FCC Chief Interfered in Pirate Station Case, Complaint Alleges


A senior Federal Communications Commission official has alleged that FCC Chairman William Kennard prevented agency enforcement officials from shutting down the broadcast operations of a Texas businessman who ran unlicensed AM, FM and TV stations near Dallas.

In an eight-page complaint filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel on Tuesday, Richard Lee, chief of the FCC’s Compliance and Information Bureau, said Kennard ordered the FCC staff to allow Texas racetrack owner Billie Meyer to keep his three unlicensed stations on the air so that the businessman could broadcast NASCAR race events in April at his track in Ennis, Texas.

After the temporary license extension, Kennard helped secure a permanent broadcast license for Meyer in September so he could operate legally, the complaint alleged.


Neither Lee nor Kennard could be reached for comment.

But FCC officials interviewed this week said it was unusual, but not unheard of, for commissioners to intercede in agency enforcement actions. They also noted that the Compliance and Information Bureau itself has discretion in how it metes out punishment to violators.

An official close to Kennard said that Meyer allegedly used a low-powered radio set-up to transmit race events over a loudspeaker to a race track audience in an adjacent parking lot.

“It was no big deal,” said the official, who admitted he had no explanation for why Meyer was also allegedly operating an unlicensed television station at the racetrack.

Under FCC regulations, most AM, FM and TV stations transmitting beyond roughly 100 feet must obtain an FCC broadcast license. The government established the licensing regulations in 1934 to prevent radio interference which could potentially disrupt signals from ships and aircraft as well as police and fire department radios.

The Communications Act of 1934 provides for civil fines up to $11,000 and forfeiture of broadcasting equipment. Violators could also be subject to federal criminal fines of up to $100,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year.

Lee’s complaint alleges that when officials from the FCC’s Dallas office went to shut down Meyer’s broadcasting operations, the Texas businessman boasted “he would contact his congressman . . . and would also contact FCC Chairman William Kennard.”


Meyer’s congressman, Republican Joe Barton, who serves on the House Commerce Committee that oversees the FCC, acknowledged through an aide that he was contacted by Meyer but declined to comment further.

“We haven’t seen the complaint,” said Samantha Jordan, Barton’s press secretary. “And we don’t comment on constituent contact with the congressman unless we have explicit permission.”

Meyer’s stations were shut down for one day.

Since August 1997, the FCC has shut down more than 500 unlicensed radio stations. But recently, the FCC has indicated a willingness to relax its hard line against radio pirates.

In January, agency officials proposed a rule change that would give hundreds of unlicensed broadcasters a spot on the dial, legally.

The proposal is fiercely opposed by the National Assn. of Broadcasters, which represents the nation’s radio and TV station owners.

“We support efforts by the FCC to close down unlicensed radio operators,” said Dennis Wharton, a vice president at the NAB. “You have to have a license to go fishing in this country, the least you could do is to have a license to be a radio operator.”


Meyer did not return several calls to his Ennis office.