How to be a FM Radio Pirate

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Exactly how to go ahead setting up your own pirate radio

What you'll need

  1. A group of committed people who get
    on with each other and have plenty of time and energy.
  2. A programme, presuming you have something
    worth saying or playing. You don't even need a studio to start off with. Just
    borrow someone's stereo and a microphone and start making practice recordings
    onto good quality cassette tapes.
  3. A transmitter. Ideally over 10 watt
    power, but 5 watt is fine for local broadcasts, or when using an aerial with
    "gain". You can get kits or ready built units in Britain, and here
    are some alternatives:

    • Buy one from another pirate (beware of rip-offs)
    • Buy one over the counter abroad. In Italy for
      instance you can get a high quality 50 watt transmitter over the counter
      for £200 (1984 prices). You can buy kits in UK, Belgium, France, Netherlands,
      USA, etc.
    • Build your own. A hobbyist can build a low power
      FM transmitter easily. Try to interest radio hams or dissident engineers.
      It's almost essential to have at least one person in your group with some
      technical know how.
    • Get one built to your specification. There are
      a few electronics engineers about who will build them for a reasonable
  4. Antenna. You can adapt a design yourself
    from an antenna handbook (e.g. The 2 Metre Antenna Book). Or use one of our
    ready made designs. Look out for aluminium tubing or struts which make good
    building material.
  5. Odds and ends. You'll need basic
    tools (soldering iron, multimeter, SWR meter), a cheap cassette deck, probably
    one or two good car batteries, a roll of co-ax cable for the aerial, a radio
    to listen in on, etc. Also start reading Amateur Radio Handbooks and all relevant

VHF: Pros and ConsFirst lets deal with FM (Frequency Modulated) broadcasting,
which is probably your choice. The advantages of FM are many. The transmitters
are small and quite cheap. Reception tends to be either very clear or non-existent.
Its excellent for music and for recording off and can quite easily be adapted
to transmit stereo (impossible with AM). A major plus for the pirate is that
its easy to hide and transport the gear, aerials are comparatively small and
can be made collapsible. It's also possible to put in a vehicle, even an bicycle
and go mobile, albeit with a smaller and changing reception area. The average
5 to 20 watt transmitter would be in a metal box no bigger than 12" by
6" by 3" in size, and weigh no more than 8 lbs with the rest of the
gear (but not including the battery, if you're using one), The aerial is not
only shorter but more efficient and of course more practical than the long and
tricky procedure for MW aerials. Also low power FM transmitters ('rigs') can
be tuned to slightly different frequencies, on MW you're stuck on one, unless
you get a new crystal. The disadvantage is that VHF-FM is essentially a 'line
of sight' communication, which means your reception area depends crucially on
the height of your aerial above large blocking objects. This is no problem if
you can get up on a hill, or a tower block but it does restrict the choice of
broadcasting sites, making you easier to find and trap. With local broadcasting
you have more choice of sites. In very hilly area, unless you can get up on
a mountain, you'd better choose MW, also if you want to broadcast scattered
communities over a wide area. Distance covered with an FM rig depends as how
much height as on power. A 40 watt rig on a 15 story tower block should cover
a 15 miles radius if there are no blocking objects. A 4 watt rig should go 5
miles from the same height but if you build a directional aerial with 'gain'
you can multiply that power many times. You don't really need a big expensive
and hard to build transmitter. Also don't assume a 100 watt rig is ten times
as powerful as a 10 watt one, it doesn't work like that. To sum up, FM broadcasting
is the ideal for the guerrilla or community pirate, cheap, mobile and adaptable.
another advantage is that there's loads of room on the FM broadcasting band,
it's literally half empty. On MW its pretty crowded, and at night you're likely
to be blotted out by continental interference.

