The influence of pirate radio has endured despite government crackdowns and the rise of legitimate alternatives – today, it continues to thrive, both legally and otherwise
Drive around some parts of London today and you’re still liable to hear mainstream radio broadcasts drowned out by fleeting bursts of unfamiliar music. Pirate radio stations have been illegally hijacking the FM dial since the 1990s, but while the pirate scene is far smaller than it was in its heyday, the movement is still thriving on a local scale, while a vibrant array of online-only stations are inspired by the energy and spirit of the pirates. To put it simply, pirate radio never left London.
The UK’s pirate radio story starts with Ronan O’Rahilly’s Radio Caroline back in the 1960s, famously avoiding the authorities by broadcasting from international waters, but it was really the 1990s that paved the way for pirate radio in this country. Its evolution loosely follows that of the underground rave scene, which mainstream radio wouldn’t touch in its early days. “It’s the closest thing to mass organised zombie-dom,” BBC Radio 1 DJ Peter Powell said of acid house. “I really don’t think it should go any further.” Needless to say, it wasn’t going anywhere, and between 1988 and 89, pirate radio stations rapidly started to appear to serve a youth hungry for new sounds that weren’t being catered to by mainstream radio. By 1989, there were over 60 pirate radio stations operating in London alone.
While the first pirates – from Sunrise to Centreforce to Fantasy – mostly played music from America and European countries like Belgium, it didn’t take long for the British youth to start doing their own thing. “The UK kids realised people were making music in their bedrooms and they thought ‘I can fucking do that!’” exclaims Uncle Dugs, one of the UK’s leading authorities on pirate radio. Having been involved in radio (both legal and otherwise) for over 20 years, Dugs’ new book Rave Diaries and Tower Block Tales documents life as a young raver turned award-winning DJ after years on the pirate scene. As he explains, by 1991, London’s underground music landscape had become “99% UK producers and DJs,” transforming from acid house to hardcore and then to jungle. As London’s underground grew, so did its pirate presence, with legendary stations like Weekend Rush, Kool FM, Pulse FM, Innocence, and Defection springing up by the end of 1991. “You could flick through the radio and at every .2 on the dial there was a pirate station,” Dugs laughs. “There wasn’t even space on the radio for a new one.”[…]
Many thanks to Chris Smolinski who has, once again, crunched the numbers to give us a look at HF pirate radio activity in 2016.
[…]To gauge shortwave pirate radio activity in 2016, I analyzed the Shortwave Pirate loggings forum of the HF Underground (http://www.hfunderground.com). A computer script parsed the message thread titles, as well as the timestamps of the messages. This information was used to produce some statistics about the level of pirate radio activity. Of course, as Mark Twain has written: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Still, let’s see what we can learn.
There were 13,860 messages posted to 2,398 unique threads, compared to 13,944 messages posted to 2,183 unique threads in 2015. Activity levels are essentially flat, but still at historically high levels. Back in the 1990s, it was not uncommon for an entire month to go by with only a handful of pirate stations logged. If you want to know when the “golden age” of shortwave pirate radio was, I would say it is right now.[…]
As you can tell from Chris table at the top of this page, January is a very active month for HF pirates. If you’ve never chased pirate radio stations, check out our pirate radio primer. Pirate radio DXing is incredibly fun!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Andy Yoder, who shares the following:
I’m just writing with a reminder about the Global HF Pirate weekend is just starting. This is the revival of an idea from a few years ago: Stations broadcast on high frequencies in an effort to be heard across long distances and in different continents. I’ve heard from a few stations, received a schedule from one, and have heard from a few listeners in countries without many stations. So, I have hope that we’ll all have a good time by the shortwave radios over the next 48 hours or so.
November 5-6, 2016
General frequency ranges:
- 15010-15100 kHz
- 21455-21550 kHz
- European morning, 0800-1200 UTC from Europe to Asia/Japan/Oceania.
- European afternoon, 1200-1600 UTC from Europe to North American and vice versa.
- European night, 2200-2400 UTC from North America to Asia/Oceania.
Of course, these are general frequency ranges where pirates have broadcast during prior Global HF Pirate weekends. Some stations will surely operate on frequencies and times outside of these ranges. These will be updated on HF Underground and on the Hobby Broadcasting blog (http://hobbybroadcasting.blogspot.com/) as schedules are received from stations.
I had hoped this Halloween weekend would bring out a lot of shortwave pirates and it surely did! At one point Monday evening, I noted no less than five pirate radio stations broadcasting simultaneously between 6910 – 7000 kHz. You can see the four SSB and one AM signal in the spectrum display above.
Chris Smolinski, once again, has posted a Summary of Halloween 2016 Shortwave Pirate Radio Activity in North America where he lists all of the pirates logged on the HF Underground for the full weekend. Check out the post on RadioHobbyist.org.
I was busy with family activities much of the weekend, but fortunately captured a lot of pirate spectrum to review and listen to later!
1. Hobby Broadcasting Blog
Check out Andrew Yoder’s pirate radio blog ,the Hobby Broadcasting blog.
Andrew is the author of the Pirate Radio Annual and a guru on shortwave pirate radio. Andrew has already logged some Halloween stations, as Halloween began last night in Universal Time.
2. HF Underground
Follow real-time pirate radio spots and loggings on the HF Underground discussion forum.
Listen for pirate radio stations today and throughout the weekend! Turn on your radio anytime today, but especially around twilight and tune between 6,920 – 6,980 kHz. Pirates broadcast on both AM and SSB; you’re bound to hear a few. If you’re brand new to pirate radio listening, you might read my pirate radio primer by clicking here. I will be listening until late in the evening.
Happy Halloween to all!
Speaking of pirates, don’t forget: the Global HF Pirate Radio Weekend is this weekend!