Radio Jackie was one of the pioneers of landbased pirate radio in London, only preceded by Radio Free London. Radio Jackie commenced broadcasts from South West London in 1969 and continued until the early eighties. Radio Jackie was the longest surviving, and most well known of London's Medium Wave stations. They were the most consistent station and probably broadcast more hours than any other land-based pirate. There was an attempt to obtain a broadcast license from the IBA and unfortunately this compromised the programme formats for the final months of their transmissions.
Radio Jackie was one of the most "raided" stations in London, lost a large number of transmitters, and most of it's staff appeared in court and were prosecuted under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949.
The owner of the station and the driving force behind it was Nick Catford (DJ Mike Knight). Also well known on site (and to the DTI) was Brian Horne aka Abie Cohen, he was the most inventive when in court and regularly reduced the magistrate to tears of laughter with his unlikely reasons for being in close proximity to an illegal transmitter. On one occasion he explained that he was in the vicinity of Beddington sewerage works to collect daphnia for his OAP neighbours goldfish, the neighbour was duly called as a witness (Brian paid him £10 outside the court). When asked why he had a VSWR meter on the dashboard of his car, he said that it was to tune the engine. Brian was also responsible for setting up the London Transmitter of Independent Radio (LTIR), this broadcast a different station every night of the week on VHF. FM broadcasting was somewhat new to pirates, previously only using AM. Brian became a respectable radio amateur. Mike Knight now works on the recently revived Radio Jackie on 107.8MHz for the Kingston area.
Another key person on site was engineer Mike Barrington, in addition to running his own station Radio Free Atlantis, he was the first person to successfully prosecute the DTI (namely Eric Gotts) for assault. He went on to work for several years as a radio engineer for the offshore Radio Caroline, and most recently is the Chief Engineer of Roughs Tower. Roughs is unique among offshore ex-military forts, in that it lays outside of British territorial waters and is technically an independent island, known as the Principality of Sealand
Key DTI personnel at this time were Jim Crow,Victor Frisby, Eric Gotts, Brian Holder, Brian Williams and Stanley Smith. Jim was known for his leniency in dealing with pirates, and turned a blind eye on many occasions. When he raided the station Swinging Radio England in Shepperton he ignored the glowing valves of the medium wave transmitter and concentrated on a defunct ex-army No.19 Set which he agreed could not transmit. Gotts and Holder in particular were fond of their work and took almost sadistic pleasure in prosecuting pirates. They were so dedicated that they even tracked down pirates on Christmas Day, which was an unofficial amnesty day for pirates in London.
I remember one particular Radio Concord transmission where three sites had been prepared in advance, the first was a house in Elgin Avenue where there was only power for the rig, but no lights. The rig was enormous, built on a milk crate, it had 813's in the pa, and another huge tray held the power supply and capacitors. We sat in the bay window looking out on the street (where the aerial was strung the whole length of the road), suddenly there was Eric Gotts in the front garden peering in. He could not see us in the dark, one of the Concord helpers (a French army deserter) ran down to the basement unplugged the rig and PSU, ran with it and climbed over the back garden fence. How he managed this I'll never know, must have been the army training.
Anyway Gotts started to look bemused, the signal bearing had suddenly changed, when our site went off air, the next one had turned on. He eventually wandered off and we drove to the next site which was now on air, if I recall correctly this was located at Hornsey Rise in Goldie House, a squatted block of flats. These flats had open balconies connecting the front doors, and while we were there a women decided to throw over a washing machine (or fridge I can't remember) at her bloke who was legging it away at ground level. Certainly an eventful night which culminated in Arnold (driving his red open top MG sports car) being hailed down by the police at about 5am, they were parked facing the wrong way and Arnold just put his toe down and we escaped back to our HQ in Quex Road Kilburn.
Skyport Radio was one of the land-based Short Wave pirate stations which appeared as a result of the closure of the offshore pirates, and began transmissions in 1971. A few readers have asked where the name came from; other than the obvious proximity of the station to Heathrow Airport (the planes could often be heard in the background of programmes). The name was actually chosen from an old 1966 Post Office Telephone Directory, in those days numbers in the London area were the first 3 letters of the area name followed by 4 digits. The dialling code for Heathrow Airport was SKYport, or 759.
Skyport finally closed down in 1982 after first merging with Radio Corsair as the Skyport Corsair Network, and after a last transmission as Workers Radio, which originally broadcast a one off in May 1978. Meanwhile the station Uptown Radio carried on the successful Skyport format but on VHF in the London area. More on both stations including some recordings can be found on the Radio Eric site. There are also some ID clips and information on the Pirate Memories site.
The operators of Skyport Radio and Radio Corsair were both active members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). Whilst the programmes of these stations were not overtly political in content, CPGB literature and leaflets were posted out to the listeners, information about anti-fascist protests was transmitted as were adverts for the Morning Star newspaper. The broadcasts usually closed with the "Internationale" or "The East is Red". Information (schedules, stickers and photos) about the stations was exchanged with Soviet Union tourists at London meetings of the British Soviet Friendship Society (BSFS) and Skyport Radio had a large audience in the German Democratic Republic ("East Germany" DDR). It is not widely known that outside the transmission hours of Skyport Radio the transmitters were used to broadcast taped programmes from Radio Rastafari International, and Kraut Rock Radio from West Germany.
