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Feds dial up another crackdown on Boston-area pirate radio stations

The FCC last week warned the owners of eight properties - including a church on Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester - that they have two weeks to shut down the unlicensed radio stations emanating from their buildings or face fines of more than $2.3 million per station.

It's the latest in a series of FCC actions over the past decade to try to squelch radio stations - many serving the local Haitian community - which the FCC says not only don't have licenses but which can interfere with stations that do.

Among those warned in letters sent Friday: New Fellowship Baptist Church of Dorchester, which was actually cited for allowing two unlicensed stations to use antennas on the roof of its building, a former theater at 616 Blue Hill Ave. in Dorchester. That potentially could leave it open to fines totaling $4.6 million.

One of the frequencies the commission cited was 88.5 MHz, still broadcasting this afternoon as Big City FM.

This is not the first time the FCC has gone after both the church building and Big City.

In 2018, FCC inspectors and US marshals seized equipment at the church building it said was being used by unlicensed stations as well as equipment used by Big City.

FCC records show that inspectors have been attempting to shut illegal emissions from the church building since at least 2008, before the church bought the property.

According to the FCC, Boston-area inspectors responded to a complaint by using direction-finding radio equipment tuned to 88.5 MHz that led them to the church location on both June 5 and July 13. They made similar trips for 87.7 MHZ to the same location.

The commission gave the church two weeks to prove it's kicked the stations off its property.

Similar notices went out to the owners of 92 Hazleton St. in Mattapan for an unlicensed station at 107.5 MHZ, 56 Deering Rd. in Mattapan for at station at 100.1 MHZ, and the owners of properties in Randolph, Brockton and Holyoke.

H/t Kent Borg.

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Comments

I listen to these stations all the time. B87 and big city both bring a lot to the otherwise boring clearchannel schlock we have on other stations. No other local stations play dancehall or advertise for these kinds of shows or events. I kind of get it if they are stepping on someone, but In the case of b87.7, they are using a dead audio channel from the old OTA TV days I believe, many modern radios cannot even tune to it. I get the FCC wants the shekels (also respect, lol) but why can't these guys get broadcast licenses? Big 103 is literally a spotify playlist, LAME. Just not seeing how the FCC is doing any good with this. I am sure some commenters below who will explain to me the terrible sin of pirate radio, but until I am "educated" all I can say is Yo Ho, I hope my dancehall djs get a boat and keep these federal weenies tuned in to inside the dancehall

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There's really not available spectrum to be licensed that doesn't interfere with another station, even at low operating power. Most these pirate stations get reported by other broadcasters when they start messing with reception of their licensed stations. (It's not the listenership competition they are fearful of.)

The real question is why is IhateRadio allowed to own so many stations when they only broadcast advertising and have effectively no local affiliation. Cancel all the 100% automated stations and there will be space for smaller, local broadcasters.

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One of the problems with these stations is that their transmitters are not high, professional quality. As a result of that they can not only cause issues with stations legally operating on the same frequency but "bleed over" and impact adjacent radio frequencies. In some instances they can also impact over-the-air TV signals as well. While OTA TV is on a different set of frequencies, any "dirty" transmitters can create harmonics, or unexpected multiples of the root signal that might impact others at a multiple of the signal frequency. It's like Middle "C" on a piano. When struck, the strings of C+ and C- at the octaves above and below will vibrate but not necessarily picked up by the human ear. In radio however that is a completely different animal and can be a problem.

In the past when CB radio was a thing, some people added transmission amplifiers and large antennas on their property to extend range which in the CB spectrum is illegal. While they operated within the 27 Mhz range, some often had low grade amplifiers and would block out a TV station at a higher harmonic frequency to their neighbors.

There are options. Many "radio" stations or Internet-only stations provide a signal over the Internet and many have commercial space for advertising.

A low power station license would limit the range of the station's broadcasting ability but also under license would be subject to test and inspection by government engineers, so thel ow quality transmitters would likely not be allowed.

This is not a public choice by vote of social media or because the people want it. The radio spectrum has been regulated to assure it works for responsible operators, otherwise there would be chaos and no one would hear much of anything but scrambled eggs as one station played over another.

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87.7 is NOT a dead channel in Boston. WVCC-LD is broadcasting on RF 6 (82-88 MHz) from the same Cabot Street tower that has WGBH and WFXT, and this pirate 87.7 station is one of the reasons why people can't receive them.

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I'd prohibit any group from owning more than one FM and TV license. I'd demand that any group which plays more than 15% of broadcast time with syndicated or purchased content is at risk of losing their license. (Prerecorded music is allowed provided the section is locally determined.)

I'd require broadcast entities to prove their content is serving a specific, local need in the city they broadcast.

I'm not in favor of pirate radio from a technical point of view. I just want the limited broadcast spectrum to be "for the people" such that these groups can get airtime or properly licensed easily.

