Friday, May 13, 2011

Red Sky at Morning - Pirates Take Warning

"They have dealt with me like thieves of mercy:
but they knew what they did;
I am to do a good turn for them."
--Hamlet, Act IV, Scene vi, aka "The pirate scene"

We've found some diverse fans and unexpected allies at Tales of Radio Paranoia. Are there really more anarchists than monarchists in pirate radio? For now... maybe. Alliances based on the principle of "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" tend to be tenuous. Anarchists often find themselves on the wrong end of a rope, so we'll probably see you hanging around Owl Creek Bridge or Golgotha. And by "you" I mean me.

Google's Blogger platform has cyberfarted most of the past week and ToRP was inaccessible for a few days. Since I'm way behind on some articles anyway I'll put those aside and just pass along some bits and pieces of news, rumors and behind the scenes chatter, mostly related to the recent apparent renewal of FCC enforcement in HF pirate radio..

Also, the finished articles I had in the can stunk like someone forgot to flush:
  • Mushroom Management and Myxomatosis
  • The Cult of Personality Disorder
  • The Irony of Anonymity
  • Are You a "Good Pirate"?
  • The Joy of Socks
  • You're No Bunny 'Til Some Bunny Loves You
After re-reading the first drafts my first reaction was "Fuck me, I sound like Beans!" Yeah, that kind of ranting.

If you're not familiar with the U.S. pirate radio scene over the past decade, "Beans" has been the most vitriolic and prolific of the many Commander Bunny sockpuppets. ToRP belching bean gas... not a good thing. I might as well write "Why IRC Doesn't Suck Nearly As Much As Beans Claims", supported by my own modest sock drawer cadre. But I won't. As far as you know.

Renewed FCC enforcement in HF pirate radio
Most of the following information has already circulated throughout the U.S. shortwave pirate radio scene since February this year. I'll try to tie together the loose strands of information and analyze what happened and why it happened the way it did.

Some of us have been baffled by the relative absence of open discussion about recent FCC actions affecting shortwave pirate radio. In a recent DIYmedia update regarding WEAK's February 15, 2011 encounter with the FCC, John Anderson wrote:
"There has been little public discussion of this among shortwave pirate enthusiasts, but if I were a broadcaster I'd want to know about FCC enforcement activity so that I could properly assess my relative risk of being on the air."
Why haven't we heard more until WEAK got The Knock? Anyone who lurks around the North American scene knows that it has its own unique characteristics and strong personalities. The influence of the FRN has loomed large for many years, often to the benefit of all participants but, especially since the 2008 "pirate war", increasingly to the detriment of the scene as the self-proclaimed premier pirate radio site devolved from a Free Radio Network to an exclusive hutch for Fabulous Rabbit Nuthuggers. To some extent the cliquishness has decreased over the past few weeks. Who knows how long that will last. But, again, that's a digression for another article.

Since 2010 at least four U.S. shortwave radio pirates have been warned by the FCC to discontinue operation of their unlicensed stations, according to various sources. As far as we have been able to ascertain, none involved NALs (Notice of Apparent Liability) or NOUOs (Notice of Unlicensed Operation) and none has shown up on the FCC website's database.

The shortwave pirate stations which have reportedly received what the FCC calls a Warning of Unlicensed Operation or "verbal warning" since 2010 include:
  • Weather Radio (April 2010, confirmed by the operator of Weather Radio)
  • Sycko Radio (2010 date unknown, per Feb. 2011 WBNY e-mail news list)
  • Outhouse Radio (late 2010, no direct confirmation, but reported by reliable source)
  • WEAK (February 15, 2011, confirmation received directly from WEAK that same night, later reported by Piratesweek podcast and Hauser's DXLD)
I was reluctant to publish this earlier because it might result in embarrassment or unanticipated consequences for those involved. I was a big fan of all four stations. However it's moot now. Since the February 15, 2011, WEAK bust, Commander Bunny e-mailed more than 40 pirate station operators and listeners about stations getting The Knock. Those recipients forwarded e-mails to others, and so on.

Interference with official comms on the funny bands
According to WEAK's Warning of Unlicensed Operation, the FCC specified a complaint of interference with military or other official communications. Makes sense. For years there have been military comms between 6900-7000 kHz and many DXers have noted a recent increase in ALE, CW and other data on or near the 6925 kHz frequency popular with U.S. shortwave pirates.

I checked with DXers who monitor utes, as well as IRC #wunclub logs. One DXer in particular is running 24 hour bandscans to monitor 6800-7000 kHz to identify the types comms and skeds. Link-11/TADIL-A has recently been recorded from 6940-6953, along with PSK on 6894 and 6935, and RTTY near 6922. Several times this year I've heard ALE near 6925, and MARS voice nets near 6900 and 7000 (I'd need to check my logs, but the MARS nets were around 6903 and 6997). I'll attach a recent bandscan graphic provided by a DXer who's monitoring the popular pirate funny bands.

