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Pirate radio sailing on (from USENET)
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Posted on Sun, Aug. 15, 2004

Pirate radio sailing on

Though they provide a service to those with no other media outlet, illegal
radio stations threaten legitimate ones -- and public safety.

BY ADAM JACOBSON

Special to The Herald

At 101.9 on your FM dial, ''Vibez'' has all the trappings of a full-service
radio station serving South Florida's growing Caribbean community. Between
10 a.m. and noon, Vibez takes calls from listeners on the day's issues
facing Jamaican natives. Local advertisers promote their businesses.
Traditional reggae music airs throughout the afternoon and in the evening.

But there's one slight problem: Vibez isn't supposed to be there. It's one
of close to 25 traceable ''pirate'' radio stations wreaking havoc on the FM
band from Homestead to Hobe Sound. Some of the region's illicit operators,
such as ''Mix 96.1,'' have been on the air for years, evading attempts of
the Federal Communications Commission and other law enforcement bodies to
shut the stations down for good.

While Florida broadcasters and legislators alike have complained about the
pirates over interference concerns, a new problem has emerged for licensed
broadcasters in South Florida: The current batch of pirate FMs specifically
targets communities traditionally underserved -- or not served at all -- by
FCC-licensed radio.

According to research conducted for The Herald, six pirate stations offer
Haitian programming, including news in Creole and soca music. That's twice
the number of legally licensed AM stations catering to South Florida's
Haitians. Add to the equation a recent poll by Miami-based Bendixen &
Associates that found radio to be the primary news source for older
Haitian-Americans, and that's bad news for Miami's WRHB (Radio Carnivale)
and WLQY, and Beasley Broadcasting-owned WHSR (Radio Haiti Amerique
Internationale) -- stations that have struggled to attract advertisers since
pirates offer community businesses cut-rate advertising options the legal
radio stations can't match.

''I've been here almost a year, and since then between 60 and 70 percent of
our competition has come from the underground stations,'' says Liana
Naranjo, Radio Carnivale's assistant sales manager. ``We compete against
those stations.''

According to Naranjo, whose station is based in Miami's Little Haiti,
renegade radio operators have become successful through personal
relationships with immigrant small-business owners and concert promoters.
''The Haitian population has a lot of small business,'' Naranjo says.
``Their ad budgets are not as large as those of corporations. Corporations
will not be attracted to the underground stations. It is mainly the
moms-and-pops . . . that we are having a problem with.''

Other ethnic groups have attracted unlicensed radio operations. A pirate at
104.7 airs Hebrew-language religious music as ''Radio Kol B'Shalom'' and
includes among its sponsors Levy's Kosher Restaurant in Hollywood. Just one
of the pirates detected offers Spanish-language programming: A station on
91.1 offers religious programming on a signal clearly audible in downtown
Miami.

But Pat Roberts, president of the Tallahassee-based Florida Association of
Broadcasters, bristles at the suggestion that the underground radio stations
on the air in South Florida today are targeting underserved listeners.

''They are either just having their fun, or they're looking to make money
illegally,'' Roberts says. ``With as many stations as we have down here, I
don't think you can say these guys are doing anything that can't be found
anywhere else legally on the dial. It is like setting up a trailer and
selling Louis Vuitton bags on a street corner. Are these community
activists? Are they patriots? No -- they're criminals.''

SHADOW OPERATIONS

Pirate radio broadcasters began to proliferate in South Florida in 1997. At
the time, most kept their business operations in the shadows. Today,
stations like Vibez are fairly open with their operations.

''They are already infiltrated in the community,'' WRHB's Naranjo says of
the Haitian pirates. ``There are times where I've walked into a store and
have heard those underground stations. Usually it's all about if they know
someone on the air. If they do, they'll listen to that show.''

Underground broadcasters in South Florida use a network of live-event
promoters to keep operations going.

A Fort Lauderdale-based pirate heavily promoted a Jamaican Springfest event.
''FLAVA FM,'' at 101.1 FM, bills itself as ''Miami's No. 1 Caribbean
Station'' and has heavily promoted Friday-night events in downtown
Hollywood. Another pirate serving listeners from the Caribbean at 92.7 airs
commercials for Fort Lauderdale businesses.

