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Free The Fire Station

from The New York Times

Station Had Listeners, Just Not a License


Driving from the Hudson Valley down through Westchester County to the Bronx, listeners of WSPK-FM, or K104.7, a Top 40 radio station known for its weekday “Woodman in the Morning” show, often find their speakers crackling with an altogether different kind of hit.

“People are driving and all of a sudden they run into a Caribbean station,” said Jason Finkelberg, the station’s general manager, describing the listener complaint that constantly bedevils K104.7.

It is not some quirk of the dial, or a blip in the airwaves. The Caribbean music that bleeds into the Top 40 sounds came from the Bronx and Brooklyn version of 104.7, the FM frequency on which a pirate radio station, 104.7 the Fire Station, has squatted for at least the past decade. It has colorful DJs, live special guests, commercials and devoted listeners. What it does not have is a Federal Communications Commission license for its frequency.

But dislodging pirate radio operators from the airwaves may be no more useful an exercise than playing Whac-A-Mole: dozens, if not hundreds, of underground radio operators crowd the FM dial in New York, mainly in neighborhoods like Flatbush, Brooklyn, where immigrant communities clamor to hear dance hall and soca Caribbean music and news from home.

Some flicker on and off, beholden to no set schedule and no one frequency; others are more established operations, with Web sites, revenue from commercials and fan bases. The Fire Station had regular shows and ran around the clock on weekends, playing in the afternoons and evenings during weekdays.

If this is not quite the stuff of outlaw fantasy, as depicted in the movie “Pirate Radio,” the operators often claim that they are giving underserved communities a voice that they cannot find elsewhere. It is the kind of programming that cannot be heard on mainstream radio stations in the city.

“The message that we’re trying to bring across is we are people who have great ideas, who are independent, and there’s a lot more to offer than the big-time radio stations have to offer,” said Timo Flex, a manager at VYBZ Radio, a reggae and soul station. He said the station broadcasts only online, but it and its frequency, 107.1, have been mentioned as being run by pirates on local Web sites and radio message boards.

“There are things going on in the community we wish to share in the world,” he said. “It’s not just local vibe. It’s local vibe community radio.”

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Posted on July 5, 2013 by Editor

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