FCC Fines 15 Year-Old Pirate Radio Station in NYC $2 Million

The FCC is using its new powers to ask from the maximum fine from an Ecuadorian pirate radio station that's run for more than 15 years.
Photo from Radio Impacto 2 Facebook.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is using a new law to fine a pirate radio station operating in New York City for more than $2 million. For 15 years, Impacto 2, which has been operated by two brothers, has broadcast Ecuadorian news, culture, sports, and talk-radio on 105.5 FM in Queens. The feds have tried to shut it down repeatedly, but have never succeeded.

The FCC announced the fine in a press release last week. “The Commission proposed the maximum penalty allowable, $2,316,034, against brothers César Ayora and Luis Angel Ayora for pirate radio broadcasting in Queens, New York,” the release said. The FCC also said it was trying to seize $80,000 in equipment from a man broadcasting pirate radio in Eastern Oregon. 


The Ayoras have been on the FCC’s radar since 2008 when they started broadcasting Impacto 2 for the Ecuadorian community in Queens: "The brothers César and [Luis] Angel Ayora in September 2008 founded the first Ecuadorian FM radio station in New York City. . . The station never sleeps, because a team of communication professionals are working for you 24 hours a day," their website, which is currently down, said. The station is broadcast over the internet and has moved around the FM spectrum several times over the years. 

The station's Instagram and Facebook pages show that they regularly throw events for the community and that their main mission is providing Spanish-language news and music for Ecuadorians living in Queens. 

The FCC closely polices radio spectrums around the country, and provides licenses to companies who apply for specific frequencies. On the one hand, this makes sense, because use of radio frequencies are limited by physics and, without licenses, radio would be a free-for-all. Currently, the FCC is not providing any new FM or AM radio frequencies, according to its website. At the same time, pirate radio has a long history of providing access to the airwaves for independent broadcasters. In this case, the targets of the fine are a pair of brothers who were providing a vital community resource.

In court documents about the fine, the FCC detailed its history with the Ayoras and Impacto 2.


The story is always the same. Someone complains about the Ecuadorian broadcast, the FCC investigates and tracks down the radio antenna, and the Ayoras admit to owning it. Then the FCC issues a fine. “On June 2, 2015, the Bureau issued a $20,000 forfeiture order against Luis Angel Ayora for operating this unauthorized radio station,” court document said “The Bureau received no response to the order, and the forfeiture was never paid.”

After the fine goes unpaid, the FCC seizes the equipment. But the Ayoras don’t stop. “The seizure of their equipment by federal agents did not deter the Ayoras from continuing to operate their pirate radio station,” a court document said.

According to the FCC’s court documents, the Ayoras repeatedly talked about the pirate station on the air and let the audience know when the station changed places on the FM dial. César Ayora even hosts a show called Sentimientos where he plays romantic music every Sunday night. The radio station’s Instagram account explicitly advertises it as airing in New York.

The brothers even kept the pirate radio stations running during the pandemic. The feds noticed but held off on investigating. “COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented further onsite inspections until 2022,” the court record said.

Things changed in 2020, when Congress passed the  Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement (PIRATE) Act. The PIRATE act gave the FCC broader powers to levy fines and seize equipment against accused broadcasters including a penalty of $100,000 a day with a maximum fine of $2 million. “In addition to tougher fines on violators, the law requires the FCC to conduct periodic enforcement sweeps and grants the Commission authority to take enforcement action against landlords and property owners that willfully and knowingly permit pirate radio broadcasting on their properties,” the FCC said in a press release.

According to the FCC, the Ayoras have admitted to operating the radio station several times during interviews. The feds even went to the trouble of totaling every day it could prove the pair had run the radio station and detailed what it would like to charge them for it. “Based on the severity of the facts underlying these factors, we propose the maximum penalty of $115,80265 for each day of the 184 days during which the Ayoras operated their pirate radio station in 2022 for a total penalty of $21,307,568,” the FCC’s court documents said.

That is, however, not possible under the new PIRATE Act. “We reduce the proposed penalty from $21,307,568 to $2,316,034 based on the statutory limits imposed by section 511(a) of the Act,” it said in court documents.

All of this said, the FCC may have trouble finding the Ayoras.  On February 19, a month before the FCC announced the fine, Luis Angel Ayora posted a picture of himself on Facebook in front of a lush green mountain. “The person who guesses the location gets a guinea pig,” he said in the caption.

Impacto 2 did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.