The Broadcasting
Site (FM)Tower BlocksIn cities tower blocks have been an ideal answer for
good coverage and wide reception and are especially favoured by commercial pirates
(who often use a link transmitter from the studio to the tower block so as to
go live). A further advantage is that there are usually electric sockets in
the lift or heating rooms on the roof, so you can just plug in provided your
gear is so adjusted, rather than lug car or lorry batteries about. This is 'Stealing
Electricity', of course. If you're caught broadcasting the electricity company
could bring this additional charge, though in practice we've never heard of
it happening. The advantage to sticking in car batteries is that you can conceal
your rig anywhere on the roof, rather than having it right by the plug socket,
though in a surprise raid your aerial cable will lead them straight to it anyway.To get onto the roof of a tower block you need a crowbar,
or better, a key. The 'Fireman's keys' have to be standard for all blocks, so
once you have one you can get onto most roofs easily. Try asking other pirates,
or possibly a friendly caretaker or fireman. Or you can break the door, steal
the mortise lock, get keys made up for it, then replace it, such keys may not
fit all roofs. When on the roof BE CAREFUL (sudden
gusts of wind can blow you over the at this height!) and always wear soft shoes
and keep quiet. Lots of people have been busted simply because the tenants below
heard them and called the police. Its useful to dress like a repair person,
and claim if seen or challenged, to be a lift mechanic. The main problem with
tower blocks is that, if raided, you can easily be trapped (see Broadcasting....
How to get away with it
). Medium Sized BuildingsIf you're a local station, or have a high power rig or
an aerial with gain (or if you're just testing) you don't need to be on a tower
block. Any building higher than most others will do, and you can increase your
height for instance by mounting your aerial on top of high, well secured scaffold
pole (note: there must be a wooden or plastic section between the pole and the
actual aerial). The advantage of lower buildings is that you can multiply
both the available sites for broadcasting. You will have to switch sites as
often as possible. Also you will have more escape routes and 'bolt holes' than
on a tower block. Unfortunately this may also mean you have to watch more potential
approach routes by the police and DTI, and you'll need more lookouts if you're
planning to save the gear when attacked. Broadcasting
from hills (FM)If your town or city has hills this is a good option,
the higher the better. You can use a piece of derelict or common land, or at
night you can use parks, cemeteries or even allotments. A better option is if
there are hills outside the built up area, then use a field or wood away from
houses. If you use the directional aerial you can cover the city just as well.
This was done by Andromeda Radio, to good effect, they used to cover most of
Manchester (UK) from a high hill outside, using a mere 4 watt transmitter with
directional gain aerial. If you can get up into mountainous area you're even
better off and can adopt classical guerrilla tactics, often see the enemy coming
distances away, and be very difficult to stop. On a hill within the town or city use good lookouts,
escape routes, CBs etc. and have regular 'escape drills'. Best place for aerial
is a high, easily climbable tree. If its not too obvious leave it up there and
have a spare ready. An added problem with hills is that you normally have to
lug at least one car battery about, which is terrible if you have to climb fences,
ditches etc. at night, something like a pram or shopping trolley can help. You
can't leave the batteries on site as they need re-charging for your next broadcast.
So mains electric is a big help if you can run a lead from somewhere. Outdoors
all your gear must be in waterproof cases, or covered with a tent or tarp. Tents
are good if you can pretend to be camping. Take care also of yourself and your
group. Hot drinks, food, waterproofs, short shifts for lookouts etc. are good
ideas. It gets boring after a few hours. CBs are excellent, but get ones with
earphones if possible to avoid noise. If on a hill you can also use ordinary house, flat, squat
or derelict, and just set up your aerial as high as practicable on the roof.
Its better to get a place, by squatting or if you're rich, by renting, specially
as a broadcast site, no-one likes to live under constant threat of the police
storming in. In practice you may have to use someone's house, then don't use
it too often. If you must use your own house DON'T leave drugs,
stolen goods, false ID's or other naughties lying about. It is possible to run
your antenna cable from your house to the aerial on another roof, and whip the
cable off quick if they come, but this would only work once, and you lose output
power with every extra metre of co- ax cable going to your aerial. More of this
in the 'How to get away with it' section. NEVER have your studio
at the broadcast site. They'll confiscate the lot, under the new laws. Other possible
broadcasting sitesFESTIVALS, especially large free festivals
are an excellent and common broadcast site. A small 4 watt rig will do fine.
Set up on a high ground in a tent or vehicle and invite the festival goers to
protect you from possible police attack, much more unlikely in these circumstances.
If possible make a live studio in a tent, caravan or truck and get everyone
involved. Try to get mentioned in pre-festival publicity, or do your own, so
people will bring radios. This is pirate radio at its best. DEMOS, especially long ones, like blockades
for e.g. of Nuclear Stations or War bases, can be equally worthwhile. In this
context the pirate can be perfect medium for discussion, information and warnings
of police movements, as well as for entertainment and music. BARRICADED SQUATS OR SQUATTED VENUES
are another obvious and much underused site for the guerrilla pirate, especially
during big meetings or gigs, which you can broadcast live from the roof. This
has been done successfully for instance in Amsterdam and Berlin. OCCUPIED FACTORIES or industrial areas
during strikes and disputes provide an excellent and often missed opportunity
for the more political pirate group, and can provide vital communication for
mobilising, publishing and gaining support. There have been many such opportunities
in Britain over recent years. SIT-INS and protest occupations are
another good possibility, which we don't think has been tried. Especially occupations
of high towers, buildings or pylons for publicity. But in this situation capture
is pretty certain, therefore a small disposable transmitter would be ideal.
A good strategy is for everyone to deny using it, and to use any following trial
for more publicity e.g. on the lines that the army etc. and the police are already
hogging most of the airwaves. 'NO-GO AREAS' are a step up from occupied
factories. We know for instance that nationalist pirates broadcast from Free
Derry and parts of West Belfast when they were 'no-go areas' to the state. Of
course there are no true 'no-go areas' in Britain, but there are plenty of inner
city estates where the police rarely venture, especially in the evenings in
the riot session, for fear of 'concrete rain' or worse from the roofs. A high
block on such area could be an excellent site, especially if you can tip off
the local youth to lend a hand. Whenever major rioting begins large areas are
suddenly devoid of police, till they can group in numbers and re-take the area.
This is another opportunity for 'on the ball' local pirates. By monitoring police
radio, runners, and phoned in reports such 'uprising radio' could be a brilliant
aid to the fighters on the streets though you would need good security, disposable
transmitter, quick getaway routes, disguised voices etc. LIBERATED ZONES! (Let us know if you
find one!) Practically every guerrilla or Nat. Liberation movement, be they
right or left wing, has their own pirate radios, which are often crucial influence
in such wars, broadcasting from freed zones or neighbouring countries. But you're
not likely to come across this in Britain. INTERNATIONAL WATERS is of course a
favourite site, but out of the question for the small 'do it yourself' pirate.GOING MOBILE from cars,vans, or even
bicycles is discussed with "Guerrilla Radio" later in this section.

How to set up
your gear (FM)Before you goBefore getting out you had best brief anyone, especially
newcomers, on what will or might happen. Talk about getting caught, for instance
have good excuses made up for being at or near the site. If you are planning
to give false names, for instance, you'll need an address where someone will
confirm you live, otherwise you might have troubles getting bail if you were
arrested. In this case keep your first names the same to avoid being caught
out. Make out a standard 'check list' of all you need, and
go through it before you get out. It's surprisingly easy to find yourself on
top of a tower block, or climbing some tree, only to discover that your cassette
deck lead is at home five miles away.


list of things you need (FM)

  • Transmitter (TX)
  • TX main lead or 2 clip on battery leads (large and well insulated)
  • TX lead to cassette deck if not attached
  • cheap cassette deck plus mains lead or 2 clip ons and 6 volt bike
  • charged up 12 volt car battery if not on mains
  • antenna (check you have butterfly bolts if collapsible)
  • the co-axial cable (with plug attached and clips or attached to
  • fused plug board (if on mains)
  • programme tapes (rewound to staring position)
  • small FM radio receiver(s) to monitor broadcasts
  • CBs for lookouts, (license fee optional)
  • plastic 'gaffer tape'
  • soldering iron and solder in ease of broken leads, torch
  • warm clothes
  • munchies
  • bus fare


