Pirate radio

From Academic Kids

The term pirate radio lacks a specific universal interpretation. It implies a form of broadcasting that is unwelcomed by the licensing authorities within the territory where its signals are received, especially when the country of transmission is the same as the country of reception. When the area of transmission is not a country, or when it is a country and the transmissions are not illegal, those same broadcast signals may be deemed illegal in the country of reception. Therefore "pirate radio" can mean many things to many people. Pirate radio stations are sometimes called bootleg stations.


Possible origins of the term pirate radio

Pirate radio lacks a universal definition and the term's usage, with variations, seems to go back to the birth of broadcasting itself. The term pirate radio is a political term of convenience since the word "pirate" suggests a venture not sanctioned by any sovereign power. However, this is not a true definition with regards to the term pirate radio. While country (a) may license the use of a transmitter within its own sovereign jurisdiction, the output of that transmitter may be audible in country (b) which would never grant a license for the operation of the station from within its own borders.

In the 1960's in the UK, the term referred to theft: the unlicensed broadcasters were seen by some to be 'stealing' audience from the state monopoly broadcaster, the BBC. Naturally, not all audiences were happy to be regarded as the BBC's property! It was also taken as a colourful reference to the seafaring and risk-taking nature of most offshore radio stations.

Prime examples of this kind of activity have been Radio Luxembourg located in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and radio station XERF located at Ciudad Acua, Coahuila, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas, USA.

The English language evening broadcasts from Radio Luxembourg were intentionally beamed toward the British Isles by Luxembourg licensed transmitters, while the intended audience in the United Kingdom originally listened to their radio sets by permission of a Wireless License issued by the British General Post Office (GPO). However, under terms of that Wireless License, it was an offense under the Wireless Telegraphy Act to listen to unauthorized broadcasts such as those transmitted by Radio Luxembourg. Therefore as far as the British authorities were concerned, Radio Luxembourg was a "pirate radio station" and British listeners to the station were breaking the law.

The relationship between Mexico and the USA was a little different. While Mexico issued radio station XERF with a license to broadcast, the power of its 250,000 watts transmitter was far greater than the maximum of 50,000 watts authorized for commercial use by the government of the United States of America. Consequently, XERF and many other radio stations in Mexico which sold their broadcasting time to sponsors of English-language commercial and religious programs, were labeled as "border blasters", but not "pirate radio stations", even though the content of many of their programs were in violation of US law. Predecessors to XERF, for instance, had originally broadcast in Kansas, advocating "goat-gland surgery" for improved masculinity, but moved to Mexico to evade US laws about advertising medical treatments, particularly unproven ones.

The difference between these two examples is that in the UK, the government licensed both the use of transmitters and receivers, but in the USA only the use of transmitters was licensed. The basis of this fundemental difference is found in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America which until very recently was interpreted to allow the unrestricted right of any person within the USA to listen to any ordinary broadcast from whatever the source. However, this interpretation initially opened the door to commercial companies who attempted to enforce their own licensing authority, with respect to the sale and use of their transmitters.

In 1924, New York City station WHN was accused of being an "outlaw" station by AT&T (then American Telephone and Telegraph Company) for violating trade licenses which only permitted AT&T stations to sell airtime on their transmitters. As a result of the AT&T interpretation a landmark case was heard in court, which even prompted comments from Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover when he took a public stand in the station's defense. Although AT&T won its case, the furor created was such that those restrictive provisions of the transmitter license were never enforced.

Another variation on the term pirate radio came about during the "Summer of Love" in San Francisco during the hippie days when many things were named "free". Examples include "free store", "free love" and even "free radio", which usually referred to clandestine and unlicensed land-based transmissions. These were also tagged as being "pirate radio" transmissions.

The term free radio crossed the Atlantic Ocean, where it was adopted by the Free Radio Association of listeners who defended the rights of the "pirate radio stations" broadcasting from ships and marine structures off the coastline of the United Kingdom. However, the term free radio also has another meaning, because it differentiates between that form of licensed broadcasting supported by the sale of commercial airtime which anyone can hear free of charge, from that form of licensed commercial broadcasting (especially television) that listeners and especially viewers have to subscribe to and which is usually known as Pay TV.

