In the 60’s and 70’s there were a number of Pirate Radio Stations in the US – especially in New York City, where the maze of buildings, and low power transmissions typically limited the area in which the station could be heard to a few blocks. In those days, many of the Stations were either black, of broadcasting alternatives to the “Top 40” repetitive format broadcast by the licensed stations. Driving though New York you could pick up a marvelous tapestry of music you could never hear on commercial radio, as well as local talk shows dealing with issues in a specific community.
Starting with WHUR (Howard University Radio) in Washington DC, there was a 5 year trend to broaden the spectrum of music on the airwaves by licensed stations. HUR rocked the industry initially with a format that mixed every genre of black music in a commercial free format. The station was forced by economic needs to cave to commercial advertising in 1976, ending the fabulous experiment, and significantly narrowing the station’s playlist and style.
A Pirate Radio Station can be pretty small, and set up on a low budget.
With the elimination of local ownership rules by Republicans under Raygun, there was a massive consolidation of ownership of stations across the country, enabling behemoth’s like Clear Channel to own the majority of the airwaves, the rise of right wing talk, and the homogenization of playlists across the country. The consolidation killed local music, as well as the regional flavor of music across the country. Those appreciating music from the pre 80’s era will remember Atlantic Records and Southern Soul, Motown with it’s distinctive sound, and Philly Soul among others. Driving from region to region often presented an entirely different group of artists and sound palate. A combination of radio ownership consolidation, which was driven principally for political reasons, and the MTV-ization of America destroyed this creative landscape. And in the age of Hip-Hop – there are still some regional distinctions – to the exclusion of anything else.
Today’s Pirate Stations are driven principally by Immigrants, who are largely locked out of the broadcast community by a combination of cost, and audience size. Digital Broadcast Radio, once seen as a panacea for broadcasting is largely dead due to poor broadcast capabilities resulting in an inability to lock on to a station (poor coverage, much like the Digital TV failure), and the need for specialized equipment. Broadcast over the Internet has become hugely popular, but for poor communities, begs the issue of being able to afford an Internet Connection in the first place.
In the age of podcasts and streaming services, you might think pirate radio is low on the list of concerns of federal lawmakers and broadcasters. You’d be wrong.
They’re increasingly worried about its presence in some cities as unlicensed broadcasters commandeer frequencies to play anything from Trinidadian dance music to Haitian call-in shows. And they complain the Federal Communications Commission can’t keep up with the pirates, who can block listeners from favorite programs or emergency alerts for missing children and severe weather.
Helped along by cheaper technology, the rogue stations can cover several blocks or several square miles. Most broadcast to immigrant communities that pirate radio defenders say are underserved by licensed stations.
“The DJs sound like you and they talk about things that you’re interested in,” said Jay Blessed, an online DJ who has listened to various unlicensed stations since she moved from Trinidad to Brooklyn more than a decade ago.
“You call them up and say, ‘I want to hear this song,’ and they play it for you,” Blessed said. “It’s interactive. It’s engaging. It’s communal.”
Last year, nearly three dozen congressional members from the New York region urged the FCC to do more about what they called the “unprecedented growth of pirate radio operations.” So did the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, which said pirates undermine licensed minority stations while ignoring consumer protection laws that guard against indecency and false advertising.
The New York State Broadcasters Association estimates that 100 pirates operate in the New York City area alone, carrying programs in languages from Hebrew to Gaelic to Spanish. Many also broadcast in and around Miami and Boston; FCC enforcement data shows agents have gone after at least one pirate in nearly every state in the past decade.
The FCC has been discussing possible solutions, such as penalizing pirate radio advertisers, and last month urged landlords and government officials to look out for rogue broadcasters.
The alleged pirates include Jean Yves Tullias, a barber living in Irvington, about 15 miles from New York. The FCC claims he appropriated an unused frequency to broadcast his show, which includes church services, gospel music and a call-in program for fellow Haitians.
Tullias denies any wrongdoing. Cutting hair recently at his barbershop, he said a friend broadcast his Internet radio show without telling him he used a pirated frequency.
Tullias, 44, started his show because the local Haitian community “had no communication, nobody to help them,” he said.
“When you get that radio station, that prayer line, you feel comfortable,” he said of older listeners who speak little English and feel isolated. “You feel happy.”
Broadcasters are increasingly concerned because the FCC has gone after fewer pirates in recent years. The commission issued more than 100 warnings and fines against alleged pirates last year, compared with more than 400 in 2010.
That number fell despite a “significant increase” in the number of pirate stations, tallied by David Donovan, president of the New York State Broadcasters Association.
Donovan said the signals interfere with the Emergency Alert System, which relies on a phone-tree-like chain of stations listening to one another. Listeners also can’t hear the alerts, he said.
In his response to lawmakers’ concerns, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler cited a stagnant budget and its smallest staff in 30 years. Fines and seizures are not enough, he added, because pirates often refuse to pay and quickly replace transmitters and inexpensive antennas.
For about $750, pirates can buy equipment to broadcast at a range of at least 1 or 2 miles, experts say….More Here…