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Pirate radio is illegal or unregulated radio transmission. Its etymology can be traced to the unlicensed nature of the transmission, but historically there has been occasional but notable use of sea vessels â€“ fitting the most common perception of a pirate â€“ as broadcasting bases. The term is most commonly used to describe illegal broadcasting for entertainment or political purposes, but is also sometimes used for illegal two-way radio operation. Rules and regulations vary widely from country to country. In countries such as the US and many countries in Europe, many types of radio licenses exist, and often the term pirate radio generally describes the unlicensed broadcast of FM radio, AM radio, or short wave signals over a wide range.
In some cases radio stations are deemed legal where the signal is transmitted, but illegal where the signals are receivedâ€”especially when the signals cross a national boundary. In other cases, a broadcast may be considered "pirate" due to the nature of its content, its transmission format (especially a failure to transmit a station identification according to regulations), or the transmit power (wattage) of the station, even if the transmission is not technically illegal (such as a web cast or an amateur radio transmission). Pirate radio stations are sometimes called bootleg stations (a term especially associated with two-way radio), clandestine stations (associated with heavily politically motivated operations) or Free Radio stations.
Radio "piracy" began with the advent of regulations of the public airwaves in the United States at the dawn of the Age of Radio. Initially, radio, or wireless as it was more commonly called, was an open field of hobbyists and early inventors and experimenters, including Nikola Tesla, Lee De Forest, and Thomas Edison. The United States Navy began using radio for time signals and weather reports on the east coast of the United States in the 1890s. Before the advent of valve (vacuum tube) technology, early radio enthusiasts used noisy spark-gap transmitters, such as the first spark-gap modulation technology pioneered by the first real audio (rather than telegraph code) radio broadcaster, Charles D. Herrold, in San Jose, California, or the infamous Ruhmkorff coil used by almost all early experimenters. The Navy soon began complaining to a sympathetic press that amateurs were disrupting naval transmissions. The May 25, 1907, edition of Electrical World in an article called "Wireless and Lawless" reported authorities were unable to prevent an amateur from interfering with the operation of a government station at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard using legal means.
In the run-up to the London Radiotelegraph Convention in 1912 (essentially an international gentlemen's agreement on use of the radio band, non-binding and, on the high seas, completely null), and amid concerns about the safety of marine radio following the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15 of that year (although there were never allegations of radio interference in that event), the New York Herald of April 17, 1912, headlined President William Howard Taft's initiative to regulate the public airwaves in an article titled "President Moves to Stop Mob Rule of Wireless."
When the "Act to Regulate Radio Communication" was passed on August 13, 1912, amateurs and experimenters were not banned from broadcasting; rather, amateurs were assigned their own frequency spectrum and licensing and call-signs were introduced. By regulating the public airwaves, President Taft thus created the legal space for illicit broadcasts to take place. An entire federal agency, the Federal Communications Commission, was created eventually to enforce rules on call-signs, assigned frequencies, licensing and acceptable content for broadcast.
The Radio Act of 1912 gave the president legal permission to shut down radio stations "in time of war", and during the first two and a half years of World War One, before US entry, President Wilson tasked the US Navy with monitoring US radio stations, nominally to ensure "neutrality." The Navy used this authority to shut down amateur radio in the western part of the US (the US was divided into two civilian radio "districts" with corresponding call-signs, beginning with K in the west and W in the east, in the regulatory measures; the Navy was assigned call-signs beginning with N). When Wilson declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, he also issued an executive order closing most radio stations not needed by the US government. The Navy took it a step further and declared it was illegal to listen to radio or possess a receiver or transmitter in the US, but there were doubts they had the authority to issue such an order even in war time. The ban on radio was lifted in the US in late 1919.
