FCC Steps Up Pressure on Boulder Pirates

A short blog post from Monk, formerly the brains behind the first iteration of Boulder Free Radio KBFR, reports that two separate unlicensed stations in Boulder, CO were recently “shut down” by the FCC. A new KBFR with new a new crew behind it has been operating in Boulder since sometime last year. Monk has no other details on these recent shut downs.

So I set about investigating what might be going on, since Boulder has been the site of free radio innovation for quite some time. I’ve not been able to find any news reports on any bust, but a check of the FCC’s most recent enforcement actions turns up four virtually identical Notices of Unlicensed Operation (NOUO) dated May 8. Three were issued to individuals and one was issued simply to “Boulder Free Radio, Boulder, CO.” There’s no indication in the NOUOs that the FCC talked to anyone associated with the station or gained access to a transmitter. Unusually, there aren’t even any street addresses listed. Likely this means that agents didn’t mail the notices, but left them at the door.

This evening I received email confirmation from Boulder Free Radio that there was another FCC visit to a transmitter location last Friday, May 29, and that they’re off the air. They’re planning to stay off the air for the time being while they assess the situation. However, their web radio stream continues to broadcast (on the internet only, of course).

The current KBFR is operating according to a similar gameplan as the original station, using the tactic of separating the studio and transmitter using an internet audio stream as the studio-to-transmitter-link (STL). If the transmitter is visited they pack up shop there and move to a new location without the studio or the on-air talent being affected. This method ostensibly allows the station to have a sizable staff of DJs without having to divulge to them the location of the transmitter, or expose the DJs to liability for the unlicensed broadcast.

Indeed, with this method there really isn’t any need for the persons behind the web stream to even know the persons operating the transmitters. This method also has been employed during large protest actions, where a live webstream will originate from a convergence center or Independent Media Center which is then rebroadcast for the duration of the protest by anonymous, unrelated pirates.

Monk and the original KBFR were able to keep up this tactic for nearly five years of cat and mouse games with the unusually aggressive Denver FCC office. He finally called it a day in January, 2005. According to Monk, the FCC agent on their case

bordered on (and in talking to lawyers we know, actually crossed the line) illegal activity. He harassed private citizens at their work place (accusing them, to their bosses, of ‘breaking the law on company time’) and the aforementioned roommate of the original Monk from Five Years Ago. We’ve since learned that this ex-roomie of the original Monk actually had to hire a lawyer to protect himself from having just been the roommate of one of us. And HALF a DECADE ago. …

The reason we shut down is our fear of innocents getting blamed for things they didn’t do…

Who knows if the FCC will be that aggressive with the new KBFR, especially given that the FCC agent in question supposedly retired four years ago.

As for the second station Monk reports being shut down: I’ve found no other recent actions against unlicensed stations in Boulder in the FCC’s enforcement action list. However I have heard that another station, unrelated to Boulder Free Radio, was operating.


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