Underground organizations have often shaken the core of their established counterparts. From political revolution to social movements, these unofficial, sometimes illegal groups have forced change upon the establishment. Others have had less permanent achievements, but made a mark on mainstream society nonetheless. Beginning in the United States in the 1920s and in Europe by the late 1950s, pirate radio accomplished both of these things. While changes in technology and government crackdown have greatly reduced underground broadcasting today, pirate stations have made a lasting impact on societies both in Europe and the United States. From challenges for freedom of speech to freedom from a repressive society, pirate radio provided an outlet for many to broadcast, or listen to, alternative stations free of government control.
Pirate radio has survived over the years with large fluctuations in its audiences and broadcasting abilities alike. In order to further understand the wide range of impact made by underground radio and the motivation of its broadcasters, we can examine pirate stations in both the United States and the United Kingdom. While each have a rich history of unlicensed broadcasting, they share almost nothing in common except for the illegal nature of their work and the struggles against government agencies. In the United Sates, pirate radio started for commercial purposes, whereas pirate radio in the United Kingdom operated as a part of the battle for social change. Yet both have produced legacies that will live on in broadcasting history for listeners and broadcasters alike.
What is pirate radio?
Pirate radio is any radio station that is broadcast over the airwaves without a license of any sort. Pirate radio can be divided in to many categories and subcategories, but perhaps the most important is the distinction between pirate and clandestine stations. Pirate, or free, radio stations, “broadcast information and music because the operators want to be radio personalities or because they feel an alternative to commercial radio needs to be presented” (Yoder 2). Clandestine stations are much more rare, and are often politically motivated. Clandestine stations are “usually operated by an opposing government or as the voice of a revolutionary group,” and are generally aimed at overthrowing, in their opinion, unsatisfactory governmental institutions (Yoder 3). While clandestine radio pops up in both the broadcasting history of the U.S. and the U.K., I will focus more specifically on pirate radio. Many people envision pirate radio station as being operated by “young radio buffs” (Solely and Nicholas 4), or techie-type kids in their basements with a home made transmitter. This isn’t always the case. In an interview the American radio pirate Ragnar Daneskjold, also a board member of the North American Pirate Radio Hall Of Fame and Co-Editor of the Free Radio Weekly, he described the pirate radio community:
Over the years I have befriended many in the community, both operators and listeners. I am truly amazed at community’s background. It skews heavily towards male, white, highly educated and technical. There are far more PhD's putting stations on the air than kids in their moms’ basements “playing radio.” Although myself I am college educated and work in a technical capacity I am often truly humbled by some of my compatriots level of skill and knowledge. Many being broadcast or electrical engineers for licensed stations for their day jobs (Daneskjold Interview).
In most cases, this applies to the more modern radio pirate, a broadcaster from some time after the late nineties. There are also cases of tech-junkies rising to stardom, or even offshore American radio pirates, who are unlicensed but broadcast from international waters in an attempt to not technically break any laws (Yoder 5). In short, America’s underground radio history encompasses most forms of illegal broadcasting, as does the history of the U.K. Sometimes referred to as either micropower radio, low watt radio, liberation radio, or free radio; pirate radio is “a movement that has the capability of bridging the gap between social and individualist strains of anarchist theory and practice, and offering a libertarian alternative to both corporate and state controlled radio that has an even broader appeal” (Sakolsky 11).
The History of American Pirate Radio
Understanding American pirate radio in a social, historical aspect is crucial to understanding the motivation for broadcasters and what they play. While most pirate radio movements occurred post-1976, the phenomenon actually began decades earlier. In fact, the Electro Importing Company of New York City sold the first affordable, complete radio set (with a transmitter and receiver) under the name of Telimco Wireless Telegraph Outfits in 1905 (White).
The invention of new technologies is almost always greeted with a subsequent wave of innovation and expansion from those willing to embrace, or attempt to improve, each new creation. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, hundreds of broadcasting stations in the United States began to air music and news reports, becoming an “early testing ground for commercial and hobby broadcasting” (Yoder 7). The stations were almost always regionally, commercially operated on low power AM frequencies. They existed under “lax regulations adopted by the Federal Radio Commission (precursor to the FCC), and were later forced out by a crackdown resulting from the passage of the Communications Act of 1934” (Yoder 6). In the 1920s, many stations were started by “ham,” or amateur, radio operators, sometimes for fun, but usually funded by companies to air information on their products or services (Yoder 7).
