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FCC and Federal Marshals Seized Pirate Radio Stations in New York City

On Monday the FCC announced [PDF] the unsealing of two complaints against unlicensed broadcasters operating in the New York City borough of The Bronx. The Commission and US Attorney’s Office also said that “on April 2, 2014, FCC agents and Deputy U.S. Marshals, pursuant to warrants, seized the radio transmission and production equipment identified in the two complaints.”

The station, identified as “Rika FM,” was allegedly operating out of a commercial space in The Bronx on 94.5 and 94.9 FM. Another location in Manhattan was apparently broadcasting on 95.3 and 100.1 FM.

It’s a rare occurrence that the US Attorney is willing to get involved with an unlicensed station. Using Federal Marshals is usually reserved for very high profile cases and/or those with prolonged activity despite multiple notices or fines from the FCC.

There are few hints in the press release as to why this case required this escalation. All we have is a quote from FCC Acting Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc, who said, “As alleged, these pirate radio stations were for-profit businesses that broke the law to line their own pockets while disrupting legitimate broadcasters. They should be out of business and off the air.”

A quick internet search for “Rika FM” turned up a Spanish language site for what looks pretty much like a typical commercial station. There is a live internet player, but nothing was playing on Monday night. The most recent “news” posts seem to be from January.

Banner ad from Rika FM website.

Banner ad from Rika FM website.

No radio frequencies are listed in text, though there is a banner ad for an event that was broadcast live last December on 94.5 FM–one of the frequencies named by the FCC–along with two others not included.

Rika FM also proclaims in a banner at the top of the page, in English, “FCC part 15 radio station.” If true, that means the station or stations are operating at a low enough power that no license is necessary. If this is the same Rika FM that just got busted, it would appear that the Commission does not agree with this designation.

I found a number of YouTube videos that seem like they were recorded in the the Rika FM 94.5 studios. Several were posted as recently as last year. The studios seen in these videos certainly look like professional operations. If they indeed were operating as commercial stations above part 15 limits and also causing interference, as alleged, then it’s clearer why the Commission was able to get the States Attorney’s cooperation to shut them down.

I have found no previous notices or citations for the station in the FCC’s enforcement actions for the last few years. However I did find one report on a Spanish language news site called Diario Horizonte dated April 14. That report says the station was operated by Dominicans and was first contacted by the FCC in December, 2011, with follow-ups in March, 2012 and February, 2013.


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2 Responses to FCC and Federal Marshals Seized Pirate Radio Stations in New York City

  1. John Anderson April 15, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

    New York’s got a state law on the books that criminalizes pirate radio, yet the local po-po are nowhere to be found on this? What a useful law! Meanwhile, the other several dozen pirates on the air in NYC soldier on….

  2. Paul Riismandel April 15, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

    Good point, John. I wasn’t even thinking about the NY state law.

    The whole thing is a little strange. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like when the Commission calls in the Marshals they usually make a bigger deal of it, and have much more to say about the alleged unlicensed station. The sheer lack of any info about the operators or anything else about the station is perplexing.

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