Quad Cities Pirates Fined Up the Ying-Yang. Is that the Price of Publicity?

John at DIYmedia.net has the dirt on the pirates behind Power 103.3 in Bettendorf, Iowa:

Matthew Britcher, self-proclaimed “promotions director” of the commercial-format station, is being asked to pay $17,000 for running the station and refusing an FCC agent’s request to inspect it. Jason Duncan, quoted in local media as a “co-owner,” received a $10,000 forfeiture.

This is the first FCC case to get this far in which the pirates invoked 47 CFR 73.3542 as a defense; this little-known statute allows for emergency broadcast services in times of war or national emergency. Britcher and Duncan called it the “War Powers Act,” and some other pirate stations are treating it as a license-free pass, but it is nothing of the sort.

I reported briefly on the station in the news headlines on the April 21 radioshow. I called the station several times and left messages requesting an interview, but never heard back.

Though sometimes noble, it’s often risky to run an above-ground pirate station. As John notes, using the “War Powers Act” is not a proven strategy, and by all indications the guys at Power 103.3 have not helped their cause because they didn’t try to apply for a license first; not even an “informal application,” which can be just a letter to the FCC asking for an exception. The courts tend to be more open to this argument if that attempt is made before taking to the air.

And my question is, if you’re going to use the “War Powers” defense, is your purpose to provide true public service? Perhaps some hard-hitting news and analysis about the wars on terror and Iraq? Or is it just a cover for you to get your ya-yas out?

Some high profile stations, like Freak Radio Santa Cruz, have managed to keep it going for a long time, despite FCC attempts to keep them shut down. But plenty of other above-ground stations have been busted.

As I’ve written before, while running an above-ground station can be risky, it can also be worth it if you’ve got a purpose behind going it without a license. For instance, Free Radio Berkeley’s purpose was to challenge the FCC’s policy of not licensing low-power stations and the “broadcast system based entirely on wealth.” San Francisco Liberation Radio was seving a community that has no opportunity to have a licensed community station.

But it’s very important to be aware of the risks, that you might receive a fine from the FCC, or even have federal marshals knocking at your door. Most stations don’t go down that way, but those are possibilities.

Thus, it’s also reasonable for stations to consider keeping things more clandestine. There’s a lot of ways of going about this, from keeping your studio and transmitter separated, to limiting publicity. With the latter strategy you give up reaching some people in order to minimize risk. But with creative planning and “guerilla marketing” you might be able to reach your desired community and audience without having to give interviews to the local mainstream press.

In fact, I argue that avoiding such press is one good way to keep things going without stirring up too much trouble. But I think attention is one reason that some folks decided to get into radio, licensed or pirate. So turning down an opportunity to get your picture in the paper just might be too hard for some pirates.

The real question any would-be pirate broadcaster should ask herself is: what do I want more, to be popular or to be on the air?







One response to “Quad Cities Pirates Fined Up the Ying-Yang. Is that the Price of Publicity?”

  1. […] detournement on the law. But it’s really jumped the shark now that seemingly every other two-bit pirate who wants to run their own “Power” hits station is (unsuccessfully) try to take cover […]

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