With the FCC limited in its enforcement abilities concerning pirate operators and their continued illicit use of the broadcast airwaves, the Department of Justice has stepped in to squelch once and for all an illegal faith-based station in Massachusetts.
The U.S. government on Tuesday (3/5) formally filed a civil action designed to prevent an unlicensed radio station in Worcester, Mass., operated by Vasco Oburoni and the Christian Praise International Church, from continuing to evade the FCC.
The licensed radio station is at 97.1 MHz — first-adjacency to WBQT-FM 96.9 in Boston, a Beasley Media Group Class B.
It is the second instance where Oburoni and the church were found to have been in operation of an unlicensed station; they previously operated a pirate FM at 102.3 MHz — sandwiched between Springfield and Boston-market facilities.
Trouble for Mr. Oburoni started on April 21, 2015, when the Enforcement Bureau’s Boston field office received a complaint alleging that the unlicensed FM signal was causing interference to another Beasley station — Country WKLB-FM 102.5, a Boston-market station licensed to Waltham, Mass., licensed for city-grade coverage of Worcester.
As RBR + TVBR reported on Nov. 14, 2016, Oburoni was determined by the FCC’s Region One Enforcement Bureau to be the operator of the unlicensed radio station. A forfeiture order of $15,000 was handed to Oburoni in January 2017.
Oburoni agreed to a payment plan, but later began broadcasting again without a license on a different frequency. The FCC has received complaints, including from a licensed broadcaster, that the unlicensed station is interfering with radio signals, DOJ noted on Tuesday.
“It is a potential hazard to public safety for pirate radio stations to broadcast illegally and interfere with critical radio communication,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “Like any member of the community, the operators of these illegal stations could have applied for radio licenses and operated their stations in compliance with the law. When they choose to operate illegally, and continue those operations after being warned multiple times, action must be taken.”
FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Rosemary Harold called DOJ’s actions a “groundbreaking step,” and praised the injunction in aiding her department’s continued efforts to combat illegal broadcasting.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol E. Head of Lelling’s Asset Recovery Unit is handling the matter. Head did not comment on the case.
RBR+TVBR OBSERVATION: This is awesome! Pirate radio is a problem. But, the FCC can only do so much. One needs to simply tune to 90.1 MHz in North Miami, Fla., after dark, to see just how ineffective a financial penalty that can’t be enforced is when it comes to silencing unlicensed stations once and for all. In Delray Beach, Fla., a Haitian Creole pirate (a common programming choice among Florida operations that are unlicensed) recently popped up at 101.1 MHz. In the Spuyten Duyvil area of the Bronx, several Spanish-language pirate FMs were detected by RBR+TVBR in November. Without firepower, and the PIRATE Act’s passage by the Senate and approval by President Trump, this problem — one that dates to the Clinton era — will persist.