scorecardresearch

Authorities crack down on illegal radio station broadcast out of Worcester church

A Christian church in Worcester has been operating a pirate radio station on two different channels without a license from the Federal Communications Commission, according to the US attorney’s office for Massachusetts.

Vasco Oburoni and Christian Praise International Church have been illegally operating a radio broadcast station on 97.1 FM, and prior to that on 102.3 FM, the office said in a press release.

Government officials now want an injunction that would stop the radio station from broadcasting.

The FCC, prosecutors said, had previously received complaints that an unlicensed signal from 102.3 was interfering with other broadcasts, including 102.5 WKLB-FM, a Massachusetts-based country music radio station, according to a complaint filed in federal court.

Advertisement



Investigators traced the pirate signal to the church at 52 Ward St. and found an FM antenna mounted to the church’s roof, according to the complaint.

Federal law bars radio broadcasts above a certain “low-intensity” threshold without an FCC license.

In 2015, Oburoni told an investigator that he was the operator of an unlicensed radio station broadcasting at 102.3, saying the station was used for “religious purposes” and for his community in Worcester, according to the complaint.

His church describes itself on its website as a “Gospel-believing church which aims at the prioritization of God’s will.” The site also states the church is “one of the fastest growing churches in Ghana, with over 206 branches and membership of nearly 15,000.”

According to the US attorney’s office, the FCC issued multiple warnings to the operators of the unlicensed radio station in Worcester and issued a forfeiture order of $15,000 against Oburoni for the repeated violation of federal law.

Authorities said Oburoni agreed to a payment plan, but later started broadcasting without a license on a different frequency, 97.1.

Oburoni, in a phone interview late Tuesday afternoon, denied any wrongdoing, saying there is no radio station being broadcast on 97.1.

Advertisement



“All I can say is they asked me to stop and I stopped,” said Oburoni, who identified himself as the pastor of the Worcester church.

He added, “There are a lot of radio stations in Worcester, I don’t know why I’m the only one they keep targeting.”

Rosemary Harold, the chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, called seeking an injunction to stop the illegal activities of a radio operator a “groundbreaking step.”

“This action underlines our continued interest in combating this serious problem,” said Harold in a statement.

Andrew E. Lelling, the US attorney for Massachusetts, said illegal radio broadcasts pose “a potential hazard to public safety” that could “interfere with critical radio communications.”

“Like any member of the community, the operators of these illegal stations could have applied for radio licenses and operated their stations in compliance with the law,” he said in statement. “When they choose to operate illegally, and continue those operations after being warned multiple times, action must be taken.”

There have been crackdowns on unlicensed radio stations in Massachusetts before. In 2014, two Boston stations and one Brockton station were silenced, federal authorities said at the time.


Meghan E. Irons of Globe staff contributed to this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.