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

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

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2 Responses to “We Love the Pirate Stations! – The Music of the Sixties”

  1. Beth Ghostraven says:

    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

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