Any form of radical change almost always sparks opposition. In the early years of American broadcasting, the government was skeptical that educational and entertainment could ever come from the same medium, and almost entirely against advertising on air (Chapman 4). People had not yet realized the power of advertising on the radio, or even the entertainment value. It’s hard to say what was left to air, because by 1922 the Department of Commerce “prohibited the playing of phonograph records…except in emergencies or to fill in between programme periods” (McPhee, Ennis, and Meyersohn 5). Still, many stations continued broadcasting for advertising and entertainment.
A number of issues arose from these unchecked stations, as operators could cause purposeful interference with other stations, or more seriously, deliberately broadcast to their audiences as a means of advertising their product. So, by 1934, the government successfully created and funded the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in order to eliminate unlicensed broadcasting stations (Yoder 7). This had “the immediate effect of marginalizing the small independent stations and turning over the airwaves to the growing networks” (Chapman 4). By the 1930s radio was monopolized by large companies, who in turn controlled the industry’s revenue and decided on what was to be “popular” music (4).
World War II halted pirate radio operations in the United States, as clandestine radio stations broadcasting enemy propaganda being cropping up on the airwaves (Solely and Nichols 4). The FCC began dismantling stations at a much higher rate, becoming a serious governmental organization. Enemy propaganda heard coming from unlicensed stations also “helped to establish the popular notion that unlicensed radio was a criminal activity and not a right” (Yoder 11). But the end of the war signaled a re-awakening for American pirate radio. Early pirate radio stations were often “commercial and public service stations without licenses,” while those after the war embraced the growing counterculture of the 1960s (Yoder 7). Still, with a couple exceptions, “few hippies had the motivation, patience, and technical knowledge necessary to operate a radio station” (Yoder 15). Yet it was around this time that the American flare for pirate radio began to ignite. Sparked by stations like those in the Falling Star Network out of the Yonkers, New York area, a new medium geared toward popular youth culture had developed (Yoder 19).
Pirate radio had its ups and downs after its resurgence in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the early 1980s, stations as a whole had grown in sophistication and professionalism, gaining both listeners and hours on air. As popularity skyrocketed in 1984, so did visibility. The stations could no longer be overlooked by the FCC, and by 1986, only two pirate stations remained on air (Yoder 58). This tiny fraction of what once was threatened to soon become extinct as well, until the debut of one of the two of the most influential American pirate radio stations: Radio Newyork International and WKND (Yoder 59).
American Offshore Radio: Radio Newyork International
Major American pirate radio stations gained in popularity in the 1980s, much later than British pirate radio. The American government had not discouraged rock and roll music, and audiences were able to get their hands on whichever records they preferred. In the United States, pirate radio bloomed from the ideals of free speech, but lacked in themes of political or social change. In short, American pirate radio was for airwave enthusiasts devoted to free speech.
According to Tom Kneitel, editor of Popular Communications magazine, an American station called RXKR was actually the first pirate station to broadcast from the open seas in the early 1930s as a means of advertising Panamanian vacations to Americans in California (Kneitel 10). Offshore pirate radio, however, is generally associated with European broadcasting, and only a few American offshore pirate stations ever existed. Most North American organizations that can obtain the funds for an offshore station would rather buy a legal one on land, eliminating the difficulties of maintaining the ship itself and having crew members leave home for days or weeks at sea (Yoder 160).
One exception was a group of 20 radio enthusiasts broadcasting from a 160 ft. Japanese fishing vessel off of the coast of New York City in 1987. The station was “created as a reaction to what was considered a stagnant state of rock and roll” in the city, and operated under the legal loophole that “only stations based in the United States territory are required to be under the control of the FCC” (Yoder 168). This wasn’t a group of novices, however. The owner of the station, Allan Weiner, was no stranger to pirate broadcasting. Weiner created the Falling Star Network out of Yonkers, New York, one of the few pirate radio networks to survive the lackadaisical, hippy attitude of the sixties and seventies. Weiner perfectly fits the description of your average “radio enthusiast,” the euphemism other radio enthusiasts’ use to describe a techie whiz kid who may or may not have too much time on his hands. By the summer of 1968, Weiner had progressed from a hobby station in his father’s basement to WRAD, his first official pirate station, even if it did only reach a few blocks past his Yonkers home (Walker 200). The basement hobby didn’t last long for Weiner. The Falling Star Network came to dramatic end on August 12, 1971, when the FCC arrested Weiner in his bed for broadcasting without a license and simultaneously shut down the other stations in the network (Walker 203). It would be years before Weiner was back on the air.
