NYT raises alarm on pirate FMs

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Think pirate radio is only prevalent in South Florida? Think again. The New York Times penned an article over the weekend that says public FM stations there are also getting inundated with pirate radio interference:


“On Monday night at 10:27, listeners to the Newark-based jazz station WBGO could hear the legendary Red Norvo plunking away at the final bars of “Have You Met Miss Jones?” The station’s signal, at 88.3 FM, blankets the city from Tottenville at the southern tip of Staten Island to Riverdale in the north Bronx.
But WBGO fans in the heavily Haitian neighborhood of Flatbush, Brooklyn, could not hear Norvo’s glistening arpeggios. At that moment on that frequency, the Flatbush listeners instead heard an echoing voice pitching a wonder pill in Creole.”

The intruding signal came from a low-power pirate broadcaster, one of many in Flatbush and nearby neighborhoods that bedevil the major stations by blocking their signals. Brooklyn, over the years, has been home to dozens of pirate broadcasters, chattering in every language from Spanish to Yiddish. The Haitian-American community, with its traditional fondness for radio, is an especially receptive audience. But the number and persistence of the pirates squatting on their frequencies has been increasing, the story said.

 “They’re killing us,” Cephas Bowles, WBGO GM told the paper. “They don’t respect the FCC, and they don’t respect the stations that have legally been licensed to operate.” He says listeners have been calling in daily with complaints.

George Evans, CE at WFUV-FM, the Fordham University station, said that a rising resentment about Spanish and Creole pirates had prompted him to solicit listener complaints on the station’s Internet home page. The station has received 294 complaints since the notice went up in August, Evans said, most of them from listeners in Brooklyn and Paterson, N.J.

Since 2005, the commission has fined only one pirate broadcaster in Brooklyn, who in January was ordered to pay a 10,000 fine.

RBR observation: The NYC metro area has a ton of legal, licensed non comm. FM stations, mainly from colleges. It’s already a crowded dial, with WNYU, the aforementioned WBGO, WSOU, WFDR, WKCR, WNYE, WFMU, WCWP, WRIU, WSIA, WKRB, WHPC, and associated low power translators. These are all below 92.1 on the dial, leaving little room for pirate outfits. South Florida has a little more open space on that side of the dial for pirates to find a spot and maybe not get noticed as quickly. But in NYC, it’s a different story. Broadcasters may push for the state to emulate Florida’s tough new laws on pirate broadcasters if it gets much worse. Remember—the market has plenty of ethnic-brokered stations, should they want the legal coverage.


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Carl has been with RBR-TVBR since 1997 and is currently Managing Director/Senior Editor. Residing in Northern Virginia, he covers the business of broadcasting, advertising, programming, new media and engineering. He’s also done a great deal of interviews for the company and handles our ever-growing stable of bylined columnists.