FCC raids gang-sponsored pirate radio station in Florida

On Saturday the Federal Communications Commission the Orange County Sheriff's department raided a pirate radio station called "Street Heat" that ran ads for gangs and provided information on where to get drugs and prostitutes.
Police said 20-year-old Balthazard Senat's pirate radio station had illegally tapped into 91.3 FM. DJs behind the microphone had their own rules and regulations as they broadcasted from a bedroom at a home on 30th Street off South Orange Blossom Trail.

The radio station's "Street Heat" broadcast could be heard anywhere in Orange County. Police said Senat had been cursing and using derogatory language on the air for about three months.


  1. back in college I had a pirate radio station, but we broadcast outta my car. The best part was being able to tune over schmucks thumping in their land tanks: “this is god. I want you to turn down your radio.”

    eventually we went legal and helped put together a college radio station. Those were the days!

  2. I kind of admire the ingenuity, and hey, here are some guys reclaiming the airwaves for small-scale radio with a local focus, delivering music and commentary that’s highly relevant to their target audience of violent and brutal thugs.

    Seriously, is LA a third world country or something? Gang-affiliated pirate radio is something you usually associate with Rwanda.

    The FCC stepped in and shut it down; fair enough. But what does it say about LA that such a thing would even come into existence?

  3. The best part was being able to tune over schmucks thumping in their land tanks: “this is god. I want you to turn down your radio.”

    Hah, that’s great. I wish I could do that. Not to harass them or anything, but just to see the look on the driver’s face: o_O

    Technically I could, since I do have a handheld radio laying around that would work at short range (family member is a licensed amateur radio operator). How’d you manage to tune yourself in to the right frequency? A mix of trial-and-error and knowing your local stations?

    I wouldn’t do it myself, but it’s one of those things you want to know how to do right anyway.

  4. Police said Senat had been cursing and using derogatory language on the air for about three months

    Horrors! On the public airwaves? The next thing you know he’ll be advocating marriage to dogs and robots.

  5. Ads? What kind of pirate radio station is that? Back when I built a pirate radio station, the whole point was to have no ads.

    Radio can be done for very little money, so it can be about the music or the politics instead of the money. Commercial stations sell the ears of the listeners to their advertisers. Non-commercial stations provide a public service. Pirate stations take the public service to another level.


  6. Mr. Microphone, 2009:

    “Hey good lookin’, P-Fiddy’s crip crew got the hottest deals on crack rock in town!”

  7. it makes me jealous basement run radio can have a large signal that’s heard (despite being illegal) and my 10 watt college radio station has to struggle legally with a 15500 watt station who is trying to off us; its even hard to hear our signal on campus. DAMN YOU INTERFERENCE!

    so i actually kind of support this guy, despite the ‘cussing’. go DIY hurhurhur

  8. I also ran a mighty 1/4 watt FM station every Saturday night for about a year. The transmitter was potted into a cylinder about three cm in diameter by 3 cm deep. We had a party room in the basement and people could use their car radios to listen in to the mix if they um.. wanted a little privacy.

    These days I don’t expect that too many people with high-end car audio systems would be listening to AM or FM. More likely an MP3 player or satellite radio.

    So how do you surreptitiously communicate with these obnoxious individuals?

    BB article on directed sound beam weapons

    I believe commercial versions of this are now available. This has the dual advantage of being media independent, and less illegal.

  9. If pirate stations aren’t trespassing on someone else’s frequency, they’re welcome to it. If, on the other hand, they are, they can suck my balls. There’s nothing worse than listening to a show you enjoy and having some amateur gangsta wannabe interrupting the signal by muttering inarticulately about his crew and playing bad drum & bass over the top.

    I’m not keen on government licensing radio stations (I’d be happier with a simple registry of who’s bagged what frequency, plus some powers of enforcement), but rather that than any wingnut egomaniac with a transmitter ruining my airwaves.

  10. “been cursing and using derogatory language on the air ” so why isn’t the leader of the republican party in jail?

  11. Seriously, is LA a third world country or something? Gang-affiliated pirate radio is something you usually associate with Rwanda.

    Yes! Large parts of the greater LA area are increasingly third-world, which is nice if you want a cheap burrito, not so nice in other ways, especially if you’re trying to get out of poverty. But this story is from the Orange County in Florida, not California.

