Unlicensed Radio Station Fights to Stay on the Air
Associated Press - 11/28/1999

The Rev. Samuel A. Girona may not have regulators' permission to operate his religious radio station, but he says he has the approval of a higher power.

Back in late November Girona asked a judge to defy the Federal Communications Commission and allow his radio station to continue broadcasting at 97.1 FM in the name of freedom of speech and religion.

"We've admitted we're broadcasting, and we're broadcasting without a license," Girona's lawyer, Patrick Edwards, told U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson.

The FCC has asked the judge to issue an injunction shutting down the station, whose Spanish-language programming can be heard within a 6-mile radius of its studio and broadcast facility in Hartford, Connecticut.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan M. Soloway argued during the hearing that federal law requires radio stations to obtain federal licenses, and Girona's radio station doesn't have one.

Edwards accused the FCC of leaving small community broadcasters with no path to the airways other than civil disobedience. The agency has ceased issuing Class D, or low-power licenses for stations which broadcast with less than 100 watts of power.

"The FCC has not, and will not, grant a license or waive the regulations precluding micro broadcast transmissions," Edwards said in his brief. "As a result, dozens if not hundreds of micro broadcasters around the country have chosen to broadcast without a license."

Girona, the associate pastor of the Ebenezer Pentecostal Church in Hartford, testified that he explored buying a station, but the costs were prohibitive. He said he considers the radio station, which broadcasts religious services to prisoners, a part of his ministry.

Thompson did not rule on the FCC request for an injunction. The judge said he will issue a written decision.

In a similar case, Senior U.S. District Judge Peter C. Dorsey recently issued an order shutting down an unlicensed religious station in Waterbury.

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