We Love the Pirate Stations! – The Music of the Sixties

in Daily Programme, Radio Riel Main

by Elrik Merlin on Wednesday, 14 August, 2013

Today is August 14th, the anniversary of the day in 1967 when the passing into law of the Marine &c Broadcasting (Offences) Act in Britain the following day brought to an end one of the most lively periods of broadcasting – and music – in British history – the era of offshore stations broadcasting from ships and disused sea‐forts around the British coast: the so‐called “pirate stations”.

R-4532510-1367581882-5324On Radio Riel’s Main Stream today we remember the demise of the “Pirates”, with the music of the period interspersed with actual radio jingles (which were often sourced from PAMS in Dallas and may be familiar to US listeners in different forms) and trailers of the stations, the artists they featured and, at 11am and 7pm Pacific Time (19:00 and 03:00 British Summer Time) one of the first audio documentaries on offshore radio in Europe covering the 1950s to the early 1970s: The History of Offshore Radio by Paul Harris (recorded in 1970).

Britain’s broadcasting system was unusual in that it had commercial television (from 1955) before it had commercial radio. Pressure groups had worked for legal commercial radio over the years since then but had failed. There had been commercial stations broadcasting to Britain from mainland Europe in the form of Radio Normandy and Radio Luxembourg as early as the 1930s (Luxembourg came back on the air after the Second World War; Normandy did not).

In 1960 the first attempt to broadcast to Britain from the high seas came in the form of test transmissions from CNBC, the Commercial Neutral Broadcasting Company, from the Radio Veronica radio ship moored off the Netherlands – one of several in international waters around Europe that attempted to break local broadcasting monopolies during this period. This eventually came to nothing, but it gave people ideas, and in 1964 Radio Caroline went on the air, followed by Radio Atlanta. Soon the two organisations joined forces and became Radio Caroline North and South. Other stations followed, the best‐known probably being the US‐backed Radio London (“Big L”, from the MV Galaxy shown above), along with Radio England and Britain Radio; there were also stations based on World War II forts in the Thames estuary such as Radio City.

These stations primarily played popular music, and essentially brought the sound of American‐style Top 40 radio to the UK for the first time. Within months they had audiences in the millions, and there was an outcry when the then‐government of Harold Wilson decided to ban them – a move which, it has been argued, permanently lost the Labour party significant support in the East of England. The stations closed down on August 14, 1967, with the exception of Radio Caroline, which continued to broadcast and ultimately became a satellite broadcaster.

Today’s programme is presented by Elrik Merlin. You can listen to the programme in‐world now at http://main.radioriel.org, or simply click here to start your player, if your browser is configured to do so. Listeners in the United States are encouraged to tune in using this link: http://loudcity.com/stations/radio-riel/tune_in


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth Ghostraven August 14, 2013 at 05:30

The movie "Pirate Radio" (AKA "The Boat That Rocked") was my introduction to this part of radio history--entertaining and eye-opening, but not sure how accurate historically. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boat_That_Rocked


Elrik Merlin August 14, 2013 at 06:13

Well, the movie is only loosely based on the story of Radio Caroline, and I wouldn't use it as a historical reference :).

The Wikipedia entry for Caroline seems pretty good: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Caroline.


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