In May 2017, the Assistant Chief of a volunteer fire department in a tiny West Virginia town stepped away from his role after nearly 5 1/2 years. He had a radio broadcasting background of sorts, as the operator of online radio operation Real Radio Daytona.
At the same time, this individual was the owner and morning host of an online radio station in Lexington, Ky., mimicking the branding of a licensed facility in Huntington, W. Va.
It seems being an online-only operator wasn’t enough for Tim Granger and his wife Pam Lee. In Williamson, W. Va., their “Rock 104.1” went on the air two months ago. It’s now silent. What happened? Someone called the FCC on their unlicensed radio operation.
With all the bravado of a big-market sign-on, “Rock 104.1” signed on as a new local voice for a community of 3,200 nestled on the West Virginia site of the Tug Fork river from Kentucky.
It added a 13th radio signal for local residents, using a signal that has its closest first-adjacency some 80 miles away in New Boston, Ohio — Educational Media Foundation’s recently acquired WPYK-FM in the Huntington-Ashland market, which airs the “KLOVE” network.
A July 9 ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the arrival of “Rock 104.1” was celebrated at its East Third Avenue studios and offices with member of the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The Williamson Daily News offered an article about the sign-on of “Rock 104.1” one day later, with a reporter snapping photos of Granger and Lee in-studio. A website offering $10 “Rock 104.1” T-shirts, with 50% of the cost going to Breast Cancer Research, was launched. Sponsors included Starters Bar and Restaurant and Precision Heating Cooling Electrical.
For any broadcaster, the exposure and early support from two local businesses would have been a cause for cheer. But, this was no ordinary broadcaster — and one local sleuth started to inquire about what “Rock 104.1” really was.
It turns out Granger and Lee launched the station without any FCC approval — although they beg to differ.
As part of RBR+TVBR‘s investigation into the operations of Granger and Lee, a phone call was placed Friday (7/27) to “Rock 104.1.” The call was answered with a “hello” by Lee. Asked about the operation, Lee confirmed that “Rock 104.1” was on the air for two months. All advertising was bartered.
What happened that caused “Rock 104.1” to cease operations?
A local resident contacted the FCC, or as Lee says, “someone who could turn us in.”
But, how could a radio station operate if any one individual had the power to shut it down with one simple call to Washington, D.C.?
Lee explained that Granger spoke with a now-retired individual at the FCC named “Pete.” The discussion of what Granger wanted to do — operate a 25-watt station in rural West Virginia — was had with this individual. According to Lee, Granger was told he’d be fine so long as no one called the Commission. “They go after the big hombres,” Lee said Granger was told by this now-departed FCC employee.
Lee shared that from the day “Rock 104.1” signed on the air, not a day went by without some sort of problem. “We’ve had threats and everything, saying, ‘We’re going to hang you.'”
RBR+TVBR then pressed Lee to provide the station’s call letters, as even LPFMs must be registered with the Commission. Lee abruptly concluded the call after suggesting RBR+TVBR was a possible informer to the FCC of its operation. The story of “Rock 104.1” was brought to RBR+TVBR‘s attention by HobbyBroadcaster.net, which assists the hobby broadcaster, school campus broadcaster or business broadcaster “with the information and resources to get on the air using legal, license free low power AM and FM radio broadcasting.”
This is commonly referred to as Part 15 radio broadcasting.
The typical Part 15 radio enthusiast operates at 100 milliwatts on AM.
As of July 24, 1991, the FCC mandates that any unlicensed broadcasts on the FM broadcast band (87.9 MHz to 107.9 MHz) be limited to a field strength of 250 µV/m at a distance of 3 meters from the antenna. This is roughly equivalent to 0.01 microwatts.
Translation: the approximate maximum coverage radius for an unlicensed FM broadcast is 200 feet.
According to the Williamson Daily News, “Rock 104.1” could reach Belfry, Ky., five miles to the south of Williamson.
The News reporter who covered the ribbon-cutting ceremony quoted Lee as saying “Rock 104.1” was the “only station in Williamson.”
This isn’t exactly true. Class C1 Country WXCC-FM 96.5 is licensed to Williamson. However it uses offices and studios in Pikeville, Ky., some 27 miles away.
WBTH-AM 1400, also licensed to Williamson, is part of the “EKB Sports Network.”
Both are owned by East Kentucky Broadcasting.
The News also noted that Granger contacted the FCC “to make sure he was not in violation of any codes.”
“Since the radio station has a low coverage area, it would not interfere with any regulations, he said,” the News reported.
A Notice of Unlicensed Operation is not likely, as these are generally issued by agents from an FCC Enforcement Bureau upon detection of a pirate radio station that is on the air.
Meanwhile, questions linger about just how a Daytona Beach internet radio operator was supposedly informed by a member of the Commission that launching an unlicensed operation would likely go under their radar, unless someone spoke up.