No, this time we really mean it

The FCC is stepping up enforcement on pirate radio. They have released an enforcement advisory, which you can read here.

The advisory starts out like this:

WARNING: Unauthorized Radio Broadcasting is Illegal
Persons or Businesses Operating “Pirate” Broadcast Stations
Are in Violation of Federal Law and Subject to Enforcement Action

Okay, so when you stop laughing, here is what will really happen: They will go out, bust a few pirates, issue larger than normal Notices of Apparent Liability, collect none of the money from them and call it a huge success.  I doubt very much that the FCC or congress has the wherewithal to wage an all out effort against pirate broadcasting. This is the same FCC that eliminated most of its field enforcement agents and closed most of their field offices.  But that doesn’t matter either, because the NYC field office is still open and within a ten mile radius of that, there are likely a dozen or more unlicensed broadcasters.

In the mean time, if you are a licensed broadcaster, God forbid you accidentally miss a Required Monthly Test or have an unlocked tower fence.

It is like the city police force that sits on a stop sign writing tickets to otherwise law abiding motorists when the next block over, kids are out in the street openly selling bricks of heroin.  Meanwhile, the chief of police sits in his office furiously typing blistering memos saying that the sale of heroin is illegal.

15 thoughts on “No, this time we really mean it”

  1. They know they will never see any of the forfeiture so they can make a big deal out of it. Meanwhile, those of us who make a living at it, they have us by the short hairs and can abuse us like a red headed step child.

  2. Having engineered stations for decades I’ve seen the pirate problem first-hand and hoped this might be a step forward. I know there’s been a pirate operating for a handful of years in an area where Paul’s firm maintains a 50kw FM and they have yet to be shut down. Personally, I think a better place to begin would have been to get all the illegal FM transmitters off of U.S. sales venues like Amazon and ebay. There’s already regulations on the books that aren’t being enforced.

    The bigger problem I see is that legal but unlicensed Part 15 radio enthusiasts will end up unfairly targeted, thanks to either those who don’t understand these regulations or by overzealous field agents. I’ve heard of one case where a ham operator, who also operated a certified Part 15 AM transmitter, was pretty much harassed by a field inspector. The agent was said to have used undue influence (read intimidation) directed at the operator’s landlord to “persuade” the surrender the transmitter the operator purchased weeks earlier from a reputable manufacturer who also produces equipment for the broadcast industry.

    I had previously addressed FCC Commissioner O’Rielly regarding this problem, though multiple queries to O’Rielly and his peers have gone unanswered. The Radio World opinion piece I authored, Distinguish Pirates From Part 15 Operators, while well received by fellow engineers, failed to garner attention with the FCC. In light of the commission’s revamped enforcement efforts I directed an open letter to their attention: Open Letter to the FCC

  3. 🙂 … when I was first reading Bill DeFelice’s comment, I read it too quickly and thought he was mentioning a 50 kW pirate on FM. 🙂 I wonder what the NOUO would look like on one of those… “The field strength of the signal on frequency 107.9 MHz was measured at 33,554,432 microvolts per meter (uV/m) at 3,072 meters, which exceeded the maximum permitted level of 250 uV/m at 3 meters for non-licensed devices. Thus, this station is operating in violation of 47 U.S.C. S 301.” Also if the FCC issued a NOUO to 1660 in Brigham City, UT, which apparently as I understand is continuing to operate even with their license cancelled, I wonder what that would look like as well.

    And, pirate broadcasting isn’t the only thing not being consistently enforced even when the law is watching, at least where I live. Quite a few times now I’ve driven by a highway patrol going like 80 mph (in a 65) and not been stopped. (I did get stopped for 90 in a 65 but I think he gave me a break, I may have been going 100 that time which would have been a ~4x higher fine.) At least once I was driving alongside a police car who was doing about 80 in a 65, and my exit was coming up in a couple miles so I sped up to 85 to get around him, and he didn’t light me up. The most recent was a bunch of cars doing 70 in a 65, one of them being a CHP cruiser. I was also having my exit come up so I eased it up to 75 then moved over when it was safe to do so. I still had about a mile to my exit, and the CHP zoomed ahead, I sped up briefly to about 80 but wasn’t really trying to catch up to him as my exit was like a half mile away.

