FUTURE WAVES: "...a little bit of love, a little bit of passion..."

Sunset Banner Streets 600x900px 72dpi.png

After almost a century of history, pirate radio persists in the United States. Even in the age of numerous, easy to access digital channels, the Brooklyn pirates still feel the need to provide hyper-local service over the airwaves to marginalized immigrant audiences. The Brooklyn stations have been around so long that most listeners no longer think of them as pirate stations, or anything out of the ordinary.

In 2017, Ajit Pai, the FCC commissioner appointed by the Trump administration, instituted a crackdown on pirate radio with new tactics to try and shut it down. These include higher penalties and holding property owners accountable for hosting transmitters and antennas.

This past spring, anti-pirate radio legislation was introduced in the US House of Representatives. If enacted, the PIRATE Act would greatly increase fines, mandate twice yearly sweeps in pirate radio hotspots and generally make it easier for the FCC to take the stations off the air.

As younger listeners gravitate to other forms of media, It's hard to predict how long the pirates will hold on to their audiences. To try and keep them, most stations have added websites and live audio streams. DJs make a point of using Facebook Live during their sets.

Gentrification is another threat. The western edge of Caribbean Flatbush is beginning to wilt, with many empty storefronts for rent. Cultural traditions like outdoor steel-pan band rehearsals are in danger as vacant lots are lost to luxury housing. So far, pirate station activity remains steady even amid the increasing pressure from the FCC. Some stations say they stay on the air so as not to abandon their most vulnerable listeners, the elderly and the economically disadvantaged. These groups are less likely to easily access digital media and instead turn to a free service delivered by a widely available device that they likely already own: a radio.

Most pirates contacted during the course of this project preferred to stay off the record, despite having very public presences on the airwaves and internet. However, one station owner and his staff agreed to talk anonymously. They serve a mostly Latino audience in a neglected corner of Brooklyn. Unlike many of the more commercially oriented pirates, their vision is primarily one of community service, not self-promotion. They draw their listeners in with music and then encourage them to participate in the restoration and revival of their community.