Airwave Piracy Ends In Arrests And Boat Seizure
LONG BEACH, N.Y. (AP) _ It lasted less than a week, but a rock ‘n’ roll radio station that thumbed its nose at the FCC from a rusty fishing boat in international waters cast its signal to millions before authorities shut it down and made two arrests.
The end for Radio Newyork International came after five days on the air during which its AM signal reached as far as Michigan, Canada and Florida. The unlicensed station also broadcast in FM and by long- and short-wave radio.
The Coast Guard, which delivered a warning from the Federal Communications Commission on Saturday, boarded the vessel at 5 a.m. Tuesday and arrested three men, later freeing one who was a journalist, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Fishbein.
The remaining two were charged with operating a station aboard a ship outside national territories and conspiring to impede the functions of the FCC. The charges carry up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
Alan Weiner, 34, of Monticello, Maine, and Ivan Rothstein, 25, of New York, were released on their own recognizance after their arraignment in federal court.
″It’s not going to cause me to give up, but obviously this is a major setback,″ said Randi Steele, operations manager for the pirate station.
The station was the product of two years’ planning by about 20 radio enthusiasts, and was operated to protest FCC regulations and as an alternative to New York City’s rock stations, Steele said.
Steele had said the 200-foot boat, flying the Honduran flag, was not subject to FCC jurisdiction because it was a mile outside the United States’ three-mile territorial limit, off Long Island.
Before their release, Weiner and Rothstein promised Magistrate John Caden they would no longer broadcast without FCC permission.
″We are looking for assurances they will not continue to operate,″ Fishbein said beforehand. ″That’s more important than the prosecution of these two individuals.″
But, he added, ″These people have thrown down the gauntlet and challenged the FCC’s authority. I want the public to be aware that the FCC has the power to enforce these regulations and the intention to do so.″
Fishbein said the radio equipment would be removed from the ship as evidence and after that it would be returned to its owner.
Weiner has previously boasted of his ability to uncover loopholes in broadcasting regulations. He was convicted earlier in a similar case, Fishbein said.
The radio station pledged on the air during five-hour broadcasts since Thursday to offer an alternative in format to commercial New York stations.
One disc jockey, Hank Hayes, said the broacasters object to the tight playlists on commercial New York stations that give disc jockeys no choice in what to play. They would like to hear contemporary groups or oldies that get little airplay, he said.
FCC and Coast Guard officials boarded the ship with the permission of the Honduran government, Richard M. Smith, chief of the FCC’s Field Operations Bureau, told a news conference in Washington.
Ramiro Figueroa, a spokesman for the Honduran Embassy in Washington, said the men arrested might also face charges in Honduras because the ship was registered only for fishing.
But Steele said he expected the Hondurans to stand behind the ship and ″tell the American State Department to walk the plank.″
The journalist who was released, Village Voice reporter R.J. Smith, had boarded the boat Monday night to do a story.
Editor Martin Gottlieb said Smith was held in handcuffs for seven hours and prevented from working after his arrest, treatment that ″made a mockery of the New York Police press pass.″
″The reason he was arrested is, basically, simply, because he was there,″ said Coast Guard Petty Officer Barbara Voulgaris in Boston. ″It’s standard procedure to board a ship with arms drawn and to check IDs.″
Steele said those operating the station had tried repeatedly but failed to get an FCC license on land.
″The basic message (of the station) is that the FCC, the way it is acting, is in clear violation of the First Amendment,″ he said. ″If I had my way, the entire FCC would be disbanded and rebuilt from the ground up.″
During its final hours, the station broadcast until 2 a.m., with the disc jockeys telling listeners it was not easy operating a station from a ship.
Rothstein, who on the air used the name Ivan Jeffreys, asked listeners to ″please bring some fly swatters out, some frozen waffles, a shaver and a couple of six-packs.″