TRANS
 MISSIONS FOR USE IN OTHER CASES, INCLUDING A CIVIL ACTION.  THIS  NOTICE
 MUST BE RECEIVED WITHIN THIRTY DAYS OF FINAL DETERMINATION OF THE CHARG
 ES.  THE  COST  OF STORAGE, SECURITY AND DESTRUCTION OF ITEMS SO ORDERED
 FOR PRESERVATION AND USE AS EVIDENCE IN A CIVIL  ACTION,  OTHER  THAN  A
 CIVIL  ACTION  UNDER  ARTICLE  THIRTEEN-A  OF THE CIVIL PRACTICE LAW AND
 RULES INITIATED BY THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY, SHALL BE  PAID  BY  THE  PARTY
 SEEKING  PRESERVATION  OF  THE  EVIDENCE  FOR A CIVIL ACTION. IF NO SUCH
 ORDER IS ENTERED WITHIN THE THIRTY DAY PERIOD, THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY  OR
 CUSTODIAN  OF THE SEIZED PROPERTY MUST CAUSE SUCH ITEMS TO BE DESTROYED.
 DESTRUCTION SHALL NOT INCLUDE AUCTION,  SALE,  OR  DISTRIBUTION  OF  THE
 ITEMS IN THEIR ORIGINAL FORM.

Law takes effect on November 1, 2011.

In order to gain a conviction, some amount of evidence would be needed.  Signal strength measurements and or spectrum analysis would be a minimum requirement, in addition to any equipment seized.

Discuss.

NY State to Regulate Radio

New York state senate and assembly are considering a bill that would essentially regulate radio transmissions within the state. According to the website Open NY (senate):

S2737-2011: Creates the crime of unauthorized radio transmission, a class D felony, punishable by imprisonment and a fine in the amount of not less than $10,000.00.

Text of the bill:

S 190.72 UNAUTHORIZED RADIO TRANSMISSION.
 A  PERSON  IS  GUILTY  OF  UNAUTHORIZED  RADIO  TRANSMISSION WHEN SUCH
 PERSON:
 1. KNOWINGLY MAKES OR CAUSES TO BE MADE A RADIO TRANSMISSION  IN  THIS
 STATE  WITHOUT  FIRST  HAVING  OBTAINED  A  LICENSE OR AN EXEMPTION FROM
 LICENSURE FROM THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION OR OTHER APPLICABLE
 FEDERAL LAW OR REGULATION; OR
 2. ACTS, WHETHER DIRECTLY OR  INDIRECTLY,  TO  CAUSE  AN  UNAUTHORIZED
 RADIO  TRANSMISSION  TO,  OR  INTERFERENCE  WITH, A PUBLIC OR COMMERCIAL
 RADIO STATION LICENSED BY THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS  COMMISSION  OR  TO
 ENABLE THE RADIO TRANSMISSION OR INTERFERENCE TO OCCUR.
 A  PERSON CONVICTED OF UNAUTHORIZED RADIO TRANSMISSION SHALL BE GUILTY
 OF A CLASS D FELONY.

The impetus for this legislation is pirate broadcasters, mostly in the NYC area:

Local radio stations often have their programming and signal “bumped off” the air, or drowned out by unofficial, unlicensed “pirate” radio stations that broadcast without FCC approval. This law will raise financial fines and incarceration penalties to serve as an disincentive for those who would make such illegal broadcasts.

The way the section one of the bill reads, no distinction between broadcast services and all other radio services, functionally making any police officer in the state capable of shutting down any radio operation, regardless of the service, arresting, fining, and jailing the operator.  The above law seems much too broad, nor does it take into account the supremacy clause of the US constitution.

The rise of the pirate operator came about because broadcasting licenses are basically unobtainable for the vast majority of people and licensed radio stations fail to serve larger and larger segments of the population.  For those that can afford satellite radio or mobile internet devices and data plans, services like Pandora, XMsirius have filled the gap, somewhat.