Rigs: 38 Set AFV, 19 Set AFV, 15W (807 PA, 6L6 Mod), 120W (TT21 PA, 2x 6L6 Mod.), KW Vanguard (6146 PA 2x 6L6 Mod.), Pye SSB130 (2x 6146 PA, solid state Mod.)
Staff: Terry Anderson, Bob Earl, Rob Holland, Mark King, Roger Stevens (part-time).
Locations: Feltham, Southall, Hillingdon
Originally started by Roger Stevens, Rob Holland, Bob Earl and Tony Jackson the former staff of Chertsey based Offshore Magazine, it replaced their first venture Sunkhead Radio around 1974. The original transmissions came from Rogers house in Shepperton until it was raided by Jim Crow.
After the Offshore Magazine staff met up with Mark King the station expanded to include Dave Grainger, Allen Reeve, Mike Barrington, Peter Shaw, Kid Grant , Bobby Constable, Jim Stockwell, and probably a few more I've forgotten. The station initially broadcast on Sundays from 10am-2pm on 254m before moving to all night Friday transmissions from Midnight-0800 on 227m, the programme schedule was:0000-0200 Bobby Constable, 0200-0400 Jerry King, 0400-0600 Kid Grant, 0600-0800 Pete Shaw. After the station ceased transmissions in 1977 Dave Grainger went on to start Radio Celebration and Allen Reeve started Radio 239, (later Radio City 238).
10W MW VFO 5763 PA
Here are some articles which appeared in the Free Radio Magazine of the IFRC based in Coldershaw Road around 1972
On Sunday the 5th March at 1-20pm the GPO came banging on the Nelson door. Mr. Frisby, Mr. Williams, and Mr. Gotts came dashing up the stairs to a bedroom where the transmitter was (not Asleep) but very much awake and shouting its head off. By the time Gotts made it to the room Libby Caroline had pulled the plugs out and hid some of the cassette tapes. They went through the whole house pulling out drawers and cupboards to see if they could find anything but they didn't and they put everything back as they had found it "neat and tidy".
Both Libby Caroline and Henry Morgan were questioned and they accused Libby of being the brains behind the station, so now she has a big head. Mr. Gotts & Co. said that the transmitter was the best built job they had seen, now Allen Ross has a bigger head, also they mentioned that the location was the cleanest house that they had entered.
With the GPO were 6 police officers; 2 entered the house the remaining 4 stayed outside. The Police were very good and didn't seem to know what they were there for. One Police officer kept on making remarks about the GPO and told Henry to get a van and broadcast from that, and he also said that he would put an aerial on his radio and tune into them every week from now on.
The GPO when asked for a receipt for the stuff taken gave it to Henry without any complaints; the receipt was for everything even the transmitter. The stuff taken was the transmitter, cassette tape recorder, 5 cassette tapes and a mains unit for the recorder, and all letters that the station had received. On the whole the Post Office were very nice to Libby and Henry. The papers kept on ringing up all day but they refused to talk to them.
The Daily Mirror wrote a very big piece on the raid, Nelson is the only pirate of late to get a big write up in this paper. News of the raid also appeared on lTV news that Sunday evening and was heard on the 6 o'clock news on the Beeb, all have big heads now.
After the raid on Nelson was known, other land-based stations offered their TXs to us, for this we thank you all very much. By the time this article goes to print we hope that Nelson will be back on the air again. Richard Johns, Radio Nelson DJ
At last after waiting getting on for six months for my 20-watt TX from the BIRM, it actually turned up, but alas it didn't work, and very nearly blew up. This was due to the shoddy workmanship of the engineer involved, and the pi-tank was all shorting out and in generally bad shape. As I was staying in London, my friend and me called in three local engineers, who were disgusted at the workmanship and design. The PA valve was also at fault. We rang him up, and he started making excuses.
In the end I decided to let them take it away to mend it, by using an 807 for the PA. After closer inspection, the RF section was not put together anything like a TX, so I could only think the BIRM engineers don't know what the hell they are doing. Even further inspection of the, TX showed that it wasn't a TX at all. This was very strange as it was so well built; it was very neatly put together.
As I have been in London, Radio 214 hasn't been on. We planned to come on in London, but because of that twerp we couldn't, but we plan to start an alternative station to 214 on about 227 or 230 metres.
Name for the station is not yet decided but I will let you know, in fact it may, be merrily going when you are reading this. We decided not to be pure underground, so disbanded Radio Seth. The new station will run alternative weeks. 214 will be on one week, and the next week the other station will be on. Each station therefore will be on once every two weeks.
While I was in London, I heard some good stations, Radio Samantha, Radio Odyssey, but there doesn't seem to be many like these. Jackie was professional but rather weak, while Samantha was Radio One strength. Needless to say I heard a lot of QSO's. If you must QSO do it on Top Band or anywhere else but don't interfere with the show stations, as this is a bit silly. Anyone would rather hear a good show than someone testing his modulation or cursing Gotts & Co. Anyway sorry not to hear RNI on 270 if and when they do come on it will be really good. So until the next time keep listening.
