Pirating Laws for Home FM Radio Transmitters

Written by wilhelm schnotz
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Pirating Laws for Home FM Radio Transmitters
Operating a pirate FM station from your home may result in steep fines. (antenna image by poco_bw from Fotolia.com)

Anyone who's fed up with the commercial radio stations in his market might dream of operating a pirate radio station. In most circumstances, firing up a pirate signal isn't just illegal, it risks heavy fines and imprisonment for pirate radio operators, as such broadcasts violate federal law and are invariably shut down by the Federal Communications Commission.

Super Low Power Broadcasts

If the notion of setting up a pirate radio station in your attic is just too alluring to pass up, you can do it legally, so long as you're not very ambitious about it. The FCC allows unlicensed broadcasters to use the AM and FM bands without applying for a license if their signal is weak enough. You won't build a media empire this way, though: FM transmitters operating under this sanction must broadcast at a maximum signal strength of 0.01 microwatts and aren't allowed to be received by radios outside of a 200-foot radius around your house.

Pirate FM Broadcasts

If you're not content to share your music collection with a handful of your neighbours and begin to broadcast at higher signal strengths on your pirate station, you risk running afoul of FCC guidelines. Even broadcasting in quiet spots on the dial that don't receive licensed frequencies may interfere with licensed signals across the band, so the FCC and commercial radio operators frequently scan the dial for violators. When a violating broadcast is discovered, FCC inspectors use triangulation equipment to locate the source of the signal and raid the pirate station.


If the FCC raids your do-it-yourself station, you're not going to get off easy. Fines begin at £6,500 for a single day of unlicensed broadcast and are authorised to reach £48,750, although inspectors may levy larger fees in extenuating circumstances. In some instances, police may be called in to confiscate transmitter equipment, and in Florida and New Jersey, broadcast of a pirate radio station is also a criminal offence. In New Jersey, your pirate radio station may earn you up to 18 months, while Florida's law classifies unlicensed broadcasts as a felony and allows judges to put pirate DJs behind bars for up to five years.

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