Category Archives: Pirate Radio

Radio Waves: Radio Garden, BBC Budget, Legacy of Ronan O’Rahilly, and ARISS to Begin Experimental Demonstrations

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers.  To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’s Radio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Dennis Dura, Mike Terry and the International Radio Report for the following tips:


A trip around the world through local radio stations (The Guardian)

Streaming means we can tune into breakfast shows, travel bulletins and local gossip on every continent – and revel in radio’s ability to create a sense of community

I’d missed the joke about the three-legged chicken. It was causing a stir.

“That one about the chicken with three legs you told yesterday,” said a presenter on Ireland’s Midwest Radio’s afternoon show, “apparently Ronald Reagan told it first.”

“Did he, now?” the co-host replied.

“Yes. You stole a joke from Ronald Reagan.”

Jeez, I’m going as red as a tomato here.”

The conjunction of tripedal fowl, the 40th president of the United States and two men in a studio in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo, will never make a list of great radio moments but it was enough to coax me from between my four walls, even if it was via the imagination.

Radio has never been more popular: it’s seen off challenges, from television to the internet, to become stronger than ever. In 2017, according to industry ratings body Rajar, nine out of 10 people in the UK listened to the radio every week. Perhaps it succeeds because we have to conjure up our own pictures of events and places beyond our immediate surroundings. As a bored, lonely boy growing up in an anonymous south-east London suburb, I’d spend most evenings in my bedroom jamming a coathanger into the back of an old radio and scanning the airwaves, awestruck by the range of languages and music bursting out of the night through skirling static; each voice sending tantalising reassurance of a world beyond the dispiriting confines of my own.[]

Coronavirus: BBC ‘needs to make £125m savings this year’ (BBC News)

The BBC has said it will have to “think hard about every pound” it spends on new programmes because of financial pressures during the current lockdown.

Delays to a new licence fee regime for people over 75 and problems collecting fees are among the challenges cited.

Staff have been told the BBC will have to find £125m savings this year.

Senior leaders will take a pay freeze until August 2021 and all non-essential recruitment will be put on hold as part of the cost-cutting measures.

Staff will also be invited to work part time or take unpaid leave if they find it “helpful” during the lockdown.

In a briefing on Wednesday, director general Tony Hall said other reasons behind the cash shortfall were a delay to a plan to cut 450 jobs, and uncertainty around commercial revenues.

Other broadcasters have been badly hit during the crisis, with ITV last month cutting its programme budget by £100m and Channel 4 cutting £150m from its programming.

On Wednesday, Channel 4’s director of programmes Ian Katz said the broadcaster would have to cut back on drama and produce “lower tariff” shows.[]

The Irish Legacy of Ronan O’Rahilly and Radio Caroline (The Irish Broadcasting Hall of Fame)

With the passing of Ronan O’Rahilly in April 2020, a colossus of radio broadcasting has left a legacy that will stand the test of time and has made a massive impression on radio broadcasting in Ireland. While his beloved Radio Caroline was a familiar sight off the South East of England, its influence on both radio and music in 1960’s Britain cannot be underestimated. It forced the British Government to enact new legislation outlawing the almost a dozen pirate radio ships that blasted pop music into Britain and it forced the BBC to reorganise and compete with the opening of a dedicated pop channel in 1967, BBC Radio One. In the month when Ronan passed onto the afterlife, both BBC Radio One and Radio Caroline still broadcast today. But while Caroline’s history focusses mainly on its influence on Britain, Ireland has played a key role in that colourful history and this is that story.

At the helm of Radio Caroline was Ronan O’Rahilly. He was born in Clondalkin, Dublin in 1940, his father Aodogan was a well-known and wealthy businessman, regarded as an influential ally of Eamon DeValera, while his grandfather Michael O’Rahilly was better known as The O’Rahilly, sacrificed his life during the 1916 Easter Rising having been shot dead while leading a charge on a British position at the end of Moore Street.[]

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, ARISS to Begin Experimental Demonstrations of School Contacts using a Multipoint Telebridge Amateur Radio Approach (ARISS)

ARISS News Release                                                                             No. 20-03          
April 28, 2020 —Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) is pleased to announce the first use of a concept called Multipoint Telebridge Contact via Amateur Radio, allowing school contacts for Stay-At-Home students and simultaneous reception by families, school faculty and the public.

