Pirate Stations in London

transcript of broadcast in 2000 – all rights reserved (2009)

A pirate radio station is a station that broadcasts without a governmental licence. Here is a first taste of real radio pirates, this the “Heartless Crew” on Mission FM:


Pirate stations in Britain have been around since the 1960’s, when the first pioneers broadcasted from ships on sea. – Like historic pirates, most stations pride themselves to be independent, alternative, and enhancing free expression. Most pirates these days broadcast from the roofs of social housing tower blocks in London and other major cities. Usually several pirate stations are on air at one time. The majority of pirates such as the Heartless Crew are under the age of 25, many are from less well-off and marginalised backgrounds, in particular the whole spectrum of black voices, be they be in Ghanaian languages, about Caribbean Reggae or Sokka or modern black dance music, or even take black nationalist positions. All attempt to create spaces of their own, where there are none or not enough on legal or governmental stations.

In Britain there are fines with a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment for this activity. The government holds pirates to be dangerous, because they apparently interfere with main radio, but also with emergency services and air traffic control – a scary but outdated 1960’s argument, when legislation was passed, in an age of mobile phones and microwaves, with equal potential of interference, especially as transmission gear these days are quite precise. Mr Bigfoot a DJ on East London’s Station FM explains some backgrounds:


The government, licences airwaves in accordance to economic viability. To run a station legally one must have great amounts of cash at hands, to pay for the licence as well as fees for music played. It may also be – and here I am speculating – a particular political direction that that is not liked.

Governor Melaninman, works on Genesis Radio a Black pirate stations, at the forefront of free black political expressions, from community based programmes to black nationalist talk.


With London one of the main cities of musical production the music stations together with London clubs are often important trend-setters and must deserve proper attention. For many young persons they provide an opportunity to set themselves up in the music industry. Radio also brings people together in stratified urban environments. Here is how people on London’s streets feel about pirates:


In the light of seizure of equipment and sentencing some stations are now changing over to the Internet, but not without the British government having hurried to decree a licensing fee even for that. To broadcast thus has a price, and at least in Britain radio transmission control too often criminalises aspiring younger people particularly of various marginalised backgrounds.

For Deutsche Welle in London I am Daniel Zylbersztajn.