By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Threatening “the voice of Black Boston”

Interesting story in the Dorchester Reporter on “TOUCH 106.1 FM,” a pirate radio station serving the black community that’s been targeted for elimination by the FCC. Managing editor Bill Forry writes:

Touch FM (officially LP-WTCH Boston) — which sprang from the bosom of the Grove Hall Neighborhood Development Corporation offices in the fall of 2005 — is unlicensed. They admit it. They’re pirates.

And they are unrepentant, even in the face of the most recent broadside from the government: A May 7 forfeiture order from the FCC that levies a $17,000 fine on station founder Charles Clemons. The ruling stems from a pair of site visits made to the suspected TOUCH offices at the corner of Cheney Street and Blue Hill Avenue in 2007. The order accuses Clemons of “willfully and repeatedly” using the frequency without a license and for “failing to permit a station inspection.”

This is the Catch-22 of radio. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 destroyed local commercial radio and gave rise to corporate-owned, lowest-common-denominator pap.

Touch FM’s 100-watt signal — broadcast from an undisclosed location — puts it between WMJX (106.7 FM) and WROR (105.7 FM), two stations owned by Greater Media, which also employs the likes of right-wingers like Jay Severin and Michael Graham on another of its stations, WTKK (96.9 FM). Who’s doing more to serve the local community, TOUCH or Greater Media? Does the question even need to be asked?

Last June I covered a hearing by the FCC on localism in broadcast media. The agency claims to be very concerned about local content. Well, if officials would like to travel to Dorchester, they will find some.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


Duxbury’s Afghan connection


Ted Kennedy’s illness


  1. o-fish-l

    Dan, why the gratuitous swipe at “right-wingers”? Gimme a break.You give new meaning to “not called for by the circumstances”.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: If you want, say, Howie Carr in the foxhole with you, I say good for you. But Severin and Graham? I was way too kind.

  3. Larz

    The amount of the fine seems out of scale, like they’re taking a strong swipe to silence this type of operation. Probably the FCC holds all the cards, but I’d love to see this tried in court. First Amendment, anyone?— Larz

  4. o-fish-l

    Thank God, er thank goodness the pirate radio station apparently doesn’t employ “right-wingers”. If they did, the FCC’s enforcement of the law might be actually be viewed as justified. Ha!

  5. DJS

    OFL:If the pirate radio station employed right-wingnuts, they wouldn’t need to be ‘pirate.’

  6. man who's not a pirate fan

    Larz, the First Amendment question has been REPEATED tried and FAILED in court. That question was settled over 40 years ago. Read up here:, I am NO fan of WTKK’s fare, either. But you REALLY don’t want the FCC making value judgments on the worthiness of a station based on its programming. Trust me. If they did, stations like WTKK and WRKO would win and stations like WBUR and WGBH would lose because it ultimately would be decided by parameters set in Washington DC…and in DC, money talks. And in radio, ratings make the money and those stations have the ratings.Granted, in reality WBUR has the ratings, but for the moment, non-comms aren’t treated the same as commercial stations, so WBUR’s ratings are rarely contrasted properly against their commercial counterparts.Besides, how often have you seen right-wing pundits get away with murder while pubradio and pubTV have to rally viewers to their defense at every single goddamn budget season on The Hill?Also, this is not as much about localism as you might think. This is about EGO, pure and simple. The guys running TOUCH FM chose to ignore all the costs involved of purchasing Type-Accepted FCC gear, EAS equipment, measuring gear, proof of performances, proper engineering services, etc etc etc. And instead set up a service that, at the end of the day, causes interference to licensed operations that chose to play by the rules.Oh sure, you might not hear the interference much…until you drive into Dorchester and closer to TOUCH’s transmitter, where you’ll most definitely hear interference to WMJX’s and WROR’s analog (and especially digital) signals. Is it “fair” for a pirate station to deny Dorchester listeners to right to listen to those legal stations?And to really drive the point home…while this is somewhat less true today, when TOUCH started up, there were SEVERAL college area radio stations that were all but BEGGING for warm bodies to come in during the summer and do airshifts. Everybody knows that’s a classic “back door” way to get on the air the rest of the year. I’ve seen it done many times.Granted, this is more true of the smaller college stations – WRBB, WBRS, WMFO…but they’d be on the air. And hell, back in the late 1990’s, you could still get on the air of WZBC that way, and it has a much bigger signal than TOUCH does (and it easily covers Dorchester and the surrounding areas).Or, you know, they could have raised investment capital, or gotten a loan, and purchased a smaller AM station and worked at it for a while to make it into a viable broadcast outlet. WMSX in Brockton was a prime example of that – one owner busted his ass to serve the minority audiences of Brockton and the southern areas of Boston where the signal (just) reached: Mattapan, Quincy, etc. But he was forced under by all the pirates operating illegally there stealing his audience. How exactly is that “fair”.In other words, these pirates NEVER had their so-called “right to broadcast” stifled. There WERE options…just none that let them get on the air immediately and have total control over everything. Well gee, exactly how many businesses allow you to start at the top and have total control?!?!? Not too frickin’ many!!!As I said – it was and is, all about EGO. Not about serving the local community.(oh and for the record, I used to work at Allston Brighton Free Radio…so I’m *intimately* familiar with the ego involved with pirate radio!)

