Retiree's Tiny Radio Station Shut Down For Lack Of License
PORTLAND - A tiny quarter-watt radio station broadcasting community news and high-school sports to the 700 residents of Condon is illegal, a Federal Communications Commission agent said.
Bill Roberts, a 69-year-old retiree, claims his radio station, run out of the spare bedroom in his home, is allowed under FCC regulations that allow low-wattage or "micro" broadcasting operations.
"There's no such thing," FCC agent Larry Stuker said. "It puts us in an extremely awkward position of having to go into this small town and telling this 70-year-old man he can't do it."
That's just what the FCC did: Stuker and another agent from the FCC office in Portland visited Roberts on Wednesday in the remote wheat country of Eastern Oregon, telling him he was breaking the law.
"The FCC takes an extremely dim view of people just going on the air without a license," Stuker said.
The fine for unlicensed broadcasting is $10,000 a day, but Stuker said there will be no fine in Roberts' case, unless he goes back on the air.
"This gentleman thought he was doing the right thing and trying to serve his community," Stuker said. "We didn't think there was any justice in that."
But Roberts maintains his station is hurting no one.
"A quarter watt won't even run a light bulb," he said. "There are many stations, quarter-watt operations, that service small communities. If I'm wrong, that's great, but I don't think I am."
"We wouldn't have done this if we weren't sure we were legal."
Stuker said Roberts is mistaken.
"Mr. Roberts got some very bad information in the information food chain," Stuker said. "You can't broadcast at any level without a license. That's to protect the rights of the other broadcasters."
Roberts' FM station was operating at 100 megahertz, which in that part of the state is a translator frequency belonging to KUMA-FM in Pendleton, Stuker said.
"We don't normally go out to Condon and pick on 70-year-old men," he said.
"I don't want to do battle with the FCC either," Roberts said.
Roberts relied on Kent Jewell, a retired radio engineer, for advice in setting up his radio station. Both men believe the operation is legal.
"I spent a lot of time in broadcast radio and in military radio and that's why, if I had any inkling that these things were illegal, I certainly wouldn't get involved in it," Jewell said. "I think I have a good grasp of the regulations."
To back their position, both Roberts and Jewell gave numbers of FCC regulations cited in a pamphlet from Ramsey Electronics Inc. of Victor, N.Y., the company that made Roberts' transmitter.
"I have to assume people marketing these kits obviously would have done their homework," Jewell said.
Phone calls to Ramsey Electronics went unanswered Wednesday afternoon.
Stuker said he would be happy to aid Roberts in filing a commercial-license application.
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