Clive Barwood, Radio 214
Well, this is my first column in FRM my first of many I hope. Every month I will keep you up to date with my station Radio Free Zettron and also, the pirate scene in and around North London, plus my views on other things.
Firstly about our TX, which was bought from the BIRM for £12, it was supposed to run 20 watts. When we switched it on smoke came pouring out of the back. So some engineers of a large London organization looked it over and found the 5B/254M valve was shorting. Later they found the circuitry so wired that it just wasn't a TX and that it could never have transmitted, the only good thing about it was that all the pieces were there but they just weren't connected up properly. So never buy TX' s from the BIRM as they are completely incompetent and untrustworthy.
Anyway we are now busy putting the "TX" into a new chassis and changing it from crystal controlled to VFO and we may even put it up in output, but for now it will only run about 12 watts. So for about 2 or 3 weeks RFZ will not be on the air, but here is our new schedule: RFZ - Saturdays 235 metres, 11-00am to 12 noon (alternate Saturdays) Sometimes on Sundays on various frequencies for 1 to 3 hours.
Now more news about other stations, as you all know Radio Nelson and Radio Odyssey were, caught but both will come bouncing back, Radio Odyssey came back after only one week off, but only on low power. Also IFRC HQ was raided and they even took material for the FRM (including my column) so I had to re-write this.
Slowly the North London pirates are coming back after hibernating for the winter, but these are the only regular show stations on now Radio Odyssey, Radio Free Atlantis, and a new station Radio Anonymous on 223 metres, every Sunday 1-30pm to 3-30pm. We (RFZ) will also be on by Easter, also a Radio Personality will be on by Easter no more details can be given at present but the owner will probably give you all the details soon. Also the former QSO Station Radio 5-0 is to start transmissions in May under a new name I have heard their TX from where they are now at RNI strength and the quality was as good as VHF. A friend heard them 40 miles away! So listen out for this one as they will play 40% underground and 10% oldies, and I predict they will be big one day.
Also rumours of the HBN (Helen Broadcasting Network) to reform, but you know what rumours are, just like the one about RNI on 270 metres. Now about last months FRM, John Kenway has the best idea yet except for one flaw to be an alternative to Radio One it will have to be at least Radio Luxembourg strength, so imagine how many watts would be needed as Radio Luxembourg run 150 Kilowatts and Monte Carlo run 400 Kilowatts. Also in answer to Keith Jackson, you talk of QSO stations as if they were pests, well OK maybe they are, but when you build a new TX you naturally want to test it and get it working at a peak so that shows will be better quality and as most people are too lazy to write to you a reception report, or even phone the only way is QSO.
I am forming a small network called the Columbia Network and it consists of RFZ (Radio Free Zettron) and members of the now closed RGI (Radio Geronimo International). So only pirates wanting to join send an SAE to the address below. Also Paul Lewis in FRM 15 is mad! Building a 1000-watt rig for £20? It cost us that much for a 60 watt TX! As for Series gate modulation you need 5-watt amplifiers but such powerful blowers and that means a powerful power supply etc, etc, it just isn't possible for £20. I am sure us London engineers would do it if it were possible... but it isn't. Radio Jackie is non readable on a transistor radio in North London, while Radio Nelson (before they were caught) were barely readable on my mains receiver with 110' external aerial. Also if anyone connected with Radio Electra is reading this please send me an SAE envelope as I have some information to their advantage.
Well that's all for this month so keep listening and fighting.
Richard King (Controller/DJ - RFZ)
Whilst there were numerous Free Radio publications available in the seventies, land-based pirate radio rarely got any coverage in the national media. There were some exceptions, my own station Skyport was reported in a typical Daily Heil (Mail) "reds under the bed" article and the following article appeared in Timeout Magazine;
There are more pirate broadcasting stations operating today in defiance of the duopoly of the BBC and IBA than there were in the heyday of the legendary ships and forts. After a period of comparative stagnation, with stations coming and going depending on the respective levels of determination of the operators and the Post Office engineers whose job it is to track them down, there is now a new feel to the scene.
Radio Jackie celebrates ten years of consistent broadcasting on March 18, specialist music stations appear regularly to cater for minority interests, there is a farseeing experiment in very local community access radio, and political propaganda stations, long a feature of France and Italy, are poised to make a major impact.
Land-based piracy started as soon as the Marine Offences Act 1967, took away the viability of the ships and forts like Radio City, Big L, and Radio 270, transmitting just outside territorial waters. The ships and their owners needed advertising revenue, and when that was denied they all eventually disappeared. Some deejays went on to become national figures on legit radio, as the small fanzines that still circulate to celebrate the brief period endlessly tell you.
Apart from creating demand for what became the commercial and BBC local networks, and totally changing Auntie's national programming, there were other effects. Whilst for some protagonists 'free radio' meant commercial radio, there were those who weren't in it for the money. An echo of this could be seen in the philosophy of the latter-day Radio Caroline with its Loving Awareness messages. (Caroline, just 15 years old this month-it was the first and last-has been off the air since October but claims to be coming back at the far long end of the medium wave band.)
The First Raids
The free radio enthusiasts, not bothered too much about finance, set about learning transmitter construction and studio work and went on the air from the land. There, the full weight of the Wireless Telegraphy Acts and the Post Office Act applies and when the first raids started the operators were peremptorily reminded that unlike other natural resources, the radio frequency spectrum is in the gift of the Crown, to be dispensed with as little openness as a paternalistic Civil Service can manage.
