Pirate Radio Irks Broadcasters

Authorities and broadcasters are increasingly concerned about an inability to control the proliferation of pirate radio stations.

Photo: RGBstock.com/weewillyd (Bill Davenport)

Despite a reported increase in the number of illegal broadcasters hijacking public frequencies, as calculated by David Donovan, president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, the number of pirates warned or fined by the Federal Communications Commission fell to 100 in 2015 from 400 in 2010. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the agency’s current staff is its smallest in 30 years, and its current strategies of fines and seizures of the relatively inexpensive equipment required are ineffective at stemming the flood of incoming pirates.

One concern of regulators and broadcasters is that pirate radio blocks the public’s access to the Emergency Alert System, which relies on different stations’ ability to hear one another. A large amount of illegal radio is broadcast in languages other than English, and its defenders claim that this is the only way immigrant communities are finding media that serves their needs. New York congress members and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters have expressed concern about illegal broadcasters.

The NYSBA estimates there are 100 pirates anchored in the NYC area, broadcasting in a cacophony of languages. FCC records show that agents have targeted at least one pirate in every state in the last 10 years.