In Europe, in addition to adopting the term free radio, supportive listeners of what had been called "pirate radio" adopted the term offshore radio, which was usually the term used by the owners of the marine broadcasting stations.

Freebooter was yet another variation of the term pirate radio and it was sometimes used by the business press in the USA when describing marine broadcasting in Europe.

While pirate radio began as a defamatory term in Britain, it later became accepted as having a secondary meaning to describe adventurous forms of licensed broadcasting that had roots in true offshore unlicensed broadcasting. To this end the British licensing authorities have allowed both independent stations and to date even one local BBC station to use this name, while the government retained use of the term pirate radio to describe any stations on land or at sea which are broadcasting without a license and contrary to law.

Pirate radio by geographical area

Since this subject covers both national territories, international waters and international airspace, the only effective way to treat this subject is on a country by country, international waters and international airspace basis. Because the laws vary, the interpretation of the term pirate radio also varies considerably.

Questions have been raised about various types of broadcasting conducted by national governments against the interests of other national governments which have in turn created jamming stations transmitting noises on the same frequency so as to destroy the receivability of the incoming signal.

While the USA transmitted its programs towards the USSR which attempted to jam them, in 1970 the government of the United Kingdom decided to employ a jamming transmitter to drown out the incoming transmissions from the commercial station Radio Northsea International, which was based aboard the Motor Vessel (MV) Mebo II anchored off Southeast England in the North Sea.

Other examples of this type of unusual broadcasting include the Coast Guard Cutter USCG Courier which both originated and relayed broadcasts of the Voice of America from an anchorage at the island of Rhodes, Greece to Soviet bloc countries. Balloons have been flown above Key West, Florida to support the TV transmissions of TV Mart which are directed at Cuba. Military broadcasting aircraft have been flown over Vietnam, Iraq and other many nations by the USAF. The European Union financially supported a radio station broadcasting news and information into the former Yugoslavia from a ship anchored in international waters.

Pirate radio in Asia

For individual listings under this heading please click the link above.
China (From International Waters)
Taiwan (The history of Underground Radio)

Pirate radio in Australasia

For individual listings under this heading please click the link above.
New Zealand (From International Waters)

Pirate radio in Central America and Caribbean Sea

For individual listings under this heading please click the link above.
Swan Island (History of Radio Swan / Radio Americas)

Pirate radio in Europe

For individual listings under this heading please click the link above.
Belgium (From International Waters)
Denmark (From International Waters)
England (From International Waters)
France (History of Pirate Radio from 1970 to 1990)
Ireland (History of Pirate Radio)
Luxembourg (History of "Radio Luxembourg")
Netherlands (From International Waters)
Scotland (From International Waters)
Sweden (From International Waters)
United Kingdom (History of Pirate Radio: Pre-World War II; Land based)
Yugoslavia (From International Waters)

Pirate radio in the Middle East

For individual listings under this heading please click the link above.
Israel (From Territorial Waters)

Pirate radio in North America

For individual listings under this heading please click the link above.
Mexico (History of the "Border blasters")
United States of America (History of Pirate Radio; From International Waters)

See also

AMATEUR PIRATE RADIO: Pirate amateur radio operators in the United States are rare but they do exist. Since they would be shunned by their fellow hams they don't publicize their illegal status. Amateur radio operators use the term bootleg to describe illegal equipment or operators. In the early days of Citizens Band Radio a license was required and many operators simply didn't bother to get one. Many bootleg CB operators also used transmitters that radiated more than the four watts allowed or operated on frequencies that were not authorized for CB operation.

  • (In the UK different laws and regulations apply.)

COMMUNITY RADIO: In the USA Community radio is often used to describe licensed low power stations serving particular communities. It is also used by unlicensed pirate radio stations using very low power to describe their activities and by other stations seeking to obtain licenses for such operations.

  • (In the UK the term "Community Radio" had a particular point of reference to a plan proposed in the 1980s to licence previously unlicensed land based pirate radio stations, but that plan was aborted prior to being implemented. Today the term "Community Radio" is often used in the UK in conjunction with RSL for legally licensed low-power stations. A Restricted Service Licence "RSL", is granted by governmental regulators for low power and short duration transmissions serving a local community or special interest attraction.)

