Heard It Through the Pipeline

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

Still, if the FCC has its way, someday the party will have a price tag. Unauthorized broadcasting carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $1000 fine, says John Winston, assistant chief of the FCC's Compliance and Information Bureau in Washington, D.C.

Pirate stations can be dangerous, Winston maintains, because they risk jamming vital signals in and around airports; two recent raids on South Florida pirates focused on stations operating near airports. They also destroy the system of order the FCC seeks to impose on the radio spectrum, in the same way that road signs and lane markers impose order on highways. "There are reasons for the rules we have in this society," asserts Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. "You can't drive, fish, or hunt without a license. Why should you be able to broadcast?"

The damage done by pirates is economic. "If they're hurting anyone, they're hurting the commercial stations," according to David Camp, a Fort Lauderdale-based freelance broadcast engineer. The concern is not so much interference. Most commercial stations in South Florida broadcast at 50,000 watts, a level that leaves them with little to fear from puny pirates such as the Pipeline. Licensed station owners are concerned about losing audience.

Six months ago Bill Ligue moved to Broward County from Chicago. Initially, he listened to ZETA (WZTA-FM 94.9), but he soon grew tired of it. "It was just the same old repetitious stuff."

Then one day just a couple of months ago, he was flipping the dial and came across the Pipeline. Soon he was calling in and requesting songs. Then he was hanging out in the studio and driving around town with Pipeline fliers pasted on the windows of his van. "I told all my friends."

Another recent convert, Darrell Fowler, works at Monarch Dodge as the prep manager for all new and used cars. He first heard the Pipeline when he was testing the reception of new radios in Chryslers. Now he listens to almost nothing else. "We like Eighties heavy metal, and you can't hear it anywhere else," he says. Now every car that rolls off the line in Fowler's shop has its radio tuned to 96.9.

Every listener whom Lyddane manages to steal from a commercial station makes him that much happier. "People call up all the time and say, 'Man, I just heard you, and I'm never listening to another station.' It's a great feeling."

Compared to the cost of commercial broadcasting, it's a cheap high.
Obtaining an FCC license can cost a commercial radio station upwards of $100,000, and for many stations the expense doesn't end there. Most stations must hire a freelance consultant to inspect their operations and equipment annually to make sure they're still in compliance with FCC regulations.

Lyddane constructs his antennae from used boat railings made of anodized aluminum that he picks up for about $15 apiece. Similar antennae of the type used by most commercial stations retail for about $900, he says. His music costs are also low. "People are always coming by and dropping off CDs, because they know I'll play them." Sure enough, as he's talking a listener named Theresa knocks and, without waiting for an answer, saunters in with a J. Geils Band CD she wants to hear. Five minutes later it's on the air.

For all the hype surrounding the FCC's recent crackdown, some pirates believe they've still got the FCC outnumbered. Lyddane is personally acquainted with two other pirates just in Broward County; Miami, he says, is home to at least a score. Shortly after Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994, they slashed the FCC budget, forcing the agency to close field offices across the country, including one in Miami.

Today there's only one FCC field office left in Florida, in Tampa, and David Camp thinks the office is little more than a receptacle for voice-mail messages that seldom get returned. "It's not that the FCC doesn't take them [pirates] seriously," he says. "They just don't have the manpower."

Part of Lyddane's nonchalance is based on experience. His one brush with the FCC occurred when he was a teenager operating an illegal ham radio station out of his bedroom. At a time when CB radios were limited by law to four watts, Lyddane was running 1200 watts. Eventually, the FCC sent an agent to inspect his equipment and subsequently fined him $950. Lyddane ignored the letters, and eventually they stopped coming. "I think I've still got one. I kept it as a souvenir.

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