You're listening to Blackbeard in the Morrrrning, mateys!"
Pirate radio is as old as government regulation of radio broadcasts. It gets its name from the fact that many early unlicensed radio stations were based on boats, such as the famous Radio Caroline off the coast of Britain in The Sixties
. Since then, the term has been applied to any radio station that operates without a government license. This usually annoys government regulators, licensed radio stations and radio listeners alike, as pirate radio stations operating on a close enough frequency to licensed ones can cause interference that screws with radio reception.
Pirate radio often captures people's imaginations because it symbolizes resistance to the powers that control popular music or access to information. To use the Radio Caroline example again, it shot to popularity in the swinging '60s (as did Radio Luxembourg) because British listeners were fed up with the record companies' control of what music was played on the radio. Pirate radio is often portrayed as the Voice of the Resistance
, if not against the government, then against the conformity of mainstream popular culture.
A New Media
example of pirate radio occurs with internet radio stations that, while not requiring a license to broadcast, play copyrighted music without paying license fees to the record companies
. Unlike pirate radio stations, so-called "studio pirates" generally (although not always) fly under the radar of the authorities and the record companies, since an internet broadcast doesn't interfere with over-the-air radio or television signals.
Anime & Manga
- A small-scale, single-program operation in the original anime of Sailor Moon happens to be another front for the Dark Kingdom's energy theft schemes.
- Pump Up The Volume is about a teenage boy who uses a pirate radio station to take on the injustices at his high school.
- The Boat That Rocked (known as Pirate Radio in the USnote ) is extremely loosely based on the experience of Radio Caroline (some studio props used in the movie were actually loaned from Caroline's last ship Ross Revenge).
- In Born In Flames, two different radical feminist groups voice their concerns to the public with pirate radio stations. One group, led by an outspoken white lesbian, operates "Radio Ragazza". The other group, led by a soft-spoken African-American, operates "Phoenix Radio".
- The last Harry Potter book has one of these for the Resistance, which is not only on a random frequency each time it broadcasts, but is also password protected.
- In the Kate Shugak novels by Dana Stabenow, Bobby Clark runs an illegal radio station called Park Air that broadcasts on an irregular schedule and keeps changing frequencies to stay ahead of the authorities.
- In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, it is learned that Hal used to run a pirate radio station when he was in college. He finds his old radio equipment and decides to restart his station.
- Radio Free Roscoe, about four teenagers who set up a pirate station in order to provide an alternative to their high school's radio station.
- On The Rocks was an obscure British kids' show from the 70s about a pirate TV station operating from a remote lighthouse.
- Inspired by the pirates broadcasting to Britain in the 60s, the Thunderbirds episode "Ricochet" features a pirate station operating from a small satellite - which naturally gets into trouble. (Why the owners didn't think to use an unmanned satellite is never explained.)
- Rock N America was an 80s Music Video show starring Rick Ducommun as a TV pirate.
- The Goodies start a pirate radio station in "Radio Goodies". Inspired, Graeme starts a pirate post office, then goes Drunk with Power and tries to start a pirate nation by dragging England out of its own five-mile limit. It is highly amusing.
- Boy Meets World had an episode where Cory and Shawn form their own pirate radio station after Mr. Feeny kicks them off the school's station for turning their show from a dull Q&A session into the much more inappropriate "Lunchtime Lust." They only get to enjoy their success for a few minutes before Shawn accidentally gives away their location on air and Feeny busts them.
- The premise of Feral TV.
- Space Pirates was about a pirate radio station based on a space ship.
- One episode of The Young Ones featured a pirate radio station - run by a genuine 17th century pirate.
- The Who's album The Who Sell Out is intended to be a pirate radio broadcast, complete with fake commercials.
- The remix album of Cowboy Bebop's soundtrack was "broadcast" by Radio Free Mars, a pirate station operated from a satellite of the red planet.
- The My Chemical Romance concept album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys features a DJ called Doctor Death Defying (played by MSI guitarist Steve, Righ?) who transmits pirated radio broadcasts about the Killjoy's deeds.
- In The Space Gypsy Adventures, Rekki G's father is said to have once been a DJ at one of these, broadcasting from a ship orbiting the planet Zenophon.
- The Simpsons's episode "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken" has Bart, Lisa and Milhouse setting up a pirate radio station, using it to spread gossip about Springfield's adults while speaking in the Queen's English.
- An entire episode of Sealab2021 was centered entirely on Captain Murphy's efforts to launch a pirate radio station out of Sealab, leading to the FCC eventually destroying Sealab.
- Grojband: Grojband set up a pirate radio station in "On the Air and Out to Sea" and end up getting shanghaied on to an actual pirate ship.
- Radio Caroline, described in the opening section, originally broadcast from 1964-8, but made less-publicized comebacks from 1972-80 and 1983-90. In the 90s it began broadcasting legally from a land-based studio via satellite and later the internet.
- Also many others from the 1950s to the 1980s, notably Radio Merkur (broadcasting to Denmark and part of Sweden), Radio Nord (broadcasting to Stockholm area in Sweden, Turku area in Finland and Åland archipelago), Radio Veronica (Netherlands), Radio London (Britain), Radio North Sea International (Netherlands and Britain) and Laser 558 (Britain and Northern Europe). And let's not forget Radio Hauraki (New Zealand), which was actually granted a licence by the New Zealand Government after three and a half years as a pirate (from a wooden ship, no less), during which time it ran aground twice and tragically lost a DJ overboard.
