First Radio Pirates Arrested Under Florida Law

According to the Sun-Sentinel, agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested two men for running two unlicensed radio stations in Ft. Lauderdale. They are charged with state felonies, based on Florida’s anti-pirate-radio law passed last year. Florida is the first and only state with such a law on the books. And by all accounts this is the first time the law has been used to arrest radio pirates.

The bust was prompted by complaints of interference from a licensed high school station operating at 88.5 FM, just one spot away on the dial from one of the pirate stations, which operated at 88.7 FM.

The pirates were running an uncensored urban format, which apparently also brought on lots of complaints from listeners who thought they were listening to the high school station.

Now, I do have to admit that running a pirate station just one channel away from a licensed station is stupid and irresponsible, since it is almost impossible not to cause interference.

The Sun-Sentinal article doesn’t say anything about how much power the pirates were running, but a video from WB39 news linked to the story has one of the Florida agents inventorying a 10,000 watt transmitter.

I find 10 kilowatts almost unbelievable, although possible. And if these guy really were running 10k just one adjacent away from a licensed station, then they really were cruising for a bruising — though I don’t agree with locking them up.

The Sun-Sentinel article tangentially mentions the possibility of the pirates mucking with public safety, with a spokesperson for the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement claiming that the pirates would “drown out emergency broadcasts such as weather and Amber alerts.” Nevermind that you could tune to any other station on the dial for that info.

The WB39 piece takes the threat to public safety hysteria much further, noting the stations’ proximity to a local airport and saying that the stations could have interfered with aircraft communications.

This line of scare tacitcs is trotted out every time there’s enforcement against an unlicensed station, and yet there are no confirmed or proven instances of a pirate actually causing interference. It’s all just FUD designed to make the public scared of pirates — if you can’t get them upset about “chaos” on the airwaves, then maybe you can convince them that airplanes will fall out of the sky.

Nevertheless, if the information reported about their stations is true, these two guys in Ft. Lauderdale were not running a smart operation. Anyone thinking about running an unlicensed station can learn a thing or two from their counterexample.

Pick a good frequency at least two channels away from another station. Run a clean signal with limiting to keep your rig from overmodulating. Run only as much power as you really need to. And maybe keep the swearing limited to evening hours.

There are no guarantees, but like other mildly-illegal practices such as speeding on the highway or smoking pot, there are things you can do that can greatly increase or decrease your chances of getting busted.