    I do wish somewhat higher levels were legal for unlicensed broadcasting on AM, also I wish licensed LPAM would exist. In a nutshell, I’m thinking a maximum of 200 feet and 50 watts for licensed, and 50 feet and 1 watt for unlicensed. Graveyard & expanded band channels would get a bit more power, and class A channels would get less. I’d support eliminating the gap between maximum unlicensed signal permitted (for example 100 milliwatts with a 3 meter antenna system) and minimum licensable signal (250 watts with an efficiency of 141 mV/m/kw).

  4. The pirate issue has not just a technical side. Once the offender is located and a NOUO is issued the broadcasts can cease or continue. In the latter the equipment can be confiscated and/or a NOV and NOAL issued. It would be interesting to see how much has actually been collected by the FCC for these fines.
    The Radio Free Berkley/Stephen Dunifer court case went on for years. Vin Kajunski (then head of the FCC Boston office) told a CBA (CT Broadcasters Assoc) meeting they had raided a pirate in PA. The equipment was in a ‘church’ and confiscated. One person was present at the time. That person filed a complaint of unconstitutional obstruction of freedom of religion. The FCC was ordered by the Federal court to return the equipment and the pirate quickly resumed broadcasting.
    Enforcement is one thing, prosecution is another.

  5. When laws are not enforced uniformly it allows the law to be used to punish the people that are out favor with the current leaders.

  6. RE: “… I wish licensed LPAM would exist. In a nutshell, I’m thinking a maximum of 200 feet and 50 watts for licensed, and 50 feet and 1 watt for unlicensed. …”

    Note that even now, an UNlicensed “100 milliwatt” AM transmit system fully compliant with FCC §15.219 can produce significant groundwave fields FAR beyond a 200-foot radius from its transmit antenna. See the NEC4.2 analysis of this at

    Those FCC §15.219 fields are capable of producing co-channel interference to licensed AM broadcast stations exceeding the interfering F.I. maxima that the FCC permits even from licensed AM broadcast stations* — and even so _within_ the protected contours of licensed AM stations.


  7. R. Fry, it looks like that chart shows about 4 mV/m at 60 meters / 200 feet. At 1 km (0.6 mi), it’s about 0.2 mV/m. I’ve also read the various claims online of “a mile” or “2 miles” of coverage from various part 15 operators/transmitters. (Now whether or not they’re compliant with the current rules, idk, but I’d guess many are not, at least according to the apparent “top of the antenna must be 3 meters or less above the earth” interpretation of the rule.)

    I had in mind something more like a range comparable to an LPFM or FM translator, or slightly larger than a TIS, for the licensed AM, and a solid signal over the aforementioned claimed range for an unlicensed signal. I’ll go into a bit more detail below, although I’ll say up front my thoughts aren’t all together on the details.

    For licensed LPAM, I was envisioning about 4-5 miles to the 10 mV/m contour or so, and for unlicensed, about 1 mile to the 10 mV/m. (I picked 10 mV/m cause that’s what David Eduardo and maybe others on other sites say is the minimum for general population listening.) It’s definitely possible some slight adjustments could be made to those figures. Also, I could consider as well, reducing the coverage area allowed in dense urban areas like downtown NYC (maybe 0.5 km to the 10 mV/m for unlicensed), and expanding it in rural areas like east central Nevada (maybe 5 miles to 10 mV/m for unlicensed).

    On average, a licensed LPAM would cover a small town, or a portion of a large city. (In sufficiently large cities like San Diego, Los Angeles, NYC, for example, I’m thinking 3, 4, or even 5 or more co-channel LPAMs could co-exist within the same city. Yes they’d be closely spaced – I mention below about spacing, comparable to class C at night.) An unlicensed LPAM would cover somewhat more than a local suburban neighborhood – for example if one was located on an elementary school, 90% or more of the students’ homes would be within the 10 mV/m contour.

    Also, there would be distance separation in the rules, although considerably simplified. For example, depending on where you are and your frequency, no operating on that frequency within a certain distance of a station with a certain power level.

    These would be grouped in a few stages…

    Location based on ground conductivity (2, 8, 30 mS/m, with saltwater treated as 30 not 5000), grouped by state, or for large states like TX & CA, by portions of states, and taking average conductivity in that region. (Another idea for size of zones would be either 5 degrees of latitude, or maybe 400 by 400 miles. I was thinking it’d be easier for the end user to specify based on state, though.)

    Frequency would be grouped like 530-830, 840-1120, 1130-1410, 1420-1700 or something like that.

