More Publicity for Pirate DJ Johnny Silver

Last week I posted about DJ Johnny Silver and his Iron Action Radio, about which two highly dramatized short films have been made and posted to the web.

His public visibility in home town Nyack, NY has gone up a notch with a local newspaper profile of the man and his station. Frankly, it makes me a little uncomfortable to read all of the clearly identifying details about the man, the station and his cohorts, even naming his fiancee. It is a pretty compelling read, but it also threatens to leave a trail of breadcrumbs right to the station for the FCC to follow.

But Silver seems to exude a somewhat unrealistic air of confidence over his chances of getting busted:

But ask Silver, a self-employed day trader who grew up in Congers, if he fears getting that dreaded knock on his door, and he momentarily turns serious and raps about the First Amendment.

“I don’t want to say I look forward to the challenge, but I do,” he says. “I want to see how long I can stay on the air. The issue won’t come to light until they crack down on something the people like.”

Silver adds the FCC appears to be focusing on leveling obscenity charges on larger, legal radio stations around the country, most notoriously that of syndicated shock jock Howard Stern.

While I don’t want to discourage anyone from putting on their own micropower station, I think it’s wise to be strategic, as I noted in my first post about Silver.

As John Anderson has pointed out, no unlicensed broadcaster has yet been successful in challenging the FCC in the courts using a First Amendment argument. This goes even for Free Radio Berkeley, which led a well-organized and planned legal challenge with the help of the National Lawyers Guild.

Posing for a head-on confrontation with the FCC is something that should not be done lightly, unless you’re prepared for the fight and the possible outcomes. Other stations have certainly done this, and in the case of stations like Freak Radio Santa Cruz, ended up winning even greater community support in the process. But that support was earned through almost 10 years of true community-oriented broadcasting.

Compared to other illegal activities, I contend that pirate radio is actually pretty low risk. I wouldn’t put it quite on par with speeding–the fines for pirates are much higher when they get levied. But there aren’t armies of FCC agents roaming the city streets looking for unlicensed broadcasters, either.

Stations have operated for years without apparent detection or action. One such station is Radio Limbo in Tuscon, AZ. Even after being named Tuscon’s Best Pirate Radio in 1997 by the local weekly and being profiled in the Michael Lahey’s documentary “Making Waves,” the station still broadcasts now. But I also understand that the station keeps things relatively quiet, only runs 6 PM to 2 AM, and keeps the transmitter and studios separated.

Of course, if it wanted to dedicate the resources, the FCC could probably investigate a station like Limbo and make a bust. But that would require the station coming up to the top of the Commission’s priority list. And while that may happen any time, making your station well publicized in the mainstream media and issuing challenges to the FCC are definitely ways to up your chances of making it to priority #1.