In a recent development, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the vigilant overseer of airwaves, issued a staggering $6.4 million in fines against several illegally operated radio stations, commonly known as pirate radio. The FCC, under the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act (PIRATE Act), proposed fines targeting three pirate radio operators, including “La Mia Radio,” a Latin station in the Bronx, New York.
The fines also extended to Caribbean-operated entities, with Dexter Blake facing a maximum fine for his suspected operation of Linkage Radio in Mount Vernon, and Matthew Bowen slapped with a $1.7 million penalty for alleged FCC rule violations related to the continued operation of Triple9HD in Brooklyn.
Amidst uncertainties about the collection of these fines and potential criminal charges against operators, the timing is crucial, particularly for New York’s Caribbean community. This community, numbering an estimated 1.3 million Caribbean nationals in the New York metro area, is grappling with a lack of radio stations catering to its unique cultural needs.
One owner of a pirate station in Brooklyn justified their existence, stating, “We are filling a void left by regular stations that were sold or changed format.” While the internet offers a plethora of Caribbean music and information, the owner argued that many in the community are not as connected or interested in streaming content on their phones.
The fines raise concerns, especially considering the demographic dynamics of New York’s West Indian community.
According to the latest US Census Report (ACS 2022), a significant percentage of this community is 50 years or older, and they exhibit lower internet penetration and social media usage compared to younger counterparts.
This mature segment relies on traditional media like local TV news, print publications, and brokered radio shows on AM stations, such as WPAT-Am (930) or WSNR-AM (620).
The absence of dedicated radio stations has resulted in the loss of influential voices discussing issues affecting the lives of first and second generation Caribbean nationals.
Past radio stations like WLIB-AM (1190) and WWRL-AM (1600) served as community hubs where people gathered to discuss politics, music, and culture. Consequently, political elites engaged with these stations, making appearances and addressing the concerns of the community.
While online platforms including www.SoundchatRadio.com, www.BroGaryRadio.com, and www.PowerJam.com feature Caribbean voices, they primarily focus on music, offering limited engagement with politicians, community leaders, or influencers. Consequently, the 500,000 naturalized Caribbean nationals, as per the 2022 ACS, are often overlooked by political candidates seeking office.
The prevalence of pirate radio poses additional challenges, as listeners are left uninformed during emergencies or crucial updates from city officials. Beyond enforcement fines and restrictive legislation, questions arise about the responsibility of local and federal governments in ensuring that this community has a voice.
This prompts a call to action for citizens to pose this question to elected officials when they seek votes. What legislative or services can be provided to ensure that New York’s Caribbean community has a voice, and wheat measures should be taken to address the void left by the absence of dedicated radio stations?
In my opinion, these questions demand attention from both regulatory bodies and elected representatives to safeguard the communication needs of a vibrant and significant population.
Patrick Buddington is the publisher of Caribbean Life, with a 30-year history of working with advertisers, marketers and elected officials to improve the lives and lively hood of New York’s multicultural communities.