history of UK pirate radio


The dawn of rock culture and the formation of its canons fell on the 60s and marked the beginning of the British invasion of America and the world as a whole. But what about in Britain itself? And there rises the gloomy bulk of the Air Force, which has a monopoly on all radio broadcasting and, as befits such mastodons, extremely conservative views and a monstrous bureaucracy. For example, as early as 1966, lines from the Rolling Stones’ song “(I can’t get On) Satisfaction” were cut from the Ed Sullivan Show. Another example is the BBC’s ban on the broadcast of the song “Lucl In the Sky with Diamonds”, which allegedly promotes an unhealthy love of drugs.

As for the bureaucracy, in order to obtain permission for broadcasting, one had only to submit an application, and this “just something” was accompanied by paperwork and running around the offices for signatures. Plus, it was necessary to buy a radio transmitter, of course certified and infinitely expensive. Naturally, in the country of stiffness, headed by the importance of prestige, strict censorship reigned, extending to everything inappropriate for the national idea of ​​aristocracy and intelligence of royal subjects, what kind of “Sex, drugs, rock and roll” is there.

As you can see, there are more than enough prerequisites for organizing an underground radio in the country, especially for rock and roll rebels, and it somehow existed, but it was very limited. So underground radio stations often did not have good transmitters due to their high cost. Therefore, the coverage left much to be desired, and the quality of the recordings too. Everything changed when lovers of good music found a way to broadcast from neutral waters, which not only expanded the boundaries of what was permitted, but also revolutionized broadcasting along the way.

But it all started with a small duchy in Western Europe called the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. In this small country since 1933, on an independent basis, there was a radio “Luxembourg”. Feeling the prospects of a new market, it focused on the youth and broadcast mainly rock. In Britain, it could be caught on the frequency 208, which eventually became legendary, largely due to British censorship. Do you understand? After all, there is nothing more attractive to a teenager than breaking the law, and the 208th very quickly gained wild popularity.

So, there is a demand for pop music in Britain, there is also a supply, but in a small volume, yet Luxembourg is not close. So, it’s time for competition. She became radio stations on ships in neutral waters. I will write in detail about pirate stations in separate articles, but here I will outline the main turns in the development of this direction.

The first step was taken in 1960 by a Dutch radio station with the romantic name “Veronica”. The radio was located in Dutch territorial waters, inside there was a separate unit responsible for British broadcasting. However, due to communication problems, Holland is still far from England, so the last radio was not very popular, and in Holland he was doing very well and the British department was reduced in order to free up power and time for advertising.

Now imagine what an explosion occurred in the minds of a rebellious musical party. The radio can broadcast rock, and indeed whatever it wants, from the ship, illegally and at the same time formally without violating anything. Revolution! Riot! Sea! That’s where the rock and roll spirit was to unfold. It is surprising that the born Moremans, the British, did not immediately think of this.

Meanwhile, it is already 1962, a year ago the Pilkington Committee began to work in Britain, its essence was to study the problems and the future of radio broadcasting in the country. By the end of the year, he concluded that foggy Albion did not need commercial radio. I am not a fan of conspiracy theories, but it seems to me that they brought it from the Air Force, so to speak. Because if the committee had come to the conclusion that private radio stations were needed, the BBC would have competition, which is a waste of resources and time. It’s easier to let it go and continue to sit, do your usual business and play croquet with ministers after afternoon tea. By the way, since there is no sensible competition for a state-owned enterprise, then there is no need to make separate legislation to regulate the sphere, which later played a role.

In 1963, two related things happen. Firstly, the son of an Irish rich man and businessman, Ronan O’Reilly, who by that time was the manager of the still little-known groups The Animals and The Rolling Stones, as well as the manager of the Scene club in Soho, having collaborated with a DJ Christopher Moore, began looking for investments for their own commercial, pirated radio. And they find – this is how the legend of pirate radio broadcasting begins to emerge – radio “Caroline”. Second, producer Allan Crawford began raising money for rival radio station Atlanta.

Unfortunately, Atlanta was not destined to spread the sail, there was not enough money, and Allan had to cooperate with Caroline radio, doubling its power.

The Caroline was the flagship of the pirate radio fleet until Radio London came along. Despite the name, the station was American, based on the decommissioned minesweeper of the US Navy “Galaxy”, and the founder of the Texan businessman. She stood three miles from the border of the territorial waters of Great Britain. And she focused on the top 40 music format, which included the most popular hits, which began to win over the audience. There were also smaller projects, like Essex radio or Radio City.

The main problem of the government in terms of the destruction of piracy was the huge audience of these radio stations. For example, Caroline and London radios alone reached audiences of 15 and 20 million, respectively. And no one wanted to lose the votes of the proletariat before the elections. And here is an interesting political logic. Instead of giving the green light to commercial radio stations, which, simply because of their competitive advantages, would kill piracy, they stubbornly continued to fight them, waste their energy and, apparently, “saw” money.

Look at this gun

By 1967, the government still found leverage against the pirates and developed legislation to ban radio broadcasts from ships and, suddenly, aircraft. A prerequisite for this was a pirate showdown. Radio City owner Regenalt Calvert and Ronan O’Reilly’s aide Major Oliver Smedley had an argument over an unexplained cause. There were rumors that “Radio City” and “Caroline” did not share the zone of influence. It all ended, as expected, with a shootout in which Smedley shot Calvert. The government quickly caught on and began propaganda against the pirates in every possible way, making them gangsters and a threat to society. At the same time, the BBC began to open radio stations focused on youth music. And they were helped in this by the former pirates themselves, who had to work somewhere. By the mid-70s, almost all stations were forced to close. Almost, because the light of freedom was still flickering in the endless sea – it was Caroline radio.

Pirates literally created today’s radio and an indispensable piece of good music. It was they who came up with musical tops and began to practice live communication with listeners. By the way, thanks to them we have the pleasure of going to the annual festivals organized by radio stations. Before the pirates, broadcasters did not seek to communicate with the public live. And radio pirates could afford to arrange a party with an invitation to listeners, for example, on Caroline radio. Rock pirates have defeated their main enemy – conservatism. But the history of pirate radio did not end there. More on that next time.

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