Airwave Piracy Ends In Arrests And Boat Seizure
LONG BEACH, N.Y. (AP) _ A ship-based rock ‘n’ roll radio station was seized Tuesday and two men were arrested after broadcasting from international waters for five days in defiance of the Federal Communications Commission.
″It’s not going to cause me to give up but obviously this is a major setback,″ said Randi Steele, operations manager for the station, Radio Newyork International, that broadcast from a rusty fishing boat.
″The basic message 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 woud be disbanded and rebuilt from the ground up.″
Steele had said earlier that the ship, flying the Honduran flag, was not subject to FCC jurisdiction because it was one mile outside the three-mile territorial limit of the United States, off the south shore of Long Island.
The Coast Guard, which delivered a warning from the FCC on Saturday, and FCC officials boarded the vessel early Tuesday and arrested three men, later freeing one who was a journalist, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Fishbein.
Alan Weiner, 34, of Monticello, Maine, and Ivan Rothstein, 25, of Brooklyn, were charged with operating a broadcast station on board a ship outside national territories and conspiring to impede the functions of the FCC. The charges carry penalties of up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
The two were released on their own recognizance after their arraignment in Brooklyn federal court Tuesday afternoon.
U.S. Magistrate John Caden set Aug. 27 for their next court appearance. Before their release, Weiner and Rothstein promised 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.″
Neither Weiner, Rothstein, nor their lawyer, Margaret Mayo, had any comment immediately after the proceeding. Both shook hands with other members of their radio station when they were freed and Rothstein hugged his mother, Judy.
Weiner has previously boasted of his ability to uncover loopholes in broadcasting regulations. He has a prior conviction in a similar case, Fishbein said.
″Here we have a deliberate attempt to test the authority of the commission,″ Richard M. Smith, chief of the FCC’s Field Operations Bureau, said at a news conference in Washington. ″We’ve had few if any cases previously like this. We hope this is a one-shot deal.″
An FCC statement said the agency is ″tasked with licensing and regulating radio stations so that orderly and efficent radio communication can be provided to the general public. Unauthorized transmissions can cause interference and deprive the general public from receiving authorized licensed stations.″
Smith said the 200-foot, Honduran-registered fishing boat was boarded ″with the permission of the Honduran government.″
Ramiro Figueroa, a spokesman for the Honduran Embassy in Washington, said the men might also face charges in Honduras because the ship was registered only for fishing.
″It’s supposed to be a fishing boat. That’s it,″ he said. ″It is breaking Honduran law. It was not supposed to operate as a radio station.″
Steele said of the Hondurans: ″We expected protection ... We were committing no illegal act.″
R.J. Smith, a Village Voice reporter who boarded the vessel Monday night, was freed after his identification was confirmed, Fishbein said.
Village Voice executive editor Kit Rachlis said Smith, a music columnist, shared the views of the 20 radio enthusiasts who started broadcasting Thursday as an alternative to what they consider stagnant rock ‘n’ roll formats on New York City stations.
The station broadcast for five hours each evening except Saturday while it tested its signals at 1620 on the AM band, 103.1 FM and on short wave and long wave frequencies, Steele, of Queens, said in a telephone interview.
Steele said those operating the station had tried repeatedly but failed to get an FCC license on land.
On Friday, the station’s signal was powerful enough to reach the FCC’s monitoring station in Allegan, Mich., said Sally Mott Lawrence, an FCC spokeswoman in Washington.
During the final hours of the station’s broadcasts, disc jockey Rothstein, who on the air called himself ″Ivan Jeffreys,″ marveled at the station’s power.
″This is worldwide. No kidding. All over the United States. All over the world,″ he said. ″Hopefully, we’ll be here for a long time to come.″