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FCC Puts Pirate Activity in Spotlight

Commission ups its search for unauthorized operators in May

Over the course of two days in May, the Federal Communications Commission took action on four allegedly unlicensed pirate radio operators.

In all these cases — one in Mount Vernon, N.Y., one in Dallas and three in a single location in East Orange, N.J. — the FCC reiterated that operating radio transmitting equipment at certain levels without a valid station is against the law, ordered them all to shut down, laid out the potential ramifications and gave each a window in time for them to explain their actions in writing.

Pirate radio has been a renewed point of concern for broadcasters in the United States, with recent debate over the possible impact of cuts in field offices and with Commissioner Michael O’Rielly keeping a spotlight on the problem.

In the latest cases, according to the commission, agents from the Enforcement Bureau were prompted to investigate after receiving complaints. In the case of Sean Marshall of Mount Vernon, signals were emanating on 98.9 MHz in the Bronx. Over the river in East Orange, N.J., a trio that includes Benjamin Klein, George Fontan and Steve Marks have received separate warnings for operating on 94.3 MHz in East Orange.

In each case, agents said they found unlicensed radio signals using direction-finding techniques.

In Marshall’s case, field strength levels on 98.9 MHz were measured at 9,258 microvolts per meter (µV/m) at 515.24 meters. The max level for nonlicensed devices is 250 µV/m at 3 meters. Marshall, the FCC said, told agents he was operator of the radio station and acknowledged he had no authority to do so.

For the trio in New Jersey, field strength measured in at 6,034 µV/m at 852.48 meters.

The FCC told all four of these alleged operators to shut down immediately and gave each 10 days to respond with evidence that they indeed have a valid license.

The case was a little different for Bradley C. Pike. After agents from the Dallas Enforcement Bureau responded to a complaint from the local public works department concerning interference to a VHF public safety communications system, agents found radio emissions in the VHF band emanating from Pike’s residence.

Upon being confronted by agents, the FCC said, Pike acknowledged using a radio jamming device, which he surrendered. Use of this type of device “creates a danger of interference to important radio communications services,” the FCC said in its notice to Pike, and may subject him to “severe” penalties. The commission gave Pike 30 days to respond with mitigating evidence.