On July 23rd, 1987, Weiner and his team began to broadcast from the vessel Sarah, anchored four and a half miles from Jones Beach on Long Island and playing on FM radio (103.1MHz), AM radio (1620kHz), shortwave radio (6250kHz), and longwave radio (150kHz) (The Radio Kitchen). The station, called Radio Newyork International (RNI) could be heard broadcasting comedy shows and social commentaries, but most importantly: rock music (Yoder 168). In a crackly broadcast from those few short days on the air in the summer of ’87, the DJ announces, “We are….R….N….I…..The wet ones!!” on 1620 kHz (RNI July 1897). News organizations described the station as “freeform rock with open commentary,” broadcasting as a “protest against what they call ‘the staleness of New York City broadcast media’ ” (RNI Youtube). In one news story, the camera pans in on a record appropriately playing The Clash’s “I Fought the Law” as a part of that day’s RNI broadcast.
Pete Sayek, a member of the Radio Newyork International team and subsequent other pirate radio stations, has documented the series of events that came next through a montage of news coverage from that 1987 summer. On his Youtube channel, you can find many of the newscasts covering the rise and fall of the station, where the pirates vehemently advocate that they are in international waters and therefore not broadcasting illegally. But, as Sayek writes on his Youtube page, “As you can see, even the press had no idea what the actual laws were.” He’s referring to the newscasters seeming inability to decide if the pirates were actually in international waters or not. Many say that the limit is twelve miles, while the others say it’s only three. Even within the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the law is ambiguous. It states that the “maximum breadth of the territorial sea is fixed at 12 miles and that of the contiguous zone at 24 miles;” the economic zone stretches 200 miles off of the coast, and an individual state’s jurisdiction ends just three miles off of the coast (United Nations International Law). In the end, the FCC had the final say.
On July 28th, after a warning visit the day before, the U.S. Coast Guard and the FCC boarded the Sarah and arrested Wiener, the owner, Ivan Rothstein, the station manager, and R.J. Smith, a reporter from the Village Voice newspaper (Yoder 168). The Coast Guard and FCC took the radio equipment apart and charged both Weiner and Rothstein with a felony for conspiracy to impede the Federal Communications Commission. The charges were eventually dropped as long as Weiner, Rothstein, and the RNI promised never to broadcast illegally again (169). Those who knew Weiner knew that he would be back on the air. He had already made his intentions clear back in 1971 with a letter to the FCC about the Falling Star Network:
We started this whole thing because we love radio as an artistic and creative medium, and to bring freedom to the airwaves. Not because we want fat bank accounts and chauffeur-driven cars. We have chosen our operating frequencies especially so as not to cause interference with any other stations. However, as human beings and citizens of the United States and the world, we have a right to use the airwaves put there by whoever or whatever created the universe, and use them as we will. This is our freedom, this is our right. (Weiner 78)
Media publicity from the raids helped RNI to broadcast again in 1988, but without much success. There second time around, the station had a much poorer quality of sound and inconsistent scheduling. In October 1988, the vessel was once again raided by the FCC, when they silenced the station for good (Yoder 171). Today, Weiner broadcasts legally from WBCQ-FM “The Planet” in Monticello, Maine. While this station is much more low-key than the original splash made by RNI, Weiner’s legacy in American offshore pirate radio still lives on. Back on shore, another pirate, inspired by the broadcasts he heard on RNI, was just kick-starting his career.