So, why is WYFR on 6915 and 6985 exempt? I'm guessing the FCC figures they'll be gone after May 21, so... problem solved by the coming Zombie Apocalypse.

On the plus side, so far I haven't heard any FCC agent call a pirate operator a child molester on air or threaten to stalk them at home or assault them at work or at the Winter Fest. So, thankfully, pirates won't need to sue the FCC for copyright violation for stealing WBNY and RJI comedy material.

See, I can be Mr. Sunshine sometimes.

The WEAK bust and Artie Bigley
Sources have told me that Artie Bigley (SWL and regular contributor to Glenn Hauser's DXLD) has been frantically e-mailing people in the pirate scene about these reported FCC warnings (confirmed via copies of e-mails I've seen) and has FOIA'd requests for FCC confirmation. And since most FCC activity is public record, Bigley's reports via DXLD don't violate any confidentiality.

WEAK's bust had already been reported via the Piratesweek podcast and on Hauser's DXLD. At least three sources have told me that Bigley has pressed them for specific details (which sources all told me they declined) and obtained confirmation from the FCC via a FOIA. Bigley has been asked to withhold specific information about WEAK's name and address, but he's under no legal obligation to do so. (Update: Per DX LISTENING DIGEST 11-19, May 10, 2011, WEAK's name and location were withheld, as Mr. Bigley agreed with WEAK's request. -- GF)

I've been told that Bigly wants a copy of Sealord's audio recording of WEAK's FCC visit. Most of it was already on a Piratesweek podcast. There's nothing on it that reveals WEAK's identity or location so I've attached a short streaming mp3 to the bottom of this blog entry. From the perspective of pirate radio history and trivia, it's a fascinating and unique sign post. I'll take the heat for providing the audio, so don't blame Sealord. I copied the audio off the original log back on February 15, when several of us were still wondering whether it was a prank.

Oh, by the way, Doug Miller... you've got a serious ground loop hum. Most pirate radio DXers are too polite to tell ops about such problems. But we're not polite. And if you need a jingle or more exciting station ID, contact our marketing department and we'll set you up. Also, you should send Sealord an FCC QSL. He's too nice a guy to ask for a memento of WEAK's misfortune. But, c'mon... why should George Zeller have the only FCC QSL?

One of us!
A few e-mails I've received have described Bigley's interest in WEAK's unfortunate encounter with the FCC as unusually obsessive. My only thought was: "Eccentric. Persistent. Obsessively curious. Detail oriented. Sounds like a typical DXer. " One of us! One of us! Gooble-gobble, gooble-gobble!

Considering the nature of humour in the U.S. pirate radio scene it's likely that the worst that will happen is Bigley will be memorialized in parody, satire and SSTV for years to come. Kracker will hit up memegenerator for another unfunny variation of a shake-and-bake meme invented by 12-year-olds, involving some references to penises. Captain Ganja will 'shop Artie's head onto a goat. You know, the great thing about about stoner humour is that long after something stops being funny, digging up a joke, running over it, backing up, running over it again, propping it up and running over it again can sometimes breathe a whole new dimension of unfunnyness into a situation. Like farting at a city council meeting.

So go easy on Artie. It's not like he called anyone a child molester. At least he has enough respect to not steal Commander Bunny's favorite material.

Paranoia, the destroyer
Let's speculate about why Atlanta office FCC agent Doug Miller transmitted the station closure message, which occurred during a WEAK broadcast. We know the FCC at least occasionally reads shortwave pirate radio hobbyist sites (despite naysaying from Billo, who seems stuck in the year 1995 - mebbe it takes awhile for the postmodern world to reach his Montana one-holer). Suppose they recognized the rampant paranoia that has infested the scene the past few years. What better way for a largely ineffectual agency to maximize the impact of an enforcement action that amounted to little more than putting on their best trollface and sternly administering a finger waggling "Naughty pirate, no-no-no, kthxbai!"

IOW, the FCC did it for the lulz.

What better way to troll a group of hobbyists who are often their own worst enemies?

And that's a topic for another time.

Three minute recording of WEAK being shut down by FCC on February 15, 2011.


  1. Good reporting on the busts, and their aftermath.

    The posts you trashed? Good titles, at least. Maybe some could be reworked?