On the WayIdeally you need four people, at least two. Carry the
gear as inconspicuously as possible, in holdalls or plastic bags. The antenna
is a problem. If it's a big long one make it collapsible using butterfly nuts
in assembly. Or try to keep it somewhere close to the site. On arrival at the
site, especially if you've used it before, send an empty-handed scout ahead,
to be sure the police and DTI aren't waiting for you and all is clear. Check
also you're not followed. Setting upIn the case of a tower block you should have been there
beforehand and have either a key or a broken lock to get straight onto the roof.
Lock the door quietly behind you. If there's two doors onto the roof have access
through both. Take your gear to a lift / heating room and find a plug in wall
socket (if on mains). Check it works. Wear gloves when handling gear, and clean
it regularly with cloth and alcohol. They don't usually bother with fingerprint
evidence, but they might start. The antenna must be cleaned regularly anyway
for good transmissions. Set up your antenna as high as possible, if possible
on top of an extension pole or length of scaffold pipe. Often there's a pole
already, left by earlier pirates. Attach the antenna securely, with bolts or strong gaffer
tape, to a length of wood, then the bottom of the wood to the metal pole (if
there). The antenna must NOT be touching or blocked by metal.
The co-ax cable can be soldered or bolted onto the antenna, or attached with
strong, rust free car battery clips. The clips are recommended for fast dismantling
and for testing and developing antennas, mark clearly which goes where. The
co-ax cable should not be longer than absolutely necessary, you lose power with
every extra foot, and should be good quality and well insulated. Your lookouts
should already be on station, with torches or CBs, one at the foot of the tower
(preferably sitting on a car or flat) and one on the roof. Keep low and quiet
and wear soft shoes. (In one court case Eric Gotts (head of DTI squads) claimed
he recognised an Our Radio member from the ground, 18 stories up, at night.
The judge accepted his word).When the antenna is up securely, lead the co-ax back
and plug or screw in to the back of your transmitter . Now plug the TX to the
cassette deck keeping the two as far as possible apart, if possible blocked
by something solid, like a wall, to avoid interference. Keep the audio lead
well away from the power leads. Interference between leads can often cause loss
of power and/or "sprogs" (unwanted signals on the wrong frequency).
You can go so far as to block leads from each other with bricks. Plug in the cassette deck and the TX to your plug board
(or connect to batteries) and switch on. If you have that facility just switch
on the exciter stage of the TX first for testing, no need to alert Big Brother
prematurely. Go on the other end of the roof with your radio receiver and tune
in. Then adjust the modulation on your TX, in relation of other channels, to
get the best sound. If this is OK but there's unusual knocking or crackling
sounds try moving the cassette deck further from the TX, or raise it above ground
if possible. Try further separating or screening the power lines from the audio
lines.You may well find that you have sprogs (harmonics or
spurious signals) all over the waveband. Check for this. If so check reception
with your lookout 100 yards away, normally such sprogs disappear by that distance
and you're OK. But if your signal is still spread all over further away switch
off and clear off. Your TX is fucked up and needs difficult repair or tuning
you can't do on the site. If you find you're interfering with fire, ambulance
or pigs, stop, before they come after you. Most pirates are very careful not
to do this. When all checks are OK, insert your programme tape, switch
off, and wait for the agreed time to begin. With practice you can easily set
it all up and test it in 10 minutes, but it's good to allow a half hour and
to be methodical and cool. Never, for instance, switch on your TX without the
antenna attached, you'll blow it. The amp stage of your TX should get quite
hot when drawing the power , if not its not working. With bigger transmitters
you may need also a small electric fan to cool the heatsinks on the power transistors.
Once you're on air its good to go and phone friends for reception reports further

How to get away with itKnow your enemyOn a tower block, in London, the DTI squads can tell
where you are, within 20 metres, less than 10 minutes after you switch on. So
they can bust you any time. In the case of new pirates the procedure is to monitor
you for a while (in case you're just messing about) before busting you. It could
easily be a few months before your first attempted bust. If you play anything
but straight music they will record and keep all your programmes for possible
further use against you (though voice print's aren't used in court). In other
cities they are generally slower to get after you. In smaller towns they don't
have permanent staff so they have to come specially, depending on your usual
broadcasting time, so switching your time is a big advantage. The detection squads are now directed by the Home Office
through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and are officially responsible
for stamping out 'radio interference'. They have recently been recognised and
upgraded with fancy new equipment. Their HQ is at Waterloo House by Waterloo
Bridge and they have several other fixed triangulation stations in London, for
instant tracking. They use also mobile detection vans and lots of unmarked cars
and have a depot in East London for vehicles and gear. We don't know where they
keep their extensive horde of stolen transmitters prior to disposal. They also
have their own radio frequencies, they used to be (and still may be) using around
86 MHz, just off the commercial FM waveband. The DTI squads are not supposed to arrest you, so they
have to bring the local filth along on busts, which makes them a lot easier
to spot and makes them less flexible, as they often have to wait till the cops
have the time free. For large rich commercial pirates the game is to have
plenty of transmitters lined up, and not to try to save them if the police and
DTI raid. They often use remote links and can often switch on and off using
timers or radio signals, so they don't have to go back and change tapes and
no one need get caught in the act (but recently the DTI have cracked this by
raiding the 'live studios' and nicking everyone and everything). But for small community / political pirates with only
one or two transmitters its essential to save the gear if at all possible. At
the same time its now always cheaper to lose all the gear than to get caught
and pay the fines. Nowadays even for the small pirate it may be more advisable
to put energy into money raising and mass producing cheap transmitters than
into trying to save the gear when they're hot on your trail (though you need
to guard anyway against the curious and rip-offs by other pirates). Precautions Don't walk and boast unnecessarily about your sites or
studio. Work on a 'need to know' basis from the start. One method is to keep
programme makers separate from your broadcasting team, tapes can even be delivered
to a 'dead letter drop' for instance. But if you can really trust each other
its better if everyone takes a turn at broadcasting, otherwise the broadcasters
can both get pissed off and become a power elite ('I'm not transmitting this
crap!'). Don't, of course, broadcast your location, real names
or addresses. Don't give your phone number either, certainly in Britain, the
days of phone-ins and instant access to pirates are numbered. If you're really
into phone-ins, get a phone in a false name at a temporary address or squatted
flat (NOT your studio). Tape the calls and check you're not followed there.
For letters use a box address (e.g. Wuppertal in Germany) and assume all mail
is read, or use a forwarding address. When travelling to sites vary your means
of transport.

