Boston Pirate Tickles FAA Frequency

The story, of course, makes national news because it feeds into the industry-foisted myth that pirate radio has the potential to make airliners fall from the sky. Buried within the copy is the admission, however, that the affected channel at Boston’s Logan International Airport prevented “air traffic controllers from communicating with private aircraft, but not commercial airlines, on the frequency published to all pilots” [emphasis mine]. A follow-up story also notes that the dirty pirate station is but one of about a dozen known to broadcast regularly in the Boston metropolitan area, none of which are reported to interfere with anything.
This is not to belittle what a federal affidavit in this case called “a serious safety issue,” and has been the cause of bigger problems in other countries. The fact that such instances are so rare in the U.S. says something about the technical proficiency of the modern microradio movement. No respectable microbroadcaster laments the raid of a station that can’t be bothered to take their stewardship of the public airwaves seriously. But the money-quote reveals that the real beef “legitimate” Boston-area broadcasters have with pirates boils down to – surprise – the money:
More importantly, [Brockton Ward 5 city councilor Dennis] DeNapoli said, the pirate stations are taking advertising revenue that would otherwise go to licensed stations and other media outlets. “They’re selling radio time, that’s totally illegal,” he said. “They’re foreign language stations — Cape Verdean and Spanish. They just pop up on the dial here, there and everywhere.”
Beyond the fact that DeNapoli’s comment is generally incoherent, there’s a reason such stations are proliferating. It’s called market failure, represented by a public demand for localism to serve nascent and profitable niche markets that traditional stations have abandoned and pirates fulfill. Stories like these that blow the relative interference risk of pirate radio out of proportion help to maintain the broken status quo that is Boston radio.