Mr. Brewer the Pirate Doesn't Rule Waves, He Just Makes Them

From: (Mark Joseph Edwards)
Subject: Dave - You Go Boy!
Date: Tue, 21 Oct 1997 16:52:05 -0500
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Tampa's Party Pirate, and one of LPFM's best suppliers made the front page of the Wall Street Journal today. See the story below. (102.1 FM in Tampa:

WSJ 21-OCT-97 (3 star edition)

Mr. Brewer the Pirate Doesn't Rule Waves, He Just Makes Them

Illegal Broadcaster Has Taunted Government for 2 Years; FCC Man: `I'll Nail Him'

By Bruce Orwall
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

Temple Terrace, Fla. - Radio station 102.1 FM emanates from this Tampa suburb with a crisp, clear signal that carries its biker rock and raunchy talk as far as 20 miles.

Its largest audience, bikers and college students, likes the station just fine, enjoying the sex-charged banter, the oddball music and the attitude against authority. It's the authorities who have a problem with 102.1 FM: The Federal Communications Commission says the station, broadcasting out of Doug Brewer's converted garage, is illegal.

Mr Brewer's operation is one of hundreds of unlicensed, or pirate stations, in the U.S., which is in the midst of an unprecedented boom in illegal broadcasting. Mr. Brewer, long-haired, beefy and a self-described redneck biker, has emerged as one of the pirate movement's premier outlaws, mostly because he has thwarted FCC efforts to shut him down for almost two years.

This despite the fact that Mr. Brewer, who calls his station "Tampa's Party Pirate," has made himself an easy target. It is no secret that he broadcasts from his garage, where compact disks are strewn indiscriminately and the walls are lined with biker-babe pinups and pictures of stock-car racing stars.

"It's ongoing, it's visible, and it just plain rocks," brags Mr. Brewer, who cultivates an on-air image of a rough and tumble biker and isn't averse to self-aggrandizement off the air. His promotional T-shirts boast, "License? We don't need no stinking license" - though truth be told, Mr. Brewer tried to get a license and was turned down.

The FCC has been hard-pressed to keep up with the pirate proliferation and has successfully shut down just a few of the multiplying radio bandits. The commission first acted against Tampa's Party Pirate in early 1996, when an anonymous tip led to a written notice warning Mr. Brewer that the station "creates a definite danger of interference to important radio communication and impedes the orderly distribution and protection of the spectrum." A few months later, a licensed rock station in nearby Sarasota, WHFT, broadcasting a hair's breadth away on the dial at 102.5, complained to the FCC that Mr. Brewer's station was causing confusion among its listeners. Fines and Seizures

The FCC typically uses fines and equipment seizures to deal with such situations. The agency has threatened Mr. Brewer with both and even issued a $1,000 fine, which has gone unpaid. But Mr. Brewer has stalled the enforcement process by engaging it head on. Unlike most pirates, he has applied for a legitimate license and has also sought "special temporary authority" to remain on the air while his situation is under review. Both requests have been denied, but the maneuvering has bought him time and kept the government from seizing his gear.

Mr. Brewer has made a few guerilla moves to keep the FCC at bay. When agents first appeared at his house in January 1996, he wasn't home; he claims they badgered his wife and inpsected his station while it was fully powered. To make sure that doesn't happen again, Mr. Brewer has installed a hidden switch in the laundry room that allows his wife to power the station down from 125 watts to about 10 with a single flick if she sees the FCC prowling the neighborhood.

This past Halloween, when FCC agents roamed the neighborhood measuring the strength of the pirate station's signal, Mr. Brewer caught them by surprise, driving up to them in a black van with his radio station logo on the side. Yelling "Smile!" he took the agents' picture and posted it on his Internet site.

There are signs the FCC is growing restless. Ralph Barlow, district director of the Tampa field office, won't discuss the specifics of the case against the 43-year-old Mr. Brewer, but concedes that the taunts are "not good" for his agents. The matter is in the hands of prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office in Tampa, and the FCC is pressing for action. "This guy is going off the deep end because he's been getting away with it for so long," Mr. Barlow says. "Sooner or later I'll nail him."

Those kinds of threats don't mean much to Mr. Brewer, who has dabbled in electronics and rebellion for most of his life. Thrown out of a Tampa technical high school, he landed on his feet as phone installer, and later as the operator of an electronics store. In his free time, he became immersed in the subcultures of ham radio, Harley Davidsons and rock 'n' roll.

A few years ago, he fought the local government here for the right to erect a 150-foot ham tower over his home. After winning, Mr. Brewer took to lighting the tower like a huge Chirstmas tree each holiday season. To entertain crowds that drove by, he put up a tiny FM transmitter and played Christmas music on an unused portion of the band. The signal carried only a few blocks.

Growing ambitious, Mr. Brewer pumped up his operation in 1995, broadcasting all day, every day, and adding wattage. His harsh programming didn't get much of a reaction at first. "One of the big mistakes I made was having eight straight hours of death metal," he says.

With the help of his wife, Karen, however, he built an operation that resembles a real radio station, albeit a ragged one. He has advertisers of a sort, and receives promotional compact disks from some record companies. His black van can broadcast live from local bars or businesses.

Although the station's signal is clean, its programming swerves from adventurous to amateurish. On a recent night, a disk jockey named Murph misidentified the performer of a song he played and was taken to task by a listener. Mr. Brewer himself goes on the air three times a week, taking full advantage of the fact that, without a license, he is beyond the reach of the FCC's restrictions on foul language. The sexual chitchat has earned Mr. Brewer a rising profile and a bad-boy notoriety he treasures. An alternative newspaper recently crowned him "Best Pig of the Airwaves" in Tampa.

Says 20-year-old listener Chas Goldman of Tampa: "I know it's not really legal, but I don't know, man. . . . It's a really cool thing to do."

Advertisers on 102.1 FM range from strip clubs to record stores. Mr. Brewer says they provide him with about $1,000 a month in revenue. For just $100 a month, he mentions their businesses several times a day. (He makes a living running an electronics store, which makes some of its income selling FM transmitter kits on the Internet.) Advertiser Scott Harris, owner of Disc-Go-Round, a used CD store, says customers frequently mention the store's spots and tell him, "We're glad you guys are on there because we believe in it."

Such sentiments obviously aren't shared by licensed broadcasters. Jeff Daumann, executive vice president and general counsel of the National Association of Broadcasters, says his group's main concern is that the FCC is slowly losing its ability to bring order to the radio dial, and the group is also worried about interference with legitimate stations. "It's not a nuisance," Mr. Daumann says. "It's a serious problem."