Once upon a time pirate radio stations were big business and a big influence, with Radio Caroline, Radio Luxembourg and XERF all helping birth the modern radio and music industries. Most pirate stations have been long closed, and it was thought that they’d be gone for good thanks to the Internet. Surprisingly, pirate radio is actually on the rise again, according to a report by the Associated Press.
It seems that you can actually put a station on the air that covers a couple of miles for a mere $750, but why would anyone even think about it? The fact is that many want to broadcast to underserved immigrant communities to provide them with a slice of home. Others who formerly had their own Internet station but were forced to abandon it because of the recent huge increase in license fees have turned to a more traditional terrestrial approach. Still others feel that the homogenized sound of the radio thanks to the station group ownership has let down the listener.
The FCC issued about a hundred warnings to pirate stations last year, mostly in Boston and Miami where clusters of them seem to operate. According to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, fining the operators and seizing their equipment doesn’t stop many of them because often they won’t pay the fines and will just buy new equipment if it’s confiscated. The problem is that the FCC is short-handed and isn’t able to following up as timely as they’d like. As a result, agents have instead gone to landlords and local police to enlist them to be on the lookout for pirates.
Why is pirate radio a problem? With officially licensed radio struggling so badly, any advertising siphoned off by pirates can really hurt financially. Plus there’s the issues of interference with existing station signals and even the Emergency Alert System.
So it looks like something very old is new again. Terrestrial pirate radio may not be hip, but it’s making a comeback.