In 1924, New York City station WHN was accused of being an "outlaw" station by AT&T (then American Telephone and Telegraph Company) for violating trade licenses which permitted only AT&T stations to sell airtime on their transmitters. As a result of the AT&T interpretation a landmark case was heard in court, which even prompted comments from Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover when he took a public stand in the station's defense. Although AT&T won its case, the furor created was such that those restrictive provisions of the transmitter license were never enforced.
It didn't take long for this to be challenged by various governments.
In Europe, Denmark had the first known radio station in the world to broadcast commercial radio from a vessel in international waters without permission from the authorities in the country that it broadcast to (Denmark in this case). The station was named Radio Mercur and began transmission on August 2, 1958. In the Danish newspapers it was soon called a "pirate radio". Although the term had been used previously in Britain and the US to describe unlicensed land based broadcasters and even border blasters.
In the 1960s in the UK, the term referred to not only a perceived unauthorized use of the state-run spectrum by the unlicensed broadcasters but also the risk-taking nature of offshore radio stations that actually operated on anchored ships or marine platforms.
A good example of this kind of activity was Radio Luxembourg located in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The English language evening broadcasts from Radio Luxembourg were beamed by Luxembourg licensed transmitters. The audience in the United Kingdom originally listened to their radio sets by permission of a Wireless License issued by the British General Post Office (GPO). However, under terms of that Wireless Licence, it was an offence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act to listen to unauthorised broadcasts, which possibly included those transmitted by Radio Luxembourg. Therefore as far as the British authorities were concerned, Radio Luxembourg was a "pirate radio station" and British listeners to the station were breaking the law (although as the term 'unauthorised' was never properly defined it was somewhat of a legal grey area). This did not stop British newspapers from printing programme schedules for the station, or a British weekly magazine aimed at teenage girls, Fab 208 from promoting the "DJs" and their lifestyle (Radio Luxembourg's wavelength was 208 metres (1439, then 1440 kHz)).
Radio Luxembourg was later joined by three other well known pirate stations received in the UK in violation of UK licensing, Radio Caroline, North and South, plus Radio Atlanta which became Caroline South and Radio London, all of which broadcast from vessels anchored outside of territorial limits and were therefore legitimate. Radio Jackie, for instance (although transmitting illegally), was registered for VAT and even had its address and telephone number in local telephone directories.
Where actual sea-faring vessels are not involved, the term pirate radio is a political term of convenience as the word "pirate" suggests an illegal venture, regardless of the broadcast's actual legal status. The radio station XERF located at Ciudad AcuĂ±a, Coahuila, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas, USA, is an example.
While Mexico issued radio station XERF with a license to broadcast, the power of its 250 kW transmitter was far greater than the maximum of 50 kW authorized for commercial use by the government of the United States of America. Consequently, XERF and many other radio stations in Mexico, which sold their broadcasting time to sponsors of English-language commercial and religious programs, were labelled as "border blasters", but not "pirate radio stations", even though the content of many of their programs were in violation of US law. Predecessors to XERF, for instance, had originally broadcast in Kansas, advocating "goat-gland surgery" for improved masculinity, but moved to Mexico to evade US laws about advertising medical treatments, particularly unproven ones.
Another variation on the term pirate radio came about during the "Summer of Love" in San Francisco during the 1960s. These were "Free radio", which usually referred to clandestine and unlicensed land-based transmissions. These were also tagged as being pirate radio transmissions. Free Radio was only ever used to refer to Radio transmissions that were beyond government control, as was offshore radio in the UK and Europe.
The term free radio was adopted by the Free Radio Association of listeners who defended the rights of the offshore "radio stations" broadcasting from ships and marine structures off the coastline of the United Kingdom. FĂ©lix Guattari points out:
|â€ś||Technological development, and in particular the miniaturization of transmitters and the fact that they can be put together by amateurs, 'encounters' a collective aspiration for some new means of expression.||â€ť|
In Europe, in addition to adopting the term free radio, supportive listeners of what had been called pirate radio adopted the term offshore radio, which was usually the term used by the owners of the marine broadcasting stations.
