Heard It Through the Pipeline

Jerry Lyddane runs the most powerful pirate radio station in Broward. And the FCC be damned.

Leading a guest through the headquarters of the radio station known throughout Broward County as the Pipeline, owner and manager Jerry Lyddane sounds like a successful media entrepreneur trying to impress an investor with a can't-miss business prospectus.

"Now look at this," he gushes, striding over to what appears to be a stack of stereo components gathering dust in a corner. "This is my latest project." Pausing for dramatic effect, Lyddane flips down the front of one of the stacked metal boxes, exposing a thin flat panel loaded with tiny wires, switches, and shiny metal bits.

Could it be... a circuit board?
Impatient at his guest's inability to grasp what should be obvious to any first-semester DeVry Tech gadgethead, Lyddane explains that what we're looking at is a transmitter -- a very powerful transmitter -- one that is shortly going to double the range of his ability to break the law 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Despite a defiantly entrepreneurial attitude, Lyddane is no businessman. Without a broadcast license and with no plans to get one, he is, rather, Broward County's most powerful radio pirate. Every day, his station at FM 96.9 illegally broadcasts a thrown-together mishmash of heavy metal, psychedelic grunge, speed-thrash, deadhead anthems, aimless chitchat, and occasional spaces of dead air throughout the county.

It's a scheme that seems increasingly risky. Within the past three months, the Federal Communications Commission raided five Florida pirate radio stations -- three in Tampa, one in West Palm Beach, and one in Miami -- in a highly publicized crackdown that cost the raided pirates thousands of dollars in seized equipment.

The news has set Lyddane's nerves on edge, especially the fact that one of the raided pirates, L. D. Brewer of Tampa, was the supplier of much of the equipment for the Pipeline. Last week Lyddane cut his transmitting power from 350 to 25 watts after reading a newspaper story about the FCC crackdown, and he now scrutinizes every call that comes into the station with Caller I.D. before picking up.

Lyddane's caution, however, quickly fell victim to pride and a boyish enthusiasm for testing the limits of both technology and authority. Within a day of cutting power, Lyddane had the Pipeline powered back up to its usual 350 watts, at which strength it can be heard from the beach in the east to the sawgrass in the west, from Linton Boulevard in the north to the Miami-Dade County line in the south.

He doesn't plan to dial back the power again. Indeed, he's getting ready to crank it up instead. When his new transmitter comes on line, which he hopes will be sometime in the spring, the Pipeline will be transmitting at 1500 watts, enough power to double the range and vastly increase the clarity of his signal. "This station is going to kick some ass," he promises.

Compared to other South Florida pirates -- a furtive crowd who operate for the most part at less than 100 watts, the average for illegal broadcasters nationwide -- Lyddane's station looms over the spectrum the same way the 95-foot homemade antenna tower in his backyard looms over the neighborhood.

His studio, actually a storeroom in the house Lyddane shares with two dogs, is usually inhabited by a panoply of friends and acquaintances. Jeff Stoll, a daytime biomedical engineer and nighttime DJ, punches in a tune by Metallica and lights up a cigarette. The knowledge that smoking on the air wouldn't be allowed in a professional studio makes the butt taste all the sweeter.

For all the attitude, though, this underground station isn't the bastion of political or musical revolution you might expect. Elsewhere in the country, radio pirates are busy mixing politics with their playlists. For the past two years, for instance, a West Coast pirate named Stephen Dunifer has been battling the FCC in court while continuing to broadcast in a hard-to-trace mobile studio. Dunifer scored a procedural victory in November, convincing a District Court judge to agree to consider his claim that the FCC's ban on unlicensed low-power radio broadcasting was an unconstitutional infringement of his right to free speech.

Here at the Pipeline, the focus is more on having a good time while tinkering with the technology. The playlist is more commonplace than cutting-edge, dominated by a plethora of headbanging tunes from the Eighties and drama rock from the Seventies, with occasional forays into other styles and genres. Tonight's lineup features extended multiple-song excursions into Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, and the J. Geils Band.

As Lyddane flips through an envelope filled with jottings and phone numbers of listeners who have called in, he comes across a to-do list from the station's early days. It lists such things as "#4 -- Free Ads" and "#5 -- Local Bands" and "#8 -- Stickers." But the list leads off with "#1 -- Party."

The party hasn't been hard to find. Lyddane quickly discovered a host of bands and bar owners perfectly happy to cater to him in return for free publicity: "It's amazing. When you walk into a bar and they find out you run a radio station, they're all over you."

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