Why hackers hijacked New York City radio waves from ship off Long Island


Three miles off the coast of Long Island, pirates sailed aboard a ship to infiltrate New York City radio waves. They hijacked frequencies in the name of free speech and better music, they said.

In the realm of crimes committed in 1980s New York City, this may sound like a minor offense, but their actions were highly illegal.

It’s Radio Clash

New York City radio had a huge influence in the 1980s. The power of radio DJs was not only for the broadcasters, but also for the artists who played on the radio.

“If you were played on the radio you had a hit. Even though there was less freedom back then, commercial music radio was still at the heart of music culture in America, ”Marty Brooks, New York Radio Archives, told Inside Edition Digital.

As mainstream radio played this year’s record hits like U2’s “The Joshua Tree”, Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet”, some of the year’s hottest stars felt that the musical selection was not interesting. . The motivations behind the musical selections were not creative.

“One of the things that happened around that time was that there had already been a lot of sales of radio stations to bigger companies. And every time a radio station was sold, the debt service increased. And when the debt area increased, they had to increase their advertising revenue, ”Brooks said. “To increase advertising revenue, we had to appeal to the greatest common denominator.

The increase in radio play equates to more albums bought in stores.

“Any radio station that was in the top 10 or top 15 could break a record. And it certainly made a significant difference because if you were playing people would come out and buy that record, ”Brooks added. “Although there were different formatted radio stations, we all listened to pretty much the same thing. So people like Madonna or Bruce Springsteen or Michael Jackson, they were great bands for everyone, or almost everyone. And so radio has had a huge impact.

But some consumers wanted something more, including those behind Radio Newyork (sic) International, or RNI. RNI was a pirate radio station that wanted to end corporate radio.

“A group of us who wanted to bring free speech radio to the New York metro area, because remember that time, in the 1980s, to enter the New York market, you would need $ 30, 40, 50, 60 million to buy an existing AM or FM radio station, ”Allan Weiner, who orchestrated RNI, told Inside Edition Digital. “So we decided to take another legal route, which was to outfit a ship as a broadcast ship and place it in international territory, which is about three miles off Long Island, New York. “

Weiner, a self-proclaimed “geek”, loved to build radios, and I had experience in equipping ships with transmitters.

He bought a ship with the help of RNI members in 1986 and spent the year outfitting it in Boston Harbor.

Weiner claimed he had a crew in the area. “Crazy old hippies and wild guys” in Boston who helped “build it all, and ride the towers, and stuff.” It was a very profitable thing that we did because it can cost millions of dollars to outfit a good ship, but it didn’t cost us that. It cost us thousands of dollars to do it.

Brooks said Weiner and his team provided shortwave transmitters for broadcasting from the ship. “not difficult at all” To broadcast since.

“Shortwave radio is a radio that operates on a different set of frequencies than AM and FM. And it’s basically used to tune in to international radio stations that operate on shortwave, ”Brooks said.

RNI also needed a radio license, which was acquired from Honduras.

“The ship was registered in Honduras, it had a Honduran radio license and we were completely legal,” Weiner said.

Weiner explained that they set sail for New York once the ship was ready to depart. He and other DJs come from there. Once there, they started broadcasting three miles off the coast of Long Island in what it says is international territory.

“Three miles, that’s all. [The FCC] have no jurisdiction. Just as they do not have jurisdiction in Canada. They do not have jurisdiction in Mexico. And that’s what we’ve done to keep it legal, ”he said.

The ship was nicknamed “The Sarah”, Weiner reported that the pirate radio reached its location off Long Island in New York in July 1987. There it sent transmissions to 103.7FM. Pirate radio was online.

It didn’t take long before listeners realized what they were doing.

“Back then, we didn’t have cell phones. So we really didn’t know what was going on, ”Weiner said. “We start listening to the radio, the news stations in New York, and all of a sudden, all this reporting, ‘Well, there’s a pirate ship off the coast of New York.’ And all that and all that. And I say, ‘Oh, good. People are listening to us. Great.'”

However, things would change.

Battle rock

In 1987, aside from the top 40, the punk sounds of The Ramones, Talking Heads and The Clash, as well as the new wave hits of Depeche Mode, New Order and Erasure continued to gain ground. However, other new forms of music were emerging that mainstream radio was not paying attention to, including New York Hardcore and hip-hop.

New York City was the birthplace of hip-hop in 1973, but in the 1980s it was still considered “new” to many listeners and to cooperate with radio executives. RNI was ready to give any group or facilitator an outlet they did not have.

“We did it to get bands and bands to air,” Weiner explained. “We were an international territory and we went on the air. And we were using frequencies that caused no interference or damage, and we did it for the sake of free speech.

Angela, Angela’s wife, was not part of the pirate radio ship’s actions but said her husband and crew were responsible. “corporate and corporate protest saying what the public will and won’t hear.”

Despite their stance on music that no one else was putting on the air, the Pirates also released tunes from popular artists like John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and even Bon Jovi.

Almost every news station in the New York area covered the ship’s actions in less than a week. They also made headlines in New England, the home country of the crew and ship.

The FCC was then involved and said unlicensed broadcasting on an unassigned frequency was illegal no matter how close the vessel might be.

“We walked for about four or five days and then, as the old saying goes, the ship hit the fan,” Weiner said.

He claimed the Coast Guard boarded a ship with the FBI one morning. “stopped the station.” He claimed that all on board were handcuffed, despite protests from the crew that they were in international waters.

Weiner and DJ Ivan Rothstein were taken to Brooklyn and indicted in a U.S. District Court with conspiracy to defraud the United States by obstructing FCC functions. They were charged with misdemeanors carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $ 250,000. UPI reported at the time that the couple were released without bail and agreed not to air again until the case was resolved.

Weiner and Rothstein were released a little over a year after their arrest.

“No other government objective would be served by pursuing criminal charges,” Andrew Maloney, US attorney, told The New York Times in the case. “By shutting down the illegal station, the FCC achieved what it set out to do. He claimed that the FCC’s power to regulate airwaves extends to offshore broadcasts.

Weiner said he and his radio rebel group tried to fight the FCC and the US government in court, but ultimately lost the battle.

“We tried to fight it,” he said. “In fact, we had the American Civil Liberties Union on our side and we tried to fight it. “

Rock of the Revolution

Although the pirates only lasted five days at sea, the ship was able to continue an important new chapter in the 1990s.

Weiner stored “The Sarah” in Boston and then sold the ship to MGM Pictures, who used it as a prop that they detonated in 1994 “Blown Away”, along with Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones.

After years of fighting, Weiner finally got his legal radio license and resumed using shortwave airways by founding the station. WBCQ in Maine with his wife, Angela.

Angela is proud of what her husband has done, saying: “The fact that someone is passionate about the ideas and rights of others, you rarely see him put to the task of getting a radio ship, of building it. , put it on the air, believing you did everything right.

Today, WBCQ is still online. The Weiner’s run WBCQ using the same philosophies as pirate radio. The station even features one of the DJs who was on board the ship.

“Radio Newyork International is still alive in what we do with WBCQ radio,” Weiner said. “We have switched to shortwave and are transmitting all over the world. “


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