AM/FM - the story of London's pirate radio stations
August 30, 2014 3:35 PM   Subscribe

AM/FM - the story of London's pirate radio stations [via mefi projects]

Back in the eighties when I should have been studying, I ran a magazine covering London's pirate radio stations and their battles to stay on the air and go legal. At you can read the stories of the 25 most important unlicensed stations of the eighties like Kiss-FM, Radio Jackie and DBC, listen to an audio history of London pirate radio from 1975-1990 and dig into all eighteen issues of TX Magazine.

Some of the later issues were available on the site before but this major refresh adds a huge amount of material that is new to the web.
posted by aniola (2 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Excellent site. I guess this subject is a bit niche/non-US-centric for Metafilter to get excited. I had 2 pirate eras, early 80s and then 90s. Early 80s were tuning over to AM after John Peel's show to pick up either Caroline or Laser 558 broadcasting out of the North Sea, both of which weren't that great but still had a more varied playlist than their legit counterparts. 90's was all house/techno all the time with Fantasy FM and loads of others broadcasting out of tower blocks in East London. I still have some mixes by the DJs on those stations taped straight off the radio. (And they still give me little rushes if you know what I mean)

There are a couple of old school pirate mixes on this site. There used to be a couple more sites that cataloged this stuff but that seem to have died.
posted by merocet at 7:44 AM on August 31, 2014

In such a time of information abundance, it's hard to realise quite how starved for music we were at the time. For much of the eighties London had only three licensed stations playing popular music: BBC Radio One (on AM only), Capital Radio and BBC Radio London.

There were also needletime restrictions - stations were only allowed by the music licensing agencies to play a certain number of hours per day from records and were expected to fill the rest of the time with sessions and live recordings - though they also used library music, film soundtracks and overseas releases to get round the rules. In 1980 Radio One had something like twelve hours of needletime per day, commercial stations 9 hours and BBC local radio as little as two hours per day. It wasn't until 1988 that the restrictions were finally lifted.

Sunday evenings were particularly bad for young listeners. Radio One would close down at 7pm after the top forty chart show and then simulcast Radio Two, Capital Radio had its classical music show on Sunday evenings followed by an arts programme, while Radio London was specialist speech shows and then also joined Radio Two.

Tuning around in the sea of hiss between the legal stations and finding a blank carrier that then sprung into life with music and DJs who sounded like ordinary Londoners was just this incredibly magical thing. It was like being part of a secret club that gave you access to music and a community that were unavailable elsewhere. Those of you who remember the Internet just before it went commercial will know the kind of feeling.

Many of that first generation of London hobbyist pirates went on to work in legal radio, and then you got the second generation of more commercial pirates fuelled by money from clubs and raves where their DJs played and often run by club promoters. Pirate radio then got rougher, with stations more willing to do what they could to stay on air to protect their profits, including sabotaging their rivals. Reporting on that wasn't always easy and I probably chose the right time to move on to other things - the Government was also introducing new laws that made it illegal to publish station frequencies and other details so it would have been hard to continue the magazine anyway.

Unlike the offshore stations in the 1960s, the landbased pirates - especially in that crossover point - haven't really been that well documented so hopefully the site shines a bit of a light on another strange part of Britain's broadcasting history.
posted by kerplunk at 2:24 AM on September 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

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