    Distances of course would depend on other factors, but would be intervals like 50, 64, 80, 100, 128, 160 … 512, 640, 800 miles (or km), whatever range is necessary. Also that would be distance of your transmitter site to the protected station’s transmitter site. Also I’m thinking a total of 4 or 5 categories, not like 20 that my broken list implies could be possible.

    Power level would be in ranges like 1 kW or less, 1.1 to 4 kW, 4.1 to 10 kW, 10 to 50 kW, or something like that. For directional stations, I’m not sure how that’d work. I was thinking maybe divide the pattern into like 4 parts and take the average ERP in each direction, but that’s already a bit more complicated than I’d like it to be.

    Protections among licensed LPAM would be a bit more lax compared to full-power stations. For example, I was thinking the daytime groundwave contour overlaps would work out to be comparable to the nighttime skywave+groundwave overlaps for class C stations, or maybe approximately 0.5 vs 10 mV/m or so.

    Also, I’d be in favor of adjusting power levels at night to minimize generation of skywave signals. (I’m wondering, what would be the maximum transmitter power, assuming an antenna no longer than 200 feet, to produce a skywave of no more than 25 µV/m?)

    I also was thinking of a third category – for event broadcasting. This category would also be unlicensed. The antenna would be limited to 2 meters (so you could erect it indoors for example), but higher power may be permitted, like maybe 10 or 20 watts, I’m not sure exactly though. (That power spec may need to be adjusted – the goal is to prevent RF burns from touching the antenna or standing within a couple inches of it, while still covering a reasonable distance like several miles.)
    This category would be time limited, basically – either maybe 2 weeks of 24-hours-a-day broadcasting a few times a year, like broadcasting fairs or camps or religious retreats for example; or, maybe 3 or 4 hours per day, a few days a week or something like that, like broadcasting a class, a church service, etc.
    Changing frequency and/or location may allow somewhat more frequent operation. However, changing frequency and immediately resuming broadcasting on the same day from the same location would be foul.

    Also, for licensed LPAM, waiting for a filing window wouldn’t be necessary for most broadcasters, but the license term would be much shorter and for some applicants there may be a filing fee.

    Outside the filing window, the term would be 12 months, and renewable. (If voluntarily not renewed, an extra 3 months may be automatically granted, so that for example if someone only gets 1 year, they still get to broadcast 2 Thanksgiving & Christmas seasons if they applied at that time of the year.) Also, upon renewal, it’s entirely possible a newcomer may bump an incumbent off the frequency.
    For individuals and non-profit organizations, and small for-profit corporations, there would be no filing fee, or very small like $5. For larger for-profit corporations, like ones with maybe more than 10 employees, or with a net profit greater than, say, $300,000 per year, I’m thinking maybe a $120 filing fee. (Those figures could be adjusted, but I essentially want it to be a heck of a lot easier to get an LPAM than it is to even get an LPFM.)

    During a filing window, the fee would be waived for the for-profit corporations, with at least one exception. If a corporation owns more than 10 licensed standard-class stations nationwide, or any class A AM station, or a class C FM in cities larger than 250,000 persons, they would have a pretty steep filing fee, maybe $50,000 or whatever the filing fee might be for a new class A AM or class C0 FM if those were still being handed out. (I also thought maybe an example of if there’s more than 1 million people within the 5 µV/m 10% skywave contour of their biggest AM, or the 20 dBµ single-E-skip hop FM station, or something, but I’m not sure on that. Basically though it should be *very* hard, although not completely impossible, for a big broadcaster to get an LPAM.) One idea for a way to get the filing fee waived would be to make a significant donation to a small applicant – like donating their most profitable station, for example iHeart donating KFI or KRTH-FM (or whoever owns that FM, I can’t remember) to a church in the L.A. area whose total member roll including pastoral staff, etc, is fewer than 20 persons, or some equivalent like that. (Of course I realize that said small church probably couldn’t afford to keep KFI running if they were responsible for it, hence why I allow equivalent donations.)

    Also they’d be pretty far in the back of the line, too, and if they did get on, they wouldn’t be protected hardly at all. Also those other-station owners could only apply during a window.
    The license term would be maybe 5 or 7 years (with the 3 month possible extension if not renewed) if applied for within the window. For the above category of incumbent big broadcasters, though, their term would be 1 year, although ones who have initial licenses granted could renew even outside a window. (They likely would be bumped by a newcomer, though.)