The activity has been noticed on a national level. ''We're very aware that
South Florida seems to be a hotbed of pirate activity,'' says Dennis Wharton
of the National Association of Broadcasters.

Because of airwave constraints, not everyone who wants a broadcast license
can have one, Wharton says. ``There has to be a limit. It is not a First
Amendment issue. It is an interference protection.''

The FCC is very much aware of this underground activity. According to a
spokeswoman, the commission has 26 stations under various stages of
investigation. For those that don't shut down after being warned, the matter
is referred to the Justice department for additional civil action or
criminal prosecution.

PUBLIC SAFETY AT RISK

The most troubling issue for airwave regulators remains that of
interference, and the public safety concern caused by the pirates. ''I'd
rather not fly into Miami,'' Wharton says.

Tamarac-based State Sen. Skip Campbell ran into a problem while flying his
plane into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport earlier this
year. Interference from pirate broadcasters forced him to change radio
frequencies twice while on final approach to the runway.

''How the interference happened, I don't know,'' Campbell says. ''We had six
or seven people in the back of the plane, and luckily the weather was
clear.'' He adds that if he were using Instrument Flight Rule technology
while piloting the aircraft and had lost radio contact with the control
tower, a dangerous situation could have occurred, as Campbell was within 10
miles of the runway.

Will the pirate radio activity in the region ever cease? ''It depends on the
enforcement and follow-up in the judicial process,'' Wharton says. It also
depends on funding. ''The bottom line is that the FCC has had its budget cut
dramatically at its field offices,'' says Miami-based communications lawyer
Matt Liebowitz. ``The [number] of field engineers available is almost none.
It's a matter of allocation of resources.''

The FCC shuttered its Miami field office in June 1996. Today, the commission
sends agents from Tampa to handle matters in South and Central Florida.
Meanwhile, the agencies the FCC works with are also strained. ''The FCC has
to work with the Justice department and the local U.S. attorney, and the
U.S. attorney usually has a lot bigger and better things to do,'' Liebowitz
says.

That's not to say the FCC isn't interested in shutting down the pirates.
''The FCC has major concerns about pirate radio,'' Liebowitz says. ``They
have done extensive work within the extent of their budget. Don't paint the
FCC as noncaring. They just don't have the resources.''

Until tougher enforcement begins, a simple scan of the FM dial will continue
to include stations that aren't supposed to be there.

''It's sad,'' says Radio Carnivale's Naranjo. ``They should pull together
and put that money to resources to give them a stronger, legal operation.''

Adam Jacobson is an editor with Radio & Records. E-mail:
jakeadams@socal.rr.com.

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Marko - PCS Electronics
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Wed Aug 18, 2004 3:27 pm View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Sir Nigel
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Post Reply with quote
Miami again, hey wait, I'm leaving on a trip to go to the Dominican Republic tomorrow, and the plane stops at Miami. I have ideas!

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Wed Aug 18, 2004 4:59 pm View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
pcs
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Joined: 18 Jan 2002
Posts: 3063
Location: Radio Land

Post Reply with quote
Pay Norm a visit than

_________________
Best regards,
Marko - PCS Electronics
--------------------------------------------------------
Turn your PC into a FM radio station!
http://www.pcs-electronics.com
fax +386 4 2316 128
Wed Aug 18, 2004 7:30 pm View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Sir Nigel
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Joined: 28 Nov 2003
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Post Reply with quote
Good one. But that's on the other side of the island.... I'll be back around wednesday.

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Thu Aug 19, 2004 4:19 am View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
pcs
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Joined: 18 Jan 2002
Posts: 3063
Location: Radio Land

Post Reply with quote
What island? I think he's in Miami.

_________________
Best regards,
Marko - PCS Electronics
--------------------------------------------------------
Turn your PC into a FM radio station!
http://www.pcs-electronics.com
fax +386 4 2316 128
Thu Aug 19, 2004 7:04 am View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
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