On the second year-end wrap-up radioshow, John Anderson mentioned a steep rise in the number of FCC enforcement actions in the New York City metro area, especially against unlicensed stations serving ethnic minorities who have little or no representation on licensed stations.
Last week the NY Times ran a short story about college and public stations complaining about interference from some of these stations, especially the Hatian ones.
Hatian stations make up a pretty big percentage of the unlicensed stations in Southern Florida, where radio piracy has been particularly rampant. In Haiti and other Caribbean nations unlicensed stations are a common method for communicating within impoverished neighborhoods, and the practice has been imported to the US.
If it’s true that these pirates are broadcasting on frequencies used by other licensed stations it’s an unfortunate situation. However, I’d guess that it’s a complex situation, too. The New York metro radio dial is very crowded and full of stations, especially on the left end of the dial, which broadcast at relatively low power, less than 1000 watts. That means reception of stations just across the Hudson or even borough to borough can be spotty. So I can certainly imagine a would-be-pirate in Brooklyn choosing a frequency that seems empty that is actually used by a station in the Bronx or New Jersey that still has dedicated listeners in Brooklyn.
Nevertheless, the unlicensed micropower broadcasting ethos has typically been to be a good neighbor on the airwaves. That means carefully choosing a frequency that is unused in your area and that will not interfere with any other station–licensed or unlicensed–that can reasonably expect to be received in your signal coverage area. Luckily there are frequency search tools for low-power stations that are equally good for finding good frequencies for unlicensed broadcasting.
Stomping on a licensed station’s frequency just creates bad press for unlicensed broadcasting in general, on top of bringing trouble for the broadcaster. I’d recommend that any unlicensed broadcaster–even someone working at true micropower or Part 15 levels–to stop operations and/or change frequency if there’s any indication or chance that you’re interfering with a licensed station in the area.
But if the South Florida experience is any example, the FCC can up enforcement of these NYC stations, but as soon as one is closed another will probably pop up. The fear I have is that the situation can make things tough for the more “traditional” pirates who’ve been operating respectfully throughout the NYC area for years, broadcasting programming to all sorts of ethnic communities in languages like Spanish, Creole and Yiddish without causing interference. Even if it doesn’t bring on the heat for them, the less respectful pirates may just leave them without any usable space on the dial.