Two men face a possible record fine of more than $2.3 million for alleged pirate radio activities in New York City. The Federal Communications Commission says their broadcasts are ongoing.
The commission Wednesday announced its first proposed fines under the PIRATE Act, which became law three years ago and provides for much bigger penalties than in the past.
The FCC announced cases in New York and Oregon. But the first involves by far the larger penalty and is likely to be watched closely, given the amount involved, the location in the country’s largest media market, and the fact that actually collecting financial penalties has proven to be much harder for the federal government than issuing them.
The proposed fine is against César Ayora and Luis Angel Ayora for radio signals in Queens, N.Y.
The FCC said they operate “Radio Impacto 2.” Its website calls it “The Official Radio of Ecuadorians in New York” and gives the impression of a substantial radio operation, listing numerous supporters including familiar brands like All-State and Verizon Wireless.
The commission previously issued Luis Angel Ayora a $20,000 forfeiture in 2015, which it said he did not pay. “In 2016, the U.S. Marshals Service executed a warrant in rem and seized the Ayoras’ broadcasting equipment,” according to the FCC account.
“As part of their PIRATE Act investigation, FCC Enforcement Bureau Agents found scores of apparent violations between March and September 2022, including multiple weekly on-air radio programs. The Ayoras even advertised their pirate radio station for no less than 25 weeks, and continue to operate their unauthorized station to date.”
The “About Us” page of the Radio Impacto 2 website states the following in Spanish, translated here by Google: “The brothers César and Angel Ayora in September 2008 founded the first Ecuadorian FM radio station in New York City. After having acquired enough experience in the radio market in the U.S. and being part of some radio projects, including the program ‘Fiesta Grande’ for 7 years on the frequency 1430 AM (for New York-New Jersey-Connecticut) together with the enthusiastic broadcaster Rigoberto Pinzon, the opportunity was given in 2008 to rent the 91.9 FM frequency, the same one that for 8 years was the bearer of the message to compatriots residing in the Big Apple.”
It continued: “In 2016 we decided to expand our coverage by switching to 105.5 FM, a frequency that currently identifies us as the official radio station for Ecuadorians in N.Y. The station that never sleeps, because a team of communication professionals are working for you 24 hours a day, offering you the best programming and all the latest in Music – News – Sports – Entertainment and more … We support ourselves with Austro Producciones Technology Corp. to connect with our booth in Ecuador and more broadcasts from abroad. Thank you for tuning in in these 13 years of being on the air.”
Radio World reached out to Radio Impacto 2 via its website to invite comment.
The commission has also proposed an $80,000 forfeiture against Thomas Barnes, saying he operated “Pirate Radio Eastern Oregon” in La Grande, Ore.
“Barnes received multiple warnings notifying him that operating a pirate radio station is a violation of the Communications Act, but nonetheless he continued to engage in unauthorized radio broadcasting.”
He had ceased operation by mid-April of last year “after the bureau notified his landlord of the landlord’s potential liability under the PIRATE Act if pirate radio operations were to continue on the property.” Such letters are another recent addition to FCC enforcement.
The two proposed fines are in the form of notices of apparent liability for forfeiture. The parties now have an opportunity to respond.
The current financial limits given to the FCC under the PIRATE Act are $115,000 per day and about $2.3 million total.