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UK Pirate Radio Stations
Offshore stations

Radio Caroline North · Radio Caroline South · Radio 270 · Wonderful Radio London · Radio Atlanta  · Swinging Radio England · Radio Scotland · Radio City · Radio 390 · Radio North Sea International

Land based stations

Don FM · Dread Broadcasting Corporation · Dream FM · Kool FM · Radio Free Scotland · Rinse FM · Thameside Radio

Former pirate radio stations (Now licensed)
Kiss 100 London- XFM - Voice of Africa Radio - Sunrise Radio - KFM - Raidió Fáilte - Radio Avalon - UKC Radio - Sunshine 855 · Radio Jackie

UK pirate radio (unlicensed illegal broadcasting) was popular in the 1960s and experienced another surge of interest in the 1980s.[1] There are currently an estimated 150 pirate radio stations in the UK. A large proportion of these pirate radio stations operate in London, with significant clusters in Harlesden, Stoke Newington, Southwark and Lambeth.[2]

Contents

1960s

The MV Mi Amigo, c. 1974, which had been used as the home of Radio Caroline South from 1964-1967

"Pirate radio" in the UK first became widespread in the early 1960s when a number of pop music stations, such as Radio Caroline and Radio London started to broadcast on Medium Wave to the UK from offshore ships or disused sea forts. At the time these stations were not illegal because they were broadcasting from international waters. The stations were set up by entrepreneurs and music enthusiasts to meet the growing demand for pop and rock music, which was not catered for by the legal BBC Radio services.[3]

The first British pirate radio station was Radio Caroline which broadcast from a ship off the Essex coast since 1964. By 1968 21 pirate radio stations were broadcasting to an estimated daily audience of 10 to 15 million. The format of this wave of pirate radio was influenced by Radio Luxembourg and American radio stations. Many followed a top 40 format with casual DJs, making UK pirate radio the antithesis of BBC radio at the time.[4] Spurred on by the offshore stations, several landbased pirate stations took to the air on medium wave at weekends, such as Telstar 1 in 1965, and RFL in 1968.

According to Andrew Crisell UK pirate radio broke the BBC's virtual monopoly of radio to meet demand that had been neglected. In reaction to the popularity of pirate radio BBC radio was restructured in 1967, establishing BBC Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3 and Radio 4. A number of DJs of the newly created pop music service BBC Radio 1 came from pirate stations. The UK Government also closed the international waters loophole via the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act of 1967.[5][6]

1970s and 1980s

The 1967 Marine Broadcasting Offences Act officially outlawed pirate stations, but pirate radio continued, moving from ships and sea based platforms, to urban areas in the latter part of the 1960s (they were already illegal under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949).[7] During this period, home made medium wave/'am' transmitters [or sometimes short wave] were often constructed inside cheap expendable biscuit tins. With pre-recorded programming on cassette tapes, played on a portable cassette recorder, all powered by a car battery, with a long wire antenna slung up between two trees, this was the main method employed by most medium wave or short wave pirate station operators, during the 1960's & 70's - and on into the 1980's. Around this time, vhf/fm transmitters were starting to be built, by more adventurous builders. A surge in pirate radio occurred when cheap portable transmitters became available and by the mid 1980s a 50 watt radio transmitter could be obtained for around £200, or could be built for less. The operation of a pirate radio station required a good quality cassette recorder, a transmitter and a high roof, with tower blocks providing the ideal transmission site for pirate radio stations. A 40 watt transmitter broadcasting from the roof of a fifteen storey tower block could reach a forty mile radius. Radio shows were often pre-recorded at home, with the pirate radio station operators setting up temporary transmitters on the roof of tower blocks.[8]

The 1970s and 1980s saw a wave of landbased pirate radio, broadcasting mostly in big cities. These included community-focused local stations such as Sunshine Radio in Shropshire and Radio Jackie in south west London. In London pirate stations emerged that, for the first time in UK radio broadcasting, focused on particular music genres such as Kiss FM (dance), Solar Radio (soul) and Radio Floss (rock).[9]

