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Feds propose several hundred thousand dollars in fines against operators of pirate radio stations serving the Haitian community

The FCC this week proposed a $453,015 fine against Gerlens Cesar, who runs Radio TeleBoston, which broadcasts news to Haitians in the Boston area, and a $151,005 against Acerome Jean Charles, who runs a station called Radio Concorde, also aimed at the Haitian community.

One FCC commissioner, while backing the fines, however, said the fact that it's a sorry state of affairs that Haitians and other immigrants are forced to turn to unlicensed stations because current FCC rules make it almost impossible for them to win licenses in cities such as Boston.

The fine against Cesar would be the largest ever against somebody for running a pirate station, the FCC says.

FCC investigators warned the two they faced fines if they continued broadcasting as part of sweeps in several cities last year: Radio TeleBoston has been on the air since October, 2011; Radio Concorde for more than 25 years.

The FCC received complaints from residents of Boston and Randolph, Massachusetts of an illegal station operating at both 90.1 and 92.1 MHz. One of those complaints identified Cesar, owner of GC Computer, as the operator of Radio TeleBoston. FCC Enforcement Bureau field agents were able to locate the transmitters and determine that they far exceeded the allowable power level for unlicensed broadcasting. The Enforcement Bureau issued Cesar multiple written notices that his conduct was illegal and had to cease. Cesar nonetheless continued to broadcast Radio TeleBoston from multiple transmitters and frequencies, none of which were licensed, resulting in today’s proposed fine.

The FCC issued a similar statement about Jean Charles:

The FCC received a complaint from a local Boston-area licensed broadcaster alleging that Radio Concorde’s broadcasting on 106.3 MHz was interfering with the broadcaster’s new FM translator station at 106.1 MHz. FCC Enforcement Bureau field agents investigated the complaint and formally and repeatedly warned Jean Charles, instructing him to cease unauthorized broadcasts, and outlining the consequences if he continued to do so.

In a statement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, said it's time for pirate operators to cut the crap:

[T]here are many legal alternatives to unlicensed broadcasting. In 2013, we held a successful filing window for low-power FM (LPFM) construction permits, and as a result, nearly 1,400 new stations catering to diverse local interests have been licensed. Next year, we will hold an auction of construction permits for 130 vacant FM allotments. ... Those particularly eager to get on the air have other legal
avenues, such as collaborating with existing stations. Indeed, one of those newly licensed LPFM stations, WBCA-LP, Boston, Massachusetts, is a community radio station that allows residents to apply for time on the air. Finally, Internet streaming has become a popular and accessible platform for distributing audio programming without an FM license.

WBCA's license is owned by the city and operates out of BNN studios in Egleston Square.

In his own statement, fellow Commissioner and Republican Michael O'Rielly called the two men "perpetrators" with a "shameless level of disregard for the law," who he said actually risk the lives of their listeners by never broadcasting emergency notifications.

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, the sole Democrat on the commission board, agreed with the crackdown on the two stations for interfering with licensed stations, but said things should never have gotten to this point:

[I]t is impossible to consider today's actions without experiencing the disheartening realization that something is not working as it should. There are no excuses for those who choose to break the law or violate our rules, but I can't help but think about what impact the Commission's longstanding abdication of our diversity obligations has had on the development of unlicensed stations serving immigrant communities. Our numbers reveal that representatives of the communities that largely turn to pirate radio – Haitians, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, folks from Grenada or Guyana, to name a few – are absent from the ranks of licensed operators. Opportunities to obtain licenses are few and far between. And, even when they do open up, opportunities remain severely limited in urban population centers like New York, Boston, and Miami, where unlicensed operators have historically operated.

Where would we be today if we provided real opportunities for these operators years ago and were more intentional about making sure our licenses were distributed with diversity obligations in mind? What if we listened to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals the first or second time, or even the third time when it issued one of its Prometheus opinions telling us we need to better study how our rules and policies impact ownership opportunities for women and people of color? And what if we acted years ago to put in place solid, legally sound programs to promote ownership diversity? On this fourth remand from the Prometheus court, I have called for us to improve our data and conduct new empirical research to support targeted efforts to improve broadcast ownership diversity. Our work here is long overdue.

In 2018, WGBH profiled Radio Concorde, then broadcasting from Mattapan:

At La Foyer Bakery in Mattapan, traditional Haitian fish and meat patties are baked while employees listen to Radio Concorde, catching up on news from the old home and the new. Owner Edna Etienne said the radio plays all day long.

IIt is the most important way of communication that we have is the radio," Etienne said. "Some people, they don't really speak English, and they are at home. This is their life. They listen to the radio. The Haitian radio is very, very, very important in our community."

Free tagging: 


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  1. For no valid policy reason, make it nearly impossible to obtain a legal license
  2. Punish those who operate without licenses.