More recently the term Free Radio implied that the broadcasts were commercial free and the station was only there for the output, be it a type of music or spoken opinion. In this context, 'Pirate' radio thus refers to stations that do advertise and plug various gigs and raves.
Since this subject covers national territories, international waters and international airspace, the only effective way to treat this subject is on a country by country, international waters and international airspace basis. Because the laws vary, the interpretation of the term pirate radio also varies considerably.
Questions have been raised about various types of broadcasting conducted by national governments against the interests of other national governments, which have in turn created radio jamming stations transmitting noises on the same frequency so as to destroy the receivability of the incoming signal.
While the USA transmitted its programs towards the USSR, which attempted to jam them, in 1970 the government of the United Kingdom decided to employ a jamming transmitter to drown out the incoming transmissions from the commercial station Radio North Sea International, which was based aboard the Motor Vessel (MV) Mebo II anchored off southeast England in the North Sea. It was even alleged the station was a front for a Warsaw pact numbers station.
Other examples of this type of unusual broadcasting include the Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Courier, which both originated and relayed broadcasts of the Voice of America from an anchorage at the island of Rhodes, Greece to Soviet bloc countries. Balloons have been flown above Key West, Florida to support the TV transmissions of TV MartĂ, which are directed at Cuba. Military broadcasting aircraft have been flown over Vietnam, Iraq and many other nations by the United States Air Force. The European Union financially supported a radio station broadcasting news and information into the former Yugoslavia from a ship anchored in international waters.
China (From International Waters)
Taiwan (The history of Underground Radio)
New Zealand (From International Waters)
Swan Island (History of Radio Swan / Radio Americas)
WTNT - Trinidad Rock Radio, ( T&T ) Trinidad and Tobago - www.wtnt.tk
Israel (From Territorial Waters)
Mexico (History of the "Border blasters")
United States of America (History of Pirate Radio; From International Waters)
Pirate radio has long been synonymous with AM (LW,MW & SW) and FM (VHF) unlicensed broadcasting and "border blasting" in most parts of the world. With the advent of the internet, many conventional AM/FM radio stations have also taken to simulcasting via the web. These range from public broadcasters, licensed commercial radio, and in some countries, the 3rd tier of low power license exempt radio stations.
Despite pirate radio being known for over the air transmission, a new type of so called "pirate radio" stations now operate on-line. The distinguishing feature is that these on-line pirates will usually not pay music copyright fees, like most of their AM/FM pirate cousins. These on-line stations will usually attract a small and loyal audience and may go unnoticed by the authorities, unlike the real AM/FM pirates who can easily be heard and traced on a conventional radio. The common term for this type of operation is better served by the term "Studio Pirates" rather than pirate radio, as no real radio transmitter is used. However, as technology advances and becomes cheaper it is only a matter of time before a conventional transmitter is plugged into a wireless internet device and relays the internet radio station on air. (The internet station can of course deny any involvement in this, as anyone could relay any station, legal or otherwise in this way.)
A recent case of on-line studio pirate was seen in the UK. Hitz Radio(UK) (not to be confused with HitzRadio.com in the United States) managed to attract large amounts of mainstream media publicity in early 2007. This publicity resulted from Ryan Dunlop, the owner of the station, nominating Hitz Radio for various business awards. After this publicity, many people with radio industry knowledge began to probe the station, which had claimed "millions of fans" and tens of thousands of listeners on-line. These claims, along with others, were part of the portfolio put forward for the business awards. When industry insiders checked these claims, it resulted in the UK music copyright agencies PPL and MCPS-PRS Alliance chasing back fees owed by Ryan Dunlop and Hitz Radio. That in turn resulted in the audience claims to be false, based upon the amount of back dated fees owed for copyright.
Illegal use of licensed radio spectrum (also known as bootlegging in CB circles) is fairly common and takes several forms.
|The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United Kingdom and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. Please improve this article and discuss the issue on the talk page.|
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