back to article Ofcom sharpens cutlasses for pirate radio assault

Ofcom, the UK regulator of all things communicative, is considering everything from ASBOs to covert surveillance to shut down pirate radio stations, according to documents obtained by The Register under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents present research carried out by Ofcom, trying to explain why pirate radio …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    It's not that hard

    "DAB requires infrastructure beyond most pirates' resources" - yeah right.

    Complete DVB-T (FreeView television) output on a PCI card for under £2k (just need to add a PC, software, amplifier and transmission aerial):

    Similar DAB cards are also available. I couldn't find a price from a quick Google but they'll be similar. e.g.:

    (It's a T-DMB card, but that's a superset of DAB). These cards are intended for people who want to test DAB receivers. You run a cable directly from the card output to the receiver's input, no radio license required.

    Presumably the pirates can get amplifiers and aerials already, so what's the hard part again?

  2. tim

    Glad they still exist

    Used to listen to pirate rage/jungle stations when I lived near London, now I don't seem to be able to pick any up (oop north)

    I was actually wondering about them last night, I'm suprised internet radio hasn't killed them off, although you can't listen to it in your car very well.

  3. alex dekker

    Physical radio becoming less relevant?

    Surely with the rise of internet radio stations and internet connections everywhere, the need to operate a pirate radio station is diminishing?

  4. Steve

    Free market nonsense

    "Unfortunately this is exactly the kind of regulation that Ofcom wants to get rid of, believing the free market will always serve the needs of the majority."

    Surely pirate radio stations are the epitome of the free market - there is a product that people want, they provide it, they make profit.

    No underpants required.

    Everytime I hear someone mention the "free market" I know there is a better than 90% chance that the next thing they say will either be an outright lie or just woefully naive.

  5. Anonymous Coward


    I used to do a bit of Pirating myself in the late 80's, and I must say that far from making £5k a week, we used to lose money.

    If the guy in charge hadn't been an independently wealthy toff we'd have been off the air within a month.

    Mind you, broadcast kit is a lot cheaper now.

    And yet again RIPA is been used for something other than it's initial purpose.

  6. Dale

    Digital radio will beat pirates

    Not. Even after the country has officially switched to exclusively DAB (assuming it actually happens), there's nothing to stop pirates from continuing with analogue broadcasts in exactly the same way they do now - listen for an empty channel and switch on the carrier. The UK may be embracing digital in a big way but there are many areas in the world that simply aren't, so analogue equipment - both transmitters and receivers - will still be readily available for a long time to come. People who want to listen to pirates will just Ebay for a cheap receiver (or even easier, head on down to the Brick Lane market).

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Remind me - what's RIPAs initial purpose?

  8. MarmiteToast

    Unlicensed band?

    Why can't we just dedicate a portion of the spectrum to unlicensed stations?

    Make it wide enough to fit 2/3 stations in and that should serve any local area.

    Of course you'd need some restrictions to stop big players exploiting this free air space. Maybe a maximum range (so you can't blanket the country) so that it is local.

  9. Mage Silver badge


    Because we used it up the 1st time we made the pirates legal.

    The problem is the commercial stations (as with TV) producing to lowest common denominator.

  10. Steve Walker

    This makes some interesting reading on the subject ...


    Not sure how to do a link but here goes details where some of the Pirates have gone to here and abroad.

    Oh and yes DAB encoders/exciters are getting cheaper and appear as test sets on eBay often.

    Cheers & Beers


  11. Anonymous Coward

    Pirates were not sunk by land based commercial radio

    On the contrary, it was the Marine etc Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 that sunk The Pirates, not competition. Land based commercial radio in the UK didn't start till 1973


  12. Stuart Harrison
    Thumb Down


    ... Used to be good until Lorna Clarke got her claws into it, turning it from an exciting, vibrant station that catered for all sorts of underground 'urban' music forms into a carbon copy of Kiss. No wonder people are listening to the pirates. 1xtra's has its finger so off the pulse of urban music it doesn't even have a dedicated dubstep show.

  13. owen bullock

    Re: Physical radio becoming less relevant?

    Yes, some of the London pirates transmit online at the same time, but only the bigger ones afaik. Drive through Tottenham on a weekend and you'll find the FM dial absolutely crammed with dodgy stations.

    And doesnt internet radio miss the point - the pleasure of twiddling the dial till you find something you like?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm pleased they're going to crack down on this

    It's damned annoying when the service radios are over-run by pirate (c)rap music. Not all of us are on Airwave (thank goodness), but even using the standard FM stereo when I'm going home, these b@st@rds key the "Traffic Message" setting and iIm then locked onto them for the next 10 miles, as is every other poor sod around. Its a particular pain as I cannot disable this function whilst a message is being "received". I missed a whole chunk of a Terry Pratchet serial. May they rot in the 8th dimension for this.

  15. David Lewis

    Clueless Ofcom

    "Utilising the commercial radio licensing regime for the purposes set out in this document also risks history repeating itself, whereby formerly illegal stations that were successful in obtaining licences sold them on to large commercial radio groups, which, in many cases, 'mainstreamed' the programming."

    Well why did Ofcom let the licences be sold on? What is so difficult about making a licence non-transferable?

    Local radio stations should be local and independent

    "In 2006 Ofcom's field operations team responded to 70 safety-of-life cases (a significant increase from the 41 such cases reported in 2005)."

