The Federal Communications Commission has struck a first of its kind deal with an alleged operator of an unlicensed radio station that not only includes some punishment but also an incentive to stay off the airwaves for two decades.
Sergio Plasencia has admitted to being behind the pirate station that called itself “The Vibe” at 101.9 FM and 107.3 FM in Miami. In April 2017 the FCC had proposed a $20,000 fine, saying Plasencia ignored repeated warnings to shut down his operation. Now under an agreement with the Enforcement Bureau, Plasencia has signed a 20-year commitment that he will not operate any pirate stations in the future. In return, the fine has been reduced to an immediate $2,680 payment. Plasecnia would only be on hook for the remaining $17,320 penalty if he were to operate any pirate stations in the future.
As Inside Radio reported last year, the cat-and-mouse game of finding Plasencia began in early 2016 when the FCC’s Miami field office first received a complaint about the station. They used direction-finding equipment and easily traced the signal back to a Miami home where Plasencia lived. While he wasn’t there at the time, one of the agents spoke with Plasencia by phone and during that conversation Plasencia admitted not only to operating the station at 101.9 FM but also an earlier pirate station at 99.5 FM.
Then two months ago in response to a fresh complaint about a pirate station at 107.3 FM field agents traced a station back to a different home that was owned by Plasencia. Along the drive over they noticed that the car radio RDS display for the signal showed “107.3 Vibe Miami’s Classic Hip-Hop Station.” Despite fresh warnings, last month field agents said the pirate station was still on the air on two separate dates—and from the same location.
Thanks to Florida’s tough stance on pirate radio—and stricter state laws than in most parts of the country—FCC field agents enlisted the Miami-Dade Police Department to raid the home on March 31. There they found a large professional studio with a U-shaped console, audio production equipment, transmitters and an RDS generator, among other equipment. Plasencia arrived at his property while the police were executing the warrant and eventually admitted to officers and FCC field agents that he was operating a pirate station. Under Florida law that allowed the cops to seize the equipment.
All this wasn’t new to Plasencia. According to FCC records he had an earlier run-in with the agency in 2010 also for operating a pirate station from his Miami condo. For that, plus ignoring a series of warnings during the past two years, the Enforcement Bureau has proposed a stiff $20,000 fine—twice the base penalty. Plasencia now has 30 days to pay the penalty or to request a reduction or cancellation.
But in agreeing to the deal that includes a 20-year incentive to stay off the airwaves, Enforcement Bureau chief Rosemary Harold writes in the order that the FCC concluded the agreement will best serve the public interest.
More Pirate Warnings Issued
Even as the Enforcement Bureau is settling one pirate radio case, field agents remain busy tracking down unlicensed stations elsewhere. And that’s resulted in several warnings to alleged pirates recently being made public.
In New York City, the Enforcement Bureau said it tracked an unlicensed station operating 106.5 FM in Brooklyn to a building on Avenue D. Agents had used direction-finding equipment to track the station back to the station in the East Flatbush neighborhood. While there field agents learned that Doron Walton was allegedly the operator of the pirate station. That resulted in a warning being sent not only to Walton but also to the Queens real estate company that owns the building.
It was the same situation for another pirate operating at 106.1 FM in Brooklyn. In a warning sent to Godwin Browne the FCC said during their investigation agents confirmed he was the operator of the station. That earned a formal warning for not only Browne but the real estate company that owns the Ocean Avenue apartment building.
Meanwhile in Connecticut, the FCC investigated a complaint about an unlicensed station in Bridgeport operating at 104.7 FM from a residence on Putman Street and its actions were similar. The FCC says agents confirmed that both William Cotter and Menylik Simmonds were the operators of the pirate station. So it has fired off a warning letter to both Cotter and Simmonds but also to David Glasford, who the FCC owns the property.
Another investigation about an unlicensed station at 107.3 FM in Bridgeport, CT led to a warning letter being sent to Tremaine Robinson. It says one two dates in June and July agents tracked the pirate station back to a home on Wheeler Avenue where they confirmed Robinson was behind the controls.
A bill pending in Congress would make it easier for the FCC to go after those who help pirates, such as landlords and advertisers, and stiffen fines to as much as $2 million. The FCC would also be allowed to go after landlords and any business providing “physical goods or services” to the unlicensed station. The FCC would also be required to conduct at least twice-a-year enforcement sweeps in the top five markets identified for having the biggest problem with unlicensed operators.