On the heels of Radio Caroline’s 47th birthday last week, the New York Times published a story reporting on the outfit’s attempt to garner an actual license to broadcast in the UK. Caroline is pursuing 531 KHz on the mediumwave band (known as AM in the US) which was recently vacated by the BBC. While they’ve enlisted the support of many, including 51 members of parliament, the British radio authority, Ofcom, tells the Times,
even if we did advertise the frequency for use within the U.K., either at a local or national level, there can be no guarantee that Radio Caroline would win the license.
I don’t know if there is a statute in the UK preventing former pirates from having station licenses. In the US former unlicensed broadcasters are prohibited from having LPFM licenses. However, they are not necessarily prevented from having full-power FM licenses. Ostensibly having been busted by the FCC for broadcasting without a license might make someone unfit for a licensed station under the so-called “character clause.” However there is precedent for former pirates later obtaining broadcast licenses.
Currently Radio Caroline is broadcasting online. As part of its anniversary celebration the station is advertising an on-air birthday bash broadcasting from the ship Ross Revenge April 22 through May 2. The broadcast apparently will be on 531 KHz AM in south Essex and north Kent, though it’s not clear if that is a licensed or unlicensed signal.
I sometimes think it’s ironic when US pirate stations try for licenses, but in Radio Caroline’s case I don’t think it’s ironic at all. UK pirates helped to break the BBC’s stranglehold on the airwaves, paving the way for non-government broadcasting. A private radio license wasn’t even available when Caroline was on the air. So, in a way it’s only fitting that Radio Caroline be able to eventually enjoy the result of it’s labor 47 years ago.