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FCC closes down 19 unlicensed broadcasters

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WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Federal Communication Commission conducted what it said was one of the largest crackdowns on "pirate radio" stations in…

WASHINGTON, D.C.–The Federal Communication Commission conducted what it said was one of the largest crackdowns on “pirate radio” stations in radio broadcast history in July and August, closing 19 stations in Florida and Ohio.

The FCC, in cooperation with the U.S. Marshall Service, forcibly shut down four micro-stations in Cleveland and another 15 Miami area micro-stations, seizing their equipment. Since August 1997, the commission has ordered 224 illegal stations off the air, and seized radio broadcasting equipment in 36 of those cases.

The FCC said in a press release that it acknowledges that free speech is essential to a healthy democracy, but noted that the Commission’s duty is to regulate radio communication by mapping out the limited spectrum of airwaves and enforcing those limits to prevent signal interference.

William Kennard, the Chairman of the FCC, has said in speeches that communications deregulation in 1996 has led to purchases of many small radio stations by larger corporations which has led to less diverse control of the airwaves.

In an effort to loosen the barriers to obtaining a license, the commission has requested comments on a proposal to lower the required wattage of transmitters from the current standard of 100 watts. A typical licensed station now broadcasts at 50,000 watts. This would greatly reduce the financial burden to many microstations who apply for a license.

The FCC told The Washington Post that only 86 known “pirates” are still in operation, but the newspaper reported that the underground radio movement claims there are many times that number, “perhaps as many as 1,000.”