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FCC Busts Austin Pirate Radio Station

KAOS Radio Austin 95.9 FM
Unlicensed local radio station KAOS was shut down last week by the FCC.

Federal Communications Commission agents descended on Austin pirate radio station KAOS FM last week. You can watch a video of the bust on KAOS's website.

In the video, FCC agent Stephen Lee tells the operator of KAOS that he would be let off with a warning if he complies with the request to shut down the pirate radio station.

"It's above the limits for a non-licensed operation, and requires a license," Lee says in the video. "We're not quibbling with you. We're not saying the limit was 250 [microvolts] and you were at 255. We're saying your limit was 250, and you were 5,000, so you're grossly over the limit."

The FCC allows unlicensed FM radio stations to operate at a "field strength" of 250 microvolts/meter, measured about 10 feet from the antenna. The FCC regulation operates based on the strength of the radio signal, not the strength of the transmitter, because certain antenna configurations can boost signal strength.  

"It's extremely low power," KUT engineer Brian Urban said. "That would allow you to broadcast about 100 yards. You might get a quarter-mile out of it. Might."

Some pirate radio activists question the constitutionality of the FCC's jurisdiction.

We tried tuning in this morning from the radio in KUT's front offices at 10:30 a.m. and no signal was broadcasting on 95.9 FM. However, the station is still streaming audio on its website.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.