Politicians criticize radio station’s shutdown
Service to black community cited
Governor Deval Patrick and several other politicians of color reacted swiftly Friday to the closing of Touch 106.1 FM, a popular unlicensed radio station that bills itself as the fabric of the black community.
Patrick said he had received advance warning from the US attorney’s office about the federal raid on the station and had urged the office not to proceed. But US marshals and agents from the Federal Communications Commission went to the Grove Hall station Thursday and shut it down.
“I’m incredibly disappointed,” Patrick said, responding to reporters’ questions. “I understand what the legal basis is, but you’d like to think of their bringing more of a problem-solving approach. Touch is a pretty important voice in the community. I’ve been on it many times and have tremendous respect for the team over there.”
City councilors and state representatives vowed Friday to exhaust every option to get the station up and running, saying it is a community institution, information resource, and vehicle for civic engagement and social change.
“At this point, we are gathering information and working collaboratively as . . . elected officials to get Touch 106.1 licensed and back on the airwaves,’’ City Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley said.
Pressley said she spoke with the station’s founder, Charles L. Clemons Jr., this week, and added she appreciated that federal agents allowed the station’s founder to announce on the air Thursday that the station had been shut down.
State Representative Russell Holmes, whose district includes Mattapan and Dorchester, said nine lawmakers of color have been inundated with calls and text messages from constituents urging them to save Touch.
“We’ve heard a loud cry from our constituents who want us to do something about this,’’ Holmes said.
The politicians sent a statement to the media, saying they had been in contact with the FCC and are working with members of Congress.
Holmes said the lawmakers plan first to examine how many other unlicensed low-power stations exist in Boston that serve a significant community purpose. Then, he said, the lawmakers will determine how they can be kept on the air.
Patrick said his office has been in contact with a lawyer for the station and with the FCC in hopes of resolving the matter.
Clemons announced on-air the station was shutting Thursday, Pressley said. The station posted the closing on Twitter. Federal agents seized all radio station transmission equipment, antennas, radio frequency power amplifiers, radio frequency test equipment, and other devices used to transmit signals from 5 Cheney St., where the station was housed in a nonprofit run by Clemons’s mother.
US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz’s office said on Wednesday and Thursday it seized radio equipment from Touch and two other stations, 88.7 FM in Brockton and 100.1 FM, which had signals in Everett, Dorchester, Brockton, and Mattapan.
The US attorney’s office said the FCC issued multiple warnings to all three illegal operators, but the stations continued to broadcast. Ortiz’s office brought forfeiture actions after it received complaints, including from a licensed broadcaster who said there was interference with its radio signal.
“It is a public safety hazard for illegal radio stations to broadcast, potentially interfering with critical radio communications,” Ortiz said in a statement.
Since 2011, Ortiz’s office said it has filed forfeiture actions against eight illegal radio stations in Greater Boston, effectively shutting them down.
Clemons has been the target of the FCC since 2008 when the agency slapped him and the station with a $17,000 fine for operating illegally. Court records said he ignored warnings and refused to let agents into the studio.
Agents said they launched a new investigation after receiving a complaint last year that Clemons was using his station to promote his unsuccessful 2013 mayoral bid.
Clemons did not return a call from the Globe Friday seeking comment. The station continues to operate online.
The closing of the radio station sparked amixed reaction among industry representatives and community residents who said it raised questions about the limited number of FCC licenses in certain communities and the high cost to obtain them. They also contend there is a need to have an on-air voice in underrepresented communities that are often shut out from getting expensive radio licenses.
“That is a conversation worthy of discourse,’’ said Jack Casey, the general manager of radio station WERS, which broadcasts from Emerson College. “Media access is worthy of a conversation.”
It was Casey’s station that sparked the FCC probe of 88.7 FM in Brockton. Last year, a consultant for the Emerson station looked into a complaint from listeners that another station was interfering with WERS’s signal on 88.9 FM.
Federal agents investigating the issue tracked the signal to a brown, two-story home on Crescent Street in Brockton and observed an antenna on a roof with a cable snaking into a boarded-up window, according to court documents unsealed this week.
They placed warnings on two of the home’s doors and sent a certified letter to the building owner, Solange Germain, the documents show. On Wednesday, US marshals put a lid on the station.
Federal agents also shut an unlicensed station operating on 100.1 FM — in four different houses in Everett, Brockton, Mattapan, and Dorchester — after trying unsuccessfully to work with the owner, Gerlens Cesar, documents show.
“I warned Mr. Cesar that he needed to shut off his transmitter at the three reported locations as soon as possible,’’ an agent said in court records.
The Communications Act of 1934 bans the operation of most radio stations without an FCC license, officials said. The act authorizes the government to seize electronic or radio frequency equipment belonging to any violators, records show.