  12. @5: My thoughts exactly. Call me old-fashioned, but I remember when pirate gang-sponsored radio was a welcoming place for people from all walks of life. A real mix of the highbrow and common touch, you know? The Crips Variety Hour, The Latin Kings Present Amos ‘n’ Andy, the original radio version of I Love Lucy From the 23rd Street Ninjaz (so much better than the TV show).

    Now it’s all shock-talk and commercialism. I blame the baby boomers, personally.

  13. @#14

    Come now Takuan, you very well know Rush Limabaugh isn’t the leader of the GOP……yet *Shudders*

  14. So the Riffs finally started up a Florida chapter, then?
    I hope they brought Lynne Thigpen along.

  15. (sorry, too tired to whinney) well, that was the first image I scratched up. I know there are several talented photoshoppers here, perhaps someone will do a better version?

  16. I thought pirate radio died when they took Happy Harry Hard On off the air. But that might have just been a movie.

  17. “that ran ads for gangs and provided information on where to get drugs and prostitutes.”

    I’m going to be honest here – this does seem to be a pretty valid use of the FCC’s powers. I’m going to admit that if you’re selling drugs and sexual services over the airwaves it’s ok to raid your transmitter.

    I thought “adverts” for gangs was called a “shoutout”

    Although: Go Prostitution! Hookers get the First Amendment too!

  18. teufelsdroch quote:
    “back in college I had a pirate radio station, but we broadcast outta my car. The best part was being able to tune over schmucks thumping in their land tanks: “this is god. I want you to turn down your radio.”
    eventually we went legal and helped put together a college radio station. Those were the days!”

    Sounds like another nerd revenge fantasy. I have noted that people do this quite a bit online. Let me guess, you can’t prove you had a pirate station but you can prove you were a DJ for the Sunday Evening metal hour or whatever terrible thing you are referring when you went “legit.”

  19. I thought pirate radio died when they took Happy Harry Hard On off the air.

    Everybody knows the dice are loaded. Everybody rolls with fingers crossed.

  20. I don’t understand why there aren’t a lot of pirate stations broadcasting from cars and vans. Broadcast for awhile in one spot, then spend a few minutes on the move, and it would be extremely hard for the FCC or anyone else to track you down. Very effective FM antennas could fit in a camper shell or a luggage container atop a typical SUV.

  21. Meanwhile, complaints about Jebus felating stations that jack up their transmitters and blow out nearby (licensed) broadcasters continue to be ignored. Might now be a problem wherever you are, but in Jersey it’s been going on for at least a couple of years now.

  22. there’s hundreds of pirate radio stations in london.

    or little rwanda, as we refer to it. arf.

  23. Moriarty sez: “Does anyone even listen to the radio anymore?” Apparently not if it took 3 months to shut them down.

  24. I always wanted my own pirate radio station…

    Is there any kind of useful transmitter one could construct out of tons of old pc parts?

  25. Orange County, Florida would be Orlando. The area around 30th Street off of South Orange Blossom Trail would be one of the tougher neighbourhoods in Orlando The Chamber of Commerce and the folks at Disney don’t even want Orlando visitors to know a neighborhood that tough even exists anywhere near the corporate headquarters of Happiness and Magic, Inc., but that neighbourhood has been that way for as long as I can remember.

    I love finding a pirate station — there used to be an awesome one in Tampa…but I gotta agree with Nur at #30 — it’s the advertising the junk that makes life hell for the rest of us that I have a problem with.

    You wanna just play music recorded by local artists about living in Orlando? I’ll support that, but there are limits.

  26. Meh, they were doing this in The Warriors, waaaay back in the 70s. I’ll bet these guys didn’t have as smoov a DJ either:

    “All right now, for all you boppers out there in the big city, all you street people with an ear for the action, I’ve been asked to relay a request for the Gramercy Riffs. It’s a special for the Warriors, that that real live bunch from Coney, and I do mean the warriors. Here’s a hit with them in mind. You hear me babies? Good. real good.

    Be lookin’ good, Warriors. All the way back to Coney. You hear me babies? Good. Real Good. Adios.”

  27. Oxy

    You want all frequencies, all the time?


    Oh, and to get arrested!

    The fun thing there is that with a different setup but the same basic premise you can use a spark gap to actually produce the audible sound.