The Raid
. . . Saving the Gear

    Some pirates have tried building the transmitter into walls, parapets, roof,
    chimney stacks etc. You can conceal it under water tanks, central heating
    or lift machinery. Better still have it hidden in a legal or squatted top
    floor flat (possibly 2nd to top would do) concealing your co-ax cable either
    up the side of the building, by boring a hole in the roof, or by running it
    up ventilation or 'stink' pipes. Another variation is to have your tape player
    in a flat, and a long concealed audio lead to the TX on the roof. The possibilities
    are endless, and most have been tried. On one occasion Our Radio tried the
    'dummy transmitter' trick, with it's own dummy aerial, leading the hounds
    to one end of the roof, while they left by another door. Inside the transmitter
    box was a can of beer and a 'Booby Prize' note. In all these cases you still
    need to at least remove your co-ax cable before the baddies arrive, or of
    course it'll lead straight to your TX.
  2. LOOKOUTS. You need two, preferably
    three, and take it in turns, and if possible also monitor police and DTI radio
    channels. You can use torches or signals from ground to roof. If on CBs turn
    them very low or use headphones, and use codewords, they're very public. Watch
    out for cars and vans with too many aerials, electrical gear in the passenger
    seat, hanging around trying not to look suspicious, police cars passing several
    times etc. Keep an eye on nearby tower blocks or anywhere they may observe
    the roof with field glasses. A raid is usually obvious, two or three cars
    with uniformed police accompanying them (though piggies may be also in an
    unmarked car). They usually try and rush in a side or a back entrance, so
    watch out... it's quite embarrassing to have all your friends nicked, and
    you still standing out front yawning! Usually they take the lift (sometimes
    using a 'fireman's key' to bring it down fast) and often send a few young
    ones up the stairs.
  3. CAT AND MOUSE. This involves
    moving and hiding the gear, in flats, stair cupboards, lift shafts, hanging
    out windows, disguised at something else, etc. Normally they have no case
    if they can't find it, but under the new laws they might try to do you anyway
    if you're caught. If your lookout system works you have at least 2 minutes
    warning before they reach the top of the tower block. You can delay them by
    switching off the power in the lift room, but if doing this be quite certain
    you're not trapping anyone, which is difficult. You can call the lift immediately,
    and if you get them first jam the doors open. You should practice for quick
    dismantling and packing of the gear in advice. Sometimes its easier to leave
    the antenna and build a new one. A good simple 'Cat and Mouse' is to run down
    several flights of stairs with the gear, hide it in a good spot (the ideal
    is the flat of a 'neutral' friend) and turn into a 'normal' citizen. If you're
    stopped have a good excuse for being there. Cat and Mouse is a good system
    to start off with. But remember they have done it 1000s of times before. When
    they become determined to bust you you'll need more and more determined people
    and new broadcasting sites to stay ahead. After a certain point they're sure
    to catch you, as they learn more about you, your faces, your habits, your
    tricks, and as they put more and more men on the case. If you want to get
    away with it its time for a complete change of tactics.
  4. DISAPPEARING When the DTI are
    really on your tail one thing you can do is take a weeks rest, then come back
    with a different name, style and timing. Of course this fucks up your efforts
    to make a name for yourselves and gain a regular audience, but at least you're
    still on air, with maybe a few months grace before they start after you again.
    Also change your frequency and voices on tape if possible.
  5. SWITCHING In theory this is
    a good system, but you need a big team, your own transport, and two or three
    transmitters (on the exact same wavelength). The idea is this... as the police
    and DTI close in on one location, the signal switches to a second site. Either
    you're using links, or have copies of the programme tapes. The team at the
    first site evades the police and sets off a 3rd site and sets up. If they
    go for the 2nd site you switch to the 3rd site and carry on etc. When combined
    to Cat and Mouse tactics this can make you difficult to stop. The problems
    are, if you're using tower blocks your choices are limited... If you set up
    say 5 miles away your reception area may be completely different, and you'll
    need plenty of dedicated people ready to wait night after night to play games
    with the police... And when they become determined they will still get you.
    We know of one South London pirate, who used switching with apparent success,
    then one night all 3 of their transmitters were seized within 15 minutes!
    Switching would work better when combined and varied with other methods of
    getting away with it. Particularly if you're doing a local station, where
    you don't need so much height, and have lots of more choice of broadcasting

