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Avast Ye Pirate!

January 10, 2013

Pirate radio stations are certainly not new. These are radio transmitters operating without permission by the FCC and their origins can be traced to the very earliest days of broadcasting. In fact, before computers became the youth distraction they are today, it wasn’t uncommon for young, tech-savvy lads to buy an inexpensive transmitter kit, goose the output a bit with a decent antenna dangling out their bedroom window, and actually transmit radio broadcasts for several blocks—until the neighbors complained. The FCC’s mandatory $10,000 fine effectively reduced the hobby, but I’m sure it’s still done and many have gotten away with it for years.

They key, of course, is scale and a recent story in the Hollywood (Florida) Sun Sentinel newspaper provides an example of how NOT to pirate. It seems someone rigged up an FM transmitter to broadcast Caribbean music on 104.7MHz. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that the frequency and the way his antenna was constructed allowed for something called “harmonics”…that is, the signal showing up elsewhere on the electromagnetic spectrum. The bottom line: the associated frequency just happened to be the same one used by Lexus, Ford, Mercedes, BMW, Toyota and other car manufacturers for keyless entry systems. For several weeks, car owners couldn’t figure out why their cars would suddenly and inexplicable lock and unlock at random times. Car dealers and repair shops were stumped too. Anyway, it’s all better now that the culprit has been found and the transmitter shut down. Oh, and the fine? $10,000, of course!

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