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Man Who: I think most people who read this blog know that I am totally opposed to the FCC’s regulating content. Not for a moment do I wish the Fairness Doctrine and equal-time provisions to come back.What I do want is a return to laws and regulations that severely limit the number of stations any one owner can have, both in a given market and nationwide. That would go a long way toward providing the localism and service to the community that is lacking today.And maybe then groups like TOUCH could obtain a legitimate license.

  8. man who's not a pirate fan

    What I do want is a return to laws and regulations that severely limit the number of stations any one owner can have, both in a given market and nationwide. That would go a long way toward providing the localism and service to the community that is lacking today.Perhaps, but as you’ll notice…nobody in the FCC is talking about doing that.Personally I’m unconvinced that a return to the ownership limits would really mean a return to localism. There were plenty of independently-owned stations pre-1996 that did a terrible job of really having a local focus. Concordantly, the DJ-less “Jack” format has proven fairly popular in most markets…despite its inherent disconnect with the concept of “localness”…and never would have come about without consolidation providing an incentive to try something so counter-intuitive.I also remember a giant sh*tload of non-major-market stations that were NEVER fiscally viable that kept being bought by someone with stars in their eyes, run into the ground over a few years, and then sold to some other starry-eyed dope. There was a LOT of that in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.And even if you re-imposed the ownership limits, you’d still have the massive “consolidation” of programming as a result of computers, voicetracking, and the internet. Instead of working for one company, you’d have popular DJ’s contracting their services to dozens of stations independently; it’s still cheaper than keeping local talent on the payroll.And maybe then groups like TOUCH could obtain a legitimate license.Not a chance in hell. Even pre-1996, none of the commercial stations that cover Dorchester were selling for less than six figures…and the last non-commercial slot inside Rt.128 was taken by WMBR (then WTBS) back in the 1950’s.Plus, if TOUCH really wanted to get on the air and be legal about it, why not rent a subcarrier channel? Many ethnic / foreign-language groups do that – they then sell the SCA radios you need to get the signal directly to their listening community. It works quite well – many groups have done it for years. The reason they didn’t is because of EGO – they don’t care about the rules, they LIKE being pirates…never mind the damage to the overall radio spectrum, and to the fiscal health of legal operations, that the pirates cause.

  9. W3

    Who knows where Jay Severin lives. Do you? He is home when he talks on air, right? is live online.TOUCHFM 106.1 broadcast studios are in GROVE HALL, in Boston, on Blue Hill Ave and Everybody knows that.Pirates don’t maintain street address. Touch 106.1 FM does. The (FCC) Federal Communications Commission has rules, policy and procedures and no doubt so many have found holes in it that they can drive a trailer truck through.Boston’s Touch FM 106.1 radio station is not a PIRATE. Touch 106.1 on the FM is the recognized “fabric of the Boston Black community” in RADEEO. Well they had to because WILD 1090AM gave it up and when that happened responsible people did arrive. TOUCH FM 106.1 did.They do Pirate FM airwaves. The TouchFM 106.1 radio station offers public transparency. They broadcast issues in Boston’s community to listen to. They are givers not takers, and certainly, not FCC pirates. (May 2008)Readers of your blog wonder why, perhaps?It is because Negro culture is often misunderstood. And policy wonks forget that a democracy is so hard to administer.Positive energy always helps prove them wrong so I reach out to readers in this blog who support democracy and I thank them myself. There is more positive news than negative news about “everything” really.I listen to TouchFM 106.1 on air in Boston. FCC: There is nothing to worry about. The station is a godsend. Support it will you?The station streams live over the internet everyday. HA! And somebody said they were pirates.No way! There’s nothing bad about TouchFM 106.1 in Boston. Instead, I think you will find a welcoming model for public access to the airwaves that is founded on basic principals we would want to believe in and they are: contribution, community and a commercially responsible media philosophy. POOF!

  10. man who is not a pirate fan

    W3, they don’t have an FCC license, ergo, they are a pirate broadcast station – period. Doesn’t matter how much lipstick you put on it, it’s still a pig. Even if you love porkchops, it’s still a pig.Nothing bad?!? Tell that to the half-dozen small, legal AM stations that survived fiscally by leasing airtime to ethnic broadcasters. Airtime that nobody wants to lease anymore because they get it for free from pirates like Touch FM. Now many of those small AM stations, who spend the time and money to be legal, are struggling mightly to makes end meet. How is that “nothing bad”?!? That’s like saying it’s a fair fight when one guy has both hands tied behind his back!

  11. Anonymous

    **And maybe then groups like TOUCH could obtain a legitimate license.**Bandspace IS a limited resource. And it’s the FCC’s job to regulate how many stations can fit into one area geographically and spectrum-wise. Not everyone who wants to have their own radio station can have one.While I do not want the FCC to regulate content…I DO want them to do a good job of regulating the valuable spectrum space….engineering wise.There has to be a rgulating body that manages where stations can fit in and where they can’t.Like a speed limit that attempts to stop the one person who thinks he can go 95 MPG down rt 93 put others in jepeordy, sticking radio stations anywhere someone feels there is a space is a problem.

  12. Anonymous

    what about all the Haitian stations that run way more power than Touch? heck, half of them are just spewing open carriers most of the day. yes, 100.3 im talking about youand 91.3. and 102.1, etc least 102.9 and 105.3 put stuff on shuffle when theyre out.and whats up with ZBC/MBR not dropping to say 1/4 power at night and throwing stuff on shuffle? real pain having to plug in a notebook and fetch forth some mp3s

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén