WGXC-90.7 FM

New York lawmakers want the airwaves

Jul 27, 2013 12:02 am
In New York, when radio stations apply for licences, or have a question about the rules of broadcasting, they have to call someone in Washington, as the federal government makes rules for the nation's airwaves, and the Federal Communications Commission, enforces those laws. In some states, New York included, there are officials who think regulating the airwaves is their job. In 2011, New York followed Florida and New Jersey, in passing a law making pirate radio illegal, even though states have no jurisdiction over the federally-regulated airwaves. Now Massachusetts wants to pass a similar law, though instead of making pirate transmissions illegal, the bill would empower the state Attorney General to initiate legal action against a broadcaster, which could result in monetary forfeiture of $5,000 to $10,000. In the current legislative session in Albany, a few officials in New York's State Senate want to toughen New York's law, moving an "unauthorized transmission" from a class A misdemeanor to to a class D felony. The bill the legislature is considering says, "JUSTIFICATION: Local radio stations often have their programming and signal 'bumped off' the air, or drowned out by unofficial, unlicensed 'pirate' radio stations that broadcast without FCC approval." This is not true. Legal radio stations rarely, if ever, "have their programming and signal" "bumped off the air, or drowned out by unofficial, unlicensed 'pirate' radio stations." This station, for instance, has never had that problem in two and a half years. Sometimes, on the crowded New York City radio dial, pirate stations create static, interference, or bleed on in certain spots over legal station signals, but this is also very rare. Also, the few pirates that there are in New York City operate on the couple of frequencies where there are not legal stations, so they can be heard. So they often use 87.7-FM, or 89.7-FM, just below the traditional start of the FM radio dial, but heard on most radios. But the original New York law, and this new update, defines an "unauthorized radio transmission" as "a radio transmission in this state, on a radio frequency... or frequency modulation (FM) radio stations between the frequencies of eighty-eight megahertz (MHz) to one hundred eight megahertz (MHz)." So the pirates on 87.7-FM and 87.9-FM are not covered by this law. And states do not have jurisdiction over the airwaves, so when one of these laws is challenged in court they will all be thrown out. So who is behind S3490-2013? The bill is sponsored by Sen. Adriano Espaillat who represents Washington Heights in New York City. The bill passed its committee May 21 with James Seward, the Senator who represents Delaware, Ulster, and Schoharie counties in Albany, voting in favor.

The writer formerly worked with pirate radio stations 87X (87.9-FM) in Tampa, Florida, and free103point9 (various frequencies in Brooklyn, NY).