Pirate Radio DJs Are Commandeering Brooklyn Airwaves


If you’ve ever tuned to one of your go-to New York radio stations (Hot 97 or WFMU, for example) and been surprised to hear a staticky stream of Caribbean music or an unknown shock jock, you’re not alone. Pirate radio streaming has increasingly hijacked several FM channels in Brooklyn.

The illegally broadcasting radio shows are popping up throughout the borough, tracked by a Sunset Park resident under the Twitter handle @BkPirateWatch. Borough residents who find that their radio airwaves have been commandeered tweet their location at the account. One offender, the Haitian Creole station Radyo Independans, regularly occupies the dial at 90.9 FM.

Many of the stations sound like legit, FCC-cleared ones, even attracting advertisers. A recent New York Post report investigated the uptick in pirate radio stations, and credited the rise to powerful equipment that’s easily hidden from the police:

All a pirate needs are an FM radio transmitter, an antenna, a programming source — usually a computer — and cables. Pirates can evade the FCC by moving the transmitter from one building to another.



  1. This is really nothing new, and the uptick is in mainstream media attention rather than pirate activity. Ethnic pirates in Brooklyn (and other boroughs) starting increasing in numbers around 1996….probably due in part to the availability of small, inexpensive FM transmitters and underserved audiences due to the high cost of obtaining legal air time. I think pirate operators were also anticipating the coming low power regulations and hoped that if they were on the air they would be grandfathered in. The lp regs have recently come into place, but the grandfathering didn’t happen, so they stay on the air. Many stations have come and gone over the years, but there are usually two dozen plus on the weekends, and perhaps half that during the week.


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