Pirating means endless problems dodgy transmitters, unsocial hours, damp days acting as lookout, lack of money, and internal squabbling. The early land-based stations were medium wave, but soon VHF technology was mastered by enough operators to form a network, the London Transmitter of Independent Radio, going out four evenings a week in around 1971-73. Today there are roughly the same numbers on VHF as medium wave. Some stations haven't been able to handle the more sensitive VHF technology; others say VHF's more sophisticated equipment gives it an essentially middle class bias. Since about 1975 there have also been some short wave stations in operation, which benefit from vast but uneven coverage and suffer from the fact that only a small percentage of the population tune around the short wave bands, even if their receivers can pick them up.
You have to come back to the motivations for getting on the air in the first place to see how stations operate and to understand why some of them survive and others don't.
Politics: In France and Italy there have been hundreds of political pirate stations. The Cuban revolutionary Guevara said: 'The radio is a factor of extraordinary importance ... It explains, teaches, fires, and fixes the future positions of both friends and enemies ... ' Ironically the loudest political station is called Radio Enoch and 80% of its output is right wing extremism. At present it is on short wave. Two other short wave stations, Corsair and Skyport, intersperse left wing material between the music. The phenomenon is new, and what is astonishing is that it did not happen a long time ago. It is obviously only a matter of time before politics appear on medium wave and VHF, where many more will hear it. Approaches to existing music stations have been made by sections of both the National Front and the Communist Party. (This is not true, at least for the CP. no approaches were ever made. Ed.)
The reaction of the authorities to these new developments will be interesting. Legal enforcement is carried out by Post Office engineers acting for the Home Office. The Radio Interference Department has a wide brief which includes malfunctioning industrial equipment, unstable and spurious transmissions, illegal use of the business radio bands, rogue amateurs, and, its most recent preoccupation, the 27Mhz Citizens Band subculture (TO 440). The chief enforcer is Eric Arthur Gotts, the subject of many anecdotes among the pirates. Arising from an incident in January 1977 Jackie took out a private summons for assault. Gotts was found guilty and conditionally discharged, and his appeal against conviction failed. Since then, except when Telstar South set up near Biggin Hill and were pounced upon a few weeks ago by 15 Special Patrol Group vehicles who thought they planned to jam the air traffic band, things have seemed very quiet. At least till March 4 when, in the friendliest way, Gotts descended on AMY. Their loss then was around £170, which will somehow have to be recouped. Unlike other stations they run an associated disco; yet others offer modest facilities for demo discs. But pirate radio is a costly hobby. The heavy expenditure items are the studio, records/tapes, batteries and transformers for power, and admin. The average transmitter costs about £50 serious pirates have three or more at the ready.
Taking precautions is part of the lifestyle (and in some cases one of the attractions, to be truthful). It is believed that the direction finding stations are at Ewell, Sanderstead, Brentford, and possibly East Finchley, and so transmitting sites (usually fields or blocks of flats) are chosen accordingly and changed frequently. The raids and prosecutions seem to work on Buggins' turn. The other main preoccupation is a rich proliferation of pseudonyms, which made this story fun to do, particularly as I was using one too-you see, technically it's an offence even to listen.
Pirate broadcasting is definitely here to stay-there must be nearly 200 transmitters and one can make the following predictions:
I. There will always be sporadic short life stations.
2. Music stations will survive on consistency and audience response otherwise there's no point in going on. It's a pity that, after all the rhetoric, alternative music stations themselves have so little variety. Top 40 from the legits is challenged by a Golden Oldie/ Album/ Request format ... more Invictas are needed.
3. Community Access is splendid, but AMY has to be seen as a demonstration and experiment, prior to legal acceptance.
4. Political stations will multiply. These days 'free radio' means Radio Enoch along with everything else.
How to listen: nearly all pirates transmit in a corridor between 215m(1395khz) and 240m(1250khz), which is relatively under-used in the UK during daytime. (At night atmospheric conditions change and continentals can be heard, which is why pirates don't bother then. The best equipment for listening is a good quality portable, which you can twist around for optimum signal. Medium wave/ AM radios use a ferrite bar as antenna which receives most strongly signals arriving at right angles to its length while nulling out those travelling along its length. Hi-Fi tuners often have inferior AM sections and poor antennae. Remember, a number of stations deliberately restrict their coverage area.
Inventive community access station for six North London boroughs. Good signal in area.
North London Radio or NLR
Popular top-40 type shows, started in January 1978, off the air for a while earlier this year but now back with a strong signal.
Weekend Music Radio
South London-based pop. Off the air at the moment.
Jackie (227m/1332khz 09.00-17.00) Medium Wave/AM
The Radio One of pirates based on Kingston/South London. Busted many times but reliable. Signal weak in North London.
Album/rock format based on American FM style started regularly since March 1977. Off the air at the moment but due back on this new frequency any Sunday now. West/North West London.
New station almost ready to come on. Split off from Celebration. Soft and heavy rock and news items. North West London from May.
