The term pirate radio usually refers to illegal or unregulated radio transmissions. Its etymology can be traced to the unlicensed nature of the transmission, but historically there has been occasional but notable use of sea vessels – fitting the most common perception of a pirate – as broadcasting bases. The term is most commonly used to describe illegal broadcasting for entertainment or political purposes, but is also sometimes used for illegal two-way radio operation. Rules and regulations vary widely from country to country. In countries such as the USA and many countries in Europe, many types of radio licenses exist, and often the term pirate radio generally describes the unlicensed broadcast of FM radio, AM radio, or short wave signals over a wide range.
In some cases radio stations are deemed legal where the signal is transmitted, but illegal where the signals are received—especially when the signals cross a national boundary. In other cases, a broadcast may be considered "pirate" due to the nature of its content, its transmission format (especially a failure to transmit a station identification according to regulations), or the transmit power (wattage) of the station, even if the transmission is not technically illegal (such as a web cast or an amateur radio transmission). Therefore pirate radio means different things to different people, implying some licensing procedure has been violated somewhere within the reach of the signal. Pirate radio stations are sometimes called bootleg stations (a term especially associated with two-way radio), clandestine stations or Free Radio stations.
Pirate radio history and examples
Radio "piracy" began with the advent of regulations of the public airwaves in the United States at the dawn of the Age of Radio. Initially, radio, or wireless as it was more commonly called, was an open field of hobbyists and early inventors and experimenters, including Nikola Tesla, Lee De Forest, and Thomas Edison. The United States Navy began using radio for time signals and weather reports on the east coast of the United States in the 1890s. Before the advent of valve technology, early radio enthusiasts used noisy spark-gap transmitters, such as the first spark-gap modulation technology pioneered by the first real audio (rather than telegraph code) radio broadcaster, Charles D. Herrold, in San Jose, California, or the infamous Ruhmkorff coil used by almost all early experimenters. The Navy soon began complaining to a sympathetic press that amateurs were disrupting naval transmissions. The May 25, 1907, edition of Electrical World in an article called "Wireless and Lawless" reported authorities were unable to prevent an amateur from interfering with the operation of a government station at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard using legal means.
HDR Text from > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_Ruhmkorff
Heinrich Daniel Ruhmkorff was a German instrument maker who commercialised the induction coil (often referred to as the Ruhmkorff coil.) Ruhmkorff was born in Hanover. After an apprenticeship with a German mechanic, he moved to England. Biographies say that he worked with the inventor Joseph Bramah, but this is unlikely since Bramah died in 1814. He may, though, have worked for the Bramah company. In 1855, he set up a shop in Paris, where he gained a reputation for the high quality of his electrical apparatus.
Although Ruhmkorff is often credited with the invention of the induction coil, it was in fact invented by Nicholas Callan in 1836. Ruhmkorff's first coil, which he patented in 1851, utilized long windings of copper wire to achieve a spark of approximately 2 inches (50 mm) in length. In 1857, after examining a greatly improved version made by an American inventor, Edward Samuel Ritchie, Ruhmkorff improved his design (as did other engineers), using glass insulation and other innovations to allow the production of sparks more than 30 centimetres long. Ruhmkorff patented the first version of his induction coil in 1851, and its success was such that in 1858 he was awarded a 50,000-franc prize by Napoleon III for the most important discovery in the application of electricity. He died in Paris in 1877.
In the run-up to the London Radiotelegraph Convention in 1912 (essentially an international gentlmen's agreement on use of the radio band, non-binding and, on the high seas, completely null), and amid concerns about the safety of marine radio following the sinking of the Titanic on April 15 of that year (although there were never allegations of radio interference in that event), the New York Herald of April 17, 1912, headlined President Taft's initiative to regulate the public airwaves in an article called "President Moves to Stop Mob Rule of Wireless."
When the "Act to Regulate Radio Communication" was passed on August 13, 1912, amateurs and experimenters were not banned from broadcasting; rather, amateurs were assigned their own frequency spectrum and licensing and call-signs were introduced. By regulating the public airwaves, President Taft thus created the legal space for illicit broadcasts to take place. An entire federal agency, the Federal Communications Commission, was created eventually to enforce rules on call-signs, assigned frequencies, licensing and acceptable content for broadcast.
The 1912 Radio Act gave the president legal permission to shut down radio stations "in time of war," and during the first two and a half years of World War One, before US entry, President Wilson tasked the US Navy with monitoring US radio stations, nominally to ensure "neutrality." The Navy used this authority to shut down amateur radio in the western part of the US (the US was divided into two civilian radio "districts" with corresponding call-signs, beginning with K in the west and W in the east, in the regulatory measures; the Navy was assigned call-signs beginning with N). When Wilson declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, he also issued an executive order closing most radio stations not needed by the US government. The Navy took it a step further and declared it was illegal to listen to radio or possess a receiver or transmitter in the US, but there were doubts they had the authority to issue such an order even in war time. The ban on radio was lifted in the US in late 1919.
