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FCC Sues Austin Pirate Station Operators for Refusing to Pay Fine

The FCC is suing the operators of an Austin pirate FM radio station for failing to pay a $15,000 forfeiture for unlicensed operations.  TAB first reported in a February 2014 Bulletin story on the fine issued to Walter Olenick and M. Rae Nadler-Olenick for operating an FM station without a license.

On Aug. 12, 2013, in response to a complaint about a possible unlicensed station operating as “Liberty Radio” on 90.1 MHz, FCC field office agents from the Enforcement Bureau used direction-finding techniques to locate the source of radio transmissions on the frequency 90.1 MHz.

The FCC tracked them to an antenna atop an approximately 50 feet tall tower mounted to the side of an East Austin apartment building.  Travis County Texas property records indicated the apartment building was owned by the Olenicks.  The FCC agents observed a coaxial cable running from the antenna into a room believed to be a non-residential room, such as a utility or maintenance room.

The agents also observed a vehicle with a “Liberty 90.1 FM,” bumper sticker, later determined to be registered to Mrs. Olenick, parked in front of the apartment building while the station was on the air.  The agents conducted field strength measurements and determined that the signal exceeded the limits for operation under Part 15 of the FCC’s rules. 

At first, the FCC issued a warning letter to the Olenicks who later replied they did not consider themselves subject to the laws of the United States.  In November of 2013, Texas FCC field agents again used direction-finding techniques and confirmed that the unlicensed station was still in operation at the location.

In its 2014 forfeiture order, the FCC said, “contrary to the Olenicks’ assertion, the commission does not lack jurisdiction over the use of radio transmitting equipment within the State of Texas.”  The FCC issued a base fine of $10,000 for “operations without an instrument of authorization for the service” and tacked on an additional $5,000 fine because the couple ignored FCC’s warnings to cease operations.

Liberty Radio apparently stopped broadcasts in December of 2017 and has posted the following message on its website – “Due to circumstances beyond our control, the current location site of the tower is no longer available as of December 7, 2017.”  The operation continues to stream online.  Federal legislation to address the pirate issue, however is languishing in the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee after unanimously passing the U.S. House of Representatives in late July.

The bipartisan HR 5709, the ‘Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act’, is co-authored by U.S. Reps. Leonard Lance, R-NJ, and Paul Tonko, D-NY.  Texas cosponsors of the bill are U.S. Reps. Bill Flores, R-Waco, and Gene Green, D-Houston.  The measure increases the penalties, requires regular enforcement sweeps, and augments the tools available to the FCC to stop illegal pirate broadcasters. 

As noted in TAB President Oscar Rodriguez’s May 15 story in the TAB Bulletin, the PIRATE Act could be particularly useful in metro markets, some of which have seen a jump in the number of pirate radio operators.  But the pirate problem is not limited to large cities.  Earlier this summer, the owner of the Oasis Inn Motel in Van Horn was issued an FCC warning about its unlicensed FM radio station operation.  That case is still under FCC review and it seems there is no shortage of individuals seeking to flaunt the FCC’s rules on unauthorized operations.

Let TAB know if you’re aware of a pirate radio operator in your market so we can use that information to bolster support for this bill among members of Congress.

Questions?  Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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