Open up! It's the FCC!
The words that every pirate radio station fears. This time, however, those words landed on a man of god: Pastor Yvon Grand-Champ.
Grand-Champ ("big field" in French) had been hunted down by US comms watchdog the FCC's most fearless and intrepid investigators – its region-one enforcement agents, known as the Untouchables – for running an illegal station.
The location? The Revelation Pentecostal Holy Church in Boston suburb Mattapan. A sleepy town with a dark secret: those who tuned to 106.3 FM could hear Pastor Grand-Champ spout his dangerous message to the world.
Armed only with signal-tracking equipment, the FCC agents bravely confronted the man in charge, Pastor Emmanuel R Jules. Under questioning, he broke down and fingered Grand-Champ as the owner of the station.
"You are hereby warned that operation of radio transmitting equipment without a valid radio station authorization constitutes a violation of the Federal laws," the agents told Grand-Champ when they'd tracked him down, warning him [PDF] that he faced "severe penalties, including, but not limited to, substantial monetary fines, in rem arrest action against the offending radio equipment, and criminal sanctions, including imprisonment."
They left, giving him just 10 days to try to wheedle his way out of the sticky situation he had put himself into. If he fails – and he will – they'll be back with a fine. Or worse.
You might think that the FCC is just a policy wonk body caught up with trying to destroy America's net neutrality rules or giving US ISPs the right to sell your private data to whoever will pay for it.
But you could not be further from the truth. Its enforcers often live in the dark and seedy world of illegal radio stations. It's a dangerous and thankless task, but one man who is not afraid to take it on is its chair, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai.
Pai has been mocked as a clown, a Big Cable stooge, a careerist willing to say and do anything to get ahead – but when it comes to pirate radio stations, he is fearless.
"We'll take aggressive action to enforce the rules against pirate radio broadcasters," Pai warned last month, staring into the face of the radio pirates, who have done so much to terrorize American citizens.
Standing next to him is fellow commissioner Michael O'Rielly who celebrated Pai's stance and noted that he was the "first FCC chairman" to have the guts to act against this menace. "Watch out pirates," O'Rielly noted.
Never stop fighting till the fight is done
At its most recent meeting, O'Rielly – like a modern-day Eliot Ness – made it clear the FCC wasn't just going after the pirates, either. It will also go after those who "knowingly aid and abet" them – including powerful corporations that buy time on unlicensed stations and influential property owners who turn a blind eye to the equipment sending unlicensed music and talk to innocent strangers.
Together Pai and O'Rielly have turned the FCC into a regulator to be feared. While they have scrapped pretty much all protections over internet users – leaving them at the mercy of ISPs arguing that "light touch regulation" is the best move for the FCC – when it comes to the scourge of pirate radio, they will not be ignored.
Pastor Yvon Grand-Champ is not the first to be taken down. Nor will he be the last. And just to rub their pirate faces in it, they have published an online map showing just where and when they have taken on these modern-day monsters – and won.
Because the FCC has got its priorities right. And in 2017, that comes in two letters: F and M. ®