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Sounds FM Christchurch Silenced

Fine for 'interfering' with air traffic control frequency

A Christchurch man who ran a hobby radio station has been fined $4000 and had his equipment confiscated after boosting its power interfered with an air traffic control frequency.

Jeffrey Knowles' commercial-free radio station, Sounds FM, which broadcast music during the day and streamed BBC programmes at night to the Shirley, Papanui and Parklands suburbs and earned him a community service award, has now been shut down.

Knowles, 48, who has a learning disability and lives with his elderly mother, admitted in Christchurch District Court he interfered with an air traffic control radio frequency by broadcasting with too much power on equipment that had a fault with oscillation.

He admitted the charge under the Radio Communications Act of transmitting outside the terms of his licence.

His broadcasts closed down an air traffic frequency for 24 hours in February, interfering with transmissions between aircraft and the control tower.

Knowles is permitted to run a low-frequency, low power FM transmission as a hobby station but the Crown argued he increased the power to reach more people, potentially up to 45,000.

However, Knowles' supporters say the figure was more like 1000 people.

The Radio Broadcasters' Association reported to the court that they were losing advertising revenue because of Knowles' station taking potential listeners away from commercial stations.

Crown prosecutor Kathy Basire said it would have cost Knowles about $140,000 to buy the level of licence he would have needed.

"Low FM frequency is only designed to be for a small hobby station for a small area. It is not designed to compete with commercial broadcasters," she said.

Defence counsel Clayton Williams said Knowles accepted the equipment was faulty and did not oppose it being forfeited. He disputed the concerns about the amount of power used and said the aerial he used was shorter than claimed.

"He accepts he was operating at excessive power to gain greater coverage so more elderly people could have the opportunity to listen to his BBC broadcasts," Mr Williams said.

Knowles received a Community Service Award from the Shirley-Papanui Community Board this year.

Judge Gary MacAskill said Knowles had been warned that the broadcasting gear was faulty but had done nothing about it.

The penalty must recognise the seriousness of the interference with the air traffic frequency, Judge MacAskill said.

He imposed a fine of $4000 as well as court costs of $130 and solicitor's fee of $250.

- NZPA

© stuff.co.nz Sepetember 30th, 2010.

This material remains © Fairfax New Zealand Limited and is only to be used for non-commercial personal or research use. Any other use requires permission of the copyright holder.

For a current list of all Low Power FM stations broadcasting in New Zealand, visit our NZ LPFM Radio Guide.

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