    Hence the numerous videos of “singing tesla coils”. Arc speakers = ♥

  28. Turns out you can stop the signal. Huh.

    I get really annoyed by pirate radio – I live in London and struggle to get a clean signal on any commercial station because of the dozens (hundreds?) of local pirate stations clogging up the airwaves, mostly shouty young men playing the same re-heated R&B, hiphop or rap.
    /grumpy old man

  29. This is actually the 3rd or 4th time in the last 10 years that a pirate radio station has been shut down in Orlando. 91.3 would bleed into a couple of religious stations and interfere with WPRK 91.5 which is from Rollins College and has a community/student blend of broadcasters. The stuff they were playing was pretty, uh, lame, but I guess it was the prostitution and crack ads that got ’em. There have been low-fi rules allowing small radio stations to operate for the past few years.

  30. You want all frequencies, all the time?

    Tesla’s spark-gap transmitter, or cognitive radio / ultra wideband (UWB), either way. :p

    Does anyone even listen to the radio anymore?

    Radio was The Internet before the Internet. Didn’t you ever read CYBERPUNK: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier?

    Although I think I owe this particular construct of respecting radio — especially pirate radio — as a proto-Internet, to Ryan Lackey. IIRC, the context was that Sealand was once used for pirate radio in competition with the BBC, not unlike Radio Caroline, long before Ryan used the jurisdiction for his HavenCo data haven.

    c.f. ““Off the Grid” Voice/Data Communications (MP3)

    It’s Orwellian. We’re so conditioned to believe we’ve little choice but to rely on government-regulated, corporate-owned voice/data networks designed to log our communications traffic and content. People can be held incommunicado by routine network failures, natural disasters, and by political actions- often when communications is needed most. But modern two-way radio can provide effective and reliable short-range and global voice/data communications at relatively little cost, and it can’t be logged by conventional (CALEA) methods. This discussion will tune into the latest surprising developments in amateur (ham) radio, unlicensed spread-spectrum, and other two-way radio technologies and applications.

  31. I’ve thought a bit about how to do the perfect pirate radio setup.
    This is what I’ve come up with.

    Pirate radio stations can be made very cheaply. A 100-watt amp with a transmitter doesn’t cost all that much, I bet you can get a discount on the parts and build one for less than 100 bucks. The antenna can be built out of coat hangers and milk crates, it doesn’t have to look good. Connect it to the audio out of an old Pentium 1 box with 128 megs of ram, running Linux.

    What you now have is disposable radio.

    Put them up in a vacant lot somewhere, with a hookup to a power source and a phone line. This is the tricky part, of course.

    The easy part is to not have it stolen – disguise it as a piece of rubble or some sort of traffic-monitoring hardware.

    The disposable radio uses the phone line set up a dial-up connection. It connects to some obscure IRC channel on the other side of the planet, and starts streaming audio from there. You, of course, control the IRC channel through a large number of proxies.

    Once your radio station gets famous enough, and there are enough complaints, the police will get around to tracking down your transmitter (not an easy task, mind you). You can count on transmitting at least a couple of weeks before they shut down your disposable radio.
    And by that time you naturally have another ready to go.

    Some of the bugs will need working out, obviously, but I’m sure someone will be willing to contribute.

  32. I find the headline here a bit disturbing – from the MSNBC article cited I see no evidence that this station was “gang sponsored” – just that some djs had gang affiliations they were broadcasting, along with advice about drugs and prostitutes. While that’s stupid (break one law at a time, that’s my motto), I think Mark’s headline doesn’t have enough evidence behind it to be anything other than inflammatory. Part of what makes Pirate Radio cool – and powerful – is that it can give a voice to those whom society would rather silently not exist – and that includes kids dealing with gangs. Letting ourselves get caught up in hype and calling any broadcast that has connections to gangs (which in some areas is inevitable) “gang sponsored” just makes it easier to silence the oppressed.

    Anonymous @ 48 says they’ve been broadcasting off and on for around 10 years – that’s actually really impressive, quite a sacrifice and commitment for the people running it, and makes me wonder how much the “gang sponsorship” was one or two idiots and not necessarily reflective of the station as a whole (who should have been covering their own asses, of course, if their djs were saying shit stupid enough to prompt listeners to file FCC complaints). Anonymous also says they broadcast “crap”, which is less defensible.

