By Adam R Jacobson
RBR + TVBR
A buccaneer in the Heart of Dixie has been slapped with a steep fine for operating an FM station without a license.
In an official Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture released Thursday (Oct. 20) by the FCC from Ronald Ramage, the regional director of Region Two of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, Michael Dudley was handed a proposed $15,000 penalty for his operation of an unlicensed facility at 103.9 MHz in the picturesque lakeside town of Guntersville, Ala.
The penalty comes as a result of Dudley’s “deliberate disregard” of warnings to shut down the facility.
“Commission action in this area is essential because unlicensed radio stations create a danger of interference to licensed communications and undermine the commission’s authority over FM broadcast radio operations,” Ramage notes.
RBR + TVBR OBSERVATION (full text for subscribers below): Boo-yah! It’s aggressive action like this from the Atlanta office that needs to come to New York and Miami. Yes, legitimate dangers exist in these big cities, where pirate radio station operators may be tied to other far-more dangerous antics. But resolving this months, not years, is just the time of “don’t F with us” action this FCC needs.
Trouble started for Mr. Dudley on April 28, 2016, the when the commission received a complaint about an unauthorized radio station operating a frequency in Guntersville that should be clear of any local station; the closest stations authorized for 103.9 MHz are a low-power facility in Fort Payne and a translator in Gadsden.
An agent from the FCC’s Atlanta office on May 3, using mobile direction-finding techniques, pinpointed the unauthorized broadcasts to a residential property in Guntersville belonging to Mr. Dudley. He wasn’t home at the time of the agent’s visit, but the agent was able to reach him by phone and tell him to shut down the facility.
According to Ramage’s account of the events, Dudley said he was out of town but would turn off the transmitter when he returned the next day. Dudley also volunteered to surrender his transmitter to the Commission.
He complied … sort of.
On July 14, the Commission received a complaint alleging that another unlicensed radio station was illegally operating in the vicinity of Mr. Dudley’s residence, on 107.9 MHz. The only licensed stations on that frequency are an LPFM some 48 miles away in Madison, Ala., and WOGT-FM in East Ridge, Tenn., the Chattanooga “NASH Icon” station.
The agent called Dudley to discuss the matter, and Dudley refused to turn the station off on the grounds that “people in his area wanted him on the air.”
Dudley also maintained that, since he could not apply for a radio license because no FCC application window was open, his “hands were tied” and that he would continue to operate despite the agent’s second request to turn off the facility.
Silence came only after field strength measurements were taken on July 18; Dudley contacted the agent later the same day and admitted he was operating the station without a license.
Dudley now faces financial penalties of up to $18,936 for each day of a continuing violation, up to a statutory maximum of $142,021. An increase of the base forfeiture from $10,000 was made due to Dudley’s refusals to abide by the Atlanta agent’s requests.
RBR + TVBR OBSERVATION (full text for subscribers below): Mr. Dudley: you are a dunce. Telling an FCC agent that you couldn’t apply for a radio license because the application window was closed and that people in your area wanted you on the air is just stupid. We are highly pleased that this moron was fined and that swift FCC action transpired in this matter. Less than six months after complaints first arrived in the FCC’s Atlanta field office, justice was served. Now, we know that a rural town on a pretty lake in Alabama is a far cry from North Miami or Jamaica, Queens, but that’s where tougher enforcement and a little help from the police could help. And, perhaps this “we’re warning you …” slap-on-the-wrist policy needs to disappear. If I got a warning for operating a pirate radio station here in Palm Beach County, Florida, where there are about a dozen on as we write this, what would really happen? OK, we would shut it down. But those other guys? They clearly wouldn’t take you seriously. Let’s use the action against Dudley as a step to get serious and perhaps issue fines on the spot. Let’s even get the authorities involved and arrest people. If not, my FM dial will still be littered with illegal operators from Jupiter to Fort Lauderdale.