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But the airways need to be regulated, fairly or course. Over the years these pirate stations have located to close to other, legit stations, esp on the lower end of the dial like college stations. Really frustrating when your show is getting bumped by signal interference.

Also, h/t to Adam for "squelched", I miss CB radio...(sniff)

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There’s these things called podcasts. Anyone can start one without a license.

Here’s the kicker, you can stream it ANYWHERE.

And you can be as biased as you want, kind of like an option blog pretending to be a news site.

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... and no one will ever see it.

How's anyone supposed to find this podcast of yours?

There are more than a thousand people listening right now to the Internet stream coming from the room next door to where I'm sitting.
How'd they find it? Probably on the FM dial, where the same programming is on the air, with frequent mentions of the Web site and the Internet stream.

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I mean a legitimate, licensed radio station. One that pays ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR for the rights to the music it plays. One that pays extortionate rent for space on a tower for its antenna, so the station can actually cover the Boston area instead of, say, a few square blocks of Dorchester. A station that pays annual FCC spectrum fees, and maintains Emergency Alert System equipment per FCC rules. A station that can afford to hire programming, engineering, and sales talent. In Boston, the tenth largest radio market in the country.

I'm typing these words from my desk at such a station right now. It has a $2 million annual budget; that's how much it costs to keep the damned thing on the air. I won't tell you which one, since I'm not authorized to speak for the station, but I'll bet you've never heard if it, because we can't afford to put up billboards, make TV commercials, or do anything else to promote ourselves beyond what we do on the air.

And in a market the size of Boston, if you don't promote your station, you could be on the air for 45 years and most people won't even know you're there, As a matter of fact...

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WJIB still on the air 740 AM and WMEX for the oldies lovers, locally owned and operated.

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...and the station, along with his Maine and Cape Cod stations, will probably be sold soon.

WMEX is owned by Larry Justice, if memory serves, I wonder how well he's doing.

Recently off the air are the late Alex Langer's WSRO AM 650 and WZBR AM 1410. He died in February, and the estate is tied up in the courts. If someone doesn't buy the stations and put them back on the air by March 4, they will lose their licenses forever. But until someone is appointed executor, no one has the legal authority to sell the stations. Stay tuned.

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The FCC should just license whatever station is there now. It's below the official FM band.

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FYI, 87.7 is NOT unused in Boston. There's a licensed RF 6 LPTV station WVCC-LD on 82-88 MHz transmitting from the Cabot street tower that also has WGBH's RF 5 signal and WFXT's RF 34 signal.

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It's below the official FM band

It's in the spectrum for the old VHF Ch 6 block. There used to be a few "TV" stations licensed for that channel which basically were audio-only (or video not synced to the audio), thus being FM stations outside of the licensed FM range.

There are a handful of them left but the FCC has long since said they will not grant licenses for this "hack" in the future.

If they were to reverse that ruling (highly unlikely) they'd require any potential stations to go through the application process, not just mail a license to all the pirates that are squatting.

As a FYI, there is legal low powered FM and AM broadcasting allowed (Part 15) without a license, but even in the best conditions the signal isn't going to go that far.

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It's not in the FM broadcast band, whose channels run from 88.1 to 107.9, with one channel every 200 KHz, i.e. 88.1, 88.3, 88.5, 88.9...

The FCC must follow its own rules, and those rules don't allow the licensing of FM stations outside the FM band. If I recall correctly, there is one exception: Class D stations -- those are 10-watt stations -- are allowed on 87.9, but only in Alaska.

Did you know that FM channels have numbers? Channel 201 is 88.1 (WMBR's channel); channel 300 is 107.9 (the channel of WXKS-FM "Kiss 108").

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There was a kid I graduated high school with who would broadcast during his free evenings on his own pirate radio station (I think his dad was into ham radio so he had a shorter learning curve). His tag line was "We'll keep rockin' until the FCC comes knockin'."

Eventually they did come knocking and let him off with a warning as long as he agreed to shut it down. But it was good while it lasted.

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Yet nary a “Pump Up the Volume” reference…

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If you asked him, he'd tell you the call letters stood for "Wonderful Lake Talquin, Florida", but they actually stood for "we love to f---."

There have been actual licensed stations with, ahem, questionable call signs, including one that called itself "K-Lite" on the air.

Then there was the urban-formatted station in a market far, far away, which had the call sign WNNS. When asked what that stood for, the general manager replied -- not, mind you, over the air: "We're the New [N-word] Station".

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Is that the same 87.7 Notorious VOG is on? He brings on a number of Boston and MA politicians

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I never picked up pirate radio on cable although I live within 4 blocks of the Hazelton Street location and the Derring Road location is on a hill about 5 blocks away. I did get interference on cable from a CB station that had a huge mast antenna about a block away. Hated that guy!

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woodnt u kreyòl stāshun fassillittate howsing ishuez ?

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