In the 1980s the growth of pirate radio was so rapid that at one point pirate radio operators outnumbered legal broadcasters. Pirate radio met with increasing opposition, especially from the BBC which claimed that pirate radio caused interference on legal services and could interfere with frequencies used by emergency services. Nonetheless pirate stations such as Radio Invicta, JFM, and London Weekend Radio continued to gain popularity and increasingly operated openly.[10] Pirate radio targeted music communities ignored by mainstream broadcasting, such as reggae, hip hop, jazz, rhythm and blues. Stations like London Greek Radio, which broadcast to the Greek and Greek Cypriot community, also catered to ethnic minorities.[11]

1990s

By 1989 there were about six hundred pirate radio stations in the UK, with over 60 in London. In the 1990s a new wave of rave pirate radio stations emerged, such as Radio Sunrise, Radio Centre Force and Radio Fantasy. In the early 1990s pirate radio briefly declined in response to tougher penalties, an intensified crackdown by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the leading dance pirate radio station Kiss FM responding to the Government's offer of amnesty for pirate stations that closed down voluntarily and applied for an official licence. But Kiss FM failed to satisfy the rising rave audience and pirate radio resurged in 1992 and 1993. The new pirate radio stations abandoned the mainstream pop radio format and moved to a "raves on the air" format with strong emphasis on audience participation, enabled by the spread of mobile phones. Pirate radio stations would frequently lose transmitters worth several hundred pounds due to DTI raids, redirecting to backup transmitters on the roof of another building to maintain broadcast continuity. Pirate radio stations would gain revenue from advertising raves and specialist record shops, as well as DJs who paid a fee for playing.[12]

The Broadcasting Act 1990 led to the brief decline of UK pirate radio by encouraging diversity in radio and opening up the development of commercial radio. Many pirate radio stations such as the London based dance music station Kiss FM applied for licences to the new Radio Authority and went legitimate. However, the number of unlicensed broadcasts has since increased, partly because many non-licensed broadcasters believed that the 1990 Act had actually undermined community based stations and small scale radio entrepreneurs.[13] Of the pirate radio stations that gained a licence in the 1990s, such as Kiss FM, FTP in Bristol, WNK Radio in Haringey and KFM Radio in Stockport, only a few, such as Sunrise Radio in London, remained in the hands of the original owners. Most have become significantly more mainstream and target a broad audience as a result of commercial pressures to achieve greater audience numbers and a particular audience type sought by advertisers.[14]

Today

There are currently an estimated 150 pirate radio stations in the UK. A large proportion of these pirate radio stations operate in London, with significant clusters in Harlesden, Stoke Newington, Southwark and Lambeth.[15] Set-up costs for pirate radio stations are minimal with a transmitter costing around £350. Pirate radio stations may receive income from advertising and publicising events at nightclubs. DJs may pay to broadcast on pirate radio stations to gain public exposure.[16]

In November 2006 Ofcom commissioned research among residents of the London boroughs of Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth, finding that about 24 percent of all adults aged 14 or older living within the three London boroughs listen to pirate radio stations. The research found that 37 percent of students aged 14–24 and 41 percent of the African-Caribbean community listened to pirate radio. The development and promotion of grass-roots talent, the urban music scene and minority community groups were identified as key driver for pirate radio. According to the research both pirate radio listeners and those running pirate radio stations thought that licensed broadcasters failed to cater sufficiently for the needs of the public at large. Pirate radio was regarded as the best place to hear new music and particularly urban music. Furthermore pirate radio stations were appreciated for their local relevance by providing information and advertisement about local community events, businesses and club nights.[17]

Voice Of Africa Radio is a former pirate station serving London's African and Carribean communities, which has become licenced and is now a community radio station.