During the last several weeks, efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus have resulted in massive school closures worldwide. In addition, the Stay-At-Home policies invoked by authorities, initially shut down opportunities for ARISS school contacts for the near future.

To circumvent these challenges and keep students and the public safe, ARISS is introducing the Multipoint Telebridge Contact via Amateur Radio concept. First operation of this experimental system will occur during a contact scheduled with a group of Northern Virginia Students located in Woodbridge, VA on Thursday, April 30 at 13:35 UTC (9:35 EDT). During this event, an ARISS telebridge radio ground station will link to the astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS) ham radio station and each Stay-At-Home student and their teacher will be individually linked to the telebridge station. Under the teacher’s direction, each student, from their home, takes a turn asking their question of the astronaut.

Quoting ARISS Chair Frank Bauer, “This approach is a huge pivot for ARISS, but we feel it is a great strategic move for ARISS. In these times of isolation due to the virus, these ARISS connections provide a fantastic psychological boost to students, families, educators and the public. And they continue our long-standing efforts to inspire, engage and educate student in STEAM subjects and encourage them to pursue STEAM careers.”

ARISS is inviting the public to view a live stream of the upcoming contact at its new ARISS YouTube Channel: https://youtu.be/Cu8I9ose4Vo.

During the contact, participants will ask as many of the following questions as time allows:
1. What does the sun look like from outer space?
2. How comfortable is it to sleep in space?
3. What is one thing you want to eat when you get back to earth?
4. I’ve heard that stars are red, yellow and blue. Can you see those colors in space when you look at the stars?
5. Besides your family, what do you miss most while being in space?
6. What are your thoughts on our Covid-19 situation right now? Does the Earth look differently over the last 3 months now that many people are inside and not creating pollution?
7. How often do you get to go out of the ISS? Have you been on any space walks?
8. Who makes the rocket that takes you to the ISS?
9. What does it feel like to float all the time?
10. Do you use flashlights on space walks?
11. How do you exercise in space?
12. How do you get out for space walks safely without the air from the ISS coming out into space? How does it feel to walk in space?
13. What do you wear in the space station?
14. How did it feel when you first got to space?
15. How is space different from Earth?
16. What do you study in school to become an astronaut?
17. What do you like the most about being in space?
18. Were you nervous when you launched into space?
19. How do you communicate with loved ones while you are in space?


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Radio Caroline’s Founder, Ronan O’Rahilly, dies aged 79

Photo of Ronan O’Rahilly 16 August 1967 by Eric Koch / Anefo

(Source: BBC News)

The founder of Radio Caroline – the first pirate radio station off the UK – Ronan O’Rahilly has died aged 79.

His death was announced by the current Radio Caroline, which still exists off the Essex coast.

The station was founded in 1964 to compete with the BBC and launched the careers of many well-known DJs, achieving enormous popularity.

Mr O’Rahilly, who lived in Ireland, had been diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2013.

Radio Caroline was the first of several pirate radio stations that challenged BBC radio’s dominance in the 1960s.

The station played pop music all day, while the BBC only played pop for an hour a week.

[…]After the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act was passed in 1967, Radio Caroline continued to broadcast from ships until 1991, when the Ross Revenge was shipwrecked off the Kent coast

The station, which started broadcasting again on medium wave in 2017, helped pave the way for modern commercial radio.[…]

Click here to read the full story at the BBC.

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Check out this amazing QSL and off-air audio from shortwave pirate “The Purple Nucleus of Creation”


This morning, I uploaded a recording of 2001 shortwave pirate The Purple Nucleus of Creation to the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive (SRAA). The recording was submitted by Adam C. Smith, a regular over at the SRAA.

Adam’s six minute off-air recording was made on October 27, 2001 at  0009UTC on 6,928 kHz USB with Adam’s Grundig 800 and 100’ wire antenna. Check out the audio embedded below or via the SRAA.

But first? Check out this extraordinary QSL card:

This QSL is more intricate than a wedding invitation! I love it! Thanks for sharing, Adam!

Here’s Adam’s off-air recording:

Adam also included other correspondence from The Purple Nucleus of Creation:

Again, thanks so much, Adam, for submitting this recording and memorabilia with everyone via the SRAA. Now your recording will (literally) be shared with our thousands of podcast subscribers and also streamed to devices across the globe via TuneIn. It’ll also be permanently preserved on the SRAA website and the Internet Archive.