Guerrilla RadioThis is one of the main ideas this text is trying to
promote. Guerrilla, or Hit and Run radio is the war of the flea. First of all
you can reduce the risks of getting caught drastically by broadcasting not a
fixed times or a fixed name, or by doing it only for 1/2 hour periods. The problem
of course is that your audience is also random and small. The guerrilla idea
is to get together quite a few stations, broadcasting on the same frequency
with cheap, mass produced transmitters, thus forming one big loose station which
listeners would have a good chance of finding on air, while being very difficult
for the DTI and police to stop. Break-ins Break-ins are a higher and riskier form of guerrilla
radio, as used in Britain by Radio Arthur and Radio Wapping. The idea is to
grab your audience by broadcasting on top of a legal station. The sentences
are much higher but there's little chance of getting caught if your break-ins
short, say for five minutes, on top of the news or advertising of a major station.
You're taking advantage of a quality of FM broadcasting that the stronger signal
tends to 'win', blotting out the weaker one completely. With a small transmitter
you'll only win for a short distance, but even a few hundred yards could cover
a whole high density estate. For break-ins strength of signal is the main factor,
a big powerful transmitter (100 - 200 watts) tuned exactly to the required frequency
so you can break in for your message on the most popular channel on prime time.
For break-ins all precautions should be doubled, also be sure to clear right
away from the area as soon as you've finished, and don't use the same time or
broadcasting site again. It's as simple as that. Break-ins are also easily possible
on TV, but only over the sound. Break-ins are more common in countries where pirates
have been repressed, e.g. in Germany or the Eastern Block, and are ideal for
announcing, demonstrations etc. There is another and better way of doing break-ins
on FM, which may have been used by Radio Arthur. This is to use the microwave
transmitter, beaming your signal at the microwave dish receiving the signals
of a legal station from their studios. Their dish then picks up your signal,
and providing you're close enough to be stronger than their signal, you get
re-broadcast by their main transmitter, thus giving your break-ins perfect coverage
throughout their reception area. To stop you fast they'd have to switch
off the entire station. They will probably make it more difficult by using access
codes to receiver dishes, as its already done to avoid piracy of satellite dishes.Going MobileIn theory this is an ideal way of getting away with it,
but there are quite a few problems. If you're going in a vehicle you can use
ordinary car cassette player, but you are better off having a separate 12 volt
car battery to power the transmitter. One problem is with the aerial. If you
use a bigger, more efficient one it will be very obvious, one possibility is
to have it under a tarpaulin on a roof rack. A bigger problem is height, unless
you can park or drive up and down on a high hill, your coverage will be badly
blocked. And then of course your reception area will vary radically if you're
driving any distance. Not much use for gaining or developing an audience. The
main advantage is that you will be much more difficult to stop. Going mobile is more practical as a publicity stunt,
or possibly for local broadcasts. To a small extent, having a bigger TX will
compensate for lack of height. Going mobile is good for broadcasting at random
just for the hell with it. Doing break-ins in this way would be great fun in
the rush hour traffic. Links, Timers,
Square WavesThese aren't for the shoestring pirate, though you can
build them cheap if you have the know-how. As we said earlier links often prevent
you being busted personally, if you can afford to lose the gear, and allow you
to do live programmes. All it involves is using a receiver instead of a cassette
deck, then beaming up your signal from your studio, or whatever, using a small
UHF transmitter (e.g. on 370 MHz) or adapted cordless telephone, or an FM exciter
on a different frequency (or even an ordinary phone line, though sound quality
suffers). You also have to make a small directional high gain antenna. If you're
using a low power link and a narrow beam its highly impossible for the DTI to
trace you, and it was assumed to be safe to link from the studio. But studios
using links have been raided, in a few cases, with every bit of equipment, furniture,
record collections etc. seized under the 1984 laws (e.g. a raid on Radio Horizon's
studios in late 1985 when over £20000 worth of gear was 'stolen' legally). This
may not however mean that the DTI's new gear can detect links. It's just as
easy to find your location by gossip, phone taps or just by following you. Links can make you personally safe, if they can trace
you one you could always use two, or three, or .... what they don't and can't
do is protect your transmitter, its main advantage is that it allows you to
go live from the studio. To protect yourself you might as well use a timer to
switch the gear on and off remotely. Timers are pretty easy to build, and you
can buy kits, but good ones are hard to find 'off the shelf' as they can obviously
be used to make bombs. A good one to buy is the plug in variety, used for fooling
burglars when you're on holidays, or by landlords to deter squatters. For remote
switching you can also make sound activated switches, via a radio link, or 'square
wave' switches, via a phone line. What none of these devices can do however
is to turn over the tape, so you still have to go to the site to do this, unless
you want to broadcast for less than an hour. ConfrontationA good trick if you can get away with it. The DTI and
police (they normally only bring a few) are wide open to attack (the mouse becomes
the cat!) when coming to get you. The problem is that in future you'll have
to change your station name, frequency, even your radio voice and they'll always
be on your trail. The good thing is that if pirates start attacking them they
have to bring many more police with them, and can only do it when spare police
are available. Also they are always looking over their shoulders, and have to
be more careful with their surveillance work. One way to hit back, on tower blocks, is to trap them
in the lifts. The lookouts signals up when they're in and you throw the main
power switches in the lift room. Be careful you don't trap residents as well.
Then you take your gear down the stairs, beating up any of them you meet on
the way, and make off. Their cars are also vulnerable, usually they're parked
unguarded around the corner. If you're going to attack them directly make sure
you're well masked and tooled up and have enough skill and numbers to get past
them. Go straight for the police officers and disable them before they can make
their 'officer in distress' call (take or smash their radios, or have someone
jamming their frequencies). Other direct ways of hitting back are attacking the DTI
at their bases, attacking their vehicles at the depot, obtaining home addresses
/ phone numbers of chief officers and harassing them etc. Remember they have
the entire state apparatus backing them up, any form of direct attack should
therefore be anonymous and never spoken of or boasted about later (or before!).
When the lookout signals a raid or anything very suspicious (e.g. a cop car
cruising too close too often) immediately switch off, dismantle the gear and
move it (switch off the TX first, then the tapedeck. DON'T rip out the aerial
when the TX is still switched on!)