Legal situation

Today operators of non-licensed broadcasting face high fines and prison sentences.[18]

The Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 provides for Ofcom to issue licences to radio broadcasters for the use of stations and wireless telegraphy apparatus. The Act sets out a number of criminal offences relating to wireless telegraphy, including the establishment or use of a wireless telegraphy station or apparatus for the purpose of making a unlicensed broadcast. The financing or participating in the day to day running of unlicensed broadcasting is also a criminal offence, as is the supplying of a sound recording for an unlicensed station and advertising through unlicensed stations.[19] The Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 allows Ofcom to take a number of actions against individuals committing these offences, including power of entry and search and seizure of equipment. It is a criminal offence to obstruct a person exercising enforcement powers on Ofcom's behalf.[20] Furthermore the Broadcasting Act 1990 provides that anyone convicted of an unlawful broadcasting offence is disqualified from holding a broadcasting licence for five years.[21]

Licensed broadcasters may also take legal action against pirate radio stations. In 2000 the Commercial Radio Companies Association (CRCA) for the first time initiated legal action against a pirate station. The CRCA sued the weekend dance music pirate station Scene FM for £50,000 for causing interference to transmissions and a reduction in advertising revenues.[22]

Cultural influences

Advertisements

Black music

Pirate radio stations played a mayor role in blurring reggae and soul in the 1970s and 1980s. The pirate radio station London Weekend Radio (LWR) became the home of hip hop and Tim Westwood, who pioneered LWR, recruited members for the British chapter of the Zulu Nation though the pirate radio station. During that time, JFM, founded by former Radio Jackie DJ Brian Anthony, and Horizon FM broadcast soul and jazz-funk.[23]

The West London based DBC (Dread Broadcasting Corporation), founded by DJ Lepke, played reggae on Friday nights in a format based on sound systems style and using heavy dub echo and reverb in the links. DBC also broadcast soul music, gospel, jazz, funk, r&b, Afrikan (South African black music) and soca (upbeat calypso). DBC was unique among radio stations in the UK at the time, a black-run station broadcasting black music to a mixed audience. Miss P, who later dj the first reggae show on BBC Radio 1, commented: "There's never been a station run like DBC. Our format allows us to play music that would otherwise never be heard publicly. We create movement within the industry."[24]

Contemporary cultural references

The 2009 movie The Boat That Rocked is about UK pirate radio and loosely based on Radio Caroline.