  2. Well, I definitely know I'm not ignored here either : )

  3. After years of tacit neglect of pirate radio on shortwave by the FCC one has to wonder why the sudden interest. Enforcement has been widespread geographically and narrow in time, but the consequences has been minimal. The authorities must know that they will not eradicate the pirates from the HF bands, at best they may force a temporary decline in broadcasts. In fact this has happened this spring after word came out about WEAK. I am starting to believe the FCC is trying to send a message to the community. Perhaps they would like to see the community move to another area of the band? Pure speculation on my part but plausible given the situation.

  4. @Anon - I'm rewriting most of those articles. They're still worthwhile, but need a severe spanking with the de-rantification paddle.

    @Sea - I just experienced mal-de-mer writing "at sea".

    @Ragnar - Excellent point. If RP were a proper reporter rather than a gossip columnist and rumour-mongerer we'd find out. Perhaps John and DIYmedia or even Artie Bigley can sniff around for actual info. Artie seems to have the sort of curiosity it takes.

    But - trying to think like a bored bureaucrat, frustrated by a corrupt commission that was thwarting my efforts to do a good job and fulfill my actual job description - I'd have done precisely what Doug Miller did. I'd have recognized how paranoid the U.S. shortwave pirate radio scene had become over the years and trolled the ever-livin' F**K out of 'em, just for laffs.

    Then I'd pad my time sheet, crack open a frosty one, tune into the funny bands and hope WEAK, Sycko, Outhouse, etc., realized the FCC is just a huge hoax and all any shortwave pirate needs to do is retool the station, go mobile and don't make it so damned easy to DF you next time.

  5. The part I don't fully understand or believe is the use of an illegal station to warn other pirate operators and listeners of the potential risks,or as you suspect troll them. An illegal broadcast doesn't become legal if a FCC officer suddenly uses it for his purposes. So in reality Doug Miller should also get a NAL and fine,even though no fines were issued.

    If the FCC wanted to play with us they could easily put together a recording give it to the a federally owned radio station and turn 6925 into a 24/7 FCC warning frequency." ACHTUNG ACHTUNG pirate operation is verboden" and so on.
    To top it off they could do it with thousands of watts and 50 khz wide jamming signals on each side of 6925.
    I think the reality of the situation is that WEAK wanted to get out of playing pirate and staged his downfall for a graceful exit.

  6. @Anon#2 - You have a devious mind. I like the way you think. While I am 99.99% certain WEAK didn't stage his own bust, I can say he has an excellent sense of humour and will appreciate your theory.

    However, I'll confess that back on July 4, 2008, when the now-infamous computer voice programme was aired that accused a well known figure in the U.S. shortwave pirate radio scene of rampant sockpuppetry and manipulation of the FRN (which turned out to be true)... I wondered whether the accused person had actually staged the event as a hoax. What better way to recapture attention to himself as the Orson Welles of shortwave pirate radio?

    But, no... just as it is extremely unlikely the programme that launched a thousands trolls and lulz in 2008 was a hoax, so it is with WEAK's unfortunate situation. But I'm sure he'll appreciate your theory.

    As for the FCC engaging in jamming, that's already been the subject of speculation amongst hams regarding the persistent heterodyne on 14275 kHz. If the FCC possesses such extraordianry technology for DFing HF signals, then why haven't they stopped that persistent whine that QRMs everything from 14270-14280 kHz?

  7. Guise Faux, I know it's been some time, but to me the WEAK "station takeover" sounds more like the FCC just jammed the signal, because there is a assload of xmtr hum in their transmission. The FCC knows they have failed to stop SW piracy, so playing games like that is their's a lot easier to scare FM/AM pirates because most of them are not clandestine amateur radio operators, so they don't know the law or the history of the FCC and the shaky legal ground* the Feds stand on - the $10k letter usually scares them into silence.

    I think that maybe the weird noise on 14.275 might be a harmonic from some transmitter - possibly HARP, maybe a big commercial SW xmtr. I know neither the FCC nor Radio Canada likes what is going on over at `275 but they won't do anything because its ham radio, and ham radio is way, waaay down on their list of priorities. If either the US or Canada is jamming that freqency to get rid o' the trash I think they are on shaky ground, because the ARRL and the RAC can raise a stink about it (unless they clandestinely told them, and both groups agreed - then it's a radio Watergate!**)


    * I've heard that Agents were laughed out of court by judges who didn't see what the BFD piracy supposedly is.

    ** It would be a greasy old man stink, a mix of solder, tobacco smell, and general man-funk.

    And that would be their lawyer...

  8. lol i have to laugh at the "voice" that suddenly went on the air identifying himself as someone from the FCC - i have had many run-in's with the FCC and i can tell you from experience that they do NOT go on the air of the pirates radio station, they simply enter the premises with a search and/or seize warrant, find the equipment, unplug it and take it away along with the police and/or federal marshals for backup and all of this is done only AFTER they have acquired sufficient evidence that there is a radio signal emanating from said premises


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