    As I mentioned earlier, my thoughts are a bit jumbled still. There’s a few other things I’ve thought of, but can’t remember the details, and I already know I’m making it a bit more complicated than I would like it to be. :/

    If I can summarize, I’d like it to be very easy to get an LPAM on the air, unless you’re an established big broadcaster then it’d be almost impossible. A filing window wouldn’t be necessary, but outside one would have much shorter license terms for the licensed category. Licensed could cover a small town or part of a large city, and unlicensed would cover a local school district or a couple neighborhoods, or part of the immediate downtown area of a large city, with a solid signal. Protections to full-power licensed stations would be in 3 to 5 stages based on frequency, power, distance, and average ground conductivity. Daytime protections between licensed LPAMs would be similar to nighttime class C overlaps. A licensed LPAM wouldn’t need to paint or light their tower or get FAA certification (although voluntarily doing that is permissible), an unlicensed LPAM individual could easily erect an antenna in their back yard without needing a crane or something like that, and an event broadcaster could fit their antenna indoors. I’m sure there’s more, but my thoughts are wandering to other things at the moment…

  8. The FCC is all bark but no bite. Good luck Mr. Wheeler on pulling that trick out of your hat!.

  9. On the topic of pirates while visiting a nearby city i was dial hopping and encountered a loud station on 87.7 mhz. The signal was quite solid for over 20 miles, playing religious music and id’s and
    was is full stereo so it couldnt be an analog channel 6 Tv sound carrier. Just Curious Is 87.7 now a legal FM channel?

  10. Close spacing LPAM like LPFM is not going to work out well for anyone, due to the absence of the capture effect on AM. Instead, you will have a bunch of transmitters on the same frequency, all on slightly different frequencies because they are not frequency locked. The end result will be large areas of carrier beating on each other, causing heterodynes and general hash.

  11. 87.75 Channel 6 audio can legally broadcast FM stereo (19 Khz pilot & 38 KHz DSB stereo). They’ve been coined “Frankin-FM”.

  12. I think your entire plan is overly complex and confusing, even more so than the present FCC mess. More and more full power AMs are going off-air. For small broadcasters who can’t afford to operate a full power station, find a way to reuse a previously occupied frequency.

    I recently saw a 5KW DAN station license turned in. That’s a large coverage area – could several LPAMs use the same frequency?

    Best wishes.

  13. Like some stations already do, sell blocks of low revenue time the the hobby broadcasters. it give them an outlet and exposure to real station operation. There would have to be ground rules about subject matter but it could inspire some to enter the industry.

  14. Bob Doolittle,
    That was the exact premise that kept wealthy or otherwise well-funded folks like Percy Sutton (WBLS/WLIB and other major holdings around the country ) and everybody else it could from owning anything in the way of a regional station .Race Music yes but not human rights possibilities during Comm. Affairs blocks which could go on for on for days at a time and raise holy hell for public officials.Time share in NYC was so intersting( and still is)
    for it still gives an opportunity to so many who need it from all groups.
    You know which side I’m on.

  15. Who sets up a pirate radio station anymore? Really, with the internet, it is no fun anymore, nobody is going to listen. I think that what the FCC is concerned about is Radio Piracy, meaning jamming another radio station. I am concerned about elaborate piracy on AM radio, where we have political groups simulating a station’s broadcast and jamming the signal using elaborate phase locked loop transmitters that make it hard for the end listener to distinguish between the original and the pirate. There is also the problem of STL jamming. Radio piracy vs unlicensed broadcasting are two different problems. There is that first amendment aspect, and unless the FCC has a valid complaint of interference or “jamming”, judges are obligated to uphold the first amendment. The harder you push enforcement, the closer you get to eliminating it.

    The FCC is not there to protect a 5 or 50KW station from competition. If you try to use the FCC for that purpose, you will likely find out the hard way what happens. Usually, markets that have alot of unlicensed broadcasting suffer from non local programming or programming that the local market does not like. In some markets, poor or bad sound quality, like lossy audio files on air, is widespread on FM commercial operators. And those little low wattage stations sure sound good compared to your low end audio!

    Also, beware that if an unlicensed broadcaster is popular and has alot of listeners, your attempts as a commercial broadcaster to shut it down CAN and WILL bankrupt your station, as its listeners will target your advertisers. Beware that FCC complaints are public record! If you can’t beat them, buy them. But unlicensed broadcasters are often like a bee hive, they only swarm if you make them mad!

    But one of the easiest ways to get the FCC called is overmodulation or interference. If you don’t know how to control your modulation, don’t run an unlicensed station. Know your

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