The rise of Pirate Radio in the UK [text and theme song]

Extract from ‘History of Community Media – Literature Review Part 1’ – Shawn Sobers (c) 2010

The 1960s saw a new phenomenon arise that changed the landscape of British radio (and arguably long term also television) forever – the advent of offshore pirate radio (Coyer, 2007: 18).  Finding a loophole in the law, repurposed fishing vessels became floating studios and transmitted radio shows into the UK from international waters, immune from law enforcement.  Following the lead from the European stations, these ‘pirates’ created new audiences alienated by BBC’s output, and were enough competition for the BBC and the British government to take notice.  In 1967, following significant BBC restructuring, Radio 1 was formed to provide popular music content, and also BBC local radio stations established in cities and towns across the UK, followed in 1973 by the commercial stations being allowed to broadcast for the first time with the creation of Independent Local Radio licences (ILR) (Coyer, 2007: 19). 

Still following the theme of “alternative voices to the mainstream media”, rising levels of immigration to the UK, particularly of commonwealth citizens from the Caribbean in the 1960s, created new audiences for the European and pirate offshore stations, who were largely playing soul, funk, and others forms of African American music (Hebdige, 1987).  The mid-1960s saw new legislation passed that made it harder for the offshore pirate stations to operate and they soon closed.  When Radio 1 became the dominant popular music station alongside smaller commercial broadcasters in the 1970s, some members of the Caribbean communities set up their own inland illegal pirate stations “geared…around a love of music and frustration that black music was largely absent from Radio 1 and the local commercial stations” (Coyer, 2007: 19). 

[End of extract.  See references at the bottom of this post.]

And now for a piece of suitable music.  (see the lyrics below)

Pirate’s Anthem  – Home T feat. Cocoa Tea & Shabba Ranks, Greensleeves Records, (C) 1989

Them a call us pirates
Them call us illegal broadcasters
Just because we play what the people want
Them a call us pirates
Them call us illegal broadcasters
DTI try stop us but they can’t

One station could not run England
Two station could not run England
Three station could not please the nation
Everybody wants to listen to the free station
Advertisers stay true make your dance hall ram
They take the equipment and put it in a van
If they broke down one we make five more strong

Down in England we’ve got lots of radio stations
playing the people music night and day
reggae, calypso
hip hop or disco
the latest sound today is what we play
on and on
off and on
on and off and on

If they turn it off we have to turn it on back
If they turn it off we have to turn it on back
If they broke it down we have to build it up back
If they take away our records then we get fresh stock
Now me love these stations me love them to the max
Me release a dub plate and all boom shack
The DTI fight but they can’t stop that

Pirates
Illegal broadcasters
Just because we play what the people want
Them a call us pirates
Them call us illegal broadcasters
DTI try stop us but they can’t
Oh no they can’t 

One station could not run England
Two station could not run England
Three station could not run the nation
That’s why everybody wants to listen to the free station
To advertise your dance and ram your session
If it’s music you want and get them new brand
Action stations get set everyone
If they broke down one we build five more strong

They’re passing laws
They’re planning legislation
Trying their best to keep the music down
DTI why don’t you leave us alone
We only play the music that the people want

=============

References from extract:

Coyer, K. (2007). Mysteries of the black box unbound: An alternative history of radio, in K. Coyer, T. Dowmunt, T. and A. Fountain (Eds.) (2007). The Alternative Media Handbook, Routledge, Oxon, UK. P.p. 15 – 28

Hebdige, D. (1987). Cut’n’Mix: Culture, Identity and Caribbean Music, Routledge, London

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2 thoughts on “The rise of Pirate Radio in the UK [text and theme song]

  1. The Radio 279 ship Oceaaan 7 off the coast of Yorkshire, was the only fishing vessel used for offshore radio.

    The most popular of the stations was Radio London, broadcasting from aboard the Galaxy, a former WWII minesweeper, USS Density. Radio England/Britain Radio was also housed aboard an ex-US military vessel, Olga Patricia. Radio Scotland utilised the former light vessel Comet. Caroline South’s home was the Mi Amigo, formerly a Dutch radio station and Caroline North’s ship was a former passenger ferry Fredericia.

    Several other stations were based on WWII forts in the Thames Estuary.

  2. Hello Mary,

    Thanks for the clarification over the use of fishing vs other types of ships. That is really useful to know. The fact that a lot of them were ex-military vessels adds to the poety of the whole situation! 😉

    Many thanks, Shawn

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