This article is from the Low Power Broadcasting FAQ, by Rick Harrison firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
The easiest way to avoid a clash with the authorities is to stay under
the power limit for unlicensed broadcasts. If you exceed that limit
for some reason, you will probably get busted sooner or later, unless
you lose interest and quit broadcasting first.
* the hunter's tools
When the authorities get around to sending one of their direction-
finding (DF) vehicles into your area, it's easy for them to find your
transmitter. Disguising your antenna or telling lies about your
location on the air will not help you. Modern DF equipment quickly
and efficiently leads the authorities directly to the source of your
signal. Many broadcast engineers, ham radio operators, and avid radio
listeners are also equipped with DF gear or have figured out ways to
find transmitters by using receivers that have fairly directional
antennas on them. For less than $400, you too can buy your very own
DF equipment. ( http://www.agrelo.com/dfjr.html )
* guerilla tactics
Many people in the new microbroadcasting movement in the US frown on
guerilla broadcasting tactics. They advocate broadcasting 24 hours a
day with relatively high power levels from publicized locations, as a
form of civil disobedience and a way to give legitimacy to the
movement. They hope that a growing number of stations operating in
this manner will inspire public support for microbroadcasting and will
pressure the government into changing the regulations. So far, the
government has responded to this "pressure" by forcibly confiscating
transmitters from several of the more defiant stations. I think the
microbroadcasting movement has over-estimated the amount of pressure a
small group of people can put on a large government. Broadcasters who
want to remain on the air rather than becoming martyrs for the
movement might be well-advised to consider some guerilla tactics.
Some "pirates" in Europe have used the following approach to avoiding
the authorities: they put a battery pack, a transmitter, and a taped
program on a roof-top or hill-top and leave it unattended during the
broadcast. If the authorities find the transmitter, they cannot jail
or fine the broadcaster -- unless they catch him when he comes back to
retrieve his equipment, or find his fingerprints on the gear.
Technically adept broadcasters have used timers to turn the
transmitters on and off when the station personnel are at a safe
distance, and have wired up motion detectors to turn off the
transmitters when people get near them.
Transmitting from locations that cannot easily be reached by the DF
vehicles (islands, boats, forests, etc.) may also hold some promise.
People have experimented with broadcasting from moving vehicles.
Transmitting from a location where nobody can approach you without
being seen will work, but the broadcaster must constantly keep a
In major US cities where the broadcast bands are very crowded,
unlicensed stations have set up informal agreements by which they
share the few available channels. One station will operate on a
channel on Friday nights, another will take it on Sunday afternoons,
and so forth. This strategy has the side-effect of giving a little
protection to the stations involved. The authorities would have to
keep a DF vehicle in the area for an entire week or two if they wanted
to track down all the stations using a frequency. Depending on what
else they have on their agenda, they might not be able to invest that
* being busted
So, what happens if the authorities catch an unlawful broadcaster?
Like everything, it varies from country to country. In China, they
probably shoot the broadcaster and bill his family for the bullet.
In the US, the process normally (but not always) goes like this: The
FCC becomes aware of a station. Two or three agents in a DF vehicle
track down the station and measure the signal strength near the
transmit antenna. Then they knock on the door and ask to inspect the
station. If allowed in, they will attempt to get the station
operator's identity, they will demand that the station be turned off,
and they will ask that the transmitter be surrendered. (Often they
will claim that no further action will be taken if the transmitter is
handed over, but actually the field agents do not make that decision,
and people who have given up their transmitters have sometimes been
fined and prosecuted later.) If not allowed entry, the agents will
angrily storm off, threatening to come back with a warrant. It might
take them several hours or even several weeks to get the warrant, but
they will be back.
It is very important to the FCC that they get the operator's identity.
Their entire legal strategy depends on having a person's name so that
they can extract a fine from him and request a permanent injunction
against him, and they usually assume that a station is operated by a
single person. They will use any means they can to get a name:
license plates on vehicles, property ownership records, receipts in
the trash can, whatever.
A station that is actually being operated by several people can
survive a bust simply by moving to another site and being run by the
surviving (non-busted) members of the group. When that happens, the
FCC has to start its investigation all over again. Unfortunately many
stations that claim to be operated by community groups are actually
dependant on one pivotal person. If the authorities manage to
neutralize that person the station will go silent forever.
After "inspecting" a station, the FCC usually mails the operator a
Notice of Apparent Liability indicating how large a fine is owed
(usually $750 to $11,000). In many cases the FCC will also go to
court and get a permanent injunction against the station operator,
which can lead to draconian enforcement measures against him if he
continues to broadcast. And frequently they come back later with
federal marshals or local cops and forcibly confiscate the transmitter
and other equipment.