References

  1. ^ Fleming, Carole; Wilby, Pete (2002), The radio handbook (2 ed.), Routledge, pp. 31, ISBN 0-415-15828-1, http://books.google.com/books?id=PYoVjocKbKIC&dq=%22pirate+radio%22+bbc&source=gbs_navlinks_s 
  2. ^ Illegal Broadcasting – Understanding the issues, Ofcom, 2007, pp. 5, http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/illegal_broadcasting/illegal_broadcasting.pdf 
  3. ^ Illegal Broadcasting – Understanding the issues, Ofcom, 2007, pp. 4, http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/illegal_broadcasting/illegal_broadcasting.pdf 
  4. ^ Fleming, Carole; Wilby, Pete (2002), The radio handbook (2 ed.), Routledge, pp. 32, ISBN 0-415-15828-1, http://books.google.com/books?id=PYoVjocKbKIC&dq=%22pirate+radio%22+bbc&source=gbs_navlinks_s 
  5. ^ Fleming, Carole; Wilby, Pete (2002), The radio handbook (2 ed.), Routledge, pp. 32, ISBN 0-415-15828-1, http://books.google.com/books?id=PYoVjocKbKIC&dq=%22pirate+radio%22+bbc&source=gbs_navlinks_s 
  6. ^ Illegal Broadcasting – Understanding the issues, Ofcom, 2007, pp. 4, http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/illegal_broadcasting/illegal_broadcasting.pdf 
  7. ^ Fleming, Carole; Wilby, Pete (2002), The radio handbook (2 ed.), Routledge, pp. 32, ISBN 0-415-15828-1, http://books.google.com/books?id=PYoVjocKbKIC&dq=%22pirate+radio%22+bbc&source=gbs_navlinks_s 
  8. ^ Hebdige, Dick (1987), Cut’n’mix: culture, identity, and Caribbean music, Taylor and Francis, pp. 154, ISBN 0906890993, 9780906890998, http://books.google.com/books?id=bqcOAAAAQAAJ&dq=%22pirate+radio%22+bbc&as_brr=3&source=gbs_navlinks_s 
  9. ^ Illegal Broadcasting – Understanding the issues, Ofcom, 2007, pp. 4, http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/illegal_broadcasting/illegal_broadcasting.pdf 
  10. ^ Fleming, Carole; Wilby, Pete (2002), The radio handbook (2 ed.), Routledge, pp. 32, ISBN 0-415-15828-1, http://books.google.com/books?id=PYoVjocKbKIC&dq=%22pirate+radio%22+bbc&source=gbs_navlinks_s 
  11. ^ Fleming, Carole; Wilby, Pete (2002), The radio handbook (2 ed.), Routledge, pp. 33, ISBN 0-415-15828-1, http://books.google.com/books?id=PYoVjocKbKIC&dq=%22pirate+radio%22+bbc&source=gbs_navlinks_s 
  12. ^ Reynolds, Simon (1999), Generation ecstasy: into the world of techno and rave culture, Routledge, pp. 265, ISBN 0415923735, 9780415923736, http://books.google.com/books?id=tGaRJiXe74UC&dq=%22pirate+radio%22+rave&as_brr=3&source=gbs_navlinks_s 
  13. ^ Fleming, Carole; Wilby, Pete (2002), The radio handbook (2 ed.), Routledge, pp. 33, ISBN 0-415-15828-1, http://books.google.com/books?id=PYoVjocKbKIC&dq=%22pirate+radio%22+bbc&source=gbs_navlinks_s 
  14. ^ Illegal Broadcasting – Understanding the issues, Ofcom, 2007, pp. 4–5, http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/illegal_broadcasting/illegal_broadcasting.pdf 
  15. ^ Illegal Broadcasting – Understanding the issues, Ofcom, 2007, pp. 5, http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/illegal_broadcasting/illegal_broadcasting.pdf 
  16. ^ Illegal Broadcasting – Understanding the issues, Ofcom, 2007, pp. 5, http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/illegal_broadcasting/illegal_broadcasting.pdf 
  17. ^ Illegal Broadcasting – Understanding the issues, Ofcom, 2007, pp. 12–13, http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/illegal_broadcasting/illegal_broadcasting.pdf 
  18. ^ Fleming, Carole; Wilby, Pete (2002), The radio handbook (2 ed.), Routledge, pp. 33, ISBN 0-415-15828-1, http://books.google.com/books?id=PYoVjocKbKIC&dq=%22pirate+radio%22+bbc&source=gbs_navlinks_s 
  19. ^ Illegal Broadcasting – Understanding the issues, Ofcom, 2007, pp. 3, http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/illegal_broadcasting/illegal_broadcasting.pdf 
  20. ^ Illegal Broadcasting – Understanding the issues, Ofcom, 2007, pp. 4, http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/illegal_broadcasting/illegal_broadcasting.pdf 
  21. ^ Illegal Broadcasting – Understanding the issues, Ofcom, 2007, pp. 4, http://www.ofcom.org.uk/research/radio/reports/illegal_broadcasting/illegal_broadcasting.pdf 
  22. ^ Fleming, Carole; Wilby, Pete (2002), The radio handbook (2 ed.), Routledge, pp. 33, ISBN 0-415-15828-1, http://books.google.com/books?id=PYoVjocKbKIC&dq=%22pirate+radio%22+bbc&source=gbs_navlinks_s 
  23. ^ Hebdige, Dick (1987), Cut’n’mix: culture, identity, and Caribbean music, Taylor and Francis, pp. 154–155, ISBN 0906890993, 9780906890998, http://books.google.com/books?id=bqcOAAAAQAAJ&dq=%22pirate+radio%22+bbc&as_brr=3&source=gbs_navlinks_s 
  24. ^ Hebdige, Dick (1987), Cut’n’mix: culture, identity, and Caribbean music, Taylor and Francis, pp. 155–156, ISBN 0906890993, 9780906890998, http://books.google.com/books?id=bqcOAAAAQAAJ&dq=%22pirate+radio%22+bbc&as_brr=3&source=gbs_navlinks_s 

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