    Spazzm –

    The FCC is a complaints-based organization, and tends to be very understaffed in their enforcement wing. Also, they will usually send a cease-and-desist style letter to whoever’s listed for the property before they actually send officers (fcc agents can’t make arrests, they usually bring state marshals with them – and arresting a person is very rare, the current case (involving GANGS! and DRUGS! and HOOKERS!) notwithstanding. They will usually just confiscate the equipment and possibly issue a (sometimes very large) fine). With your plan, (especially if you’re not in a major city) you could probably broadcast for quite a while as long as you followed the one major step you missed:

    Identifying the frequency. Any decent pirate station (especially broadcasting at your proposed 100w, which if placed high and well will cover many square miles – you can hear Free Radio Olympia‘s similarly powered broadcasts almost twenty miles away on a good, clear day when the mountains are out) works very hard to not interfere with other broadcasts. This means finding a frequency with empty first adjacents – so for 91.3 to broadcast ethically (as opposed to legally) you have to make sure no one in your footprint is broadcasting at 91.3 AND .2. AND .4, because you will bleed over a bit into those other two. If you step on another broadcaster’s frequency by not knowing about adjacents, you will find yourself reported to the FCC very quickly. If you avoid pissing off other stations, not many people care enough about Pirate Radio to ring up their local FCC office about it.

    So, go for it – your station won’t get “famous” without some outreach, btw – but I submit a pirate station is a lot better listening, and more useful for the community, if you can find a collective of locals to produce content, invest more (through fundraisers or whatnot), build a seekrit studio in some garage, contribute their music, knowledge, and personality, and avoid just replaying canned teh internets. But that’s a lot more work.

    Also, Anonymous @ 48 – yes for a few years there have been Low-Power-FM (LPFM) licenses available by the grace of the Feds- but there haven’t been many (that’s getting slightly better), they require you use VERY expensive FCC-approved equipment, they still cost money to license and re-certify every few years, and they require you abide by the FCC’s puritan/capitalist content guidelines.


  33. Stompin’ on freedom of expression, right?
    Is there a good reason for this, other than “interference” with State-o.k.’d media? or the drug laws?
    Still, a stomp on the freedom of expression….

  34. My comment about whether people even listen to the radio was tongue in cheek, but not without significance. Radio of all sorts is in decline, since there are far better sources of music, news, specialized communities, etc. replacing it, most obviously the internet. Right now, it’s mostly older people that still listen to broadcast radio, which is one reason why conservative talk radio is relevant and liberal talk radio really isn’t (the older you are, the more conservative you are likely to be). The dreaded “corporate radio” probably won’t disappear for a long time yet, but I wouldn’t be at surprised if its influence waned to the point where “pirate radio” can exist in peace (albeit almost completely unlistened to).

  35. Crap messed up – you actually need the second adjacent free to guarantee your signal won’t interfere with your neighbors which makes it more difficult, especially in large urban areas – so 91.3 needs everything from 91.1 through 91.5 open to broadcast ethically.

  36. Miami in particular & S. Florida in general has amazing pirate radio stations. They serve all kinds of communities here that lack any other media outlets & someone with the inclination could do an amazing story/documentary on the phenomona. Whenever I drive around I am constantly hitting the scan button & I never know what will turn up. Quite a few Haitian-Creole talk & music stations. The greatest treats are the dancehall reggae stations that blow your mind & could be coming straight from Kingston.
    There is also a great history of pirate radio here. Miami Booty Bass got its start on the underground, (laugh if you will but check it out: Miami Booty Bass =>Favela beats => Diplo/M.I.A. etc.). There was even a station that co-hosted shows with Miami Police in the 80’s & provided great community support.

  37. @46 I live in London as well. Apart from radio3, I’m usually annoyed at not being able to hear the only other things I find worth listening to – the pirate radio. Perhaps they need better equipment to reach out to where I live. Then again, apart from my alarm clock, it’s rare that I actually listen to radio these days.

    /Grumpy (yet different)old man.

  38. it seems to me that that would have been a handy tool for the police. Evidence on who’s doing what. knowledge of activity and trends. no need to wire tap when they do all the work of freely broadcasting everything. I hope they took that opportunity to seriously catch somebody in the act.
    call me old fashioned but crime is something i thought one shouldn’t advertise they were doing.

  39. There’s something I just don’t get about American culture. These guys advertised for drugs and prostitution, and what’s the conclusion of the article ?
    “Police said Senat had been cursing and using derogatory language on the air for about three months.”


  40. Ridl: Don’t forget harmonics, as well. Any homemade equipment is likely to produce lots of it, so it’s a good idea to pick a frequency where the harmonics won’t interfere with anything important either.
    But good call.

    Another thing to consider is the possibility of having several, inexpensive, remote-controlled transmitters. One could then switch transmitter every few hours (days? minutes?) to cause maximum confusion to anyone trying to triangulate one’s location.

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