In the early '80's, pirate radio entered its second golden age, with the rise of black music stations like Horizon, JFM, Dread Broadcasting Corporation and LWR, specialising in the soul, reggae and funk that Radio One marginalised. But the nautical connotations of "pirate" had faded; the new pirates broadcast not just from the mainland, but from the heart of the metropolis, using the tower block (high-rise apartment building) method that remains the backbone for today's jungle stations.
As the government closed loopholes in the law and increased the penalties, the illegal stations grew ever more cunning in their struggle to outwit the Department of Trade and Industry's anti-pirate agency, the Radio Investigation Service. The invention of the microlink (a method of relaying the station's signal to a distant transmitter) made it harder for the DTI to trace and raid the illegal station's studio. The result was an explosion of piracy; by 1989-90, there were over 600 stations nationwide, and 60 in the London area alone. And in 1989, a new breed of rave pirates, like Sunrise, Dance FM, Fantasy and Centreforce, joined the ranks of established black dance stations like LWR and Kiss.
As in the 1960's, the government responded with the double whammy of suppression and limited permission. In a weird echo of the pardons offered ultra- successful buccaneers and corsairs in the 16th and 17th Centuries, the pirate stations were offered an amnesty if they went off the air, and a chance to apply for one of the bonanza of licenses being made available as part of the Conservative governments commitment to "freeing" the airwaves. LWR and Kiss closed down voluntarily, but only Kiss won a licence. The legitimatisation of Kiss, in combination with a new, toughened Broadcasting Act in January 1990, reduced pirate activity to its lowest since 1967.
But in 1992, the London pirates resurged massively, as a crucial component of hardcore rave's underground infrastructure, alongside home-studio recording, indie labels, white label releases and specialist dance stores. Abandoning the last vestiges of trad pop radio broadcasting protocol, the new 'ardkore pirates sounded like "raves on the air": rowdy, chaotic, with the DJ's voiceover replaced by a raucous rave-style MC (Master of Ceremonies), and with a strong emphasis on audience participation (enabled by the spread of the portable cellular phone, which made the studio location impossible to trace by the DTI).
With Kiss FM's playsafe programming unable to satisfy the demand for raw-to-the- core 'ardkore, and the dance culture fragmenting into a myriad post-rave sub-scenes, 1992-93 saw the biggest boom in the history of radio piracy. Despite the government's latest package of draconian penalties (unlimited fines, prison sentences of up to two years, and the confiscation of all studio equipment, including domestic hi-fi equipment and the DJ's precious record collection), despite some 536 raids by the DTI in 1992-93, the renegade stations persisted. In the words of a track by Rum & Black, the pirate attitude remained: "**** the Legal Stations".
The raid on an Acid House party organised by Sunrise FM in the West Midlands is an example of the recent hysteria against such parties. Normally held illegally in disused warehouses or barns, but occasionally in licensed venues, Acid House Parties attract millions of paying customers but also attract much unfair criticism from the Establishment and the official media.
A bill is currently going through Parliament with the aim of outlawing not only Acid House parties, but with severe implications for legally organized outdoor festivals and for civil liberties in general. Sometimes free radio stations have been raided for promoting Acid House parties. In a raid on one London station, Centre Force FM, the Police took over the studio only minutes before the DTI arrived and used the station to promote their own anti- Acid propaganda. I wonder if the Police officers in question will be charged with using an illegal radio station...
Several Acid House parties are raided each month, an unnecessary use of Police manpower and resources which would otherwise be far better used against real criminals like muggers and burglars. And of course, who's paying for the massive police presence involved and the cost of prosecutions? That's right, the poor taxpayer (or should that be poll taxpayer ?) One person, Robert Darby, has actually been Jailed for organizing an Acid House party - this is the sort of thing we expect from supposedly less-democratic countries than ourselves, e.g. pre-Gorbachev Eastern Europe.
It is true that drugs are often available at these parties. It is true that drugs are often available at all parties - walk into a nightclub in Birmingham, and more likely than not you will be approached by at least one drug-pusher. The best way to stamp out illegal Acid House warehouse parties is not by totalitarian legislation, but by removing some of the unnecessary restrictions on legal parties. All night parties are currently banned due to the stupid licensing laws, discos are often refused on planning permission or other grounds, and the over-18 age limit in most night-clubs is far too high (if an age restriction is needed at all). But is this likely to change? Pigs might fly. What's that Police helicopter doing circling that disused warehouse
The operator of Starlight FM appeared (very) briefly in Central Weekend Live on Friday 2nd June 1990 (he was the one wearing the white "Florida" sun-cap). Nothing at all was said by him, despite the raids on Sunrise FM's Acid House perty and the DTI raid on Starlight FM that day.
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Pirate Radio Station Information
Pirate Radio stations were around from the very beginning of the Acid House movement and lead the way in organising people to find the underground parties. If you have any contributions please email then to us we would love to receive them. Here we will be adding profiles on some of those pirate radio stations:
History of Hardcore
Nu Skook Breaks
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