London’s Pirate Pioneers: the Illegal Broadcasters who Changed British Radio by Stephen Hebditch. TX Publications, London. 2015.
If you have lived in London at any time over the last 40 years and were interested in music then you have probably listened to some of the 400+ land based pirate stations that broadcast to the capital. London’s Pirate Pioneers is a new book that chronicles the history of the city’s underground broadcasters from 1968 – 1990. It’s not just a dull history of radio but an important exploration of the cultural and social history of this diverse dirty city that is London.
It was the bland, mainstream offerings of BBC Radio 1 that gave the impetus to music fans to start their own stations in the late 1960’s. Early pirates included Radio Jackie (now a licensed broadcaster) and the first soul music station Radio Invicta. The book tells of cat and mouse games played between pirate stations and government investigators who tried to close their ass down.
In 1973 legal commercial radio came to London in the form of Capital Radio (now part of Global Media). But not one station could expect to meet the music needs of the whole of London so many began a life a radio piracy. In the 1980’s many black, Asian, Greek and Turkish pirate stations penetrated the airwaves and by the 1990’s, the government permitted some former pirate stations such as Kiss (now part of Bauer Media) and London Greek Radio to be licensed.
Although London currently has around 20 unfortunate legal commercial stations on AM and FM (plus several local community stations), there are up to 50 pirates still lurking around the waves. It’s no wonder due to music becomeing more fragmented into numerous genres. This is a fascinating book telling an important story about a hidden aspect of London’s cultural history and the attempts of some of its communities striving to have their own voice.