Building your
pirate stationWe're not talking here about commercial pirates, where
its just a matter of having good financial backing, popular DJ's and hit records,
plenty of ads, jingles and news replayed from legal stations. We're talking
about the 'do-it-yourself' community or political pirate, starting from square
one, and doing something worthwhile and original. The truth is that most commercial
pirates, in their effort to offend nobody and build towards a possible licence,
practice heavy censorship and are often as boring, banal, repetitive, capitalist,
sexist, elitist and even anti-democratic as the legal ones, though there are
few exceptions. Such pirates are obsessed with keeping their technology secret
and attacking the competition at every opportunity. Smaller, non-commercial pirates are in a different situation
and can only survive and develop by co-operation, with the eventual aim of breaking
the state and commercial monopoly of 'Her Majesty's' airwaves. YourselfFirst thing you need is an interest in sound, and something
worth saying or playing. Get a hold of a mike and a cassette deck and play around
with it. Record yourself, record any and everything. Listen and record off the
radio, off TV, off people's stereos, in the street. Play back your results,
see where you went wrong, and try again. Note down your results and ideas and
discuss them with others. Read everything you can find about sound and recording
and think about why you want to be a radio pirate.The Group You need to find more people with similar ideas, and
not just 'hangers on'. You need to get to know each other well, find out who
you can trust, and ditch those you can't. Members should be prepared to share
in the tasks, risks and finances equally according to their abilities (in practice
this rarely happens). Hold regular meetings, just keeping in touch can be a
problem in big cities. Go for maximum openness so everyone knows what is going
on. Beware of the power freaks, ego trippers, party builders etc. who are sure
to turn up sooner or later. A good point to start is with fund raising, arranging
gigs, jumble sales, meetings, sponsored events or whatever, which can cement
your group, attract more people, and advertise your station. How you do it depends
a lot on the type of project you're doing. If for example you're planning a
minority language station (and there's millions in Britain who have no radio
in their first language) you'll want to advertise widely through ethnic organisations.
If you're a 'revolutionary' group planning to claim responsibility for armed
actions you won't want to advertise at all. Minority music stations are the
most common. But we'd advice you to widen and deepen your group, or join with
others, if you're going to build and maintain the commitment (and cash) to keep
a station going. Many music stations get backing from clubs, and are the platform
for the disgustingly egotistical and inane DJ's who work in those clubs. Such
solid backing is a good idea however. If you're running a station, you'll be
hard pushed to fund a raise as well. If you see your station as a part of a wider movement
(e.g. anti-war, women, gay, anarchist, animal rights etc.) you should try to
get regular backing from that movement. Another good trick is to siphon off
small amounts of cash regularly from council, charity or student union funded
bodies which your members are involved in. What you need is income, not a lot,
even £20 a week would do if regular. If some of your members have good jobs
they might be able to do it, otherwise you could be tied in with a money making
co-op or small business. One example of this is the squatters pirates in Amsterdam,
who can get a small regular income from a fund raised by a small tax on drink
in squatted pubs and cafes. Open Access Once your group is going well, and you've started to
make tapes and get the gear and cash together, you should think seriously about
teaming up with other groups who you broadly agree with (or don't disagree).
For example at the moment (late 1986) there are dozens of such groups who have
failed to get Community Radio licences and are dying to get their stuff on air,
though afraid to 'go pirate' in their present hostile climate. The idea of "Open Access" is to share a frequency,
studios and even transmitting gear to start with, with different groups. The
advantages are obvious... more money coming in from more sources, less equipment
needed to begin with, a pooling of technical abilities, more political clout,
more participation, bigger audiences etc. A good way to approach this idea is
by having public meetings.The problems come with co-ordination, political rivalry,
possible infiltration and the sharing of tasks. For an Open Access grouping
you need regular democratic meetings of all involved (at least monthly) and
insist on full attendance. You need a few good people who are into organising
it and making it work. Another problem is with broadcasting. You should aim
for everyone having their own gear and broadcast team as soon as you can, so
you will be more difficult to stop by the police and DTI. So you should insist
on every group producing tapes providing at least two trusted people regularly
both to the broadcast team and to work on the technical and backup side of it
(building, repairing, purchasing etc.). Open Access station depend on co-operation, if you have
that then all the other advantages come into play, but you are fighting all
the time against our training, in this society, to be competitive and individualist.
The ideas of Open Access radio have been pioneered in this country by stations
like Sheffield Peace Radio, Our Radio and Cambridge Community Radio and its
worth studying their experience quite closely, as well as the example of such
stations and Federations of pirates in other countries. Its often fatal to allow
one person, however benevolent they may seem, to become a leader or spokesperson
for an Open Access grouping. The straight media also love this to happen. Local
/ "Community" Pirate RadioThe word "community" has lost any real meaning,
through misuse and over-use (e.g. "Community Policing"). The old style
communities are thing of the past (if they ever really existed) except on the
Soap Operas, as the system breaks us all down into individual consumers. So
if you're talking about 'Community Radio' you should be quite clear what you
mean by it, and what the State means by proposing (and then cancelling) such
an ideas. What class, ethnic, interest, political or gender sections of the
people are you aiming your pirate radio at? Or better, creating your pirate
radio with? Or are you really working on your own career? Or trying to create
'community' in your own head?.... Local pirate radio is a more clear idea. There are many
advantages to broadcasting locally, e.g. more broadcasting sites, harder to
get caught, room for more pirates on the broadcast band, cheaper and easier
to built transmitters, closer contact and participation of listeners etc. In
a big city it's a good idea for your station to base yourselves in one area,
whether you're broadcasting locally or city-wide. You need a local base, and
local backing, financial if possible. If your station is appealing to one small
section of listeners it may not however make sense to do a local station, because
the potential listeners are fewer. A local station should aim at a fairly wide
section of the population. An Open Access station would work well on a local
basis, as co-ordination would be easier, and all kinds of interest and minority
groups could be persuaded to make programmes. On a local basis publicity and
support are much easier to get, as is the possibility of mobilising people to
defend you when attacked, e.g. a popular station in the middle of the large
housing estate. Local broadcasting in inner city areas can nevertheless
involve hundreds of thousands of potential listeners. Most of the smaller existing
pirates are, in effect, local stations, because of the limitations of height
and the power of their transmitters, though very few allow any access or see
themselves as a local voice and resource. How to make a studioBack to square one, you've fooled around with tapes and
microphones, but soon you're going to want your own studio. If you have no cash
don't let that stop you! Most of the gear can be borrowed to start off with.
For beginners purpose a studio is a small room, a couple of turntables and cassette
decks, a microphone, headphones, and a small disco mixer, a plug board, leads,
some records and a table to put it all on. You'll also need some blank cassette
tapes, and sound effects records if you can (borrow from a record library).After that it's just practice and patience, knowing and
collecting your material, and getting more or better sound gear as you go along.Having said that there's plenty of tips we can give you.
A permanent room is handy. Sound proof it if you can, cardboard, layers of carpet,
egg boxes or Styrofoam are all good. Try to plan it out before you start as
to have everything within reach of the operator(s), while having enough room
for the interviews and group work. If you build your own control desk you can
drill holes and arrange for all the leads to disappear and join underneath,
much less hassle. If you're buying cassette decks try to get something also
suitable for outdoor work. Try it out before buying, e.g. don't get one which
leaves a loud click on the recording whenever you lift the pause button. Quality
and editing are better if you record your final product from mixer onto a reel
to reel tape recorder, though it means re-recording onto cassettes for broadcasting,
and a good cassette deck can give near as good results and is cheaper. If buying a microphone it's worth getting a good directional
one suitable for studio and outdoor interviews, and make sure the 'impedance'
suits your mixer. A 'cheap' £50 disco mixer will do the job (you can even mix
through some stereo units). If you have the cash go for the flashy new £150
