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FCC issues fresh warnings to landlords over pirate radio operations

An anti-piracy billboard. (Image by Lord Jim via Flickr Creative Commons, Graphic: Descrier)
An anti-piracy billboard. (Image by Lord Jim via Flickr Creative Commons, Graphic: Descrier)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a warning to a pair of landlords in New Jersey and South Carolina after the agency determined their property were the origin of several pirate radio broadcasts.

On Monday, the FCC said it issued notices of illegal pirate radio broadcasting to a property management company called Somerset Maplewood LLC in New Jersey and to Charles Wyatt of South Carolina after field agents determined there were pirate radio broadcasts eminating from their land.

In Georgia, members of the FCC’s Atlanta field office conducted an investigation against a property in Greenville, South Carolina after receiving a complaint that an unlicensed radio operation was happening on 87.9 FM. According to records reviewed by The Desk, the frequency has been used by a Spanish-language radio station for the past three years, though it wasn’t clear if the operator held a broadcast license during any part of that time.

Wyatt owns the property in Greenville where the broadcast is taking place, the FCC said in its letter, citing property tax records and other documents. The FCC did not accuse Wyatt of operating the illegal station, and didn’t say whether he knew about it. Still, under federal law, property owners can be held liable for illegal broadcasts that emanate from their land.

The same law is what spurred the letter to Somerset Maplewood over one of their homes in New Jersey, according to a copy of a notice letter sent by the FCC on Monday. There, the FCC said its records showed no one was licensed to broadcast on 91.7 FM at the location where it determined an illegal broadcast was taking place.

The two notices were intended to provide each property owner a chance to remedy the situation before the agency issues a fine. If the broadcasts continue, the FCC said the property owners could be penalized around $2.4 million in recurring fines.

The landlords have 10 business days from the date of the FCC’s letter to contact the agency with evidence that they are no longer allowing pirate radio broadcasts to originate from their property.

DOCUMENTS: Read the FCCs letters to the property owners [Pro Access]

The letters were sent pursuant to the FCC’s authority under the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement (PIRATE) Act, a federal law passed by Congress in 2020 that gives the agency significant enforcement authority over unlicensed AM, FM and television broadcasts.

The FCC has exercised their authority several times over the past three years. Last year, the agency issued three sweeping fines and sent more than 40 letters concerning illegal pirate radio broadcast throughout the country, with a heavy concentration on the eastern states.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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