American Pirate Radio: WKND
On Halloween night in 1988, one on-land pirate DJ launched his influential, and long-lasting career. Gary Matthews, or else known as Boomer the Dog or the Radio Animal, was interested in radio from a young age, always in awe of the tech side of radio transmissions. But his pirate radio career really began when he got a hold of a 1963 edition of the Radio Amateur’s Handbook for Ham Operators. By the time he was a senior in high school, he had built his own basement studio with a 25-watt transmitter in his Pittsburgh home. Boomer didn’t receive instant media attention, like RNI, or even a lot of listeners. In an interview, he describes his first station, named Radio 200 after the wavelength of his signal:
I played disco, funk and rock, the new music of the day, most of it recorded from FM stations I listened to, and some old records. I'd go on after school for about an hour before mom called dinner, and I had one friend from my school bus in the area who would listen (Boomer Interview). Boomer picked up the technicalities of pirate radio quickly, and after a couple of expansions to his home basement studio, he was broadcasting almost nine-hour shows every weekend for seven years. But, in his own words, “I only knew of a couple of listeners to any of those shows.”
Things were about to change. Another ham and fellow RNI fan heard the station and wanted to find it. The enthusiast bought a receiver and drove around Pittsburgh to try and find where the signal was strongest. It was just after midnight when he knocked on the basement door of the only house with lights still on. Boomer had “made contact with his first listener” (Yoder 116). This ham introduced Boomer to books about shortwave and where stations broadcast, and introduced him to the outside world of pirate radio. After that meeting, Boomer went to his first “hamfest” (a gathering of sorts for radio pirates), where he bought an old 25-watt shortwave transmitter for $10. With this new knowledge, the ham friend and listener persuaded Boomer to “experiment with clear channel AM and shortwave frequencies” (Yoder 116). This was the 1988 broadcast from Halloween night, and also when Matthews changed the named of the station to WKND (called Weekend Radio at first, later changing to We’re Kanine, Dog to avoid confusion with another station). Boomer the Dog now introduced himself as the Radio Animal, and the show could be heard across the entire Northeast United States (116). Matthews was hooked. “I was so full of radio that I had to do it anywhere there was an opportunity,” he said. “With the ham fan's input and what Radio Newyork had done, I got on 1620, which was above the AM band at the time, and 6240 shortwave.” This is where listeners first heard WKND.
WKND rejuvenated the otherwise quieted pirate radio scene after the raids on RNI. By 1988, pirate radio “lacked active stations and listeners; the few people involved were often inexperienced and filled with an almost naïve enthusiasm” (Yoder 59). Matthews was an exception. He certainly had the enthusiasm, but also the experience and intelligence to operate a successful station. Early broadcasts aired around midnight EST, and featured “a variety of progressive and ‘space’ music” like Pink Floyd and Moody Blues, “clashing greatly with the ‘regular format’ songs” of the time that Radio Animal occasionally threw in (Yoder 117).
It wasn’t mainstream music that Matthews rejected, but mainstream formatting of most radio shows. “All of my stations have been free form, where any kind of music or program can be played,” he said. “I like to challenge myself to do things that haven't been done on the station before, and avoid what commercial radio is doing.” A high point in Boomer’s career came on Halloween night in 1989, with his one-year anniversary “horror jam” show. On the WKND website, Boomer wrote, “Pirate radio stations seem to have a fondness for Halloween, and I think it's because the dark and forbidden atmosphere fits well with the mysterious and underground nature of most free radio broadcasting” (WKND Website). That October, the Radio Animal broadcasted “a slick mix of seasonal music, layered sound effects, public service announcements, and light talk” for several hours straight (Yoder 117).
While Boomer never quite had the audience that RNI gathered for those few, short broadcasts, the FCC still caught wind of WKND. At midnight on February 7, 1990, the Radio Animal heard a knock on the door and found John Rahtes, an FCC agent, waiting patiently to come inside (118). Boomer was surprised, but let the FCC in all the same. “They went after me, but it was just for the fact that I was on the air at all without a license, which is against the rules,” he said. “It was never said that I was interfering with another radio station,” said Boomer, which is a larger offense. Matthews was initially fined $1,000, but the fine was later reduced for his cooperation during the bust. It hardly put the Radio Animal off of the air, though. Matthews knew that the FCC was frequently busting pirate stations around that time, and thought that “if stations could broadcast remotely, outside and away from their studios, it might help to keep the FCC off of their tails.” At the time, stations were using large and heavy tube transmitters that needed to be plugged into AC power directly at their station, allowing them to be more easily tracked down. So Boomer came up with a small, low power battery operated transmitter called the “Grenade” that could be operated out of a backpack, car, or almost anywhere that a ham could get an antenna up. Boomer’s idea was that “stations could move to a new location for each broadcast and be harder to find that way.” The Grenade was apparently “a hit, and other stations started to build them after that, and some stations are still using them today.”
