As the workday winds down across New York, you can tune in to a clandestine world of unlicensed radio stations; a cacophonous sonic wonder of the city. As listeners begin to arrive home, dozens of secret transmitters switch on from rooftops in immigrant enclaves. These stations are often called ‘pirates’ for their practice of commandeering an already licensed frequency.
These rogue stations evade detection and take to the air, blanketing their neighbourhoods with the sounds of ancestral lands blending into a new home. They broadcast music and messages to diverse communities – whether from Latin America or the Caribbean, to born-again Christians and Orthodox Jews.
Reporter David Goren has long followed these stations from his Brooklyn home. He paints an audio portrait of their world, drawn from the culture of the street. Vivid soundscapes emerge from tangled clouds of invisible signals, nurturing immigrant communities struggling for a foothold in the big city.
With thanks to KCRW and the Lost Notes Podcast episode Outlaws of the Airwaves: The Rise of Pirate Radio Station WBAD.
Tuning In, a history of early radio in Britain, will be broadcast November 3rd on BBC Radio 4. If you don’t live in the UK, you can listen live on the Radio 4 website where they will also post an archive of the show. (Note that some archived shows are only available for a limited time.)
The press fulminated, the enthusiasts were frustrated, and the radio manufacturers fumed. Despite the fact that Marconi had invented radio before Queen Victoria had celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, radio in Britain took another 25 years to begin an official service to listeners. But when, on November 14th 1922 the British Broadcasting Company’s station at Marconi House radiated to an awaiting nation “This is 2LO calling” for the first time under the company’s name, it marked the start of the first and most distinguished public-service radio station in the world.
As part of the celebrations to mark nine decades of the BBC, historian Dominic Sandbrook explores the long and involved pre-BBC history of radio in Britain, how Britain’s broadcaster got going and developed into an institution dedicated to entertainment, education and information, discovers why Australian diva Dame Nellie Melba was involved, and how the improbably-named Captain Plugge made his first British commercial broadcast from the roof of Selfridges department store in London. From Marconi to Savoy Hill via an old army hut in Essex, the story of the early radio in Britain.
I just discovered (via PRI’s The World Technology Podcast) a 2010 radio documentary about lifelong radio designer and repairman, Gerry Wells.
If you haven’t heard it before, I suggest you drop what you’re doing and give it a listen below. This is the most charming radio doc I’ve ever heard out of the BBC World Service.
For archival purposes, I have a full copy of the radio doc available for download by clicking here.
Again, a special thanks to Clark Boyd with PRI’s The World for bringing this to my attention.
Spread the radio love
Please support the SWLing Post by adding us to your whitelist in your ad blocker. Our advertisers are by invite only and are only radio related--no junk ads here! Ads are what helps us bring you premium SWLing content! Thank you so much!