Pirate Radio

The 1960’s is remembered as the generation of British Rock N’ Roll music. Just as American Rock N’ Roll had dominated the airwaves a few years prior, this fresh take on the iconic genre crossed boarders and influenced teens and adults alike to buy records, attend concerts, and cling to the radio, hoping their new favorite tune might emerge from the speakers. Ironically, this same country that had conceived these inspired and talented 1960’s rockers, also prohibited their music from being freely played amongst their British radio stations. This musical prevention effected the musicians popularity, record sales, and most of all left the fans thirsting for more. With such a monopoly of airwaves taking place, it seemed as if radio would never be a warm home for Rock N’ Roll in the United Kingdom. That is, until pirate radio stations, determined to succeed, rocked the waters and forever changed the British radio game.

Often referred to as “Auntie” by the locals for it’s polite and proper content, 1960’s British radio was owned solely by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Consisting mostly of news, information, light entertainment, children’s programs, and a sole SIX HOURS A WEEK devoted to popular music, it was abundatnly clear that the Rock revolution taking place on the U.S. stations was all but banned in the U.K.

Ronan O’ Rahilly, English nightclub owner and manager of several pop music artists during this time, became frustrated by the amount of rules, restrictions, and regulations provided by the BBC to musicians and their records. Honing inspiration from prior pirate radio stations, Rahilly purchased a fishing ship off the eastern coast of England and created Radio Caroline.

These floating stations dropped anchor in international waters, meaning they were technically no longer under the guidelines established by the BBC or in proximity of the British authorities legal reach. Pirate radio stations began lifting playlists from their successful American counterparts and were finally able to celebrate the sound created by their own. Playing ’round the clock Rock N’ Roll and reaching as many as 20 millions Brits, pirate radio stations proved just how powerful a popular music radio station could be.

By presenting and profiting off of commercials, something that had gone unplayed on British radio stations until this time, allowed successful Rock N’ Roll stations like Radio Caroline to not only afford their unique headquarters, but allowed owners to take in a hefty profit. The pirate Disc Jockey’s also experienced a monumental shift when they went from lowly, unrecognizable voices to stars and celebrities in their own right. For the first time, these DJ’s acquired fans and followers who eagerly awaited their time slot and expression of musical taste.

Due to this amount of pirating success, in 1967 the British government declared it a crime to supply music, fuel, food, water, and advertising to any unlicensed offshore broadcaster. This strict law made it impossible for pirate radio stations to survive and eventually brought them to an absolute end. Shockingly, or not shockingly at all, it was not but one month after the music ending regulation was enforced that the BBC announced their first all popular music radio station.

Despite Rock N’ Roll’s short lived career on British ships and the eventual plagiarism put on by the BBC with their 1967 popular music station, it is important to note that the pirate radio’s determination and rule bending act may have encompassed the spirit of Rock N’ Roll just as strongly as the music they played. Unafraid of the initial consequences and intent on their commitment to bring Rock into the homes of millions of begging for music Brits, Pirate Radio remains an important component of radio history and demonstrates the obvious world wide passion for Rock N’ Roll music.

–Victoria Shaffer

Barker, Vicki. “The Real Story Behind Britain’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Pirates.” NPR, NPR, 13 Nov. 2009, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120358447.
C, Kippen. “Brief History of the Pirate Radio Stations (UK).” ZANI – Online Optimism For The New Beat Generation, http://www.zani.co.uk/culture/687-brief-history-of-the-pirate-radio-stations-uk.






7 thoughts on “Pirate Radio

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s