WKND gathered media attention after the raid. Radio Animal announced his retirement to the pirate radio world, and The Association of Clandestine Radio Enthusiasts magazine ran articles about the station in both their March and April 1990 issues (Yoder 119). A couple months later, in May of 1990, the FCC traced a re-broadcast of WKND to Boomer’s Pittsburgh basement. Even though this was only a taped recording of an original broadcast, the FCC fined Matthews $1,000 again and this time confiscated his equipment (119). This final raid was covered by Channel 11 WPXI-TV out of Pittsburgh, where the newscaster describes the station as an “alternate mix of 1960s and garage rock” that “gained quite a following from fans as far away as New York and even Canada, and now even in a book about this type of radio” (WPXI-TV). Boomer now operates a few other shows, runs his website, and broadcasts online. But pirate radio will always be his passion. “It's an old idea, but I still believe that listeners want to connect with a friendly DJ who is in the studio live, and can take their calls,” he said. “I think the listeners will respond and come back to radio if you give them the chance, and if you do something real and unique and push the limits.”
An illustrated Boomer the Dog, the pirate radio DJ for WKND. The History of British Pirate Radio
Major British pirate radio stations not only preceded major American pirate radio stations, but also differed greatly in terms of motivation. While Americans were allowed to broadcast legally as long as they had a license, the U.K. allowed only the government to broadcast. As a result, pirate radio in the United Kingdom became far more than a hobby. It changed the very culture of the U.K., and unleashed the British Invasion back on Britain at a time when its member nations had no idea what they were even missing. For the youth fighting for release from the old-fashioned British society, pirate radio meant freedom. For the government, it was a challenge. In the end, pirate radio forced government radio broadcasters to diversify, sometimes even hiring offshore pirate radio DJs to play what the public now wanted to hear (Yoder 2).
In the beginning, however, the government was in strict control of the airwaves. There were a limited number of stations, with strict regulations on how much music could be played each day (Conway 12). In the early 1950s, the Musician’s Union and the Phonographic Performance Limited created a law in England that came to be known as “needle time.” The law allowed only a few select records to be played on BBC radio, limiting the amount of time a needle could be in the groove of a record (Lodge 22). In a 1955 article from Broadcasting Magazine, British Broadcasting Company (BBC) program host, commentator, and popular music analyst Brian Matthew explained to the American author that the “popular programme” service played mostly live music because they were only allowed to broadcast five hours of recorded music a week. The result was just one short hour of popular music a day. He added that as a “side effect” to this rule, offshore pirate stations broadcasted an “almost exclusive diet of ‘top 40’ songs” (Broadcasting 73). The government was well aware of the offshore pirates, in all probability because their popularity with young listeners far outstripped that of the BBC. Matthew most likely knew what he was up against, and may have been the first to recognize it. By the 1960s, Brian Matthew was the only legal radio host playing the Beatles on BBC (Reynolds 31). But in international waters just three and a half miles off of the English coast, the pirate station Radio Caroline was playing what the BBC would not (Lodge 19).
In 1958, the first European offshore pirate radio station to broadcast from international waters played rock and roll from a ship anchored off the coast between Sweden and Denmark (Solely and Nichols 3). In the 1950s and 60s, the licensed Radio Luxembourg broadcast from the Grand Duchy of Luxembroug, which only played one minute of each record as an advertisement, rather than entertainment (Lodge 22). The options for popular radio were limited and lackluster. The British youth was bursting with energy and looking for a radio outlet to mirror their enthusiasm for the changing world. Even one American, Steven Van Zandt, member of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, credits British pirate radio for “saving his life.” He describes post-war England as “a country bursting at the seams with frustrated teenagers waiting for a post-World War, black and white life to explode in to wide-screen Technicolor. Loudly.” (Van Zandt xi) With the 1955 movie Blackboard Jungle came the ideals of a new and alternative lifestyle, where teenagers could listen to rock-and-roll through blaring speakers without government censorship. As Van Zandt describes this newfound freedom, “the explosion of liberation came from the unlikely barrels of the cannons aboard Radio Caroline’s Danish passenger ferry, the MV Frederica, anchored three and a half miles out to sea in International Waters” (xi).
