August 20, 1997
Low Power, High Hassle
Pirates are on the prowl. The careful reader of RW knows that unlicensed radio stations, apparently operating with power levels in excess of those allowed by law, are bothering legitimate stations and their listeners more often these days. The NAB Radio Board has adopted a resolution urging the FCC to take whatever enforcement or judicial steps are necessary to terminate these broadcasts. According to the NAB, the FCC recently referred 10 new cases of pirate operations to federal authorities around the country for enforcement.
Meanwhile, as reported in this issue, all 20 members of the Milwaukee Area Radio Broadcasters Association recently complained to the FCC field office in Chicago about problems of interference caused by low power pirates in their area. ("Low-power," indeed: at least some of those unlicensed operators apparently had threatened to crank it up to 500 W by the end of the summer.)
Also, in a recent newsletter faxed to member stations, the NAB cited three articles in RW as evidence of "the latest skirmish in a war on pirate radio that has seen its fronts expand over the past six months."
Observers believe much of this activity stems from public awareness of the ongoing case of the FCC and Stephen Dunifer, the unlicensed radio operator in Berkeley, Calif., and poster boy for the micro-power movement. But concerned broadcasters should not dismiss this as a temporary trend. The movement seems more organized, more visible. In June, about 120 people attended the West Coast Micro-Power Radio Conference, and set up an Internet network for exchanging audio files. Former radio ship operator Allan Weiner has written a new book and was on the Howard Stern show recently to promote it. Letters to RW prove that this movement has many adherents.
The legal limits of unlicensed operation are set too low. The radio band can accommodate more low-power operators than it does. But if pirates and their supporters want to ease those limits, they should work within the system to do so. We agree that the FCC should take all steps to protect the signals of licensed radio stations from illegal operators.
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