What did pirate radio give us anyway - and how long will it survive?
By James Cridland
(These are responses to a student's broadcast journalism degree questions. Disagree? That's what the comments box is for...)
How has pirate radio changed since the 60's - and how did pirate radio influence the radio we can listen to today?
The 1960s were a period without any official "pop" radio stations: so pirate radio fulfilled quite a need. Many of them copied the successful top-40 radio formats of the US, and imported them onto the UK airwaves - bringing a welcome sound that was unheard-of to radio listeners. The added 'subversive' nature of these broadcasts were also responsible for their success.
It's claimed that BBC Radio 1 was the government's reaction to the success of these pirates, almost all of which operated outside UK jurisdiction. Radio 1, however, was a part-time service when it started, and suffered for years from a requirement not to play more than five hours of commercially-available music ("needle time") a day: a restriction which, naturally, the pirate radio stations weren't required to adhere to. Nevertheless, pirate radio's influence began to wane with Radio 1's launch.
Some claim that the legalisation of UK commercial radio in the early 1970s was as a direct result of pirate radio activity; others that commercial radio would have happened anyway. Some point to pirate radio being responsible for much of the sound of Radio 1 (many of the network's original presenters were previously pirate broadcasters); others that pirate radio's sound in Europe was simply copied from US top-40 radio anyway.
The growth of commercial radio by the 1980s (and continued success for BBC Radio 1) resulted in many pirate radio stations ceasing operation, and new laws in the mid 1980s were successful in curbing pirate radio further.
Pirate radio in the UK is now not romantically based on a ship - but using transmitters sited at the top of buildings. Many pirate radio broadcasters operate legally as internet radio stations, but, as one industry veteran puts it, the stations "obligingly get re-broadcast on FM by some of their fans". Unlike the 1960s, Ofcom claim that today's pirate broadcasters have links to drug pushers and other illegal operations. A cursory sweep of the dial during a Friday evening in London, however, reveals that Ofcom don't appear to be successful in closing them - as this discussion makes clear.
Pirate radio use in the UK is measured by RAJAR under "other listening", which includes all non-subscriber stations - along with global internet radio and out-of-area stations. 3m people in the UK tune in to "other radio" each week: it has a market share of 2.4%.
To read whole discussion go to: http://www.mediauk.com/article/34423/pirate-radio-its-legacy?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+JamesCridlandsBlog+%28James+Cridland%27s+blog%29
(via the We Love The Pirate Stations Facebook group)