range with built in graphic equaliser with which you can do wonders. Another
tip, keep mike leads, din leads and power leads well separate each other and
make sure everything is well earthed (from the chassis if necessary). If you
also have 'hum' problems with cassette decks try plugging in the power lead
the other way round (i.e. where it goes into deck). Use cheap turntables, not automatics, and buy ones which
use cheap cartridges, as you'll have to replace them often anyway. Use good
quality cassette tapes however. C120's are best for length of programme, but
get the best or they'll tear or jam. On the turntables put in your own on-off
'cue' switches, for ease of operation. When you've 'cued' a record to where
you want to start, turn it a full turn back, by hand, to avoid slow start up
noise. Try and have an LED meter on the mixer and on the final tape recorder,
allow the needle to go just into the red for music recording, but only half
way up for speech recording. For group interviews an omni-directional mike can be
handy, and pay special attention to sound recording levels and background noise.
Don't use telephone in the studio. Though the phone is the lifeline of democratic
radio, in the present climate it means you'll be busted and/or have everything
in the room recorded by the police.... You really do need two turntables, and
at least two cassette decks... All these tips, and more you'll pick up as you
go along, but it's good to work out standard 'how to use the studio' for newcomers.
Pay attention to safety, e.g. have the plugboard (fused) well out of the way,
and don't allow coffee or beer near the gear. Read a book on basic sound studios.One last tip, lock it up well, especially if it's not
in your own home, and barricade and cover any windows. there's one sure thing
about accumulating sound gear... sooner or later someone will nick it! The ProgrammeThis is entirely up to yourself. No need to follow any
conventions. Some people say have to 'master' conventional programming before
you can do something different. Other say if you do that you'll never do anything
different. Again there are some hard learned tips for pirate. It's
good to talk with all concerned before starting, make a list of all the possible
material gathered (music, interviews, sound effects, news items, jokes or whatever)
and try to put it into some kind of order. A signature tune or jingle isn't
such a bad idea, as people recognise the programme by it, often after they've
forgotten the name. Repeat the name of your programme often, but not too often,
along with your frequency and broadcast time. Put your important items first
(e.g. a demo next day, your appeal etc.) as it's always possible you may be
busted before the programme ends. If you're expecting a bust put all your best
material first and keep the programme short. Use first names (false ones) and
try to have a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and give everyone present a go on
the microphone and control desk. While throwing out conventions don't forget that we're
all conditioned to quick variety and short attention spans. Long single person
interviews are not on, no matter how interesting, but need breaking up, also
remember people are continually tuning in (and out) and if doing long pieces
you need to 'flash back' the story so far. You need variety and interaction
without sticking in jingles every 30 seconds. Try and make it interesting /
enjoyable / entertaining both for you and the audience, otherwise why to bother?...Style and themes are your department. It's easy on radio
to get arrogantly carried away with an idea of your own ego, or with 'in' jokes
or political hobby horse, watch out for this. Practice with using the gear,
good preparation and research make everything go much smoothly. Background music
and fading music in and out can be very effective if done well. A large studio,
tea breaks etc. help a lot. The more time you put in the better the result (usually),
you can spend a whole night making a good one hour current affairs programme,
for instance. More than that is hard to say, so much depends on the people,
the subject, the projected audience, the time of broadcast etc. You should actively go out and seek feedback and opinions
from people you know have listened. Probably you won't be able to do phone ins
and mail is slow and erratic (don't worry if you don't get a big postbag, few
stations or programmes really do). It's easy to become cut off and feel like
you're talking into a vacuum, or get completely wrong idea of what kind of people
are listening. Making programmes is really not that hard, however bad an inexperienced
you are, you can quite easily improve on some of the 'aural shit' being pumped
out by legal stations over the airwaves, 24 hours per day! PublicityPublicity is very important, especially when you're starting
off your new station. Of course your main publicity is to keep coming back on
air, no matter what. But if you're hoping for a minority audience to tune in
specially you need to advertise a lot where those people are likely to see or
read it. Be warned, there's no real tradition in this country for large scale
support for pirates, and people often tend to consume the media i.e. forget
instantly they switch off. It could take you long time to build up the regular,
participate audience, and the solid support you need to attract new blood, break
even financially etc. If you're a local station your publicity is obviously
a lot easier, and you can poster, graffiti, or even leaflet your entire reception
area. If you're a wider station make sure you're always mentioned in the 'what's
on' papers and get articles or interviews into any paper likely to support you.
Send out regular press releases to the local and national press, and try to
cultivate contacts among the slimy reptiles (journalists). Almost any publicity
is good, as those people likely to listen in to you will also likely read behind
the bias of Tory press. Oddly, one place you should certainly seek publicity
is on radio, try for instance getting onto phone ins. On radio you are already
talking to people who listen to it! TV, if you can find any way to stunt to
get onto it, is the most powerful publicity and you should certainly court the
bastards running the local TV news, this kind of appearance really does stick
in people's minds and start them talking... Strangely enough the media are not overly hostile to
pirates, providing you're just an oddity, not a direct threat. Many media workers
hate the shit they're forced to produce and admire the 'romantic' pirates. You
should play on this for all it's worth, and always try and get your frequency
and broadcast times across. They will sometimes put you on, as an interesting
item. Remember that pirate radio is a 'victimless crime'! If you're mainly a music station you should publicise
where people listen to that type of music, if you have your own club, of course,
you're laughing. Join Free The Airwaves and get publicity in their paper. Write
articles for radio pages, and do benefit gigs, public meetings, media stunts,
whatever you can manage. Choose a catchy, hard hitting name for your station.
If you're doing political stuff they're going to go for you anyway, so you might
as well get value for effort! Remember, if you want to be a participatory station,
you'll have to go out and seek feedback. Get out on the street and do interviews
whatever you can. Take along your cassette recorder to every type of event,
the more different voices and views the better. Building up
your pirate stationIt's hard to give advice about longer term development,
but there's a few things worth saying. First of all it's important to pace yourselves.
It's easy to start off with a lot of enthusiasm, then get busted off the air,
or just burnt out with too much work or too few people. However good or different
you are you will be very lucky to build up a regular audience or mass support
overnight. Though your potential number of listeners may be huge you can except
response to be slow. Breaking down passive consumption of the media is not easy.
Having your own clubs, events, regular demos etc. helps, as do dramatic publicity
stunts. You need to work out what you're aiming at. We say support, participation
and a large number of listeners is a good aim. But you may just be broadcasting
as a way of pressuring for a licence (which is a bit of a sell-out and a pipedream).
Ideally you should plan ahead and gradually increase your broadcasting times,
while developing all aspects of your station, rather than going all out and
then collapsing at the first bust. The best advice then is to operate well within
your capabilities, and to join up with any other pirates who are not commercial
and not racist, sexist or fascist. Your longer term aim, as a pirate, should be to reach
a situation where you have so much support (money, volunteers, transmitters,
listener support etc.) that the state just cannot wipe you out at will. The
best hope for pirates is to swamp the forces of repression by sheer numbers,
as happened, at different times, in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Italy,
and now, it seems, in Spain. This does not imply chaos, but co-operation, federations
and sharing of the available airwaves and times. The swamping the airwaves is
NOT going to be caused by the commercial pirates, hogging,
hiding and mystifying the technology and even sabotaging each other. However
if we do manage to start a non- commercial movement of pirates capable of doing
this then commercial pirates will jump onto the airwaves, with more power, and
try to force us off. This would be a major problem. It is a mistake and an excuse to blame the Tories and
the new draconian laws for the lack of alternative pirates in Britain. The main
thing stopping us is the lack of any strong combative movement (whether it be
workers, women, anarchist, or whatever) in which to build a big wave of pirates,
though there are literally millions of sympathetic people about.