Note that you can subscribe to the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive as a podcast via iTunes or by using the following RSS feed: http://shortwavearchive.com/archive?format=rss You can also listen via TuneIn.

Of course, one of the best ways to listen to recordings and read all of the recording notes is by visiting the SRAA website.

Post readers: Did you log The Purple Nucleus of Creation back in the day?  Who sent you your favorite pirate radio QSL card? Please comment!

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Radio Waves: Quantum Sensors, Sinking Mi Amigo, Submarine Radio Network, and Video Games Over The Air

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers.  To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’sRadio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Kim Elliott and Dennis Dura for the following tips:


Scientists create quantum sensor that covers entire radio frequency spectrum (Phys.org)

A quantum sensor could give Soldiers a way to detect communication signals over the entire radio frequency spectrum, from 0 to 100 GHz, said researchers from the Army.

Such wide spectral coverage by a single antenna is impossible with a traditional receiver system, and would require multiple systems of individual antennas, amplifiers and other components.

In 2018, Army scientists were the first in the world to create a quantum receiver that uses highly excited, super-sensitive atoms—known as Rydberg atoms—to detect communications signals, said David Meyer, a scientist at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory. The researchers calculated the receiver’s channel capacity, or rate of data transmission, based on fundamental principles, and then achieved that performance experimentally in their lab—improving on other groups’ results by orders of magnitude, Meyer said.

“These new sensors can be very small and virtually undetectable, giving Soldiers a disruptive advantage,” Meyer said. “Rydberg-atom based sensors have only recently been considered for general electric field sensing applications, including as a communications receiver. While Rydberg atoms are known to be broadly sensitive, a quantitative description of the sensitivity over the entire operational range has never been done.”[]

Forty years ago today Sheerness lifeboat crew rescued Radio Caroline DJs from the sinking Mi Amigo (Kent Online)

It was the original ‘ship that rocked.’ But 40 years ago today (Thursday)the Mi Amigo, home to original pop pirates Radio Caroline, finally disappeared beneath the waves in a violent force 10 storm.

In a daring rescue which lasted 12 hours in appalling weather, the crew of the Sheerness lifeboat saved the lives of everyone onboard – including the ship’s canary.

Leading the operation was colourful RNLI coxswain Charlie Bowry, who was later presented with the Institute’s coveted silver medal.

It was during the day that the radio station’s 60-year-old ship started dragging its anchor and drifted 10 nautical miles onto the Long Sand sandbank off Southend.

As the tide rose, the ship started to float free. But the bottom of the boat began being buffeted on the seabed with such a force the steel plates sprung a leak and water gushed into the engine room.

When the bilge pumps couldn’t cope, the three British DJs and a Dutch engineer called the Coastguard who dispatched Sheerness lifeboat the Helen Turnbull.[]

The Radio Network that Allowed Communication with Submarines (Interesting Engineering)

Communicating with covert fleets during WWII required some special equipment.

What do you do when you need to communicate with a crew of 50 sailors submerged in a submarine in an undisclosed location across the world’s oceans? That was a difficult question to answer for Navy leaders in WWII.

Radio waves don’t easily travel through saltwater, which meant that getting active communication with a submarine crew meant making the submarine surface an antenna. This was the obvious solution, but it made a previously covert submarine now a visible target.

[…]Engineers tasked with finding a more covert solution soon discovered that radio waves with low frequencies, around 10 kHz, could penetrate saltwater to depths up to around 20 meters. They realized that if the transponders on submarines were switched to these frequency ranges, then they communicate with leadership on land.

The problem with this idea was that creating and broadcasting these low-frequency radio waves required massive antennas. Essentially, the lower the frequency of a radio wave, the longer and larger the antenna is required to be.[]

You Could Download Video Games From the Radio in the 1980s (Interesting Engineering)

Certain radio programs broadcast the raw data to video games for viewers to download.

[…]In 1977, the world’s first microprocessor-driven PCs were released. These were the Apple II, the Commodore PET, and the TRS-80. All these machines had one thing in common – they used audio cassettes for storage.

Hard drives at the time were still quite expensive, and everyone at the time had access to cheap audio cassettes. Early computer designers actually flaunted cassette storage as it aided in the early adoption of personal computers. As PCs became more common, so to did the emergence of their use as video game machines.

