Pirates brace for FCC battle
- Sept. 3, 1998
Pirates brace for FCC battle / Plan to taunt
agency by b'casting 'in front of their building'
By Brooks Boliek
WASHINGTON -- Pirate radio operators plan to dare
the FCC to shut them down next month in a bold
action designed to draw attention to their
"We're going to broadcast from the sidewalk in
front of their building," said Pete tri Dish, one
of the Oct. 10 demonstration's organizers. Dish,
a 28-year-old carpenter, was a broadcaster on
Philadelphia Radio Mutiny until the FCC shut down
the operation during its summer crackdown on
illegal radio operators.
Dish and Radio Mutiny have organized protests
like this in Philadelphia but have never taken
their fight so brazenly before the federal
"The first time, we did a broadcast in front of
Benjamin Franklin's printing press because it was
symbolic of free speech," he said. "The second
time, we dared them to arrest us in front of the
Liberty Bell. This time, we'll be right in front
While some may scoff at the protests, Dish argues
that they point out the inanity of the rules that
make their broadcasts illegal. The FCC contends
that the pirates interfere with legitimate
commercial broadcasts and raise public safety
concerns because they can interfere with aircraft
and other radio traffic. By broadcasting in front
of the FCC's M Street headquarters, the pirates
say they will demonstrate that they do not have
"If they think their law is so important, they
should enforce it or change it," Dish said. "We'll
probably broadcast the Bill of Rights, and the
1934 Communications Act to remind them they are
supposed to serve the public interest of the
people, not these big media companies."
Radio Mutiny prided itself on presenting
alternative broadcasting. Programs have featured
poetry, American Indian issues, prison issues and
various political movements. Its Web page
describes the programming as "rabidly
nonhierarchical, decisively anti-authoritarian,
avidly pro-feminist, staunchly anti-racist and
The broadcasts, which began in November 1996,
could be heard on 91.3 FM throughout most of West
Philadelphia and some parts of Center City. The
signal reached a three-mile radius of the station,
which was on the top floor of a row house on Pine
Street, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The protesters, who will conduct a
microbroadcasting workshop Oct. 9, also plan to
broadcast in front of the National Association of
Broadcasters building, which is a short walk from
Lyn Gerry, a Los Angeles Web-page designer who
broadcasts on a 20-watt pirate station in a Latino
area of the city and keeps up the radio4all Web
page, said the NAB and FCC are too closely allied.
"We see these two entities as inextricably
linked," she said. "We see the NAB as the FCC's
puppet master on this issue."
FCC chairman Bill Kennard, who has been head of
the agency since its crackdown on pirates began,
said the commission intends to enforce the law.
"We'll shut down any pirate operating illegally
that we learn about," Kennard said. "This
commission will not take a lax attitude about
While Kennard has overseen a crackdown on
pirates, he has also been sympathetic to their
cause, agreeing to have the panel examine
developing a low-power radio license. Kennard has
argued that low-power radio could counterbalance
radio industry consolidation.
"Many new entrants are not million-dollar
players, but they want to speak to their
communities," he said.
But Dish doubts Kennard's sincerity.
"We're there to express our outrage at their
two-faced policy," he said. "They continue to
attack all these stations that the chairman is
positing as a salvation."
An NAB official said the protest is wrong-headed.
"We're for free speech," NAB spokesman Dennis
Wharton said. "We just don't want airplanes to
crash because of pirate broadcasters, and we want
to preserve the integrity of the (radio) spectrum
for licensed broadcasters."