. . If all goes wrongYou're nicked. What you say to them depends on the circumstances.
If they haven't got you, deny it point blank, give them your cover story and
a verifiable address, and stick to your story no matter what. The problem with
this is if they have nicked others and they give different stories, a different
name for you etc. Best discuss all this beforehand. If caught on the hop, best
say you don't know any of the others. You're caught in the act or with the gear.
Give them a verifiable name and address and refuse to discuss the matter further.
No matter what. People have managed to get off in the past, even with the gear
in their hands, but under the new laws this is unlikely. Although they can arrest and charge you, illegal broadcasting
is still normally treated as a 'summons offence', which means they question
you, let you go (eventually), then summons you by letter to appear in court.
This opens possibilities of getting away with it - you may be able to bullshit
them with a false name etc. (though they can now hold you on suspicion of doing
this for three days). They will normally 'ask to accompany to the station',
or if they've raided your flat may interrogate you there and then. If you refuse
to go to the station they will arrest you (for obstruction, insulting words,
suspicion of stealing electricity etc.) and take you there, where you can be
interviewed by the police and DTI. The 'pretext charge' is often dropped later.When interviewed on the station it's better really to
refuse to say anything, especially if there are several of you, cover stories
usually fall apart under long and detailed questioning. However silence usually
means they will hold you longer. If they get you to the station they are pretty
certain to photograph and fingerprint you. You can't refuse under the Police
Bill. When nicked your best bet is to remain calm. Demand to ring your solicitor.
Don't panic, it's not the end of the world. Smile at the bastards. Have a good
kip in the cell - you've done your best. Fighting your caseIt's usually months before your summons arrives, if they
decide they have a case. Get legal aid if at all possible, and a good solicitor
who knows the, by now, pretty complex legal situation. Plead NOT GUILTY,
but beware if you have money, they may award costs against you if you lose.
Get your Bust Fund together, with gigs, jumble, radio appeals,
donations all round etc. It's good to campaign about your bust on the air if
your station is still going. Most commercial (read conservative) pirates don't
do this, carrying their bid for respectability so far as to ignore their own
best weapon. Make sure the address you gave when arrested is 'clean',
they could possibly raid you to look for further evidence. If you're a political
station watch out for suspicious break-ins where nothing is stolen, Special
Branch often do this. Get your story straight, get witnesses to write out their
statements together, make copies and give them to your solicitor. Don't trust
your solicitor too far, they sometimes say 'plead guilty' just to save themselves
trouble, if he/she starts getting cold feet get yourself a new one (they don't
like this at all but it can be done). Get your solicitor to ask for copies of
the prosecutions witness statements in advance of the case and make sure you
see them. In court dress neatly and be polite to the bastard (magistrate)
and the filth. Have a good 'hard luck' story for your solicitor to tell, it's
always good to say you're just getting married, starting a new job etc., but
don't say you have money or the fines will be bumped up higher. If you're going
to 'bend the truth' a little don't tell your solicitor you're doing it, and
be sure friends watching in court don't start laughing! The DTI and police will
lie anyway, more likely than not, get your witnesses to focus on these lies
and your solicitor to cross question them closely, especially any police witnesses,
who are more stupid and inexperienced in this kind of case. Demonstrations outside the court are good publicity and
can intimidate the magistrate if big enough, but don't always help your case
(e.g. if you're pleading 'dumb bystander' how come all these people are so concerned
about you?). If you want press, send out Press Releases at least a week in advance,
so the hacks can put it in their diaries, and phone sound with reminders the
day before. Your fine should be paid by the Bust Fund if at all possible. If
not, extra costs should be divided up among everyone in the station (always
plead poverty and ask for time to pay). When you've been busted once you shouldn't, ideally,
work on the broadcasting end again, though you could still do lookout, backup,
monitoring etc., as second offenders normally get the maximum fine. If you win
the case, as quite often happens, have a good party! If you win there is also
some possibility, in theory of claiming the gear back, though this is much less
likely under the new laws. Ask your solicitor about it, and there's a chance
get someone else, with some kind of receipt, to apply for it, saying they'd
bought it before the bust.