pirate radio station

How long can pirate radio stations survive?


Growing up in South London in the 90’s and noughties, the radio frequencies were abreast with pirate radio stations. All flavours of Dance music were available with Garage, House and Drum n Bass ruling most of the illegal airwaves. With kids in estates all over London setting up radio transmitters, these sub-cultures thrived. Often these stations advertised raves all over London. Word would get out about these raves, after the radio’s advert, via the revolutionary new invention of the text message, often followed by a quick game on Snake. Infact in 2006 research showed that about 24 percent of all adults aged 14 or older living within certain London boroughs listened exclusively to pirated radio stations.

The main pirate stations in London I can remember listening to were Flex FM and Rinse FM. Many pirate stations were being shut down by OFCOM with a lot of people being arrested. The reason being that these stations have a close link to drug dealers and organised crime. Despite this link to crime Rinse FM gained an FM License. Although it did face opposition for a long time and only gained its FM recognition in 2010, despite it running for well over a decade. The stations owner at the time commented - "We want to be legal to say: look at our scene, look at what we're doing. We're a business, we're not criminals." 

Despite the government's disregard for these illegal stations, It’s claimed that BBC Radio One’s relaunch in the 90’s was the government's reaction to the successful ventures of these pirates. Radio One, originally a part time service, only played commercial music for only a time slot of up to 5 hours. However pirate stations didn’t have this curfew. So taking direct influence from them a few select DJ’s claimed Radio One over the course of the 90’s transforming it into a station with a wide range of genres, including underground dance music. Pete Tong began his dance music orientated show despite the genre’s controversial viewpoint in society at the time.

united pirates

The internet’s underground radio stations are giving it a good go at keeping this culture alive. Trying to relive the good old days of an old fashioned shout out or rewind. Often these internet shows are only available on the FM or AM frequencies because a fan will re-broadcast it but that’s about as pirate as it will get. The social media revolutions played a huge part in the downsizing of the stations listener base. Youtube has its Music Channels, Soundcloud has its artist profiles, Facebook and Twitter can be used to share music at an incredibly high rate. So finding underground music is a lot easier now but the disposability of music is at an all time high.   

So between the Internet sucking out the culture, DAB radio taking over making it virtually impossible to hold a pirated station and OFCOM still clamping down heavily on these “criminals”. I wonder how long it is before the pirated radio station cultures of London will eventually be a thing of the past. Very few survivors will be left of it’s culture with only a few stations being granted an FM License to carry on it’s legacy. Cheerful stuff right?!