External links

  • Click on "History" at RadioJackie.com (http://www.radiojackie.com) to read how one English urban pirate station struggled from 1969 until 2003 to reach the status of legality with a scheduled daily output. Their story and level of community support are not typical of land-based pirate radio.
  • Les pionniers des radios libres French free radio (http://members.aol.com/and125/radios.htm) (French)
  • Des radios pirates aux radios libres (http://perso.wanadoo.fr/aymeric.sabine/rlp/partie1.html) (French)
  • How to be a Community Radio Station (http://www.irational.org/sic/radio/) (formerly known as "How to be a Radio Pirate")
    • To promote neighbourhood, community and open-access radio stations;
    • To demystify the art of broadcast electronics;
    • To be a source of high quality technical information;
    • To review equipment and information available elsewhere.
  • Pirate Radio (http://dmoz.org/Arts/Radio/Formats/Pirate_Radio/)
  • Pirate Radio Hall of Fame (http://www.offshoreradio.co.uk/)
  • When Don Pierson of Eastland, Texas created the most successful offshore stations of the 1960s: "Wonderful Radio London", "Swinging Radio England" and "Britain Radio - 'Hallmark of Quality'", he had no idea that the legacy of his creation would outlive his death in 1996. However, he did attempt one comeback of one his stations as "Wonderful Radio London International" in 1984. The station did not manage to come back on the air as a full time ship based radio station, but the company did produce its own new "Wonderful Radio London" programs which were heard nightly over 250,000 watts XERF-AM (Ciudad Acua, Mexico across the Rio Grande river from Del Rio, Texas) and a handful of US domestic stations, which included Don Pierson's own radio station: KVMX-FM in Eastland, Texas. Since his death there have been other revivals and even other claims to the name. See The Wonderful Radio London Story (http://radlon.bravehost.com/index.html)
  • For more information about Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Radio of 1997, see: Sir James Goldsmith web site (http://www.geocities.com/sirjamesgoldsmith/) and the story of the ship Kowloon Moon (http://www.offshore-radio.de/fleet/moon.htm)
  • For a listeners perspective on Offshore Pirate Radio mainly in the 60s and 70s look at the offshore radio chunk at http://www.wirelesswaffle.co.ukde:Piratensender

fi:piraattiradio nl:Radiopiraat minnan:Tē-hā tiān-tâi sv:piratradio


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Art)
    • Architecture (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Architecture)
    • Cultures (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Cultures)
    • Music (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Music)
    • Musical Instruments (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/List_of_musical_instruments)
  • Biographies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Biographies)
  • Clipart (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Clipart)
  • Geography (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Geography)
    • Countries of the World (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Countries)
    • Maps (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Maps)
    • Flags (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Flags)
    • Continents (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Continents)
  • History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History)
    • Ancient Civilizations (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Ancient_Civilizations)
    • Industrial Revolution (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Industrial_Revolution)
    • Middle Ages (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Middle_Ages)
    • Prehistory (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Prehistory)
    • Renaissance (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Renaissance)
    • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
    • United States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/United_States)
    • Wars (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Wars)
    • World History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History_of_the_world)
  • Human Body (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Human_Body)
  • Mathematics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Mathematics)
  • Reference (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Reference)
  • Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Science)
    • Animals (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Animals)
    • Aviation (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Aviation)
    • Dinosaurs (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Dinosaurs)
    • Earth (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Earth)
    • Inventions (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Inventions)
    • Physical Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Physical_Science)
    • Plants (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Plants)
    • Scientists (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Scientists)
  • Social Studies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Social_Studies)
    • Anthropology (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Anthropology)
    • Economics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Economics)
    • Government (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Government)
    • Religion (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Religion)
    • Holidays (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Holidays)
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Solar_System)
    • Planets (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Planets)
  • Sports (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Sports)
  • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
  • Weather (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Weather)
  • US States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/US_States)


  • Home Page (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php)
  • Contact Us (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Contactus)

  • Clip Art (http://classroomclipart.com)
Personal tools