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FCC Starts Crackdown on Pirate Radio Landlords

Three properties in Queens get new “Notices of Illegal Pirate Radio Broadcasting”

The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau has begun targeting property owners and managers that tolerate pirate broadcasting on their properties.

It started today by notifying owners of three properties in Queens in New York City that there is apparent illegal broadcasting happening at their buildings.

The bureau issued an announcement that it is exercising the FCC’s new authority under the recently enacted PIRATE Act, which gave the commission a significant new hammer in its anti-pirate toolkit: “Parties that knowingly facilitate illegal broadcasting on their property are liable for fines of up to $2 million,” it stated.

Enforcement Bureau Chief Rosemary Harold said, “It is unacceptable — and plainly illegal under the new law — for landlords and property managers to simply opt to ignore pirate radio operations. Once they are aware of these unauthorized broadcasts, they must take steps to stop it from continuing in their buildings or at other sites they own or control.”

If they don’t, she said, they risk a heavy fine, followed by collection action in court. “In addition, our enforcement actions will be made public, which may create further unforeseen business risks.” She emphasized what the FCC and broadcasters have been saying for years: that pirate radio is illegal, and can interfere with licensed stations and emergency alerting.

The bureau will provide written notice to property owners and managers that it thinks “are turning a blind eye to — or even helping facilitate — illegal broadcasting.” It also has created a new “Notice of Illegal Pirate Radio Broadcasting.” The notice provides owners a period of time to remedy the problem before any enforcement action proceeds.

The first three notices were mailed — first class and certified mail — to owners of buildings in Queens that are just a few blocks apart. The bureau said it traced a signal on 105.5 MHz from 3520 97th Street, Queens; another on 91.3 MHz from 3535 95th Street; and a third on 95.9 MHz from 3512 99th Street. They were given 10 days to respond; the FCC said the bureau will “consider any response before taking further action.”

Under the prominent headline “Notice of Illegal Pirate Broadcasting,” each letter’s language should get the attention of a landlord. It reviews the possible penalties, then adds: “If you do not respond to this Notice, the FCC may nonetheless determine that, as a legal matter, you have sufficient knowledge of the above-referenced pirate radio activity to support enforcement action against you. Service of this Notice to you or your agent establishes the foundation, along with other evidence, that could lead to significant financial penalties.”

Broadcasters have pushed for decades for the FCC to be more aggressive in combating illegal broadcasting. FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly has been a vocal proponent of giving the commission more tools to do that, and Congress did so in the PIRATE Act.

The argument is that landlords and property managers often know of the activity, and the bureau said it has previously sent warnings to landlords and sought cooperation from national property owners’ organizations to raise awareness. “With pirate broadcasts persisting despite these efforts, Congress took action and empowered the commission to penalize property owners and managers that knowingly permit pirate broadcasters to remain operating from the landlord’s buildings or unbuilt areas,” it stated.

“Landlords and property managers also may be found liable if a pirate station ceases operation for some period of time but later resumes at the same site.”