unlicensed radio operators

Here are some of the FCC regulatory and legal actions of the last week—and congressional action in the coming week—of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The Media Bureau reminded broadcasters that July 13, 2021—the hard deadline

As business adapts to the pandemic so, too, do legal issues.  A couple have come to my attention in recent weeks that I thought bear passing on.  One deals with copyright concerns, the other with FCC matters about use of unlicensed FM transmitters.  Both arise as businesses adapt the way in which they deal with their customers – including how media companies deal with their audiences.

The copyright issues deal with music licensing matters.  Broadcasters are used to having performance licenses that allow them to broadcast music over the air and stream it on the Internet.  Venues for live music have similar licenses, as do hotels and meeting halls where conventions and other meetings take place – often involving the use of music.  But, as people are no longer frequenting these locations, businesses try to recreate their usual ambiance in an online environment using Zoom, Facebook Live, or one of the many other digital platforms that now exist.  If that ambiance includes music or other copyrighted materials, be sure that you have the rights to use those copyrighted materials in the new environment in which your business is operating.
Continue Reading Random Issues to Consider as Media Businesses Adapt to the New World of the Virus – Music Uses on Zoom and Other Platforms, Unlicensed FM Transmitters

For an industry that some say is about to be made obsolete because of its digital competition, there are still many people who want a piece of the FM spectrum.   We’ve written much about the contest between LPFM and translator proponents seeking their piece of FM spectrum – a contest that we should see resolved by the FCC in the very near future. One topic that we have not written much about is "pirate radio," stations that operate illegally – without FCC authority.  This week, the FCC issued several orders, fining individuals up to $25,000 for operating pirate radio stations in various places around the country (see decisions here and here, and two other fines of $20,000 or more noted below).  Pirate radio has been and remains a big problem for many broadcasters and, despite the fines in cases like this, pirates seem to continue to crop up – especially in urban markets.

The pirate radio problem has always been with broadcasters.  In the past there was both the romance of the outlaw radio operator and concerns over the snake oil salesmen who were broadcasting from stations in Mexico, and there was a famous religious broadcaster who lost a battle with the FCC over the Fairness Doctrine in connection with a real radio station and then resumed operations from a boat off the coast of New Jersey.  But in the last 20 years pirates have been much more localized, low power operators, trying to reach audiences largely in urban areas. Despite a series of court decisions rejecting any First Amendment claim of pirates, and denying any claim that these low-power, local stations did not implicate the FCC’s power over interstate commerce regulation, pirates have never gone away.  In many ways, the FCC introduced the concept of Low Power FM stations in the 1990s as a way to provide an outlet for those who might otherwise be inclined to operate an unlicensed station.  In fact, one of the big arguments at the time of the initiation of LPFM was whether former pirate radio operators should be allowed to apply for LPFM stations.


Continue Reading Pirates, Pirates Everywhere – Fines Up to $25,000 for Unlicensed Radio Stations