back to article Ofcom Radio pokes at potential pirates

Londoners can now tune into Ofcom's own radio station, which is transmitting for a week or two to let people know they shouldn't be. The station is transmitting across the South Bank on 87.7MHz, with a message explaining what a terrible thing pirate radio is, and reminding listeners that they can hire the frequency for their …


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  1. hplasm

    sadly, nobody could hear them

    due to the RFI from powerline Ethernet that they unfortunatley overlooked...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      PLT, bah!

      Now that's funny!

      (sadly, it's probably true)

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Ofcom = fail

      Yes, but RSL's are a good money spinner for them, interference prevention isn't.

      Essentially they are a corrupt institution.

    3. spodula
      Thumb Up


      It is definately double standards that they will quite happilly chase after pirate radio operators, while refusing to do anything about signal over Powerline.

  2. Dave 17

    From experience it's less

    I used to run a radio station and for a none commercial entity you're looking at about -

    £2000 for the RSL from OFCOM

    £2000 to pay PPL, MCPS and PRS

    We also paid another £1,500 or so for equipment hire as we didn't have our own transmitter at the time.

    Apart from the financial cost, it takes a significant amount of time to fill out the paperwork - our Ofcom application ran to more than 20 pages IIRC. However, as a student, labour = free so it wasn't a problem.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Many seem to view pirate radio as a victimless crime, unfortunately it's not always quite so.

    Recently I had problems with a local pirate who was knocking out the signal from my favourite channel, he was very near and bleeding over about 500khz. I reported it to Ofcom and they took action within 2 days. The pirate reappeared, I reported it again and again Ofcom confiscated his equipment.

    All in all I think they had 4 transmitters confiscated before they moved to annoy someone else.

    I even got a personal email from one of the guys at Ofcom, after I grumbled about the station reappearing, who explained that they don't take the pirates to court as it takes too long, costs too much and even when they win the fine is never paid, so taking their transmitters hurts them far quicker.

    He even sent me some photographs of an installation he recently had to deal with in a tower block. The transmitter was installed in the communal flue, the flue that should be letting the carbon monoxide leave the boilers in the flats and not kill the inhabitants.

    And then there's the power, often sourced in the lift (elevator) motor room, often via a couple of self tapping screws driven into the mains tails!

    1. hplasm

      You were lucky-

      They can't usually be arsed with interference that 'only disturbs one man's hobby'.

      probably get some cash flogging the kit back to the pirates ^H^H^H^H aspiring licensees...

      1. Steve Evans

        Re: You were lucky

        One man's hobby? I know FM radio is a bit old school, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who listens to it!

    2. Mike Flugennock

      our opinions may differ on pirate radio per se, but...

      ...jeezus, with an installation like that, I'd have ratted them out, too. Cripes, man, blocking the CO vents -- and the power sourcing! Shit, man, I'm surprised he didn't suffocate everybody in the building, or burn the place down.

      Sounds especially dumb, considering that a little judicous Web searching would've come up with tons of ways to acquire/build really small transmitters that you can run off regular power, often on batteries. Of course, you don't say what his radius was, so those solutions may or may not have worked for him. Most of the miniaturized/low-power solutions I've seen over here involve stations which cover small areas, like a neighborhood eight or ten blocks across. Sound like your "friend" was trying to cover a whole town.

  4. Andrew Oakley


    You can buy a decent community-sized FM transmitter over the counter in various European countries for less than a hundred quid, so I find the argument that raiding their equipment is effective at keeping pirates off the air, is highly dubious at best. It's certainly cheap to do, but it's whack-a-mole. Pay a couple of hundred euros and you can get a high quality quartz-locked TX with RDS and all the bells and whistles, that won't wander all over the band and won't interfere with anything except stations on that specific frequency.

    Previously the biggest threat was the DTI confiscating the DJs' record & CD collections. Now everything is on MP3 and backed up at home, that threat is gone.

    The days of pirates blocking emergency comms is long gone. The emergency services moved off FM nearly three decades ago. The last pirate to block an emergency frequency was Radio Caroline in 1989, on 6215kHz, an emergency frequency that was so close to the 49m band used by the BBC World Service, Radio France International et al that nobody had used it to make an emergency call for well over a decade even back then.

    What are valid arguments, are interference in other officially-licensed broadcasters, and health and safety. Health and safety, in particular.

    Typically when the moronic surveyors turn up they inevitably find a tower block. Now their triangulation kit will easily identify a location on the horizontal - i.e. long/lat grid ref on a map - but it won't help them identify which floor the little bastards are occupying. So what they tend to do is trip the fusebox floor-by-floor until the signal goes dead, then they have found the correct floor.

