Pirate radio pumps up the volume
VAIL – Yarrr, matey: There be pirates in the Vail Valley.They don’t sail the seas, of course – instead, they cruise the local airwaves, illegally flying their flag from an undisclosed location. There’s a new voice in town on FM 103.5, and it has legitimate broadcasters and the FCC very concerned. A short burst of guerrilla advertising consisting of white paper yard signs with their call sign scrawled in black magic marker created just the right kind of buzz for these mysterious broadcasters.
“I saw one of those stupid hand-written signs on the road and tried to tune into it but my radio won’t pick up the station,” said Avon resident Kordi Schmidt.
Not everyone digs the new station, but it appears that the clever signs and good old fashioned word-of-mouth are working.”It’s good for office listening- it’s real mellow, some Beatles, you know, oldies, stuff like that,” said Chris Mcgrath who works at The Pines Lodge in Beaver Creek. “(But) I don’t like that kind of stuff.”The pirates go by “Cool 103.5,” and after appearing sometime in June (according to their dubious commercials), they’ve specialized in Frank Sinatra, The Beatles and other material that seems to target the Baby Boomer set. But how long can a seemingly shady racket like this last in a world of law and order?Thar she … broadcasts?The phrase ‘pirate radio’ conjures up images of teenagers in a basement with stolen equipment patching into the airwaves to send out a “rebel” signal – their version of fighting the system. With a title like “pirate radio” attached to a frequency, it makes sense to expect the station to play hardcore heavy metal or anti-government rhetoric, but that’s not the case. Cool 103.5 runs a heavy rotation of oldies with no commercial interruption – it sounds like your dad just letting his record collection play all day long.”It’s (really) illegal what they’re doing – these guys are really ballsy,” said Liz Campbell, Radio Free Minturn’s board president. “There’s a chance that it won’t be a slap on the wrist when [the FCC finds] them. It’s a $10,000 fine.”According to Campbell, buying the gear necessary to broadcast isn’t that hard or expensive, especially if a small group of people joins forces to start a station. A quick search on the Internet reveals many sites dedicated to helping the rebellious start their very own pirate radio station. But what exactly makes a radio station “pirate?” According to the the website http://www.fcc.gov, the answer is very simple. “The use or operation of any apparatus for the transmission of energy or communications or signals by radio without license issued by the Federal Communications Commission” is illegal, and can result is serious penalties for those involved. But what can the FCC actually do to stop radio piracy?”First off, we’ll verbally request that they cease operations,” said an official spokeswoman for the FCC who declined to identify herself. “We could go to the operation site and tell them to stop operating, then we provide them with information on how to obtain a license.”
If that doesn’t quell the insurrection, then the FCC can issue a Notice of Apparent Liability, which is an official list of complaints and the corresponding repercussions that will result if the operators fail to cease and desist. The next step is seizure of equipment, and if things get really hairy, the Department of Justice can step in and prosecute further.Legal licensesRadio piracy might seem like a desperate measure to get on the air, but getting a legal FCC license is no small feat. “They don’t offer licenses very frequently,” said Campbell, “and the rules on getting a license change with every presidency.”In addition, the expense of obtaining a license for a legal radio station might frighten prospective broadcasters away from the endeavor entirely. An applicant can expect to pay up to $11,000 in application and ownership fees – not to mention construction costs and other practical expenses. So why take the risks if there are so many negatives? For some people, trying to make a rebellious statement is enough. Or, “sometimes they don’t know that what they’re doing is wrong,” the FCC spokeswoman said. In either instance, it seems only the listener really reaps the benefits of a pirate radio station. They can freely enjoy the music and the message without fear – at least until the pirates get caught.