Monday, October 01, 2018

FCC OPERATION GANGPLANK


I first read of Operation Gangplank in the book 40 Watts from Nowhere by Sue Carpenter.  It's a fine book on it's own merits, but it's also an artifact of mid-90s west-coast history of pirate radio. She wrote:
"...Chris and I are brainstorming about how to proceed now that we know the FCC's on to us. KSCR and fifteen other stations in South Florida have been busted in one week as part of an FCC initiative called Operation Gangplank."
I quickly gathered that this was not a colloquialism, or nickname, but an actual federal anti-pirate radio program. In a 1998 Inspector General report the "OIG" described the program. It's along quote, but it's worth reading.
"The [Office of Inspector General], in conducting Field Inspections in 1996, had identified to management that the Commission had not adopted an active posture to stem the proliferation of Pirate broadcasters operating in violation of Section 301 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. §301. This condition was most notable in South Florida. At the invitation of the Chief, Compliance and Information Bureau (CIB), the Assistant Inspector General for Audits (AIGA) participated in Operation Gangplank. Operation Gangplank was a coordinated effort by the CIB and other Federal, State and Local entities to identify and remove non-licensed or “Pirate” broadcasters from the air. During the week of July 27, 1998, Operation Gangplank was successful in removing 15 illegal broadcasters from the air in South Florida and seized illegal broadcast equipment, ranging from homemade transmitting components to professionally manufactured equipment illegally imported from foreign counties."
As you might imagine, Operation Gangplank went over poorly with radio activists. At the time the FCC bragged. FCC Chairman William Kennard called the crackdown "...the most successful, large-scale enforcement action against unlicensed operators to date." The crackdown was actually a series of raids between between July 27-31 on mostly dance and hip-hop stations around Miami. The OIG describes taking down 15 Florida pirates, but does not list which ones. But the FCC did in an August 18th report [HERE] Sadly these omit call letters or names, but understandably that's not how the FCC views them. Also described by the Miami New Times [HERE]. I've added names where possible from the Florida Low Power Radio website [HERE]
  • 88.7 MHz in North Miami - "88 point 7"
  • 89.1 MHz in Miami
  • 90.3 MHz in Homestead
  • 90.9 MHz in Homestead - "Action Radio?"
  • 90.9 MHz in Davie
  • 91.7 MHz in Miami
  • 92.7 MHz in Coconut Grove
  • 94.5 MHz in North Miami
  • 97.7 MHz in Miami - "Hot 97"
  • 95.3 MHz in Miami - "95 Live, or Radio Superstar"
  • 99.5 MHz in Miami - "Radio Five Star"
  • 101.1 MHz in Coconut Grove - "Nation-your all-digital community radio"
  • 104.1 MHz in Miami - "Real FM"
  • 104.7 MHz in Hialeah - "SupaRadio"
  • 107.1 MHz in Miami Beach - "Womb"
Carpenter describes other pirate stations outside of Florida being shut-down as part of Operation Gangplank. Notably in her tale both KSCR, KBLT in Los Angeles, and Radio Limbo in Tucson. Other stations did disappear around that time, Lake Shore Radio in St Clair Shores, MI. This may not be exactly correct, but they and others were definitely targeted under those ramped up enforcement actions.

In April of 1998 Billboard ran an article "FCC Putting Pirates On The Plank" which pointed out that crackdowns were on the rise, but also tellingly, that those stations posed competition for commercial stations. They detailed that the FCC shut down 97 pirates in 1997, and were up to 65 by April of 1998 the rate had literally doubled. Though in the end they completed 118 enforcement actions that year, so in the Spring they ramped up suddenly then, they ramped back down. But why?

In October of 1998 Micro-radio protesters held an event in DuPont circle. Len Bracken described the event in the book The Arch Conspirator.  They marched down Connecticut Avenue, then M Street to the offices of the FCC. The crowd is described as extending half a block back up the avenue. The mixed group and other like it saw pirate radio as civil disobedience, preserving free speech in the face of increasing media consolidation. (Radio Mutiny wrote this letter to the FCC.) The FCC raids made for bad PR. So FCC Chair Kennard came and went, and consolidation continues today unabated. But microradio did get it's day. LPFM 4th adjacent licenses were awarded, hundreds of them. They had hoped for 3rd adjacent, and thousands of them. But it didn't happen. Enforcement actions are actually on the rise since then. The FCC ramped up with a vengeance. They did 153 in 2004, 296 in 2005, 391 in 2006, 406 in 2007, and peaked at 447 in 2010. More here.