As the 1980s rolled around, engineers at the Nederlandse Omroep Stichting, NOS, a Dutch broadcasting organization, realized something incredible. Since computer programs and video games were stored on audio cassettes, it meant that their data could be transmitted with ease over the radio. They started taking programs and video games and setting up broadcasts where people could “download” games onto their own personal computers.

The audio that was transmitted would’ve sounded reminiscent of a dial-up modem booting up.

[…]NOS started a radio program specifically for transmitting gaming data called “Hobbyscoop,” and it became incredibly popular. The company even created a standard cassette format called BASICODE to ensure computer compatibility.

Eventually, transmitting games through computers became so popular that radio shows popped up all around the world. A Yugoslovik station called “Ventilator 202” broadcasted 150 programs between 1983 and 1986. As the practice evolved, it became less of a novelty and rather a practical way for people to share calculation programs, educational tools, encyclopedias, and even flight simulators.[]


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John’s “illicit friend from the good old days”

At the 1-watt setting (13.8V, 470mA DC in) The labels are Photoshopped here for illustration, ie they’re not on the actual case (Source: AE5X)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, John (AE5X), who recently shared a link to the following story on his excellent radio blog:

[…]It was the late 1990’s in Montclair NJ. A friend played guitar in a local band and wanted to get some air time for a few of their original songs. He knew his chances of getting his tunes played on a commercial FM station hovered somewhere between zero and none. And – this is key – he’d seen Pump Up The Volume and knew that I knew a “bit about radios”.

My friend – I’ll call him “Don” since that was (and still is) his name – wondered if there was some way he could be outfitted with a radio similar to that in Pump Up The Volume, and, if so, what would his range be. I told him that a lot depends on the antenna’s location.

Funny thing about Don: besides being in a rock & roll band, he was also a caretaker for a Montclair church. A church with a very tall belltower. A belltower that he had access to. Do you see where this is going? Furthermore, Don and his wife lived on church property as part of his caretaker responsibilities.[…]

Click here to read the full story at AE5X’s blog.

What a divine alignment, John! 🙂 Fantastic story and, I’m sure, one that resonates with many here in the SWLing Post community.  Perhaps readers will comment with details  about their own “illicit” friends and radio escapades!

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FCC hope to hire Pirate Radio hunters

Photo by Ben Koorengevel

(Source: Inside Radio)

Broadcasters would likely call it money well-spent, but it’s still cash coming from the federal government’s hands. The Federal Communications Commission estimates it will cost the agency at least $11 million to enforce the newly-adopted law that requires it to step up pirate radio enforcement. “Specifically, in order to combat the problem of illegal radio operations, the statute requires a sweeping process that will require new equipment and a substantial number of additional field agents to implement fully,” FCC Chair Ajit Pai told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee during a hearing on Tuesday. Pai said he hoped congressional budget writers would determine a “reasonable funding level” for the FCC that reflects that added cost, suggesting the agency’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year should be raised to $354 million.

Signed into law by President Trump last month, the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act, or “PIRATE” Act (S.1228) was unanimously approved by both the Senate and House. The new law raises fines on unlicensed station operators to $100,000 per day per violation, up to a maximum of $2 million. In addition to tougher fines on violators, the FCC would also be required to conduct sweeps in the five cities where pirate radio is the biggest problem—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas—at least once a year. And then, within six months, field agents would be mandated to return to those markets to conduct “monitoring sweeps” to determine whether the unlicensed operators simply powered back up or changed frequencies. The agency would also be required to issue a report to Congress on an annual basis about its pirate-fighting efforts.

Pai told the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee that the FCC is already gearing up for implementing the new law. “We are submitting a formal amendment to the Office of Management and Budget concerning costs associated with the full implementation of the PIRATE Act,” said Pai.[…]

Continue reading the full article at Inside Radio.

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PIRATE Act signed into law by President

Photo by David Everett Strickler on Unsplash

(Source: The White House)

On Friday, January 24, 2020, the President signed into law:

H.R. 583, the “Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act” or the “PIRATE Act,” which authorizes enhanced penalties for pirate radio broadcasters and requires the Federal Communications Commission to increase enforcement activities; and

H.R. 2476, the “Securing American Nonprofit Organizations Against Terrorism Act of 2019,” which authorizes within the Department of Homeland Security a Nonprofit Security Grant Program to make grants to eligible nonprofit organizations for target hardening and other security enhancements to protect against terrorist attacks.

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