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What’s news in unlicensed broadcasting: Retired Navy air traffic controller in Florida faces state charges, but overall FCC enforcement is down

The biggest news in pirate radio so far this year is the story about Ft. Myers, Florida resident Albert Knighten, a retired Navy air traffic controller who was arrested in December on charges of unlicensed broadcasting. Knighten’s Dunbar Radio, named for his neighborhood, focused his broadcasts on the city’s underserved population of older residents who can’t use the internet for radio listening, often hosting local officials for on-air chats.

The remarkable aspect of Knighten’s story is that he missed his arraignment hearing earlier this month in order to attend a panel discussion about civil rights and broadcasting at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC. It’s unfortunate that Knighten was broadcasting in Florida, which is one of only three states with state laws targeting unlicensed broadcasting, and the only state which has made any arrests under statute. In most other states Knighten would only face the wrath of the FCC, which continues to have a pretty poor record in collecting fines for unlicensed broadcasting.

FCC Enforcement Actions 1997-2011

Our friend John Anderson at recently published his annual survey of anti-pirate FCC action. His findings for 2011 shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been following the subject here at Radio Survivor on or John’s site.

In fact, Commission enforcement against unlicensed broadcasters hit a 6-year low in 2011. As John reports,

From a record high of 447 enforcement actions clocked in 2009 and 2010, field agents executed just 184 in 2011, against fewer than 100 stations total. Massive drops were seen in the number of station-visits and warning letters issued.

John notes that the total amount in fines handed down by the FCC was actually the highest since 2005, $168,400. However, as this November, 2011 Radio World article would corroborate, it’s highly unlikely the agency will ever collect anything close to that dollar amount when all is said and done.

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