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Radio New York International - History (2)

With the Sarah now in position and ready to broadcast all but two of the station's staff left the vessel to prepare programme tapes on shore, while the remaining project members, Al Weiner and Ivan Jeffries (Rothstein), stayed on board to tune equipment and start test transmissions. The first of these tests took place on 23rd July 1987 with taped music interrupted by live announcements from Weiner and Jeffries announcing the name of the station - Radio New York International (RNYI).

The format was described as being "free form rock'n' roll - current hits and hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s." Radio New York International also had an underlying philosophy of "Love Peace and Understanding", which its organisers hoped would "raise the awareness and consciousness of listeners regarding themselves, their brothers and sisters and the planet Earth."

Test transmissions continued throughout the night and again during the evening of 24th July 1987. Some problems were experienced with the medium wave transmitter, although reception on other frequencies was good with reception reports even coming from listeners to the long wave transmission, a band not normally used for broadcast radio in the USA.

After the demise of Radio Free America in 1973 the FCC had threatened that it would close down any other offshore station which attempted to broadcast to the USA, prosecute the operators and confiscate all equipment. Until RNYI went on the air in 1987 nobody had attempted to challenge the FCC in this way, fearing the enormous court costs which would be involved, let alone any fine or penalty which may be imposed.

On 25th July 1987 at about 5.30pm a US Coastguard cutter, with machine guns uncovered, came alongside the Sarah and the crew announced that they intended to board the radio ship. Al Weiner and Ivan Jeffries, the only people on board the Sarah refused at first, but relented after being advised that the ship would be forcibly boarded if they did not agree. The Coastguards claimed they only wanted to inspect the ship's papers, registration documents and safety equipment, but when they eventually came on board they also brought with them two officials from the FCC.

Despite Al Weiner's objections that they had no right to board a foreign registered vessel in international waters, the FCC men insisted that they had authority to come aboard the Sarah, although they were not specific about the grounds for their presence at that time. As well as the FCC officials representatives of US Immigration and the Drug Enforcement Agency also boarded and searched the ship. The FCC officers informed Al Weiner that radio transmissions from the ship must cease, despite his assertion that they had no power to make such a demand because the Communications Act of 1934 did not apply outside US territorial limits.

The Coastguards and various agency officials eventually left the Sarah after about two and a half hours, but Weiner and Jefferies, shaken by the experience did not resume test transmissions that evening.

After carefully considering their situation overnight both men concluded that what they were doing was not illegal, simply outside the parameters of US law, and that the Coastguards and FCC had no right to harass them in such a way, positioned as they were in the freedom of international waters. Having reached this conclusion the two men decided to resume test transmissions again on all four frequencies during the evening of 26th July 1987, and these broadcasts continued for six hours without interruption.

In New York media interest in the new offshore radio station had been aroused following the authorities' visit and on 27th July 1987 many boats with reporters and television crews visited the Sarah. Amongst these was a reporter from the Greenwich Village Voice, R J Smith, who asked to stay on board for a few days to experience life on a floating radio station. Al Weiner and Ivan Jefferies agreed to allow him to stay on the Sarah - the extra pair of hands on board would be helpful and any subsequent publicity could only benefit RNYI.

Further test transmissions for RNYI started at 6.00pm  on 27th July 1987 and, because everything was going so well with the equipment and a third person was now on board the Sarah, to help with operations it was decided to continue  broadcasting until 2.00am the following morning.

Only one real problem had been encountered during the various test broadcasts and that was with the medium wave transmitter which was burning out its capacitors as the result of feedback. By 27th July this problem had been solved and new capacitors were fitted to the transmitter. Except for that minor difficulty the four days of test transmissions had proved so successful that the project members planned to start regular broadcasts from Radio New York International from 1st August 1987.

The authorities, however, had other ideas. At 5.30am on 28th July 1987, a few hours after test transmissions had finished, the three men on board the Sarah were awoken by a loud hailer from the US Coastguard cutter, Cape Horn. Officials on the cutter warned that they intended to seize the radio ship and claimed to have permission from the Honduran Government to board the vessel, forcibly if necessary. Fearing for the safety of his ship and his 'crew' (associate Ivan Jeffries and the visiting journalist R J Smith) Al Weiner, as 'Captain' of the Sarah, decided to offer no resistance.

Armed officials then boarded the Sarah and announced that they were seizing the radio ship and arresting those on board for violating international law, although they were not specific about which law had been violated. Weiner, Jefferies and Smith were handcuffed and detained on deck while FCC officials dismantled equipment in the studio and used wire cutters and hacksaws to sever the cables feeding the transmitter.

While this act of official vandalism was going on the three men remained handcuffed to the deck of the Sarah for four and a half hours before being transferred to the Cape Horn where they were again told that the radio ship was to be towed in and all broadcasting equipment would be removed by the FCC. Requests from Al Weiner and the other two men to be allowed to contact their lawyers as well as protests about violation of their civil and constitutional rights were ignored by the various officials who had boarded the Sarah.

The Coastguards were experiencing difficulties in raising the Sarah's huge battleship anchor and after a further three hours they decided to transfer the men to land using another launch while the Cape Horn remained alongside the radio ship. When they arrived in Brooklyn, New York Al Weiner and his colleagues were met by a huge crowd of supporters and journalists who had followed the drama all day on television news reports. Two lawyers from a New York practice volunteered their services to the men from the radio ship and advised them throughout the formal procedures following their arrest.

News reports about the launch of Radio New York International, July 1987

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