Brother, could you help a pirate out?

It is not news that the FCC has its hands full with the FM pirates in the NYC area, particularly Brooklyn. On any given night, as many as thirty unlicensed signals can be heard, jammed between the commercial and non-commercial broadcasters in the FM band.

I am quite sure that other parts of the country have similar pirate problems.  I do not see the FCC getting much more funding for enforcement purposes.

John Anderson asks; perhaps a pragmatic approach?

For most engineers, this will be a non-starter.  Engineers (and other technical people) tend to see things in binary; on/off, right/wrong, black/white, legal/illegal, working/broken, etc.  It is the nature of logic and dealing everyday operating status’ of technical equipment.  A transmitter that is halfway working is broken.  There is very little grey area in the interpretation of these things, nor is there very much human element.  One cannot reason with a broken piece of equipment; it is to be either repaired or replaced.

Helping a person engaged in what is ostensibly an illegal activity, no matter how pragmatic such help might be, or how just or helpful the illegal activity may be to the community, would not be something that most radio engineers that I know would want to take part in.

Truth be told, some good might come from helping pirate broadcasters clean up their act.  Over modulation, spurious emissions, and poor quality transmitters all create bigger problems for everyone else.  The moral dilemma is what type of help to offer and can this or any technical advice then be used to make bigger and better pirates.

I don’t know, but it may be time to start thinking about things like this…

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9 thoughts on “Brother, could you help a pirate out?”

  1. I’ll gladly help any of them shut off the Chinese junk spur generator transmitters running 300% modulation and set up a nice sounding AAC webstream. Or if they want to stay “on the air” I’ll point them to the nearest AM station or HD willing to broker time.

    They cause too much damage to the dial in NYC for me to ever want to help them. Also, by helping them I would be putting my own reputation and licensed clients at risk.

  2. Can’t be much worse the what I have. I live between the Toledo and Detroit markets. All I get is dozens of “family Radio” type translators, tons of IBOC noise and more than one signal on most spots. At least the pirates might have something interesting to listen to.

  3. Without getting into the socio-economic-political swamp of the radio industry, I believe high standards of engineering and improved technical operation can only help broadcasting.

  4. I think if the pirates wanted to clean up their signals they would. There is plenty of readily available information on how to run a part 15 FM transmitter well. Most of that translates into effectively running a pirate transmitter.

    I see a brutal, but simple solution; the licensed broadcasters should show the FCC how high the noise floor in NYC is from all the unlicensed activity and ask if they can boost their IBOC sidebands above it. IBOC would make a nice weapon to discourage pirates, it would be hard to for a pirate to get out over the jamming potential of the HD sidebands. Granted, at those levels the side bands would self-interfere with the analog signal, and licensed stations in adjacent markets on adjacent frequencies would probably have something to say.

    In all seriousness, the FCC is unable to fight the pirates. It cost money and the FCC lacks the money. If the licensed broadcasters can figure out how much money they are loosing from the pirates, they should say “FCC, we have $X per year we are willing to spend on fighting pirate broadcasters, give us authority to do it.” But that would come out of the pockets of the broadcasters, so they will not be for it. The FCC could set the monetary penalty of being a pirate as the cost of tracking down the signal and the paper work and any other expenses incurred in the process, but I doubt any of the pirates would be able to pay such fines.

    The FCC came down hard on a shop selling wifi/GPS/cell jammers. They could use the same justification to ban the listing of illegal FM transmitters on Ebay, which is a surprisingly plentiful source of illegal transmission equipment.

    I have to wonder how well the FCC knows their own rules. 250 uv/m at 3m comes from 15.239 which is for 88 MHz to 108 MHz. I don’t think there is anything allowing unlicensed continuous broadcasting on 87.9. If they can’t get a NOUO right, why should we expect them to do anything serious about pirates?

  5. I find it ironic that the FCC can and does ignore blatant pirates but seems to have unlimited resources to go after Part 15 AM transmitter operators whose output a fraction of those intentionally creating interference with their imported FM transmitters. Granted, some Part 15 operators working with property limitations may open themselves up to unintended violations due to using longer than allowed ground leads when using an elevated installations. It does appears some (inspectors, broadcasters) consider educational or hobby radio enthusiasts a bigger threat than the pirates who blanket one or more communities with their high powered, spur-riddled and overmodulated signals that intentionally interfere with licensed radio services.

    Back last year, at the urging of some of my forum membership, I communicated with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Amongst the subjects discussed was the situation of a particular inspecting agent harassing a West Coast operator operating a factory fresh Part 15 compliant transmitter which is impossible to install in a non-compliant manner using the factory supplied directions and accessories. The complaint, lodged against the operator by a jealous former co-worker, had the inspecting agent intimidating the operator’s landlord as part of his tactic to pressure the operator to surrender his transmitter. I suppose FM pirates aren’t important enough when you can go after somebody operating at a tenth of a watt on AM.

    As of today the promised reply from one of Wheeler’s subordinate hasn’t arrived. If FCC inspectors continue to harass Part 15 operators by intimidation or issuing unjust NOUOs they’ll just drive these otherwise law abiding citizens into pirating – they’ll just view the possible penalties as being the same and, in the case of NYC area pirates, will possibly be allowed to operate without any consequences.

    Bill DeFelice

  6. Instead of using IBOC as a weapon, use it as a tool to clear them off the dial. LMA the HD-3 and 4’s to the pirate operators. The broadcasters get a check, the pirate station is off and they have a “legitimate” signal that covers more than the 100 watt transmitter. Their audience can drive HD radio sales.

    At this point, what is left to lose?

  7. …So, anyone know what you call a person who assists in the commission of a crime? Look, it’s not that I’m opposed to helping clean up the bands, or that I want to shut these guys out, but you’ll find the FCC takes a very dim view of lending pirates a hand. In the old days, they’d pull your ticket. Now…? I dunno. Might cost your ham license and a fat fine. And a criminal record.

  8. I think the idea of offering “HD” channels is an excellent one! Someone has to come up with an idea to sell this boondoggle to more people. 😉

    Seriously, tho, it’s an idea worth considering. If the stations don’t charge an arm and a leg for the service, so that the former pirates can actually afford it, that would be good. Even better, have a profit-sharing, where people buy the radios thru the host station, and they get to keep a portion, and the former pirate pays even less for the airtime… allowing them to ramp up their operation, perhaps even raising funds to pay someone, etc, and be a REAL community station.

  9. Those of us who’ve spent our lives getting licensed, building and maintaining licensed transmitters, have to stray pretty far from the fold to get involved in abetting any of this crap.

    When a Podcast is so simple to do.. and the potential audience so vast… the motivations to run a Pirate radio operation have to be clearly psychological ( and perhaps certifiable). Like my local flea power licensed FM.. it is largely folks talking to themselves.

    In that regard, I haven’t found that offering them engineering advice that would expand their audience met with much approval. I can’t imagine it would be better with a crowd or individual who cant muster a minimum quotient of legal cooperation.. to even care about technical problems.

    The sources of the crap ( Ebay et al) need to be corked up.

    Lets face it… we are all sliding down a slippery slope with a bucket of muck at the bottom, greased by ethics-less techno-slime who will design/build/sell anything to anybody.. if there is a buck to be made. An embarrassment of technical riches, and a real poverty of the soul.

    FCC enforcing against part 15.. while CB’er are openly posting videos of 5-10 kw illegal amplifiers in operation on Youtube, while outright scatologists hold forth on the hambands… and the public trust has been abused in broadcasting to the point of the ridiculous. I don’t think FCC and Enforcement can logically be fit together in a sentence where enforcement is a verb.

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