THE FIRST LOW-POWER RADIO BROADCASTER EVER RECEIVES CRIMINAL SENTENCE
By Carolyn Fankhanel
The Grass Roots Journal - July 14, 1998
The only person arrested in a series of low-power radio stations raids last November was found guilty Feb. 25 of 14 federal criminal counts of broadcasting without a license. On July 14, Tampa Federal District Judge Henry Adams admitted selective prosecution and sentenced Lutz, Florida resident Arthur L. (Lonnie) Kobres, 54, to six months house arrest (complete with an electronic monitor pictured at left), 36 months' probation, $7,500 fine and $975 special assessment fee, due immediately, as the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) looked on approvingly. Tampa federal court sanctioned the government's clever escalation to the felony level of this matter by accepting the insidious design of counts two through fourteen of the indictment as identical to count one, but happening on a different date.
The process of shutting up those who will speak out would not be sufficiently profound at the misdemeanor level which one count represented, so the government pretended that Kobres operated 14 broadcast stations without a license and zapped up one misdemeanor and 13 felonies. FCC Chief of Compliance Officer Pamela Harriston, who oversees FCC's legal and investigative staff, testified at the sentencing and confirmed that Kobres is the first person EVER to be criminally prosecuted for operating a low-power radio station, although she was quick to add that others will follow. Harriston guesstimated that 90 low-powered broadcasters are operating nationally, for which, she stated under oath, the FCC has court action plans for at least one-half (45).
Committed to protect the lucrative market shares of the HUGE commercial stations, the FCC lashed out at Lutz Community Radio's low power broadcaster Kobres for rebroadcasting from his garage to his neighbors, "patriotic and pro-good-government" short-wave radio programs found on his satellite. FCC Attorney Harriston lamented that one of the problems was that low-power broadcasters might interrupt the public from listening to paying stations.
The FCC does not presently provide a license for low-power broadcasting. The cost of equipment required for a FCC broadcasting license is in excess of $50,000. If you are handy with a soldering iron, you can create a community radio station for as little as $150. Doing that however, if the government gets it's way, constitutes a felony punishable by two years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each day that you broadcast! As Tampa FCC Chief Ralph Barlow, who Kobres helped set up in business by installing most of the FCC's equipment, salivated enthusiastically from the gallery, Harriston testified that the FCC finds and follows low-power broadcasters through the Internet. "We just type 'pirate radio' into a search engine and go from there," explained Harriston.
At the July 14 sentencing hearing, U.S. prosecuting attorneys presented a poster, flyers noticing several rallies for Kobres, and other Internet actions. Their attempts to impeach Kobres for soliciting support for himself were discarded by Judge Adams who expressed amazement at the number of positive letters he had received from all over America. Many, many people took action and supported Kobres with faxes and letters, and it made a difference. His sentence could have been 28 years and $3.5 million. Kobres, who holds a thread of our destiny in his hands, promises that he will appeal!
Notice Of Appeal filed at 2:53 PM EDST on July 17, 1998.
Update: Ignoring our most
strenuous protests, Attorney Lowell H. "Larry" Becraft
destroyed the appeal when a lack of confidence resulted in his failure to bring
forward the jurisdictional (Constitutional) argument.
Pirate Radio Broadcaster Gets Probation, Fine, House Arrest
By BILL COATS
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 15, 1998TAMPA -- The country's first convicted radio pirate was sentenced Tuesday to probation and house arrest, despite a federal prosecutor's warning that leniency would send a message to a nationwide network of unlicensed microbroadcasters.
Lonnie Kobres, 54, of Lutz received three years' probation, six months' house arrest and a $7,500 fine from U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams, who rejected the notion of making an example of him.
"If Mr. Kobres is entitled to a light sentence, then Mr. Kobres ought to get a light sentence," Adams said. Prosecutor Ronald Tenpas had urged Adams to levy up to nine months in prison and $10,000 in fines. "The sentence that this court imposes today is going to have significant national ramifications beyond Mr. Kobres," Tenpas said.
But prosecutors weren't disappointed at Adams' decision, said Monte Richardson, executive assistant U.S. attorney. "This was the first criminal prosecution undertaken in this type of offense," Richardson said. "We think it had a significant deterrent effect."
Kobres was arrested last November on a morning in which three unlicensed radio stations were shut down in Tampa. Nationwide, the broadcasters were part of an unprecedented number of radio pirates.
Thanks to shrinking technology prices, microbroadcasters can generate an FM radio signal with as little as $500 worth of equipment. But seeking a license from the Federal Communications Commission can require an investment of $100,000 or more.
As unlicensed stations have proliferated, the FCC has received complaints from the corporate-owned licensed ones, represented by the National Association of Broadcasters.
On Tuesday, the FCC sent the head of its enforcement division, Pamera Hairston, to Tampa's federal courthouse for Kobres' sentencing. "By interfering with the licensed broadcast signal, they are prohibiting the people from listening to a licensed signal," Hairston told Adams. She estimated that 90 stations around the country are broadcasting without licenses, and the FCC will have to go to court against half of them.
The first step there usually is the last: a court-ordered seizure of the broadcasting equipment silences most microbroadcasters. One exception was the "the Party Pirate," broadcasting from Temple Terrace. Since November's seizures, operator Doug Brewer has broadcast legally over the Internet. Brewer sat with Kobres' wife, Cheryl, during Tuesday's sentencing.
Kobres was another exception, because his equipment already had been seized in 1996. He had bought more and resumed broadcasting within a day. In November, the replacement equipment also was seized, and Kobres was charged with 14 counts of violating federal law. A jury convicted him in February on all counts.
The unprecedented nature of the case left attorneys without sentencing guidelines and without analogous cases to rely on. In February, prosecutors had said Kobres was exposed to fines as high as $3.5-million and prison sentences as long as 28 years. The case also gave microbroadcasters their first opportunity to challenge the FCC tactic in appellate courts. Kobres said he will do just that, appealing his conviction.
"There have been an extraordinary number of letters," Adams said Tuesday, "quite a few of them addressing the legality of the charges against Mr. Kobres." Kobres, a former Navy electronics technician who repairs shipboard navigation equipment, gave Adams an explanation. "There is sort of a war going on between the big corporations and us ordinary people," Kobres told the judge.