London's only semi-permanent live pirate with ultra-informal presentation which appeals to some listeners. Sporadic appearances usually from North London. May move frequently.
Sixties music plus new wave. Started February 1979 as a split from Radio City. From North West.
Pure classic rock'n'roll. Consistent station for the last 18 months with welcome individuality. Signal comes from North/North West.
Autonomous relative of the original AMY, this one will serve East London from April 8. Frequency may change.
There are also a large number of occasional's; we've had several reports about the following: Back Street Radio (226m/1323khz) Capital 195 and Radio Clandestine in Tufnell Park, which put out 16 hours of punk-type programmes a day for two weeks before someone put their foot through the transmitter; Elaine (199m/1503khz and 186m/ 1602khz), Bank Holidays only; Music Radio 270 (270m/1107khz) Bank Holidays only; Wonderful Radio Camden (227m/1323khz); Radio Christmas (221/1396khz)-NLR under a another name. You may also hear the occasional QSO (two-way contact) station well past midnight on Friday/ Saturday at around 227m/1332khz.
How to listen: the pirates tend to look for 'holes' in the coverage provided by legit stations. A good antenna is essential, particularly for stereo, but most Hi-fi tuners are attached to fIxed roof top aerials beamed at Crystal Palace/Croydon, whereas the pirate signals can come from anywhere. The ideal, of course is a rotator (you'll get several extra legit programmes and one extra lTV station with the right setup, so don't knock it). However, in most cases, we're back to the good quality portable, this time using a tiltable and rotatable telescopic whip. Reception will be better high up or near a window and any antenna should be horizontal or slanted to the ground, as this is the 'sense' in which nearly all VHF signals are sent, but experiment and see. Some stations change transmitters during a broadcast. All stations are Sunday only.
Very slick pop/rock with competitions. Highly regarded and consistent, this is the nearest we have to US-FM presentation. All over coverage. Signal usually from the West.
Soul over London. Very professional see feature. Switch transmitters during broadcasts but usually all over coverage beamed from South. Some transmissions stereo.
Radio Free London or RFL
(92 or 92.4,15.00-19.00)
Rock/album orientated. Claims link with original land-based pirate; after several raids, back since February 1978. Signal from North Kent, vertically polarised-may go stereo.
1960-74 golden oldies all requests. Started 1975.Signal comes from the East, and is sometimes Dolby mono. Often difficult to hear in West London.
Holiday station only, since January 1978. Stereo.
Rock station, but weakish signal except in South East London.
Pop/album station. Stereo, but difficult to hear outside its own area.
Intelligent rock station also based in West London. Stereo but sometimes weak. Believed to be temporarily off the air.
There are also further occasionals and holiday specials. Experimental broadcasts have taken place at about 104Mhz but most experienced pirates regard this as risky.
How to listen: the band used is referred to as 48 meters, which is just high of the legitimate 49 m band. The pirates have occupied a corridor between 6.2 and 6.3 Mhz. There are other European pirates in the vicinity, notably Radio Viking. Short wave broadcasts can be heard either within a few miles of the transmitting site, or, by ionospheric reflection, hundreds of miles away. However, their travel is erratic and without powerful transmitters and directional antennae, reception is a gamble and subject to fading. So you'll have to rely on luck, though a 40 foot long wire and a good earth will help. Frequencies listed below are only approximate. Locations given are usually the believed transmitting site, but with short wave that doesn't matter so much. Just tune above 49m at 10.00 on a Sunday, play about with it and see what happens. There are a few stations, which duplicate transmissions on 41 m/7.35Mhz.
Free Radio Broadcasting Co
European Music Radio
Surrey, third Sunday in month-see feature.
London. First, second and fourth Sunday in month.
Solent City Int
(6.235/6.280, from 12.30 on)
North of England. Second and fourth Sundays in month.
South West London. Noisy programmes with lots of Free Radio propaganda. Leftish.
South West London. Close links with Corsair.
South East England.
Sussex accommodation address
West Midlands. Britain's noisiest political pirate right wing extremists, but not NF. Transmissions currently once a month, some of them single sideband and very powerful. May start soon on 4lm and medium wave.
Voice of Britain
Sussex accommodation address. Fairly reliable appearances.
Timeout March 23-29 1979 #466 article by Crispin Aubrey
The following article appeared over several issues of Free Radio Focus and gives an idea of the amount of free radio activity in London at the time. It was written by Ed Hatvany (Dave Grainger) of, amongst others, Radio Celebration.
It all started with the closure of Radio Caroline in the spring of 1968. Some months later a Radio Free London situated in London, and operating on low power, could be heard test transmitting on the medium wave at about 255metres. This station was run by people previously well known in offshore radio. Shortly after this, other stations began to appear, such as Radio's Helen & Telstar. These would transmit at odd times on weekday evenings and use various wavelengths (255m & 197m being popular). As these stations expanded & improved the operators decided to form a network, "Helen Broadcasting Net," or H.B.N. as it became known, with stations such as Helen North, Helen South (later Helen International)Telstar and another new station which started early in 1969, Radio Jackie, (formed from smaller stations like Red Rose.) The HBN broadcast on Sundays on 197m, with each station having a hour segment. However, due to various inadequacies the Net' was short lived and the stations all went their separate ways, Jackie changed wavelength to 227m. The other stations closed down one by one. During 1970 numerous other stations started up including for the first time test transmissions on 88MHz VHF from Radio Invicta, an all soul music station. During a typical listening weekend Radio's Pandorra, Free South, Constellation or Stardust & perhaps Free Caroline could be heard along with Jackie & Free London.
