This site does not condone pirate broadcasting, nor any other related activities.
Pirate transmissions can interfere with vital communications, such as aircraft and police.
The material presented here is for educational purposes only. Read on and enjoy!
This section tells you exactly how to go ahead setting up your own pirate radio with all the tips learned from bitter experience. First of all here's a list of main things you'll need. So you want to be a radio pirate? Read on...
What you'll need:
A. A group of committed people who get on with each other and have plenty of time and energy.
B. A program, 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.
C. A Transmitter. Ideally over 10 watt power, but 5 watts is fine for local broadcasts, or when using an aerial with gain. You can't buy one over the counter in Britain, but here are some alternatives:
I) Buy one from another pirate (beware of rip-offs).
II) Buy one over the counter abroad. In Italy for instance you can get a high quality 50 watt transmitter over the counter for £200. You can buy kits in Belgium, France, Netherlands, USA, etc. You then have to smuggle it home.
III) 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.
IV) Get one built to your specification. There are a few electronics engineers about who will build them for a reasonable price.
D. Antenna. You can adapt a design yourself from an antenna handbook. Or use one of our ready made designs. Look out for aluminum tubing or struts which make good building material.
E. 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 coax cable for the aerial, a radio to listen in on, etc. Also start reading Amateur Radio Handbooks and all relevant writings.
VHF: Pros and Cons
First 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. It's also possible to put in a vehicle, even a bicycle and go mobile . 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 AM aerials. Also low power FM transmitters ('rigs') can be tuned to slightly different frequencies, on AM 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. Distance covered with an FM rig depends on 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 pirate, cheap, mobile and adaptable.
The Broadcasting Site (FM)
In cities tower blocks have been an ideal answer for good coverage and wide reception and are especially favored 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 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.
MEDIUM SIZED BUILDINGS
If 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.
How to set up your gear (FM)
BEFORE YOU GO
Before 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.
ON THE WAY
Ideally you need four people, at least two. Carry the gear as inconspicuously as possible, in hold alls 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.
In 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 coax 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 coax 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 CB's, 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 recognized 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 coax 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 band. 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 messed 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 program 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 afield.
Broadcasting.... How to get away with it
Don't talk and boast unnecessarily about your sites or studio. Work on a 'need to know' basis from the start. One method is to keep program 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 annoyed and become a power elite ('I'm not transmitting this rubbish!').
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 mobile phone.
For letters use a box address 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
A.) HIDING IT ON THE SITE
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 coax 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.
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 such as car horns from ground to roof. If on CB's 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.
C.) CAT AND MOUSE
This involves moving and hiding the gear, in flats, stair cupboards, lift shafts, hanging out windows, disguised as 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 advance. 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.
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 messes 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.
These 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 programs. 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 recently studios using links have been raided, in a few cases, with every bit of equipment, furniture, record collections etc. seized under the 1984 laws.
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.
LOCAL PIRATE RADIO
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 build 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. On a local basis publicity and support are much easier to get. 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 studio
Back 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 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, 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 equalizer 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 grounded (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 good turntables (eg.Technics 1200/1210 MKII), and good cartridges (eg.Stanton). Use good quality cassette tapes however. C120's are best for length of program, but get the best or they'll tear or jam. 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.
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!
This 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 recognize the program by it, often after they've forgotten the name. Repeat the name of your program often, but not too often, along with your frequency and broadcast time.
Put your important items first as it's always possible you may be busted before the program ends. 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 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, 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).
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 mailbag, few stations or programs 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 programs is really not that hard, however bad an inexperienced you are, you can quite easily improve on some of the rubbish being pumped out by legal stations over the airwaves, 24 hours per day!
Publicity 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, 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 journalists. Almost any publicity is good.
Choose a catchy, hard hitting name for your station.
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 station
It'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, etc. helps.