    To get around this, decent pirates take their mains power supply from something else. And this is where health and safety comes in. The AC's story about taking 3-phase off a lift shaft using a couple of nails sounds pretty typical. I've known a pirate in the West Midlands take power from a street light mounted to the side of the tower block - leaning out of the window on the 5-6th storey, disconnecting the bulb and attaching wires directly to the socket. A professional pirate will use a "cat and mouse" relay system, with the studio some distance from the transmitter connected by a HF link, and an early warning system (typically, one of the DJs' girlfriends monitoring the output) to tell the studio to scarper once the TX gets busted. You then get into a battle of wits whereby the pirates try to create an HF receiver that can't be broken into or the source studio identified without triggering the early warning system.

    1. Slim Chance

      Interference with other services

      Andrew Oakley is possibly correct when he states that there is no blocking of emergency services.

      I will point out though that the link frequencies used by pirates below band 2 fm broadcast do interfere quite badly with aircraft communications between 108 to 137MHz by means of the 2nd harmonic. I have had this confirmed by an acquaintance of mine who is one of the ofcom team that investigate this type of problem.

      Before anyone says that they all use HF or microwave links, I can assure you that is not always the case. I had quite a informative chat with an engineer who makes such links for some of the pirates in the London area. He told me that his link transmitters were fairly clean, but there were still quite a few bodgers out there making equipment that didn't give a stuff about any problems they cause.

  5. Mike Flugennock

    stop me if I'm wrong, but...

    ...wasn't pirate radio in the UK responsible for introducing a lot of music that normally wouldn't have been heard -- at least on the BBC?

    I come from a service family (USA), and circa 1969-70, when I was about 12 or 13, our family was stationed in Heidelberg, and I had tons of fun sitting up late at night and flipping up and down the dial looking for pirate radio stations playing all kinds of European and American "underground" rock'n'roll. Mind you, this is just one guy's opinion, but UK/European pirate radio actually performed a valuable service for all us kids in search of new and interesting music that outfits like Sudwestfunk or the BBC or Armed Forces Radio were really slow to pick up on. I remember hearing Johnny Winter and Iron Butterfly on pirate stations months before they turned up on the AFN. At least where I was -- the former West Germany -- radio was fun back then, not just because of the number of stations from all those countries so close together, but because of all those "pirates".

    I don't know what the situation is with "community radio" on your side of the Pond, but here in the Colonies, the foot-dragging and piss-fighting over LPFM has been going on for nigh on a decade. It always seems as if licensing for LPFM community stations is just around the corner, but there's always some hitch with the FCC or the NAB. Basically, it seems the FCC would be more than glad to start licensing local LPFM stations, but the NAB is always having hissy fits about it cutting into advertising revenues -- and, as much as I think they're greedy scum, I can sort of see the NAB's position. Look at it this way... let's say your town has two radio stations, Station A and Station B. Station A is your standard-issue corporate-run station which broadcasts Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, paltry "news" broadcasts with little or no coverage of local issues, as many commercials as they can cram in, and the same goddamn' forty songs every goddamn' day. Station B is locally-owned and operated, commercial-free and community-supported, broadcasts a range of opinions from people who aren't Glenn Beck, serious news coverage paying attention to local issues, and just about any kind of music you like from DJs -- often people you know from the neighborhood -- who bring in their own personal collections of records and bootleg tapes to play on the air. Which station would YOU listen to?

    This is basically the role that the LPFM broadcasters in the US want to fill, and which they're already filling, only as "pirates". This is why, instead of "pirate radio", I prefer to call it "peoples' radio".

    Arrr, matey.

  6. Harry

    "triangulation kit will easily identify a location on the horizontal "

    So get close to the tower block and turn the detectors on their sides ?

    The rules of radio waves probably work pretty much the same in the third dimension as they do in the other two.

    1. PaulWizard

      Not quite

      Radio waves travel polarized, FM usually being vertical and AM usually horizontal (but obviously this depends which direction the transmitting antenna is in). Broadcast FM is transmitted vertical (as most antennas are vertical whips). Plus, from the bottom of tower the direction is, err, up :)

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Banned from operating legally... for life?

    Gotta love the mentality of those moronic quango types. Someone's doing something they don't like, so if caught let's ban them from it for life. If it was months/years depending on seriousness I could understand the logic, but this seems to be a universal lifetime ban.

