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FCC carries out $2.3 million fines against pirate radio operators

A duo in New York and a pirate broadcaster in Oregon will be the recipients of some of the biggest fines ever imposed by the agency.

A duo in New York and a pirate broadcaster in Oregon will be the recipients of some of the biggest fines ever imposed by the agency.

A stock image of a broadcast tower.
(Stock image)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has finalized more than $2.3 million in fines against pirate radio operators in New York and Oregon, marking one of the largest financial penalties against unlicensed radio operators in history.

The penalties include a $2.316 million financial forfeiture against César Ayora and Luis Angel Ayora of Queens, New York and an $80,000 fine against Thomas Barnes of La Grande, Oregon.

The three individuals were all found by the FCC to be operating unlicensed radio stations in the FM band. The trio were notified of the proposed fines back in March, and none of them filed objections or requests for appeal seeking to have the fines lessened or overturned, the FCC said.

The fines are being issued in accordance with the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement (PIRATE) Act, a federal law passed by Congress about three years ago which gave the FCC greater abilities to pursue those who broadcast on reserved AM and FM frequencies illegally.

In the United States, most low-power and full-power AM and FM radio broadcasting requires a license issued by the FCC, though there are extremely limited exceptions. None of those circumstances applied in either of the cases that the FCC investigated, and the fines followed accordingly.

The FCC is authorized under the PIRATE Act to impose fines of up to $100,000 for each day that a person or organization operates an unlicensed radio station on the AM or FM bands.  The fine against the Ayoras — $2,316,034 — is the maximum the FCC is allowed to impose when adjusted for inflation.

For the Ayora brothers, it appears to be the second time the FCC has taken enforcement action against their pirate broadcast activities. In 2015, the regulator imposed a $20,000 fine against Luis Ayora over illegal FM transmissions. The FCC says he didn’t pay that fine, and the U.S. Marshals subsequently seized his broadcast equipment.

Barnes was apparently more flagrant in his transmissions, calling his radio station “Pirate Radio Eastern Oregon” and ignoring several attempts by the FCC to bring his broadcasts under compliance. He stopped operating his radio station in April 2022, the FCC said.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).