[Update, 4 June 2016—I’m attempting to listen right now to WFAN/101.9 and it’s obliterated by signals flanking it on 101.7 and 102.1. Maybe my tweet about it here will finally get some journalists interested in the topic.]
The radio dial here in “upstate” Manhattan and the Bronx is packed with pirate radio signals. Many are smack next to New York’s licensed landmarks. Here’s what I’m getting right now on our kitchen radio…
- 88.1 “Romantica New York” Spanish announcers, music in English and Spanish. Right next to WBGO (@wbgo), New York’s jazz station (licensed to Newark).
- 89.3 Spanish. Right next to WFDU and WNYU (@wnyu), the Fairleigh Dickenson and NYU stations that share time on 89.1.
- 89.7 Spanish. Talk. Call-ins. Right next to WKCR (@wkcrfm), the Columbia University station on 89.9.
- 91.3 Spanish, as I recall. It just popped off the air. Right next to WNYE on 91.5.
- 92.1 Spanish, currently playing traditional Mexican (e.g. Mariachi) music and talking up a Mexican restaurant. Right next to 92.3 WBMP “Amp radio” (@923amp) in New York.
- 94.3 Spanish talk. Not next to any local station, but two notches removed from 94.7 WNSH “Nash” (@nashfm947ny) in New York (licensed to Newark).
- 95.3 Spanish music. Right next to 95.5 WPLJ (@955plj) in New York. (Note that in the screen shot above, of my kitchen radio, it lights up the ST (stereo) indicator.)
- 98.9 Spanish talk and music. Right next to 98.7 WEPN-FM (@espnny98_7), ESPN’s flagship station on 98.7.
- 99.3 Spanish talk. Right next to 99.5 WBAI in New York.
- 101.7 Spanish music. Right next to 101.9 WFAN-FM (@wfan660) in New York.
- 102.5 English talk, with a Caribbean accent. Just heard ads for businesses in The Bronx (nail salon) and New Jersey (dentist), massage therapy (50 fremont ave, East Orange, NJ), a reggae music concert, 708-282-8741. Right next to 102.7 WWFS, “Fresh 102.7” (@fresh1027ny) in New York.
- 102.9 English talk and music, with a Jamaican accent. I believe this was the same station that earlier today was rebroadcasting a Kingston station, no doubt picked up off the Net. Also right next to WWFS.
- 105.5 Some kind of Christian pop, I think. It’s not WDHA in Dover, NJ. I just checked that station’s stream online. Totally different.
- 105.7 Music in English right now. Right next to 105.9 WQXR (@WQXR) in New York.
- 106.1 English. Reggae dance. Ads: Mizama Apparel Plus, 4735 white plains road. Kings Electronics, 4372 White Plains Road. Jumbo concert in Mt. Vernon… Also right next to WQXR on the dial. All but blows QXR away, in fact. (QXR’s signal radiates from the same master antenna as most other New York stations, on the Empire State Building, but is just 610 watts, while most of the rest are 6000 watts.)
- 106.9 English music. Caribbean accent. Right next to 106.7 WLTW “Lite FM” (@1067litefm) in New York.
This is a nearly completely different list of pirates than the one I compiled last fall from this same location, in the 10040 area code. (There were pirate signals on 89.3 and 89.7 then, but I’m not sure if these are the same.), None of the pirate signals match anything on this list of all the legitimate licensed signals radiating within 100km (60 miles) of here.
Man, I wish I knew Spanish. If I did, I would dig into as many of these as I could.
All of them, I am sure, are coming from the northern end of Manhattan and the Bronx, though 102.5 has so many ads for New Jersey places that I wonder if it’s actually over there somewhere.
All of them serve some kind of marketplace, I assume. And even though I don’t understand most of what they’re talking about (when they do talk), I’m fascinated by them.
At the same time they are all illegal, and to varying degrees interfere with legitimate licensed stations. If I were any of the legitimate stations listed above, I’d be concerned. Weaker stations (e.g. WKCR, WBGO and WQXR) especially.
There are a few New York pirate radio stories out there (here, here and here, for example); but they’re all thin, stale or old.
This is a real phenomenon with a lot of meat for an enterprising journalist — especially one who speaks Spanish. Any takers?
Interesting stuff, Doc, especially the changes since last time you scanned. Fascinating how the language/format seems to move in chunks up the dial.
This account, by the way, is neither thin, stale, or old:
“Upstate” Manhattan (Washington Heights and Inwood) is a great place to visit. Just was there last week to walk across the newly opened High Bridge, and check out the Metropolitan Museum branch at the Cloisters. It definitely feels like the environment from “In the Heights”.
As a former WBAI producer/announcer and ardent radio nut (especially at the ends of the dial), thank you ever so much for this post. Gives me hope!
With all good wishes,
The story I heard was that many years ago, the FCC realized they had calculated the FM power levels on the Empire State Building wrong and invited all the stations broadcasting from there to apply for an increase. Everyone did except WBAI, presumably because someone there dropped the ball as usual. As a result of that missed opportunity, their signal is now permanently downgraded.
I’m a consulting engineer and I’m reasonably familiar with the ESB and other NYC situations. I am fairly sure ‘BAI is at lower power than the other class B FM’s on the 2 ESB master antennas because they simply haven’t the transmitter power available, and haven’t bought a new transmitter to bring it up. They also have a construction permit (BPED20140623AAX) to move to 4 Times Square as their permanent location (others use it as an aux). When I was in college ‘BAI and ‘NCN were on the roof of the Hotel Pierre – I worked for Concert Network which owned ‘NCN when I was in college (Harvard – I was also CE of WHRB for a while). They both moved to the old ESB antenna in the early ’60s before the adjustments in the US/Canada FM bilateral agreement allowed the power to be increased for NYC class Bs.
I would like to point out that WBGO has always identifed itself as a Newark station, and the broadcast studio is in downtown Newark. They did move the transmission tower to Times Square a few years ago, but never on-air identify as a New York station. (As opposed to WNSH, who do everything in their power to hide the Newark connection.)
Currently cooking up a prospectus and sample chapters on the history of pirate radio in the U.S. It’s a phenomenon as old as licensing, wildly diverse in who participates, and rooted in a couple of common sentiments: radio is a medium of last resort, and there’s a sense that “the public airwaves” still has some literal meaning.
I hope to do some ethnography on BK especially, and perhaps get to do a ride-along with the poor understaffed FCC folks on Varick st. Somebody’s set up @BKPirateWatch on Twitter which has logged 30+ station (my last bandscan on the Midwood/Flatbush border picked up 34 stations).
NYC’s congressional delegation is raising quite a stink about all of this, and the FCC is cooking up some sort of “plan” to deal with it. Tough to kill a rhizome.
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