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Report: London is pirate radio heaven (or hell, depending on your viewpoint)

The United Kingdom is so famous for its pirate radio stations that Hollywood made a movie about one. But as always the government is quite dour about these unlicensed signals, and has shut 400 of them down recently, according to a newspaper report.

The London Evening Standard says that a quarter of the crackdowns over the last two years took place in and around Haringey, North London. 50 further raids focused on “suspected pirates” in Lambeth, South London. An official for Ofcom, the UK’s broadcast regulator, told the Standard there are still “about 70 active stations in the London area” and maybe 100 more around the rest of the country.

“From the enquiries we’ve carried out, this problem doesn’t exist in New York or Rome or Paris,” he added, “it’s a London phenomenon.”

The newspaper got these figures via a Freedom of Information request, presumably similar to our Freedom of Information Act protocols here in the United States. But the Standard hasn’t published the whole list. Ofcom provides some statistics about interference complaints on its Enforcement Page and, sure enough, most of the broadcast related gripes come from London.

Ofcom has an advisory web page against pirate radio. “There is a way you can take to the airwaves without breaking the law,” the document notes. “There are now over 200 community radio stations broadcasting in locations across the UK.”

According to this map, ten of them have licenses in Greater London, but it sounds like the city needs more. In any event, here’s a map of where the government thinks the unlicensed London broadcasters are operating from (aforementioned counties, [oops, boroughs, see comment below] circled in red):

Pirate Radio London

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4 Responses to Report: London is pirate radio heaven (or hell, depending on your viewpoint)

  1. James Cridland July 6, 2015 at 6:07 am #

    A tedious Brit writes… “They’re not counties, they’re boroughs.”

    I have a suspicion that the pirate radio stations here are partially why radio listeners – in London at least – are now mostly using digital at home – DAB, internet, DTV – which is where we listen to radio most in the UK. I find my FM listening being badly interrupted by pirate radio on the way to the supermarket in the car. (I live in Enfield, just north of Haringay).

    A little note: Enfield used to describe itself as “London’s top borough”. After living here for a while, I realised what basis they had used to describe themselves in that way. The clue’s on your map.

  2. BKPirateWatch July 6, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    I don’t know what inquiries Mr. Corrie carried out, but he was not very well informed by his sources. Interference caused by pirate radio is a HUGE problem in certain parts of New York City — but not in ritzy Manhattan or northern Brooklyn, so it doesn’t get much attention. There are up to 36 pirates at any given time choking the FM dial and crowding out legitimate broadcasters in central and southern Brooklyn, particularly in areas around Flatbush, the pirate nexus of Brooklyn. There are also many pirates in the Bronx and, to a lesser degree, Queens. Follow us on Twitter at @BkPirateWatch to see and hear more about our pirate problem.

  3. RK Henderson July 9, 2015 at 9:53 pm #

    It should be pointed out that the current pirate environment in the UK, and London in particular, is nothing like the offshore era, which the linked movie is about. Today’s pirates are small, terrestrial, urban, and furtive. They broadcast mostly to the immediate neighbourhood from high buildings, generally from a hidden, shoebox-sized transmitter that is keyed remotely and feeds a camouflaged antenna on the roof. (Alternatively, some operate from vans.) These are low-power, intermittent operations that target a small listenership; basically what Americans call LPFM, except unlicensed.

    By contrast, radio ships such as the one in the movie Pirate Radio were commercial AM stations seeking wide diffusion, with high-powered transmitters of the type that legitimate shoreside stations used. They were high-profile professional projects broadcasting mainstream news and music (for the most part), seeking to challenge the BBC monopoly on something like its own terms.

    Where the post gets it right is that the offshore era did plant the concept and romance of pirate radio in British culture, and it has existed there, in one form or another, ever since.

    Net Radio Blog

  4. Jerry Drawhorn July 13, 2015 at 7:08 am #

    I’m wondering if these are ethnic neighborhoods where the broadcasters might be filling a gap in the regulated BBC and community radio programming? Are they predominantly music programmers? Religious? Foreign language? Kids with a knack for electronics? Why the desire for broadcast rather than an internet station?

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