For those people in the lowest incomes brackets, who cannot afford internet connections, fancy phones and so on, radio is still the main information and entertainment source.  For those who are concerned about the current state of the media, it’s ability and or desire to report unbiased news, unauthorized broadcasting can serve as a pressure release valve.  I am not saying the unlicensed operation is the right thing to do, merely that there is a vacuum currently, which needs to be addressed.  If there were not a call for pirate radio programming, the operators would not take the risk and expense to go on the air.  Solve that problem, and no new law would be needed.

Al Fansome, Call your office

Shortwave Pirate broadcasting has been going on for years.  While it is illegal to transmit radio signals without a license, it is not illegal to receive those signals.  There is something sort of sneaky, like you are hearing something you shouldn’t, part of some underground thing, listening to these guys.  I am almost remiss to write something about it because I don’t want anyone to get into trouble.

Anyway, on any given day or night, pirate broadcasters roam the shortwave airwaves.  Much of what they do is typical sophomoric humor, such as playing a song where the only lyrics are “god damn you” over and over again.  Some of it can be somewhat entertaining.  A lot of what they tell as jokes are inside baseball, you have to listen and do a little research to get it, the Al Fansome reference is one.  There are no set times or frequencies.  It is quite common to hear one guy tuning up and getting ready to go on the air when the current frequency occupant signs off (happens often on 6925 KHz).

Most of these guys build their own transmitters based on designs found on various websites.  Power levels vary, but 10 to 50 watts is common.  Because of this, a good low noise receiving antenna is required to pull them out of the noise floor.  I have used, with good success, a K9AY terminated loop antenna.  We are in a rural area, so it is pretty low noise to begin with.  Even so, the coverage with a 50 watt transmitter is remarkable when propagation conditions are good.  Sound quality can be quite good for a homemade AM transmitter.

There is a lot of focus on FM pirates these days, that particular setup is likely the easiest to attain for most non-technical types.  There are a few AM pirates floating about, those are likely the most difficult to construct and conceal once they are on the air.  Both of those broadcast bands have the advantage in that there are many kits and or instructions on how to build a pretty good sounding transmitter.  Shortwave seems to be a small cadre of dedicated hobbyists that simply like to fool around on the radio.

In any case, with the FCC stretched thin, it is unlikely that a SW pirate will be busted but not unheard of.   One SW pirate station was busted in Florida about a month ago.  Even so, that was the first one in almost five years.

For the most part, the activity seems to center between 6850 to 6970 KHz or so.  Some others operate around 15055 to 15070 KHz.  Here is a brief selection of what one might find on the SW pirate frequencies:

  • WHYP on 6925 USB “Who Wants To Be A Pirate Radio Operator” at 0156z.
  • WMPR on 6925 AM “This is WMPR Dancy Party” ID at 0040z.
  • Captain Morgan Shortwave Radio on 6925AM “Positive Captain Morgan Shortwave ID, email and twilight zone theme at 2209z.
  • Radio Ronin Shortwave on 6950AM oriental-sounding interval signal, id at 01:04, Outer Limits intro, “She Blinded Me with Science”, strange version of “SOS”, anti-BP comedy skits, id at 01:19
  • Indira Calling  on 6925AM pop music that I can’t identify, “Rock-It”, Indian music, id at about 00:37, “Beach Party 2000” show, Calcutta mail drop, Beach Boys medley
  • WEAK Radio on 6925 Shout out to Voice Of Honor. 0048z “Godzilla” 0055z Sabbath.
  • Channel Z radio on 15067AM 2218z ID and contact info, must be an old show (Blue Ridge Summit maildrop)

And so on.  Those call signs are usually spoofs on something.  Occasionally, contact information is given out, usually in the form of a mail drop.  If so inclined, one might write a letter and receive a QSL card.

Radio Ronin QSL card
Radio Ronin QSL card

There is plenty of information floating around out there about shortwave pirate radio, if one cares to look for it.  Two of the more popular discussion forums are HF underground and Free Radio Network Grapevines.