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 permitted only 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 CommerceHerbert Hoover when he took a public stand in the station's defence. Although AT&T won its case, the furore created was such that those restrictive provisions of the transmitter license were never enforced.
In Europe, Denmark had the first known radio station in the world to broadcast commercial radio from a vessel in international waters without permission from the authorities in the country that it broadcast to (Denmark in this case). The station was named Radio Mercurand began transmission on August 2nd 1958. In the Danish newspapers it was soon called a "pirate radio".
In the 1960s in the UK, the term referred to not only a perceived unauthorised use of the state-run spectrum by the unlicensed broadcasters but also the risk-taking nature of offshore radio stations that actually operated on anchored ships or marine platforms.
A good example of this kind of activity was Radio Luxembourg located in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The English language evening broadcasts from Radio Luxembourg were beamed by Luxembourg licensed transmitters. The audience in the United Kingdom originally listened to their radio sets by permission of a Wireless Licence issued by the British General Post Office (GPO). However, under terms of that Wireless Licence, it was an offence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act to listen to unauthorised broadcasts, which possibly included those transmitted by Radio Luxembourg. Therefore as far as the British authorities were concerned, Radio Luxembourg wasnot a "pirate radio station" and British listeners to the station were not breaking the law (although as the term 'unauthorised' was never properly defined it was somewhat of a legal grey area). This did not stop British newspapers from printing programme schedules for the station, or a British weekly magazine aimed at teenage girls, "Fab 208" from promoting the "DJs" and their lifestyle (Radio Luxembourg's wavelength was 208 metres (1440 kHz)).
Radio Luxembourg was later joined by three other well known pirate stations received in the UK in violation of UK licensing, Radio Caroline, North and South, plus Radio Atlanta which became Caroline South and Radio London, all of which broadcast from vessels anchored outside of territorial limits and were therefore legitimate. Radio Jackie, for instance (although transmitting illegally), was registered for VAT and even had its address and telephone number in local telephone directories.
Where actual sea-faring vessels are not involved, the term pirate radio is a political term of convenience as the word "pirate" suggests an illegal venture, regardless of the broadcasts actual legal status. The radio station XERF located at Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas, USA, is an example.
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 labelled 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.
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. Free Radio was only ever used to refer to Radio transmissions that were beyond Government control, as was offshore Radio in the UK and Europe.
The term free radio was adopted by the Free Radio Association of listeners who defended the rights of the offshore " radio stations" broadcasting from ships and marine structures off the coastline of the United Kingdom. Félix Guattari points out:
"Technological development, and in particular the miniaturization of transmitters and the fact that they can be put together by amateurs, 'encounters' a collective aspiration for some new means of expression." 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.
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 radio 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 North Sea International, which was based aboard the Motor Vessel (MV) Mebo II anchored off Southeast England in the North Sea. It was even alleged the station was a front for a Warsaw pactnumbers station.
Other examples of this type of unusual broadcasting include the Coast Guard Cutter USCGC 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 Martí, which are directed at Cuba. Military broadcasting aircraft have been flown over Vietnam, Iraq and many other nations by the United States Air Force. The European Union financially supported a radio station broadcasting news and information into the former Yugoslavia from a ship anchored in international waters.
New media pirate radio
Pirate radio has long been synonymous with AM (LW,MW & SW) and FM (VHF) unlicensed broadcasting and "border blasting" in most parts of the world. With the advent of the internet, many conventional AM/FM radio stations have also taken to simulcasting via the web. These range from public broadcasters, licensed commercial radio, and in some countries, the 3rd tier of low power license exempt radio stations.
Despite pirate radio being known for over the air transmission, a new type of so called "pirate radio" stations now operate on-line. The distinguishing feature is that these on-line pirates will usually not pay music copyright fees, like most of their AM/FM pirate cousins. These on-line stations will usually attract a small and loyal audience and may go unnoticed by the authorities, unlike the real AM/FM pirates who can easily be heard and traced on a conventional radio. The common term for this type of operation is better served by the term "Studio Pirates" rather than pirate radio, as no real radio transmitter is used.
