HOLLYWOOD, FLA. — Here in Broward County, the geographical center of South Florida, the amount of unlicensed radio broadcasts can vary. On some days, two or three will scan up. On one Saturday evening, more than a dozen littered the airwaves.
It is FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly‘s quest to do what hasn’t been done in nearly 20 years — quash them once and for all.
RBR + TVBR OBSERVATION (Full Text Below, for Members Only): We are pleased that the FCC and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly wishes to rid the airwaves in South Florida, the New York Tri-State Area, and in metropolitan Boston of pesky pirate broadcasters. But, as Commissioner O’Rielly has said, more firepower is needed.
In the latest efforts designed to accomplish this, the FCC on Wednesday (7/26) issued a pair of forefeiture orders to two Haitian-Americans for broadcasts that, while clearly addressing an arguably under-served populace, are simply illegal.
The first order hands a $15,000 penalty to one Vilnord Simon for unauthorized broadcasts at 103.1 MHz in North Miami, Fla., a Haitian-American population center. Miami Field Office agents observed Simon operating his unauthorized radio station three times in late 2015 and early 2016.
In a new twist not seen in previous forfeiture notices to pirates, the notice to Mr. Simon notes that FCC action in this area “is essential because unlicensed radio stations do not broadcast Emergency Alert Service (EAS) messages, and so create a public safety hazard for their listeners.”
Then, of course, are the interference issues to licensed communications. The 103.1 MHz facility is now reserved for an LPFM, WUGR-FM. It uses a tower located adjacent to Calder Casino, serving an area largely comprised of Black listeners.
Simon received an Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) proposing the $15,000 fine in August 2016. He never filed a response to the NAL.
About 50 minutes north on I-95 is the city of Lake Worth, near West Palm Beach. That’s where Wilner Lundi was given his own $15,000 fine, on largely similar circumstances.
Lundi was found to have operated a pirate radio operation on two signals: 91.5 MHz and 104.7 MHz. This was observed on three dates in 2015: January 15, July 9, and December 3. In September 2016 an NAL was sent to Lundi; he did not reply to the notice.
RBR + TVBR OBSERVATION: We are pleased that the FCC and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly wishes to rid the airwaves in South Florida, the New York Tri-State Area, and in metropolitan Boston of pesky pirate broadcasters. But, as Commissioner O’Rielly has said, more firepower is needed. Lundi and Simon ignored the NALs. Will they ignore these forfeiture notices, too? What happens then? It’s time to get aggressive. Field agents should be working with county law enforcement in raiding these facilities, confiscating equipment and placing violators under arrest. Yes, there’s a valid threat to personal safety, as some pirate radio stations are reported tied to illicit businesses. But, as we are headquarted in South Florida, nothing has stopped the pirates from reappearing like weeds. As a contributing editor to the Miami Herald, our editor-in-chief penned articles on the pirate radio proliferation and its problems. This was more than 15 years ago. The players may have changed, but the pirates remain. And, they’ll stick around unless O’Rielly gets his wish and true firepower against the pirates is granted.