CHICAGO — For years, Bill Milosz has risked a hefty fine for broadcasting a pirate radio station from the roof of the Lincoln Square apartment building where he lives.
But Milosz isn't trying to cash in on advertising money or air racy content. His station — "Audio Noir" — features 50-year-old police mysteries and thrillers, and he simply loves broadcasting for fellow insomniacs like himself.
"I’m an inveterate insomniac," Milosz said.
Ben Woodard says Milosz isn't worried about FCC fines, which could be well over $1,000:
A few years ago he wanted to share his cure for sleeplessness with the masses, so he started streaming his collection of shows — classics like "Dragnet," "Broadway Is My Beat" and "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar" — online.
But it's not that he finds them boring. The melodramatic and simple storylines were enough to help shut out everything else, he said.
"I would just listen at night to some of these old-time radio shows," said Milosz. "I could turn the lights off and try to fall asleep. ... This is something that would distract me enough."
Then — despite the threat of hefty fines from the Federal Communications Commission — the 60-year-old radio hobbyist decided to erect a 6-foot antenna to broadcast his collection on 89.7 FM, a frequency used by a Kankakee-based Christian music radio station.
He says the station's antenna is far enough away that his doesn't interfere.
"I'm not trying to jam anybody," he said.
His 20-watt setup reaches a mile or so in every direction, and farther if the receiver's high enough.
"My range can’t be that good because I haven’t had a visit from the FCC yet," he said.
But if he is caught, he could face a fine. The FCC fined a man in Florida $20,000 in October, according to a list of enforcement orders on its website. The FCC also maintains a map of where violators were found from 2003-2013.
A sample of "Audio Noir" from Milosz' broadcast:
Audio Noir isn't the first pirate radio station Milosz founded. When he was in high school, he and his friends were visited twice by the FCC for operating an AM station out of his parents' house.
They strung up wire on telephone poles in 1969 and 1970 to report on anti-war demonstrations and play music, like from rock band The Fugs.
"Our views were not necessarily popular with the people running the schools and so forth," he said.
He later helped set up a legitimate station, WORT, in Madison, Wis., he said.
"I like radio. Radio to me has a certain magic," he said. "I also like doing something that I’m not supposed to — that’s always fun."
At peak times, usually about 3 a.m., Milosz says he has up to 1,000 people tuned in online, listening to a loop of about 1,000 30-minute shows. Most of them originally aired in the '50s.
The old cop-seeks-out-bad-guy storyline is still compelling today, he said.
"Radio lends itself to that kind of a story because it can be told briefly," he said. "Somebody kills somebody, and the cops get him. It doesn’t take a whole lot of character development and it can be told in an entertaining way."
Every three hours on the station, Milosz broadcasts a station identifier. And every six hours, he requests donations to help offset the cost of his setup, about $1,000 worth of equipment, and the server he's renting to stream the show, which costs him $45 a month.
The retired software engineer said he breaks even — and he has no intention of vacating the airwaves.
"I will probably be on the air until somebody says stop — or until I drop dead," he said.
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