Love/Hate on Pirate-Hunting

Some interesting — albeit contradictory — rhetoric out of the radio industry regarding the “problem” of pirate radio and how to deal with it. First up is FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, the self-designated point-man for the unlicensed broadcasting issue. He’s spent the last year blogging up a storm about pirates and convening meetings with broadcast executives and lobbyists to scheme strategies to bust them.
His latest comments came at the NAB’s annual Radio Show, held this year in Atlanta. On a panel not ironically entitled, “FCC Experts Talk Radio,” O’Rielly touted the increased level of political heat pirate broacasters now face thanks to his tirades, but he’s lamenting the fact that “enhanced enforcement efforts” seem to be “in a holding pattern for a long time to come.” He’s asking the Commmission to begin a serious pirate crackdown “before Halloween, or at the latest, Thanksgiving. It’s time to put together a game plan and start executing.”
His proposal for a war on pirates relies on major coordination with state and local officials in pirate hot-spots where enforcement is a priority, in conjunction with an unspecified educational effort to limit unlicensed broadcasters’ access to “funding and housing, until no one wants to work with them again.” He also thinks there’s no reason why enforcement efforts can’t start in earnest right now: “In most instances, these stations are not hiding,” O’Rielly remarked. “Heck, the [New York State Broadcasters’ Association] mapped out the illegal stations in New York and New Jersey and all the Commission needs to do is show up at those addresses to serve the papers.”
Indeed, engineers at licensed broadcast stations are teaming up with amateur radio operators in the New York metropolitan area to create posses that roam the metroplex to identify and triangulate the approximate locations of pirate stations. These parties reportedly don’t attempt to make contact with the pirates directly, but there have been two cases of pirate stations that have been vandalized in the last month; while everyone abhors vigilantism on the record, it would seem that it may be beginning to rear its ugly head.
Such behavior does nothing but give the righteous “law-and-order” folks a bad name. . .much like pirates that run dirty rigs sully the rest of those involved in the phenomenon.
O’Rielly did acknowledge that “critics” believe his approach is “naïve” and will not materially impact the pirate radio phenomenon. But “[u]ntil someone puts out a better plan, beyond appeasement or huge increases in enforcement personnel, I suggest we pursue these actions with a willingness to adapt as necessary.”
On the flip side is a commentary recently published in Radio magazine by “The Wandering Engineer” — who sounds a lot like the anonymous “Guy Wire” that used to write for Radio’s sister publication, Radio World, up until a couple of years ago. “The Beauty of Tiger Teams” is an ascerbic takedown of the FCC’s plan to implement two flying squads that will travel the country to enforcement hot-spots and backstop local FCC staff.
Tiger Teams are “a thing of magic,” chortles the Wandering Engineer. “By definition, they are the best of the best, fully empowered to do whatever needs to be done. The whole world would be Tiger Teams if only there were that many ‘best of the best’ and all our problems were big enough to warrant them.”
“Really, a Tiger Team can drop out of a black helicopter when there’s some clueless kid keying up on an aircraft frequency at the end of a major runway with some stolen HT they got at the pawn shop,” he writes. However, “I doubt I can get a Tiger Team to come in to find those cheap offshore Wi-Fi access-points in that warehouse on the edge of town, which takes out the SFN and my Garmin. I doubt I can get a Tiger Team to figure out how to comply with the latest confusing requirement from the commission.”
The point here, it would seem, is to remind the industry that the Enforcement Bureau’s field agents, decimated as they are, have a ton of work on their plate that is in reality much more important than going after pirate broadcasters. Unfortunately, politics drives policy, and in this case, according to The Wandering Engineer, “It’s not good when the FCC lawyers win out over the FCC engineers.”
Amen to that.