The idea for Radio Caroline came from the reclusive businessman Ronan O’Rahilly, grandson of a famous Irish rebel (Conway 12). O’Rahilly came to London with a passion for music, and operated his own rhythm and blues venue, the Scene Club, where he had young protégés come and perform (Chapman 61). O’Rahilly had a knack for discovering talent, but also discovered the flaw in the British music scene. When no one would record his artists, O'Rahilly “created his own record label and paid for his own acetates. When presenting these to the BBC he learned that the Corporation only played music by established artists, which begged the obvious question 'how to get established' ” (Caroline’s History). O’Rahilly tried Radio Luxembourg next, without any luck. The station told him that their time was devoted to the major labels, not the artists themselves. According to the history page on the Radio Caroline website, O’Rahilly then told the directors at Radio Luxembourg, “'Well, if after managing my own artists I have to create my own record label because nobody will record them and if I then find that no radio station will play their music, it seems that the only thing now is to have my own radio station' ” (Caroline’s History). After befriending Australian businessman Alan Crawford on a fundraising trip to the United States, O’Rahilly secured the funding to begin his venture. The rest of the funding for Radio Caroline came from London’s “capitalist pigs,” as O’Rahilly himself called them (Chapman 61). Radio Caroline’s board of directors originally included C.E. Ross, the owner of a group of companies named Ross, John Sheffield, chairman of Norcros, and Jocelyn Stevens, editor-in-chief of Queen magazine (62). While in the U.S., O’Rahilly was “captivated by a photograph in Life magazine showing president John F. Kennedy's daughter Caroline playing in the Oval Office of the White House and disrupting the serious business of government,” which was “exactly the image he wanted for his station ” (Caroline’s History). In a perfect fit, the station was to be named Radio Caroline.
Tom Lodge, program director and Radio Caroline DJ, describes the atmosphere in England in 1964, just before Caroline’s first broadcast:
It was a society filled with sniff and snobby adults who spurned rock and roll, a society where short hair was mandatory. The class structure of a thousand years was ingrained and prevented the young people of the working class from moving out of their social prisons; it also kept the youth of the upper class from letting loose and having fun. Another barrier was the regulatory system that only permitted government-owned BBC radio to broadcast in England. Working together, these forces were strangling a nation of fifty million people (Lodge 5).
The government had some political reasoning behind their strict control of the airwaves. Suffering massive losses in World War II, many officials feared that an unchecked radio station could ignite the sparks of the political ideals that caused the detrimental war. Robin Cooke, the Conservative MP for Bristol West, said that there was “nothing to prevent their pouring out Communist of Fascist propaganda, or perhaps more dangerous to the otherwise sensible British public, urging them to indulge in expensive self-medication with unnecessary potions and pills” (Briggs 762). Director-General of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry Stephen Stewart said that though so far the pirate ships were only broadcasting popular music, “if tomorrow a similar ship were to broadcast subversive political propaganda or obscene material the Government would- one hopes- wish to take action” (Stewart par. 41). But Radio Caroline never crossed in to the political spectrum. With their constant stream of rock and roll music, they instead gained loyal British fans, reaching a reported nine million listeners and making a profit of 80,000 GBP per month from advertising alone (Solely and Nichols 4).
Until Easter Sunday in April 1964, “Britain had only thirty minutes of pop music a week, from the BBC Light Programme, and evenings of static-filled music broadcasting from Radio Luxembourg, a radio station that played only a one minute taste of each record because it was sponsored by the record companies” (Lodge 20). After that day, Radio Caroline opened the airwaves for listeners and musicians alike. The DJs often met British rock artists before the pinnacle of their fame, and often helped their careers as much as the musicians helped Radio Caroline gain listeners. On a plane to London in 1965, Radio Caroline DJ Tom Lodge ran in to The Who. Not yet superstars, the band members were gaining momentum in England, and listening to Radio Caroline. They recognized the DJ, and John Entwistle told him, ‘You know, when you guys sailed around the coast broadcasting, we knew that the music world had changed’ ” (Lodge 72). In fact, Radio Caroline made many artists and singles in to hits, including The Beatles “Can’t Buy Me Love” and a number of releases from bands like The Kinks, the Who, and The Animals (Lodge 226-237). Radio Caroline “influenced the music creators to be daring, and this, in turn, influenced the audience to appreciate new sounds” (Lodge 225).
