Pirate Radio Part 2: Aftermath

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Remember when I told you not to build a radio station without the proper licensing? Here is why....

The radio station was going along swimmingly, and with almost no work on my end. One day I get a knock on my door. I open it, and it is two men from the FCC and four(!) police officers there to shut me down.

Now that I have your attention, let me explain to you why you don't want to build one of these. Look past the legal issues for a moment. The electromagnetic spectrum is a finite resource. There are only so many spaces on the spectrum that radio signals can fit. Without regulation, there is anarchy on the spectrum, where only the people who can afford the most powerful of transmitters can use it. The FCC provides the needed regulation.

When I built my station, I did not fully understand these concepts. I thought of the FCC only as a body focused on censorship. I WAS WRONG. By not doing the proper research into these matters, even though I my intentions were good in creating the station, I was in a way encouraging the sort of anarchy on the electromagnetic spectrum that should never be encouraged.

At the end of the day I can say this, building this station was a dumb move on my part, not due to the legal reasons, but due to not taking the time to understand WHY these regulations exist. I can assure you, that will not happen again.

Time to get off my soapbox...

The guys from the FCC were actually very nice to me. They understood that I didn't do the research first, so they let me off easy. They confiscated all of my radio equipment, but did not levy any fines. I was facing a possible $10,000 fine, so I'm very happy with the result. As a bonus, I got to see the equipment they used to track me down, and they even told me to apply to the FCC after I graduated! Their logic went like this: I used to run a pirate radio station, I obviously know how they operate, so I'd be an ideal person to help find them. Works for me!

In the end though, I ended up with a great story to tell, and a much better understanding of why some of the laws are in place. I think that is worth losing some of my equipment over. If anything, my radio station will always exist in my heart.

I'll never forget you... *sniff*

Pirate Radio Part 1: Strange Hobbies

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Pirate Radio logo
I'm going to start out this post with a warning. Don't be like me! Don't do this project!

The reason why you don't want to do this project is that you can get yourself in some serious legal trouble. I almost did, but I think the project is still important for a number of reasons. This project shows that a professional sounding radio station can be set up and run at a VERY low cost, it shows how quickly projects can get rolling with some community involvement, the importance of being different in advertising and promotion, and hopefully serve as a warning to others to not play around with radio broadcasting equipment without the proper training and permits!
Me and the winner of a 'Pathetically Small Prize'
One of our t-shirts we had made.

Because I don't want you to get yourselves in trouble, I will keep some parts of the technical side of things rather vague. I'm sure that right now there is a radio operator who is about to shake his head and laugh at how dumb I was in creating my radio station.

On to the show. In the summer of 2012 I was at my University taking some classes, and looking for new projects to do. Me and a friend of mine thought that a radio station might be a nifty thing to build. With this in mind, we came up with a few ideas. It would have to be low cost, not need to much labor to keep it running, and play local music.

With these thoughts in mind, we got the stuff together to make a low cost, low power transmitter. Along with this, I started work on the software to automate the radio station.

The solution we came up with was to create an internet radio station which could be automated, not just changing songs, but also putting in station intros. Now we just set up a laptop, started it playing the internet radio stream, and plugged in our transmitter.

I'm going to repeat myself. DO NOT DO THIS.

The station worked wonderfully, and I was able to control the content of the station from any computer I was in front of. We then set up a Facebook page to advertise the station. On there we shared the station info and the internet feed. To promote the station we had what I called 'Pathetically Small Prizes'. Someone would answer a trivia question, and they would win a 'Pathetically Small Prize'. Along with that, we were collecting local music from artists, ripping the tracks, and putting them on the air. The local artists loved the airplay, and the leftover CD's we gave away as 'Pathetically Small Prizes'. For the station intros, we came up with the concept of a character who was a radio DJ who was doing his job as a labor of love, but he was at the desk 24 hours a day, so it was just killing him on the inside. So the voice I used had a bit of a pathetic sigh to everything, and was monotone. People loved the DJ character, most likely because he was so different from all the Top-40 style DJ's.

Almost overnight, we were a hit.

Soon there were requests for t-shirts. I made the design, and sold them slightly above my cost. All told, the radio station broke even, and was becoming hugely popular!

Tomorrow you get to read about why I am begging you not to build a radio station! That post is where the other foot drops!