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Pirates on 87.9FM at Greater Risk?

87.9 FM pirate stations at risk?I was disappointed but unsurprised to learn about the end of Pirate Cat Radio’s unlicensed FM broadcast resulting from the FCC issuing a notice of apparent liability (NAL) to Pirate Cat’s operator Monkey Man a/k/a Daniel K. Roberts. However, I am surprised at how long Pirate Cat was able to make a go of it operating out in the open. Perhaps appearing on the Travel Channel’s No Reservations made it hard for the Commission to turn a blind eye much longer.

As Jennifer noted in her report, the FCC observed in a footnote to its NAL that, “the frequency used without authority by Roberts and PCR is 87.9 MHz, which is not allocated to the FM broadcast band.” Over email Jennifer asked me if using that frequency might be any sort of contributing factor for the FCC’s attention, especially in light of an unlicensed operator in Florida recently receiving a $2500 fine for broadcasting on the same frequency.

I was actually a little confused by the FCC’s footnote about 87.9 FM because I’d always understood that the frequency is considered part of the FM dial, though typically not assigned except under special circumstances. In fact, at present there are three stations licensed to 87.9 FM: KSFH in Mountain View, CA; K200AA in Sun Valley, NV, a translator in the Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls, ID CSN Network; and WA2XNX in Brazos, TX, an experimental station licensed to Federal Signal Corporation.

According to the Code of Federal Regulations title 47 section 73.501, “87.9 MHz, Channel 200, is available only for use of existing Class D stations required to change frequency.” These Class D stations are low-power 10 watt stations licensed prior to 1978, when the service ceased to exist. That’s the rule under which low-power high school station KSFH is licensed to 87.9 FM.

So, while it’s true that the Commission generally doesn’t license new stations to 87.9 FM, it’s simply not true that the frequency is not part of the FM broadcast spectrum as asserted in the NAL issued to Pirate Cat Radio. As to the question of whether using that frequency contributed to the FCC targeting Pirate Cat or the aforementioned Florida pirate, I think it’s quite unlikely. The NAL against the Florida pirate makes no mention of the frequency not being a legitimate part of the FM dial.

As far as the Commission is concerned any given unlicensed operator is no different than another. Each field office tends to have its own set of priorities about chasing down pirates, and looking at the list of enforcement actions you can definitely see that each office seems to have periodic bursts of action against unlicensed operators. By and large enforcement actions are complaint-based, and operating out in the open is more likely to result in a complaint than being clandestine.

I suspect that action against Pirate Cat, in particular, came about rather slowly, perhaps influenced by the positive publicity it received and the position of relative respect it has in the community. Of course, these factors will not stop the FCC from taking action against an unlicensed broadcaster; failing to take any action would only serve as an encouragement to others. But I do think that these factors complicate the Commission’s job, causing it to tread a little more carefully.

I think operating an unlicensed station on 87.9 FM is no more risky than operating on any other frequency. The fact that there are very few stations licensed to this frequency makes it attractive for pirates looking for a clear channel and to avoid interfering with other stations. The FCC’s recent decision that FM stations no longer need to protect channel 6 audio on the far left end of the dial may lead to erosion of this opportunity in some areas as more licensed stations encroach on 87.9 FM. Until then, the risk of being a pirate on 87.9 FM is due to being a pirate broadcaster, and nothing more.

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10 Responses to Pirates on 87.9FM at Greater Risk?

  1. Richard B. Johnson December 22, 2009 at 11:03 am #

    I have reported the precise location of several unlicensed radio stations to the FCC and they ignore me. Since 87.9 (the WAVE) is practically in my back dooryard, I have reported them twice. I get the computerized receipt, but they don’t bother to shut them down or even contact them. The FCC is lazy, violates its own rules, and no longer protects the spectrum which, last time I checked, is public property. As a long time holder of a FCC First Class Commercial License, I had to learn, and comply with, the rules when I was working in the broadcast industry. Nowadays, anyone can transmit any kind of low-fidelity signal anywhere and never be held accountable.

    I am seriously considering publishing the precise address of every pirate station I find (I know how to DF them), and let the vigilantes take them off the air.

  2. Bob January 3, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

    Richard take a chill pill. Radio wouldn’t be what it is today without pirate radio. If there not interfering leave them alone. Pirate Radio Rules!!!

  3. Tom February 10, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    So, Mr. Johnson took it upon himself to relentlessly nag the FCC into spending how many thousands of our tax dollars to hassle a low power pirate who wasn’t hurting anybody or interfering with anything?
    Thanks, but no thanks, Richard. If you think this makes you some kind of hero, well… maybe you should consider a different hobby.

  4. Tom February 10, 2010 at 3:33 pm #

    Oh, and as far as the FCC being the “protectors of the public airwaves”, that pretty much ended when they decided to start selling (rather than leasing, for example) chunks of the spectrum to the highest bidders.

  5. Maize's Magikarp February 14, 2010 at 6:38 am #

    I really think that the radio spectrum should be deregulated. The FCC has not opened up a low-power broadcast application window for over 8 years. In any event, I can’t afford the $200 registration fee anyway.

  6. Richard B. Johnson February 14, 2010 at 6:58 am #

    I would also like to note that people think I am an asshole so I plan on going to war with all the pirates I hear on my radio dial because it’s my air waves and I own them. I have no life and nothing better to do anyways so I find it’s my personal job to do this at the expense of what little reputation I already have.

  7. Matthew Lasar February 14, 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    Richard: If I were you, I’d get a refund from that charm school.

  8. bob1234 February 20, 2010 at 8:52 am #

    I just got an FCC call for my 87.9 running 1/2 watt into a jpole at 20 feet. Guess a couple xm satellite guys complained I washed out thier signal when they drove by. Gezz cry babies. Was only on for like 2 weeks.

  9. Dan March 4, 2015 at 3:40 pm #

    Go on down to 87.7 and nobody will bother you, unless you have a channel 6 in your area. The FCC is a shadow of its former self, and it really no better than the pirates. As far as I am concerned, all those religious translators are bigger pirates than anyone operating without a license. They have tied up more spectrum under a loophole which they just now are considering closing. They should be considered secondary under LPFM’s. Calvery Chapel, KLOVE, and a couple of other religious broadcasters effectively have national networks of stations. That was not the intention of translators, and is a perversion of the law.

  10. RK Henderson June 25, 2015 at 11:00 am #

    (For the record, that second message purporting to be from “Richard Johnson” is clearly a hoax.)

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