Meanwhile Radio Concord were heard from time to time on Sunday afternoons on 230m, Later, the LTIR decided it still had room to increase it's programming & they started advertising for a programme contractor to operate on Wednesday evenings, and rumours started circulating that Radio Invicta might join the network. However nothing came of this, or of Wednesday evening broadcasts from any station. In the Autumn of 1973 the LTIR operators announced that the network would shortly close, due to the advent of legal commercial radio in London, and in October the last LTIR programmes were heard from Kaleidoscope , Aquarius & Classic. Radio Jackie stated that they had their own VHF transmitting gear, and would continue, but nothing much ever came of this. Some weeks later Radio Star revealed that they had plans to close as well, and shortly before Christmas their medium wave service, indeed their station was heard for the last time....
The Autumn of 1976 saw the close of London Music Radio's VHF service and Radio Jackie transferred their VHF programme to Friday evenings from 10pm -Midnight, but unfortunately this did not last very long and by late Autumn the Jackie VHF service closed announcing that it would return in the Spring of '77, nothing came of this though. The Medium Wave service meanwhile had changed broadcast times to 9am-3pm to allow for bad winter reception conditions after 3pm,but by Christmas it was extended to 9am-4pm. At the same time, LMR who were broadcasting alongside Jackie to South West London decided to change their broadcast area to South East London and by the end of 1976 had established a regular service on 222m from 10am-3pm on Sundays.
Over the Christmas period Jackie were operational with three days of almost continuous programming, they were raided once by the police but in the true spirit of Christmas were allowed to carry on! Radio Invicta and LMR also did extended transmissions over Christmas but LMR suffered a nasty raid by the Home Office, all the equipment was lost as it was left unattended, the LMR team thought it was stolen and pursued the raiders in their car before realising that it was the Home Office! Early in 1977 a new station was heard operating on 92.4MHz VHF on Sunday evenings from 7-8pm, this was Telstar South with an oldies type format, some of the operators included ex Free London and Sun staff. Over the Easter period transmissions were once again heard from Sun Radio (a regular Sat. evening operator during 75/76), along with Invicta and Telstar South on 92.4MHz VHF. A1so heard over Easter were Radios 235 (Ex Concord/Dynamite operators) and R.239 (Ex SRE operators).
Jackie meanwhile continued it's 9-4 Sunday transmissions into '77 with much supporting publicity from the national and local press, TV and radio, covering Jackie's eighth birthday in March. By this time LMR had also extended transmission hours by 1 hour to 10am-4pm. With the advent of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, special transmissions were organised for the Jubilee bank holiday, heard on that day was a "Jubilee Sounds" on 227m and simultaneously on 92.4MHz, this was the old Radio Tranquillity team, also noted was a "Radio Jubilee" from the south coast. About this time Radio Invicta announced that due to the start of a new specialist soul music programme on national radio they would suspend programming until they thought it necessary to return. (They have recently returned with a regular service on Sunday evenings due to the demise of the aforementioned soul programme!)
During the Summer of 1977 a Radio Sovereign was heard for a few weeks on Sundays on 266m, 1133kHz, the signal to London was weak though as the station operated from well outside the London area. By early Autumn another station, Radio Galaxy was occupying this channel, initially transmissions were irregular but recently they have been on every Sunday with an album format and they have been heard as far away as the Midlands. By this time East London Radio had well established themselves, starting transmissions to East London in the early summer providing a community radio station. Transmissions were initially on 201m, plans to use 235m were made and tests carried out but just before the planned opening on this channel a powerful station called Telstar One turned up with a heavy album format. After some feuding over this channel an agreement was reached and ELR now use 221m. This channel of 1358kHz was left empty after LMR closed down due to internal disputes in late summer 1977. Other stations on less regularly were Radio Elaine on 199m on Bank Holidays and Radio Celebration on 235m, 1277kHz and Back Street Radio a punk station on 226m from North London with a very good signal.By Ed of Radio Celebration
Since the last edition of Free Radio Focus land-based activity in the London area has increased enormously. Radio Jackie of course is still plugging away every Sunday on 1332kHz from 09.00-17.00 with a Top 40 format despite a recent court case in which four alleged Jackie staff were fined £1,200 between them. On 23/11/78, (the day all the BBC Radio network changed wavelengths) Radio Jackie broadcast from 06.00 until midnight with 200 Watts and no Home Office harassment! On the same day a Radio 5 was heard in North West London on 222m from 10.00-13.00 hrs with 40 Watts. Programming was of a satirical nature with DJs Paul Lambourghini, Tony Whitefreeze and their answer to the hairy monster, "TNT". A station logged regularly from North London since July is Celebration Radio on 235m 1286kHz from 11.00-16.00 hrs. Station format is based on album tracks which is proving a popular alternative to the many top 40 land-based stations audible in North London. Celebration's transmitter power is 20w and their mailing address is 14, Hermitage Way, Stanmore, Middlesex.