The government knew it was loosing its grip on the next generation of listeners. At one point, the BCC even “created a small group of classical musicians to play their own arrangements or the current popular songs” in order to “compensate for this limited broadcast of pop records” (Lodge 22). Other efforts to regain listeners were not so pleasant. By 1967, the BBC had lost its monopoly on radio and passed the Marine Broadcasting Offenses Act (Yoder 134). The act made it virtually impossible for offshore broadcasters to continue their work without serious fines or imprisonment (134). When the DJs asked for legal licenses, they were told no radio frequencies were available. As it states on the Radio Caroline website, “Clearly public opinion counted for little and the Act made inexorable progress toward becoming law by midnight on August 14th” (Caroline’s History). Ironically enough, the BBC’s website today lists 1967 as a monumental, not detrimental, year for popular culture. On their timeline, it states: “1967- Radio 1 starts, transforming popular music. Following the banning of pirate radio stations by the government, the BBC launches Radio 1. Its first DJ is Tony Blackburn, presenting Daily Disc Delivery, and the first record played is 'Flowers In The Rain' by The Move. It becomes hugely popular, commanding weekly audiences of up to 24 million listeners in the 60s and 70s” (The BBC History). The timeline gives far too much credit to the BBC alone. Without pirate radio, the BBC 1 would have never existed, or gained any listeners after the silencing of the offshore pirates. Furthermore, Radio Caroline wasn’t completely off the air after 1967. From 1967 on, the station survived with foreign advertisers off of the Scandinavian coast. In 1980, the original vessel sunk during a storm in the Thames Estuary, but Radio Caroline continued with a new vessel, under mostly American backers, until 1990 when financial strain finally silenced the historic pirate radio station (Yoder 134).
Pirate Radio Lives On
Radio Caroline still lives on. You can listen to live streaming on the station website, http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/, or watch the saga unfold in the 2009 film “Pirate Radio,” released in both the U.S. and the U.K. With the invention of the Internet came the options of podcasts, websites, and live streaming for pirate DJs who have exhausted their fight against the FCC, BBC, or whichever organization demands legal licensing. Boomer the Dog still puts his shows online, and Allan Weiner has his Free Speech Radio from WBCQ in Monticello, Maine. Whatever their motivation, from social change or political movements to broadcasting as a hobby, pirate radio DJs all share a common passion for what they do. No law, act, fine, or other threat can silence their voices. Despite the growing options for broadcasting technology, unlicensed broadcasters on AM and FM wavelengths do still exist. It can be argued that today’s radio pirates “capture media attention for their underground exploits and daring challenges to the system to ‘uphold their guaranteed freedom of speech’ ”(Yoder 8). Or maybe their motivation is less serious, and pirates are just radio enthusiasts looking for good music and a good time on the air. And maybe that’s all they ever were.
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Weiner, Allan H., and Anita Louise. McCormick.Access to the Airwaves: My Fight for Free
Radio. Port Townsend, WA: Loompanics Unlimited, 1997. Print. White, Thomas H. "12. Pioneering Amateurs (1900-1917)." United States Early Radio History. 30 Sept. 1996. Web. 03 May 2012. .
WPXI-TV Channel 11. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1990. Television.
Yoder, Andrew. Pirate Radio Stations: Tuning in to Underground Broadcasts in the Air and Online. New York [u.a.: McGraw-Hill, 2002. Print.
The Radio Newyork International Youtube channel, put together by RNI DJ Pete Sayek, put together a video montage of all of the news coverage of the rise and fall of RNI. In these broadcasts, the specific channels are not named, but there is lots of excellent footage of the vessel and interviews with the pirates. The channel is called “PeteRNFY.”
Any information on WKND not directly attributed to a secondary source comes from a personal interview I conducted with Boomer (or Radio Animal) on April 28, 2012.