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Pirates Break the Law — But Are the Rules Fair?

He's not here to defend pirate broadcasters, but the Wandering Engineer does have a soft spot for neighborhood radio

On May 8, the PIRATE Act was introduced in the House of Representatives. The legislation provides the Federal Communications Commission with enhanced penalties and additional tools to take action against illegal pirate radio operations.

I’m not here to defend pirates, but I do have a soft spot for neighborhood radio, and I’m not at all sure that there is much justification in all of the broadcast spectrum being used for mega-corporation cash-machine jukeboxes. I could suggest that many of these stations come nowhere near serving the communities’ interests or necessities, and a substantial number have been gleaned of all monetary and social value.

But here’s the thing: The radio waves are, or at least were, a public asset. As radio stations become worth less and less and other media alternatives proliferate and the existing stations dig deeper into survival strategies (some arguably outright disgusting and destructive), maybe it’s time to claw back some spectrum to do what radio professed to do: serve the public interest, convenience and necessity.

The same people who want to reduce the economic threat from pirates fought to prevent neighborhood broadcasters from doing the same (albeit legally). If the value of radio spectrum is all about cashflow, then keeping pirates and community broadcasters off the air and on the Internet is the strategy.

(If, on the other hand, it’s not all about money…)

Radio people and “corporate persons” often see things differently. Even as we in the business try to stay in the business, we have to ask at what price? Bankruptcy of soul or wallet?

It would be so comforting to feel that pirates and community stations are nothing but thieves, but alas… we radio people in our heart of hearts know they are all too often less the enemy and more and more like us.

I would feel a whole lot better about going after the bad guys, if the good they might occasionally do had an appropriate outlet.