Radio Telstar South broadcast every Sunday from 19.00-22.00hrs on 92.8MHz with an entirely oldies type format. Transmitter power is 200 Watts fed into a circular aerial, mailing address is in West Wickham, Kent. London's soul station Radio Invicta is still going strong every Sunday from 12.00-15.00 on 92.4MHz the station has built up a large following and hosts special nights in local discos most nights of the week. Mailing address is 30,Marius Road, London SW17. Radio Free London broadcasts every Sunday from 16.00-18.00hrs on 92.4 MHz, their mailing address is 148, George Lane, Lewisham London. Other FM stations logged in London recently include Uptown Radio and West London Radio on 94.4MHz. Southcoast Radio is a new station from the Sussex coast. The first transmission was heard in October on 222m with good signals and an album format. Mailing address is Kent Place, Norwell, Newark, Notts. England. Free Island Radio from the Isle of Wight or Hampshire coast, has been heard fairly regularly in that area on Sundays on 222m and has received some attention in the local press. Free Radio Focus No.18 1978
Like most of Britain's youth, I was devastated when the MOA came to pass on 14th August 1967. On that day we lost not only vitality and choice in radio entertainment, but also something much more sinister; freedom of speech in broadcasting.
I was a young radio enthusiast living in South London, and although a member of the local ham radio club, my interests went beyond experimenting on the shortwave bands. My school friends & I were all keen devotees of Radio Caroline, but her increasingly flagging transmissions were not getting the message to Government, and after hearing landbased Radio Free London emulate the former "Big L", we decided to launch our own station.
It wasn't hard to modify ham radio transmitter circuits to the medium wave, and the parts were all readily available from war surplus shops in London's Tottenham Court Road, or simply scrounged from old TV's and radiograms. Before long our shed in suburban Coulsdon became the source of a 15 watt signal playing an eclectic mix of records at strange hours and variable frequencies. With financial help from friends and donations from a local record shop, this evolved into Radio Thames on 220 metres, broadcasting briefly each Sunday using a long wire aerial across the garden. Our first transmission was on 25th August 1968.
Our downfall came in early 1969 when we attempted our first all day transmission while my parents were out. Commencing at 10:00, things were going well until a lookout noted two serious looking men approaching on foot, one with an earpiece. It was pretty obvious that the house with several long haired youths out front was the source of the station, and I nervously answered the front door whilst my pals scattered. Having no knowledge of my "rights" and being quite scared, I obeyed their instructions to cut some of the transmitter wiring and hand over the valves. The next evening the two men returned to discuss my activities with my father, and introduced themselves as GPO Officers Mr Crow and Mr Smith. They commented on the signal being "of quite good quality", and heard as far as Battersea which I was secretly pleased about. They then demanded I hand over the transmitter, but I had foreseen this and had prepared a dummy, which they happily took away. I was never prosecuted and I believe this was because (a) I was still just 17, (b) one of the first stations raided, and (c) they surely didn't follow correct protocols, and any decent lawyer would have got me off.
After a while, we got smarter and arranged the equipment in the boot of a car and found sites at the ends of country lanes. This meant we no longer had to lug the heavy gear across fields, and could immediately drive away if the GPO arrived, just sacrificing the aerial if found. For those technically minded, the transmitter was crystal controlled with oscillator, buffer, and driver into the PA, which was plate modulated by 4 EL84s series-parallel. We used a standard pi-tank and RF ammeter to tune max power into a long wire aerial. Our transmitter was once loaned to Radio Jackie in the early 70's to keep them going for a couple of weeks.
In 1974, as a 15 year old boy, I joined an Island pirate radio station called Radio Kathy. It was set up by Nigel Hayles and Graham Dyer and like me, both huge radio enthusiasts. We would try to operate every Sunday but that wasn't always possible. Our start time was midday and we would run for 3 to 4 hours with a mixture of old and new music programming. The transmitter was, of course, home built and the circuit diagram was given to us by Radio Jackie. It was 15 watts in output and used and 807 valve with an anode cap which always turned blue when we on full power. We also used a 6V6 for modulation and one other which I can't remember.
I remember one transmission day we had inadvertently put the wrong modulator valve in (it was an EL34) and caused a dreadful hissy output. We managed to retrieve the trusty 6V6 and changed it whilst on air and during my programme. I still have a recording of it being changed during Bob Dylan's Lay Lady Lay. To actually do this was no mean feat as our site was out in the country so it entailed a trip into town to effect the change. Speaking of sites, we did have several but our main, albeit overused site, was on the outskirts of Ryde in a village called Ashey.
We were lucky to be at the top of a hill and had reasonable sight to the main access road as well as a splendid view overlooking the Solent and across to the mainland. With only 15 watts, we were amazed to be getting reception reports from as far away as London. The aerial was a wire cut to quarter wave. We transmitted on 222 or 227 metres in the medium wave, we had crystals for both. The site was very good to us in that it had two trees, one very high and the other not so. We would tie a piece of string onto a stone then tie the other end of the string onto one end of the aerial. The stone would then be thrown over the highest branch of the taller tree. This was always performed by Nigel who was extremely adept at this task. I would then pull the string and hence the aerial up to the highest point and we would then tie off the other end to the small tree, thus creating an inverted L aerial. This would then be connected to the transmitter. Power for this would be in the form of two car batteries linked to a rotary inverter. This brought the power up to 240v although I do remember one we had which supplied 490v. We later used a transistorised inverter which was lighter and probably more stable. It did, I remember, produce a very high pitched whistle when it was running, which could be heard throughout the site.
