FCC to Radio Pirates: $15,000 Arrgh!

FCC fines couple $15,000 for operating an unlicensed radio station

Walter Olenick and Rae Nadler-Olenick at City Hall in 2009
Walter Olenick and Rae Nadler-Olenick at City Hall in 2009 (Photo by John Anderson)

Those whose sole knowledge of pirate radio stems from the 1990 film Pump Up the Volume may find the reality of Radio Free Austin a little less cinematic. The rantings of Alex Jones replace the rumble of late-Eighties punk. A pair of longtime activists replaces Christian Slater. And the adrenaline of the final chase scene is ousted in favor of something much more likely to lead to palpitations – a $15,000 fine.

In August 2013, agents from the FCC Enforcement Bureau's Houston office responded to a complaint that an unlicensed station was operating at 90.1 MHz in Austin. Tracing the source of the signal wasn't exactly difficult. The antenna was attached to an almost 50-foot tower anchored to an apartment building owned by Walter Olenick and Rae Nadler-Olenick. Outside, a car registered to Nadler-Olenick was plastered with a bumper sticker reading "Liberty 90.1FM."

After discovering the source, the FCC sent the Olenicks a warning letter in early Septem­ber. The Olenicks replied shortly after, offering no denial that they owned the building or that an unlicensed radio station was operating on the premises. However, the couple shot back that the agents did not have "permission or consent to enter" the apartment building. According to the FCC filing, the Olenicks stated that the agency lacked jurisdiction in Texas. The letter "also implied that they do not consider themselves subject to the laws of the United States, because they stated they expect any future communications to come from the International Bureau only after a 'treaty' to which they are 'signators' is signed."

Such contrarian views are not uncommon for the Olenicks. The pair frequently appear during Citizens Communication at City Council to rail against the dangers of fluoridation in municipal water. But the FCC had less patience than City Hall. In April 2014, the FCC blasted the pair with a $10,000 fine for operating 90.1 without authorization. An additional $5,000 was added because the Olenicks failed to cease operations after the initial warnings.

Although 90.1 broadcasts some programs with a similar ideological bent to the Ole­nicks, it is not clear if they have any control over the content. The 90.1FM frequency has aired New World Order warnings for more than a decade, earning it the nickname "Alex Jones Radio." In fact, the station was the locus of another FCC battle in 2010, when it was operating out of the home of Jerry and Deborah Stevens – Deborah still co-hosts the Rule of Law Radio show on the conspiracy-minded Logos Radio Network. Like the Olenicks, the Stevens argued that the FCC had no jurisdiction over the broadcasts. In 2012, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that the FCC had the authority to issue a Forfeiture Order.

The Olenicks were served their own Forfeit­ure Order in early June 2014 and were given a 30-day deadline to pay the fine before possible further Justice Department action. Nadler-Olenick declined to comment on the case while it was still in active litigation. Although the station briefly went silent in the spring, at press time, Katherine Albrecht – a syndicated commentator and frequent guest on The Alex Jones Show – could be heard loud and clear.

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