    Would be interesting to know who had interference issues as much of the kit is professional equipment from the likes of Broadcast Warehouse. An FoI request could be revealing. Do suspect that the main driver is safety-of-profit complaints from the large commercial groups.

    Pity that Ofcom cannot focus on issues such as the 0844 / 0870 / 0871 rip offs.

  16. Luther Blissett

    Ofcom mytholgizing itself already

    by re-writing the history and economics of radio. But ho what is this we read - Ofcom wants to make "possession of the equipment" illegal? Well blow me if they haven't been looking at how our wunder-kinder police operate and thinking, we could do with a big bit of all that inaction too. Why bother with illegal acts when you've convinced yourself that having the means means illegal intent, and mens rea is abolished because all your thoughts are belong to us (as we put them there in the first place).

    I am equipped to reproduce good music/non-GM plants/non-GM Blissetts/truth. So I should expect the black helicopters of Ofcom in its real guise of attack dog of the media-infotainment complex.

  17. Alan Bronze badge

    @I'm pleased they're going to crack down on this

    On my radio I just press the TA button during the traffic alerts and I get back to the Togmeister. Usful because I'm pissed off with getting leeds, sheffield & stoke traffic news whilst I drive through Rochdale...

  18. Richard Porter

    More choice of more rubbish?

    This blows apart the whole idea that digital gives you more choice. "Mainstreaming" just means that more channels = more rubbish.

    Going soft on "Character of service" is exactly the wrong way to go. The licence should be tied to a charter specifying the station's output. If the charter is broken then the licence should be revoked.

  19. Martin Usher

    What's wrong with low power FM?

    In the US anyone is allowed to operate a low powered radio station. The limitations are the output power and, of course, not interfering with a legitimate station. They don't cover a huge area (the power is limited by the field strength) but I'm pretty sure that you could use these like WiFi access points all taking the same feed off the 'net. The transmitters themselves are like slightly upmarket versions of the dongle you use to get your iPod onto the car radio (and are priced to match -- you won't pay more than $100 and usually a lot less).

  20. Anonymous Coward

    @AC ref Remind me - what's RIPAs initial purpose?

    To quote another forum post (by The Cube):

    "Unfortunately RIPA, the deRegulation of Investigatory Powers Act basically says, "any spotty oik working for anyone who has ever had a contract to do anything for any part of government or local council can look at any data about you for any undisclosed reason and do anything they want with it or give it to anyone else for any reason and there is fork all you can do about it because the UK government thinks it is untouchable and makes Al Capone look like a true champion of rights and liberty" So please do not expect that RIPA in any way protects you, it does not, it was never intended to, the entire purpose of RIPA was to enable the government to implement their operations handbook, 1984 by George Orwell without any risk of later being arrested for their criminal acts."

  21. Rich

    Same down here

    In NZ anyone can run a radio station in certain bands at the top and bottom of the dial (guardband). There's no license required and each waveband is first-come, first-served. There is a power limit, and you aren't allowed more than one transmitter in any given city. Most stations have this and Internet. Some of them have a full power frequency (iwi, student) in one city and low power everywhere else.

    Works well and provides a good opportunity for starting musicians and DJs. (Flight of the Conchords, and that).

  22. John Chadwick

    Nope, the Pirates are still out there in London

    I still get pirate radio stations breaking in around Canary Wharf and the Woolwich flyover, some even use the TA to hijack the radio and broadcaste event information, but I have to say it's less annoying than 3 Counties Radio which seems incapable of using its TA correctly, don't mind the traffic news, but I really don't need anything up to 10 minutes of chat afterwards.

  23. Mark

    It's Business, as usual

    Be nice if the so-called regulator spent more time on the consumer protection bit of it's remit, rather than ensuring business gets what it wants.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Overhaul of AM?

    If that's the case then they'll probably be using the french DRM (Digital radio mondiale), which gives fm (ish) quality on signals below 30hkz.

    As it happens you only need a pc and a soundcard to encode it.

  25. Paul

    In Leeds.

    There is DnB radio on 88.1.

    Its pirate and keeps ketting shut down, Strangly it doesn't stop them having "talk to frank" and "operation trident - cut gun crime" adverts every hour.

    And they stream online.

    Proving there is some good to pirate radio.

    Certainly a lot better than our 'local' radio, run by chrysalis with crap music loads of inane chat and identikit branding.

    Go anywhere in the country, same logo, same crap, just different frequency & different brainless muppets talking. Not really local is it?

  26. b


    Shouldn't they be busy cuffing BT executives?

  27. Jonathan Bacon

    Pirate or Private broadcasting

    With Ofcom legalizing the use of micro FM transmitters in December 2006 for personal use, defining the boundary marks of what is or isn’t illicit broadcasting becomes increasingly blurred. Strictly speaking these micro transmitters are limited to an output of 50nW with a range of about 8 meters. But I recently purchased one from the local supermarket with the CE marking, and to my surprise I could pick up the signal almost a mile away, and that is broadcasting from within a brick building without any kind of external antenna attached! Recent tests have shown that many of these transmitters are actually nearer 20mW in power output - thousands of times greater than what is legally stipulated and yet they still carry the CE marking. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for using one of these devices, so the question is, how powerful does the transmitter have to be before Ofcom will consider pulling the plug on it and consider it to be a pirate transmission. Is it 100 nW, 50 mW 500mW, or 1 Watt?

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