A recent case of on-line studio pirate was seen in the UK. Hitz Radio(UK) and not to be confused with HitzRadio.com (USA) managed to attract large amounts of mainstream media publicity in early 2007. This publicity resulted from Ryan Dunlop, the owner of the station, nominating Hitz Radio for various business awards. After this publicity, many people with radio industry knowledge began to probe the station, which had claimed "millions of fans" and tens of thousands of listeners on-line. These claims, along with others, were part of the portfolio put forward for the business awards. When industry insiders checked these claims, it resulted in the UK music copyright agencies PPL and MCPS-PRS Alliance chasing back fees owed by Ryan Dunlop and Hitz Radio. That in turn resulted in the audience claims to be false, based upon the amount of back dated fees owed for copyright.
Piracy in amateur and two-way radio
Illegal use of licensed radio spectrum (also known as bootlegging in CB circles) is fairly common and takes several forms.
- Unlicensed operation -- Particularly associated with amateur radio and licensed personal communication services such as GMRS, this refers to use of radio equipment on a section of spectrum for which the equipment is designed but on which the user is not licensed to operate (most such operators are informally known as "bubble pack pirates" from the sealed plastic retail packaging common to such walkie-talkies). While piracy on the US GMRS band, for example, is widespread (some estimates have the number of total GMRS users outstripping the number of licensed users by several orders of magnitude), such use is generally disciplined only in cases where the pirate's activity interferes with a licensee. (A notable case is that of United States amateur operator and political activist Jack Gerritsen (operating under the revoked call sign KG6IRO), who was successfully prosecuted by the FCC for unlicensed operation and malicious interference.) A subcategory of this is free banding, the use of allocations nearby a legal allocation (most typically the 27 MHz Citizen's Band) on modified or purpose-built gear.
- Inadvertent interference -- Common when personal communications gear is brought into countries where it is not certified to operate. Such interference results from clashing frequency allocations, and occasionally requires wholesale reallocation of an existing band due to an insurmountable interference problem; for example, the 2004 approval in Canada of the unlicensed use of the United States General Mobile Radio Service frequencies due to interference from users of FRS/GMRS radios from the United States, where Industry Canada had to transfer a number of licensed users on the GMRS frequencies to unoccupied channels to accommodate the expanded service.
- Deliberate or malicious interference -- refers to the use of two-way radio to harass or jam other users of a channel. Such behaviour is widely prosecuted, especially when it interferes with mission-critical services such as aviation radio or marine VHF radio.
- Illegal equipment -- This refers to the use of illegally modified equipment or equipment not certified for a particular band. Such equipment includes illegal linear amplifiers for CB radio, antenna or circuit modifications on walkie-talkies, the use of "export" radios for free banding, or the use of amateur radios on unlicensed bands that amateur gear is not certified for. The use of marine VHF radio gear for inland mobile radio operations is common in some countries, with enforcement difficult since marine VHF is generally the province of maritime authorities.
List of known Pirate Radio Stations
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- Impact FM 87.5, United Kingdom and online at impact875.co.uk
- La Tremenda 106.5, Mexico
- Radio Caroline South, United Kingdom
- Radio Jackie, United Kingdom (Now licensed and legal)
- Radio Caroline North, United Kingdom
- Radio Scotland, United Kingdom
- Radio 270, United Kingdom
- Swinging Radio England, United Kingdom
- Britain Radio, United Kingdom
- Radio City, United Kingdom
- Radio 390, United Kingdom
- Radio Essex, United Kingdom
- Radio Mercur, Denmark
- Radio Milinda, Dublin
- Radio Kaleidoscope, United Kingdom
- Wonderful Radio London, United Kingdom
- Wicked Radio, 88.9 FM 25 watts Metal, Punk, Rock, Talk (English) Edgerton, Wisconsin United States
- Flava 105.5, 105.5 FM reggae, reggaeton, hip-hop, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
- TSF (radio), from Portugal, originally a pirate radio, it was legalized during the 1989 forgiveness of private radios (since these weren´t allowed in Portugal).
- WTCR, Twentieth Century Radio, US-based shortwave pirate radio hosted by Dr. Morbius, from June 7-8, 2008 broadcast 0143-0314 UTC on 6925 kHz in USB mode. Uses call letters of the licensed WTCR and WTCR-FM stations in Virginia and West Virginia.
- Dread Broadcasting Corporation, London's first black music radio station.
Pirate Radio Photos & QSLsare almost a hobby unto themselves. Providing a record that a listener has heard a particular station, they often go far beyond their intended purpose by making personal statements, rhetoric, philosophy and the bizarre. While they tend to be a by-product of the Shortwave pirate scene, the Micropower Stations are also getting into the act by producing posters, stickers and other items to promote their efforts. Presented here are some of the best, interesting, significant and unique QSLs from the FRN collection spanning almost 20 years. I hope that you enjoy them as much as we enjoy showing them to friends.
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