A Certain Frequency: Surfing the Waves Between Pirate and Legitimate Radio

In this feature special, The Waveform Transmitter’s Andy Weights looks at how Salvage Digital Radio are surfing the fine line between pirate and legitimately broadcast radio waves.

The underground music scene is alive with the frequencies of Internet Radio and the hip and happening song spinners of Pirate Radio.

Music fans comb the digital wavebands in pursuit of furthering their musical education, BBC 6 Music is a popular radio station but some audio enthusiasts search for their anti- establishment, sonic communications through different streams.

Harking back to the Rinse FM and Kiss-FM pirate radio shows that prided themselves on bringing the underground sounds to the eager ears of dance culture, the history of underground broadcasting goes hand in hand with the music scenes they surround, often offering free advertising and promotion for artists and their tracks, through resident DJs and playlist creators.

Here at the Waveform Transmitter HQ we’re keen to discover exactly what is going on within the underground dance scene, including pirate radio broadcasting, so I gate-crashed a local station mid-broadcast.

It’s a Saturday evening on a street in Liverpool, I was sitting on a well-worn seat that creaked like a saw- toothed tiger. Speaking with a DJ team calling themselves Salvage Digital Radio.

Music pumps from the back room, through an internet stream and out in to the front room where an audience of friends and DJs verbally flutter about artists, albums and the songs that changed attitudes and created revolutions.

Salvage Digital Radio is a digital radio show that aims to bring the finest cuts of music from an eclectic group of engineers, DJs and music aficionado’s. Not exactly on the legal side of the tracks but equally not on the illegal side, pirate or boot-leg radio as it can be known starts from a need to reach out to audiences that don’t want to follow the norm, by radio DJs who don’t want to be subject to radio/streaming authorities.

“For us, it all started when our friends moved to China” says Herbie. “Our friends moved to China and told us that it’s nearly impossible to find the music we like out there, so in response we began to record our parties. It then evolved into Salvage Digital Radio, finding websites like twitch.tv where we can broadcast to our audience and our mates, who can then join in listening to the music they miss so dearly”.

Joe… entered the room and explained “We endeavour to bring our audience unlicensed, copyright free music, using library music or music that falls into the 50-year copyright rules, wherever possible! I’ve been collecting Vinyl records for 20 years man, I have some quality rare tracks which I can bring to the show assured it’s in good hands and will be shared with a wider audience”

The lads are not alone in this medium as Ben explains “There are a few, similar groups of people we know doing the same thing, we talk to them, sharing our experiences, song selections and guest on each other’s shows, there are always hiccups involved too but they make it funny and real y’know!”

I’ve heard there are 150 known pirate radio stations on this kooky island and others for sure we don’t know about, with London being very prolific in the underground radio scene, helping to forge brotherhoods of small, individual music scenes. Now is the time for other cities to reach out and find the pirate in your hearts.

As the evening drew on more DJs came through the door, each brandishing a bag of fresh vinyl records to release feel good factors, drawing on a plethora of styles and moods Steve & Luke took us on an adventure from hardcore, techno and electronica through to reggae, soul and calypso. A truly psychedelic fraction of time in the wee small hours presented a register of conversations that fuelled the time to pass like I was a passenger in a jet plane doing a loop-de-loop.

Radio Caroline Ship (image from http://www.rossrevenge.co.uk)

The week in which we see the Mersey Bar Lightship towed from the Albert Dock my head buzzes with the symbolism of Radio Caroline. A boat that sat on the illegal frequency waves of international waters, Caroline and its DJs fed the malnourished musical youth of the 1960s with relevant music that the BBC failed to supply.

Here, with the pitter-patter of rain falling on the grey pavement outside, the tunes have twisted and turned us through circa and style like a washing machine cleaning the fabric of harmony, hopefully leaving the audience drenched in tempo, rhythm and feel.

Using a format that cuts out the big companies control and manipulation, pirate digital radio is as important now as it was 60 years ago.  The underground is spreading its roots further whilst remaining under the popular surface. We are the generation that have lived through hyper-normalisation, let’s not give away our independence or free thinking to the popular, designed music scenes.

The future of this format is in the hands of its engineers, DJs, writers, promoters and of course the audience. The gentrification of the areas where our music venues are, will make us need to re-think how the underground music scene throws its parties and communicates to its fans, Pirate or Free Radio is one such technique.

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