- North Sea International had one of the more colourful histories. Nearly all of them had the boat sink at one point (they usually had No Budget and the boats tended to be a bit careworn at best) but North Sea are the only ones to ever have employees of a rival radio station set fire to it, causing the late-night DJ to put out a frantic distress call over the main antenna. They also ended up nearly being the victims of piracy on one occasion when a nightclub owner who had some business dealings with the owners turned up with a boatload of heavies claiming that he'd bought the ship. The crew prepared to repel boarders with MolotovCocktails while presenter "Spangles Muldoon" (you could get away with a name like that in The Sixties) kept up an acerbic running commentary until the Dutch Navy sent a frigate to intercede.
- In the 60s some stations also took over old World War II anti-aircraft forts off the British coast, some of which were big enough to support large antennas.
- Radio & TV Noordzee was probably the only successful offshore TV pirate. Operating from a customized offshore exploration platform off the Dutch coast in 1964, it broadcast English-language series on film with burned-in Dutch subtitles, as well as a top 40 radio station. Both operations were closed by a government raid after only four months. Some of those responsible set up a new company and acquired a licence to broadcast legitimately.
- The English-language Radio Luxembourg is a borderline case. While it was most definitely licensed to its country of origin (it was run by that country's government), its transmissions were also of dubious legality in Britain (the country its transmitters were pointed towards), where The BBC enjoyed a near-monopoly on radio and listening to unauthorised radio broadcasts was illegal. Before World War II Luxembourg was just one of many European cross-border commercial stations. During the war some of them, including Luxembourg, were taken over and used to broadcast Nazi propaganda; after the war Luxembourg was the only one that resumed commercial operations. In The Fifties Luxembourg broadcast lots of GameShows, most of which defected to television as soon as ITV went on the air, leaving Luxembourg as solely a music station. The BBC developed a rivalry with Radio Luxembourg for much of The Fifties and The Sixties, especially in the arena of pop music. In fact, many BBC DJs also broadcast on Luxembourg - clearly contracts were more lenient in those days. In 1989 a partnership between Luxembourg and RTE resulted in Atlantic 252, which broadcast to the British Isles from Ireland until 2002.
- Luxembourg wasn't fussy who or what it broadcast as long as they paid up. Prior to the pop shows starting in the early evenings, 208 was the home of a particularly repugnant American televangelist (British broadcasting law refused any sort of airtime for these people in Britain. Despite their hatred of pop and rock music as being a tainted and ungodly thing of Satan, Garner Ted Armstrong and his church had no choice but to rent airspace from the Satan-worshippers in Luxembourg to get their message into Britain.
- In fact in the '60s Armstrong's show was broadcast daily by almost all of the ship-based pirates off Britain as well.
- Luxy also cheerfully advertised businesses banned from advertising in Britain, or in extreme cases banned altogether, such as get-rich-quick-through-beating-the-bookies scams based in Keynsham. It still advertised cigarettes long after all radio and TV advertising for fags and cigars had been banned in Britain.
- Gustav Siegfried Eins could well qualify.
- Mexican "border blasters" (or "X stations", after the fact that the call letters of Mexican stations all start with X) are another borderline example. They're radio stations along the US-Mexico border that take advantage of looser broadcasting restrictions and lower costs in Mexico to broadcast over very large swaths of the southwestern US. This is often to the great irritation of American stations, whose signals frequently get overwhelmed. FM border blasters were banned by mutual consent in 1972 (Mexican stations must broadcast at the same wattage as American stations), although AM blasters are still around.
- Radio legend Wolfman Jack did most of his work at a station in Tijiuana.
- Sometimes, legitimate radio stations will call themselves "pirate radio" in order to emphasize that they're "edgier" than the competition. An example is WSOU in northern New Jersey, which goes by "Seton Hall's Pirate Radio" but is actually just a normal College Radio station (albeit a very large and popular one).
- In Seton Hall's case, of course, it's also a non-sexual Double Entendre — the Pirates are the school's mascot.
- During the Cold War, people in Estonia (which was under Soviet rule) could easily pick up radio waves from Finland. Since Finland allowed commercial TV broadcasting, Soviet officials tried to prevent Estonians from watching capitalistic TV with interference and intimidation.
- In the Midwest during the late 70s and early 80s, it was Bruce Quinn's Jolly Roger Radio. They played the pirate trope to the hilt. Avast, matey, here be some Pentangle and Steeleye Span fer ye! They also had a number of promos joking about how they knew they were going to get busted. They did. Quinn later owned WKLU Indianapolis and sold it for something like six million dollars. With his wife Mitzi he now owns and operates WHUM, a noncommercial freeform station in Columbus, Indiana.
- Since the late 1970s there's been a vast underground movement of unlicensed broadcasting on shortwave radio frequencies in the US and Canada. Programming tends to be heavy on classic rock songs and homemade comedy skits (with lots of toilet and drug humor), but there have been a wide array of stations over the decades. Because shortwave listening isn't very widespread, the audience is limited to radio hobbyists and other pirate operators, resulting in a huge chunk of inside jokes, particularly about certain people in the community. FCC enforcement has waxed and waned over the years, especially after their threats of heavy fines and jail time ran into legal roadblocks.