    It's a bit like declaring that car thiefs can't legally own cars... yeah, that'd help cut down on car crime. No wonder there's not many RSL takers - they've banned anyone who might be seriously interested. Also, the costs for a low power RSL are staggering... £ thousands for 1-25 watts FM for 28 days. The whole FM licensing system stinks of protecting the BBC and their big corporate mates.

    Did you know that there's never been (and still isn't) a national commercial pop station on FM in the UK (though the commercial monopolies are trying to create one via the back door)? Yet the BBC and Classic FM have over 50% of the FM spectrum dedicated to them in the most wasteful fashion, based on 60 year old technical assumptions which haven't been valid in over 30 years?

    Still, I bet those pirate transmitters break a multitude of EU regulations, so by Ofcom's standards they should be perfectly fine then.

  8. Tom 38 Silver badge

    Drug dealers on pirate radio?

    What's the frequency, Kenneth?

    1. Andrew Oakley

      Drug dealers on pirate radio

      Okay, to answer the drug dealers question.

      A big pirate operation will need funding. This comes from advertising, but in a roundabout way; event promotion, sort of like product placement. Local shops and services would be very, very dumb to advertise on big-name pirate radio because they'd get fined pretty much straight away.

      For the larger pirates, how it works is that an organised crime gang will control the supply of drugs in particular nightclubs. Any rival dealers will get bounced out, man-handed to the polis or just plain beaten up, whereas dealers from the "in-house" gang will get waved through the door and overlooked by the bouncers.

      The big pirate radio stations then get paid to promote the nightclubs controlled by the drugs gangs. Sometimes there's also negative advertising ("dissing") of rival nightclubs.

      The gang control can be either directly through links with the nightclub management, or it can be done by, ahem, "persuading" the bouncers. Now the bouncers do get criminal records checks, but there's essentially a never-ending supply of clean-skin bouncers with no record. Drug dealing is incredibly lucrative so they have plenty of funds to tempt even the most saintly of broken-nosed weekend rugby wannabees.

      You've got to bear in mind that even the big-name pirates will be essentially hobbies, labours of love by the DJs and engineers. It's their baby, they'll do anything to keep it going. And especially with the engineers, they tend to be geeks with not much common sense about how organised crime works. When faced with the need for a couple of hundred quid to replace a transmitter, or the need to have a bouncer guarding the studio door, they'll accept offers of help from strangers not because of the profit, but because that's what needs to be done to keep their station going. They're idiots, and they're still guilty, but they never went in to the pirate business to become rich or to promote drugs.

      For the smaller pirates, the ones which don't operate regular or frequent hours, they'll generally have no other criminal connections and will be run by some independently wealthy electronics geek. Typically these will be teenagers with rich parents and a little too much pocket money or a lucrative part-time job, often from out-of-town country villages or posh suburbs. These lads will simply see the inner cities as places with lots of listeners and lots of tall buildings, the concept of crime won't even figure in their mind - they grew up in a place which didn't have crime, it's something they don't need to think about. For them, sure, you *can* just wire up an MP3 player to a biscuit-tin TX, shove the aerial up a tree on top of a rural hill and scarper until the battery runs out, but sheep don't have radios and tractor drivers only listen to Radio 2, so in all likelyhood you won't get many listeners and thus have nobody to brag to. Whereas an inner-city tower-block will have a power supply and thousands of keen listeners well within range. Then, at some point, an organised criminal ring-leader will spot some potential and make the lad a very, very interesting offer. If the lad is sensible then he'll correctly figure that if he just goes back to his home village and keeps out of the inner city for a few years, or even better buggers off to university on the other side of the country, he can just ignore the offer. Otherwise... he's starting down the path to real trouble.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    This is old news

    Back in the 80's i helped set up one of south yorkshires biggest PRS. It was called SCR and they had a repeater system, so they could move the primary transmitter at will. The best thing was that the first stage was a licensed HAM set, which pumped out very little power, the bigger 80watt transmitter was WELL hidden. The fact that they were on the air for years was a real thorn in the side of the DTI...

    Ahhh...The good old days....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      memories of many an happy hour.

      The good old days.

      Radio Veronica , from Heckmonwike ( or was it Liversedge, it could have been Littletown actually , (shades of John Lennon there ))

      The best fun on Radio ever.

      A belated thanks guys, and gals.

      Studio 3 indeed!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When I were a lad

    Anyone here remember Radio Hairy Sponge International which broadcast from Edinburgh to the world (or at least to a few nearby streets, including mine) for an hour or two in the late 70s?

    It's main claim to fame was having only one record to play - Dollar's 'Who Were You With in the Moonlight' if I recall correctly.

    They didn't even think to turn it over and play the B side.

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