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Playing to a captive audience
May 12, 2009 1:02 AM   Subscribe

In last night's Sony Radio Awards - the UK's radio equivalent of the Oscars - Electric Radio Brixton won four prizes, including 2 gold awards. The kicker? It is broadcast for and by inmates in Brixton Prison 24 hours a day, part of an ambitious project by the Prison Radio Association. Some background here.

- Sorry but I don't think there is a way of listening to the station. It is broadcast via satellite but no details of how to access it appear to be available, if indeed it is possible.
posted by MuffinMan (25 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
And a nice profile from the BBC on it here, too.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:04 AM on May 12, 2009


I'm glad it's not the AOL/Time Warner Oscars...yet.
posted by saul wright at 1:34 AM on May 12, 2009


I heard their work is quite captivating.
posted by srboisvert at 2:10 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


It would be remiss of me not to draw attention to the Sun's sensitive reporting of the PRA from earlier in the year. The sidebar is particularly, er, impressive.
posted by ninebelow at 2:33 AM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Man, I really want to give this station a listen. Brixton prison is down the road from me, maybe I could tune it in, if they don't offer a streaming link somewhere.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:09 AM on May 12, 2009


Also, The Sun can fuck off.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:09 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Happy Dave: me too - I walk right past the prison gate most mornings on my way to work and would love to be able to tune in occasionally.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:21 AM on May 12, 2009


thanks for this - very interesting stuff

you might be interested in the Thousand Kites Project here in the US - they're also doing very innovative work with radio & prisons (& have now expanded to video & web work as well) - i've been meaning to do a post on them for ages...
posted by jammy at 3:55 AM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cool story - I wasn't even aware of British prison radio until reading about Billy Bragg's Jail Guitar Doors program (posted here a while ago I think).

Mick Jones playing "Should I Stay or Should I Go" for the prisoners cracks me up. I think they're going to stay.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 4:59 AM on May 12, 2009


Fucking hell, that sidebar. Thankfully having Scouse parents means that even looking at The Sun's website, for free, feels dirtier than buying Size 16 Sluts at WH Smith.
posted by mippy at 5:51 AM on May 12, 2009


I just heard about this yesterday, from the BBC story. Thanks!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:23 AM on May 12, 2009


Man, I really want to give this station a listen. Brixton prison is down the road from me, maybe I could tune it in, if they don't offer a streaming link somewhere.

Probably not.

Back in 1995, I was managing a small campus/community station in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, and got talking to the chaplain at the local medium-security penitentiary about doing this -- I was interested, he was interested, and we both thought it'd be a useful tool for rehabilitation, provide some vital links to the community, etc.

Unfortunately, the warden vetoed the plan, thinking it would be too easy for the prisoners to send coded messages out, and receive coded messages, through music selections, requests, and so on. The entire premise of letting members of the public at large interact with the prisoners, and the prisoners broadcast to the public, was completely off the charts for the warden. That may or may not have been his real motivation, but that was the official reason for vetoing the idea.

We never considered it as an in-house-only type of project.
posted by Shepherd at 6:25 AM on May 12, 2009


It is broadcast via satellite but no details of how to access it appear to be available, if indeed it is possible.

Unfortunately it isn't:
When Brixton prison radio station earned itself an unprecedented four Sony award nominations, I assumed there would be some way to listen to its output. We're in the internet age, I believe - I can listen to a classical piano station in Bolivia, if I want to, so surely I could just Google "ne'er-do-wells + quality broadcasting"?

Well, no. This is insider-only listening. They can't broadcast to the outside world for security reasons. The border between prison and outside is porous enough for there to be a drug problem in Brixton (as in all prisons), without a charity-funded communications system in place.
posted by ninebelow at 6:36 AM on May 12, 2009


the warden vetoed the plan, thinking it would be too easy for the prisoners to send coded messages out, and receive coded messages, through music selections, requests, and so on

That doesn't make sense to me at all. Isn't sending a coded message from prison extremely easy? Prisoners can write letters, call people, meet in person during visits, or even write and publish a whole book while in prison. Obviously all of that communication is monitored, but so would the radio transmissions. It's not as if prisoners are or should be completely isolated from all contact with the outside world.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:47 AM on May 12, 2009


I suppose it depends on the security of the prison - can't remember offhand what level Brixton is.