I believe in the rule of law, and I don't have an issue with fining someone who continues to operate a pirate station after being warned not to do so, but, as the third quoted commissioner pointed out, it's worth taking a look at the larger picture.

Which is a pretty close parallel to the immigration situation in the USA

Voting closed 46

**For no valid policy reason, make it nearly impossible to obtain a legal license**

The valid reason is that in big cities the spectrum is full.

You can get a ticket for Fenway once it's sold out.

You can't get a spot for your car in a garage if it's full

Being that there is no space on the spectrum in Boston, that's sounds like a valid reason to me.

**Which is a pretty close parallel to the immigration situation in the USA**

Is the situation: "If I want something, no one can tell me 'no'"?

Voting closed 1

The black, Latino and immigrant communities of Boston are meant to be unseen and unheard. Not one black-targeted or black owned radio station. Not one FM Hispanic station not one station targeted at West Indians. WJMN WBQT and WKAF are rhythmic stations that are white owned and have white program directors and play mainly to a white audience.They have no community involvement avoid all discussion of politics and do not talk about new developments in minority communities in Eastern MA.

Boston is the largest market in the country without an Urban or URBAN AC station. It’s is the largest market without a Hispanic FM Station. It is shameful that this is the way it is and has always been in this city. Finding these men a fine they cannot afford and sending them to prison is shameful. When will it stop?

Voting closed 47

Just said what can and has been done legally in every large urban area hasn’t been done here legally. But it the governments fault.

I’m sorry, these guys were smart enough to run a radio station, I’m sure they’re also smart enough to know how they were operating would lead to this.

Voting closed 25

And thatS fine- but what you said just isn’t Remotely feasible in the Boston market for ANY locally owned Media company in 2019-let alone some regular shmegulars.

Voting closed 6

If it's "shameful" that Boston has no Hispanic station, then you yourself can fix it by writing up a business plan for a Hispanic station, finding investors, buying up an existing station, and getting the Hispanic broadcast started up.

Voting closed 25

There are at least 10 Hispanic radio stations in Boston.

Voting closed 8

There are zero full power Spanish only language station in all of New England except for La Bomba in a Hartford/Springfield.

Go check mediabase , Nielsen or FMQB.

Voting closed 9

Interfere with my TV. One of the masts is a half a block away. No problem since I got cable. It was like a Haitian CB radio broadcast.

Voting closed 19

I'm not in favor of pirate radio but very opposed to commercial radio. All licenses should be limited to non-profit broadcasters.

Anyway, Haitians are the most represented international group on FM in Boston. They have french language shows on WMBR, WZBC, and WMFO. Plus the pirates.

Voting closed 9

Pirate radio is amazing and a great form of direct action. The fact that CBS, Clear Channel, etc took away what should belong to the public via politicians who don’t represent us is gross. Sometimes the only way to highlight what is wrong is by making something happen without permission. Drop the fines and return what should be a public resource to the public!

Voting closed 22

Generally the people harmed by pirate radio are also small non-profit broadcasters. I'd love it if a pirate took one of the automated shit stations off the air.

Voting closed 16

just for the stigma they've added to the Haitian community.
Imagine people thinking can't these people do anything legally.

Voting closed 15

6 years ago the pirates had a chance to go legit, but they didn’t.

Voting closed 17

Boston got one low-power license. It was awarded to the city itself.

Voting closed 14

**Boston got one low-power license. It was awarded to the city itself.**

That frequency is assigned to THREE licensees. The city, a church and a school.

Also, Zumix in East Boston got a license.

But we keep coming back to the fact that the spectrum is full, no other stations can fit without hurting another.

Voting closed 0

the f.c.c. law actually prevented them from obtaining a license because they were previously fined.

the small-timers too poor to go legit were coincidentally prevented from going legit once more spectrum was released.

Voting closed 12


is boston unique in the amount of pirates ? is it becuz of the large west-indian culture ?

Voting closed 7

In that pirates are prevalent and accepted by most in the community and political world. A direct response to the reality that every single FM full power radio station in Massachusetts is white owned. Every one.

So as a result there’s a need for non white stations seeing as 30% of the state isn’t white. Many of Bostons full power station are ran by colleges and non profit organizations. No other city I know of has private as large and as popular as Boston Big City 88.5 and B87. Stations that have been around for a dozen+ years.

Voting closed 8

The FCC received complaints from residents of Boston and Randolph, Massachusetts of an illegal station operating at both 90.1 and 92.1 MHz.

I can only think of one type of person who would be bothered enough by something like this to actually take the time and effort to report it

Voting closed 9

I assume that would be people who are trying to listen to a licensed station on an adjacent frequency but can't hear it due to interference. Or the operators of such a licensed station.

Voting closed 5

**I can only think of one type of person who would be bothered enough by something like this to actually take the time and effort to report it**

A legal licensee who 's legal signal is getting diminished by said pirate?

Voting closed 1

How can we get the corrupt Ajit Pai out of here?

Voting closed 2