I should also say that the site was, in fact, a field which had a footpath running through it and often we would meet walkers who stopped to have a chat. We would claim that we were conducting atmospheric experiments for the local college. We were never raided. However, we did receive a few visits from journalists and made it into the local papers on more than one occasion. Always exciting when that happened. I have the original articles somewhere. I remember one site we used comprised an old air raid shelter. It was actually more than that in that the structure contained about 5 rooms. We placed the transmitter in one of the rooms with the aerial going through an air vent. Sadly, the site was only used once because the lay of the land was such that we never really achieved a decent signal out of there. Our programmes we recorded the day or night before and put onto cassette. The studio was pretty basic with really just a couple of decks and a mic, although I do recall being able to play something in off cassette if needs be.
On Saturday evening we all went to the local night club and handed out stickers, telling people to listen. The stickers were simple enough with Radio Kathy in bold capitals, then below that, our wavelength and then the line "The sound of the Solent". We all had presenter names. Mine was Bob Price, Nigel was Dave Collins and Graham was Rick O'Sullivan. For a teenager it was a fantastic time to grow up and I will always treasure those memories. We didn't do it for money, fame or fortune, we did it because we all loved radio. The final transmission from Radio Kathy was Easter, 1980. People began to drift away and do other things. Sadly, Nigel took his life 5 years ago and it has left an empty void. I still regret the stations passing and would welcome an opportunity to do it all again. I hope you don't mind me sharing my reminiscences with you,
Transmitted regularly between 1968/9 then intermittently then every Saturday and Sunday 1970 until 13/9/1970 when it was raided, they attempted to continue the week after the first raid and the station was set up in a condemned house at Birchwood Lane Somercotes, it lasted just over an hour before being found, the record being played was tears of a clown, just at the bit when it says and there's no one around, that location was raided.
Left to right it's, John Geoffrey Undy (he was in charge of Radio Interference Dept at Nottingham), Policeman from Alfreton Derbyshire police station, Stan Wright, Ken Chandler (he was second in charge at Nottingham) and Donald Lowe.The station was located at 14 Sleetmoor Lane Somercotes Derbyshire.
In 1928 Hilversum started to broadcast Sunday concerts which were to last until 1930, this being only the start of what was to be a "pirate" era in some respects. Radio Toulouse commenced broadcasts in English in 1929 and these continued until 1931. In October 1931 IBC, the International Broadcasting Company started transmissions over Radio Normandie which had a 10kW transmitter located at Fecamp on the French coast. These broadcasts were received over all of Southern England. Later power was raised to 20kW and on a wavelength of 269.5m commercial programmes were aimed at a receptive audience. Typical programme hours were Sundays: 7.00am to 11.45am 1.30pm to 7.30pm and 10.00pm to 1.00am. Weekdays: 7.00am to 11.30am 2.00pm to 6.00pm and Midnight to 1.00am. In March 1938 the wavelength changed to 212.6m and later to 274m. Programmes were mainly recorded onto discs in London and featured fifteen minute sponsored slots. Live programmes also went out.
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In May 1932 Radio Luxembourg started tests on 1250m and complaints were received of interference with aircraft radio transmissions. In the Spring of 1933 programmes commenced on Sundays only to start with. In January 1934 a change was made to 1304m and later 1293m. By the end of the decade programmes were going out from 8.15am to Midnight Sundays, and for about eight hours, spread over the day, on weekdays.
There were other stations, Poste Parisian an IBC station broadcasting on 312.8m with 60kW mainly on Sundays. Radio Lyons, 215m with 25kW on Sundays from 6.00pm to Midnight and for two hours on weekday evenings. Radio Toulouse, 328.6m, Radio Mediterrane, 235m broadcast from France. In addition other countries tried similar projects, Radio Ljubljana 569.5m, EAQ Madrid on 31.65m, to the Empire, Radio Eireann on 531m were among them. In the mid 1930's only on rare occasions did more than 35% of the population listen to the BBC compared with a Luxembourg audience of 45.7%.
Many of the smaller stations were forced to close through lack of advertising but by 1939 the major stations had some 300 firms on their books. With the outbreak of war the stations closed, except for Radio International which had taken over the 212m transmitter at Fecamp which stayed on the air until 1940 entertaining the British troops for thirteen hours per day. The war over, only Radio Luxembourg recommenced English broadcasts. Many comparisons can be made with the 1960's but one thing is sure, it wasn't the BBC that provided the majority with their radio entertainment. (A sample of the BBC output can be seen with this early copy of the Radio Times (36MB), it mainly consisted of church services and military bands, of course if the BBC did not rely on extortion of the British public for its funding, it would be long gone. Ed.)
Any new material is always welcome, just use the Contact page and I will get back to you. To chat about Pirate/Free Radio visit Garry Stevens Forum , or for information about today's land-based radio pirates check out the Radio Necks forum.
Last updated January 2014, back to the top