The Guardian correspondent Erwin James wrote about prison life as a prisoner for years, but that was published in a national paper, and wasn't by prisoners for prisoners. (I'd recommend reading his columns, incidentally.) He talks about the station here.
posted by mippy at 7:43 AM on May 12, 2009


The "vibrant UK radio industry"? Aren't nearly all the stations run by the BBC?
posted by smackfu at 9:27 AM on May 12, 2009


No.
posted by mippy at 9:50 AM on May 12, 2009



The "vibrant UK radio industry"? Aren't nearly all the stations run by the BBC?

Nope, there are thousands of commercial radio stations, dozens of commercial tv channels and a thriving media industry outside of the BBC.

I like to think of the BBC as a bit of a quality backstop, but it's far from the be-all and and end-all of British media.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:51 AM on May 12, 2009



http://www.radioandtelly.co.uk/radio.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_in_the_United_Kingdom

There are 40 local BBC stations alongside the main networks (1, 1Xtra, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5LiveSportsExtra, 6, 7, Asian Network, World Service, Scotland, Wales, and Gael); there are three national and over 250 local independent stations.

In fairness, many of these are shit.
posted by mippy at 9:54 AM on May 12, 2009


My housemate clears ads for radio prior to broadcast (I do the same thing for the telly) and they've picked up in business since the recession - advertising on radio is cheap to make, cheap to buy airtime for, and easily targeted. I see commercial radio faring better than commercial TV in the future.
posted by mippy at 9:56 AM on May 12, 2009


Perhaps the problem with coded messages is that it is broadcast to so many people. If they could signal the entire city to all flush their toilets at the same time, the ensuing floods caused by broken mains might allow them to execute their escape in the confusion.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:21 AM on May 12, 2009


On the one hand, Brixton Prison is at the top of a hill. So that's ok. It'll flood elsewhere.

On the other, it's slap bang next to a water works. Best not chance it.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:34 AM on May 12, 2009


That doesn't make sense to me at all. Isn't sending a coded message from prison extremely easy?

Like I said, I suspect the guy was just a tool and grasping for reasons to say "no." But arguably the mass reach of radio (it can get to people untraceably) and the lack of immediate control (I'd guess he wasn't hip to seven-second delays) were compelling reasons for that paranoia.
posted by Shepherd at 12:14 PM on May 12, 2009


Electric Radio Brixton is in possession of a satellite broadcasting license (which I don't think it's using - they only cost about a grand and are about as difficult to come by as dog licenses). It's not yet appeared on Astra2 but would acquire a footprint of over 15 million homes if they ever put the £45k or so required into launching it there.

If they have a regular transmitter they're obviously keeping it close to their chests, but in the immediate area of the prison check out 999, 1404, 1350, 1575 and 1602 kHz because those are the frequencies almost always assigned to low power (1W) AM licenses and/or induction loop installations.

If it's an induction loop you're probably SOL other than inside the buildings but they've been known to radiate slightly sometimes. If they have a 1W transmitter you'll probably find them with a regular receiver almost anywhere within about a quarter mile of the prison (their signal will be severely hampered by the big concrete wall surrounding the 15-foot TX mast planted in a car park at ground level somewhere). If they stuck it outside in a car park and you're on the same side of the prison as it is, that could be up to 1.5 miles depending on terrain.

In either case their license will be for coverage of the prison itself and they're actually forbidden by the broadcasting regulator from publicising their frequency outside that licensed coverage area.

Finally, you'll hear nothing but automated music before about 1730 so even if you do manage to tune in you may not be able to identify it.
posted by genghis at 3:59 PM on May 12, 2009


Just found a reference from 2007 suggesting it actually is on satellite, but they're obviously hiding under a pseudonym in the listings 'cos neither Satcodx nor Lyngsat has any references for them I could find.
posted by genghis at 4:04 PM on May 12, 2009


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