FCC Upholds Alabama Pirate Fine


Nearly one year ago, a buccaneer in the Heart of Dixie was slapped with a steep fine for operating an FM station without a license, by way of Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL).

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has finally reviewed, and adjudicated, on the response to its NAL from the individual found to have been operating an unlicensed radio station in Guntersville, Ala.

The message to this radio pirate from Enforcement Bureau Region Two Regional Director Ronald Ramage? Surrender the booty.

On Oct. 20, 2016, 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.

The penalty came as a result of Dudley’s “deliberate disregard” of warnings to shut down the facility. And, the proposed forfeiture amount upped from a base forfeiture of $10,000 because of his nose-thumbing at the FCC: he continued to operate the station after being put on notice that his actions were illegal.

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, 2016; Dudley contacted the agent later the same day and admitted he was operating the station without a license.

Fast-forward to Oct. 31, 2016, when Dudley filed a response to the NAL. While he did not
deny operating the station, he made several arguments as to why the NAL should be
cancelled and the forfeiture reduced or rescinded.

Specifically, Dudley argues that he had ceased operating the station, that the station had not caused interference and so had not harmed anyone, and that he is unable to pay the forfeiture.

How did Ramage and the Enforcement Bureau respond? First, it noted in bold:

  • Post-Sanction Compliance Does Not Warrant a Reduction in the Proposed Penalty.
  • Mr. Dudley’s Assertion that He Did Not Cause Harmful Interference Is Irrelevant to Establishing a Section 301 Violation
  • Mr. Dudley Has Provided No Basis to Reduce the Forfeiture for Inability to Pay

Dudley must now pay the $15,000 fine within 30 days of Oct. 17.