Pirate radio can be something of a mystery, maybe even an unknown term but for many it played a huge part in their lives. From the listeners who eagerly tuned in religiously to hear fresh dubplates, where the latest events were being held, to draw from the electric energy provided by a combination of DJ’s and MC’s to the station owners who spent countless hours providing an essential service while risking their life at times to keep the airwaves connected.
Jungle stations were something of education to the masses, especially as the sound was so fresh in the early 90’s. Many have fond memories of hearing brand new dubplates on the airwaves and tracking it down weeks later from a tape recording, others were just content with hearing a vocal shout out after calling the station, and yes this was before the art of texting came into play.
The vibe from pirate stations was similar to that of being in a rave and as most could not afford to attend big events every week, it was an ideal set up to be able to rave at home with friends whilst interacting with the radio.
King Yoof, the man behind Breaks FM back in the day, who now hosts a regular show on Kool London gives his views on pirate radio then and now.
At it’s peak, London’s airwaves were flooded with pirate stations but what was your favourite station and why?
“I grew up listening to Pulse, Centreforce, Sunrise etc but my favourite station at its peak was Kool Fm.”
People fondly talk of erecting aerials on tower blocks and constantly being on the move in terms of studio location. Was part of the buzz of running a pirate radio the constant thrill of the chase or was it more about pushing out new music to the masses?
“To me it was always getting the music out there, I was running a station called Breaks FM years ago and no one else was broadcasting the music so it was important for me to build a platform for the music but I did also enjoy the thrill of setting up rigs and any station owner will say it’s a buzz when you hear your station switching on.”
Was pirate radio a form of education to a new generation? Agree or disagree, why is this?
“Pirate radio was essential for hearing new music especially when it came to the early rave scene, as the number one station at the time (BBC Radio 1) never supported youth culture. Reggae pirates started cropping up as the chances of getting commercial airplay were so slim and so the same happened with early dance music. We didn’t have YouTube or Google back then and the Government was still using the media to create this illusion that rave music was devil’s music.”
The power of pirate radio was growing and getting your music played by them was more important than being on the Radio 1 playlist.
Before reaching mainstream status, Kiss FM was a pioneer in pirate radio – what do you think the station would be now if they hadn’t have switched? Do you think they could have retained their ‘pirate status’ or was this too risky for their new mainstream audience?
“As soon as you become legal you have to abide by the laws that are imposed on you, everything gets watered down and you’re restricted to playlists and the licenses are ridiculously expensive. You can have all the good intentions when going legal that you will maintain that pirate radio edge but within time you end up like every other commercial station playing the same songs and the same format, then you get bought out by Capital which is what happened to Kiss FM.”
Are the days of traditional pirate radio over? With the pending FM switch off in 2018 what will become of radio as we know it? Could future radio DJ’s opt to use one of the other frequencies?
“I think the power of pirate radio is even stronger now that we also have the internet and reaching out worldwide, when they say the airwaves are going to be shut off it doesn’t mean the pirates are going to shut off, it just means there will be more space on the FM dial.”
How does internet radio compare to the original pirate radio to you? Is the vibe the same?
“The vibe of internet radio is pretty much the same as FM, people still interact in the same ways but just on different formats, it has opened it up and made the possibilities endless.”
Kool London has retained it’s status for many years, how has the business model changed and adapted over the years to remain self-sufficient?
“Kool London is run on pure love and nothing else, it has an amazing management and a team of people that dedicate everything to the radio. The only change now is that it’s worldwide due to the internet.”
Kool’s music policy has adapted to change but how did this go down with it’s die hard listeners? What’s happening in 2015? Any big changes?
“I would say I was one of the first DJ’s to be brought onto Kool to play a different style other than drum & bass or jungle and to be honest it went down so well on the first guest show I did for Billy Bunters ‘Music Mondays’ I got offered a Friday drive time show which myself and Jay Cunning have kept going for over 2 years now.”
Kool’s music policy will always remain loyal to jungle but music like reggae and bass is all related and most people are open minded to other styles, it’s not like you’re going to hear Brockie & Det start playing the Sunday pop chart!
2015 is going to be a big year for Kool as we have so many new shows from Marcus Visionary, Congo Natty, and the legendary Ratpack.”
If you could rewind time and do it all again, what special moment in pirate radio times would you replay?
“If I could turn back the clock it would be around ‘93 to ‘94 when jungle was popping off and all you would hear in the streets was cars driving past with Kool or Rush FM blaring. The power that these stations had in breaking new tunes was so intense. I would tape certain shows to hear new tunes and then head straight down the record store and spend all my money!”
Who, in your opinion, played the biggest part in jungle music’s love for pirate radio and why?
“To me the most important person whose love for radio and jungle music would be Kool London’s very own Eastman, without him jungle or drum & bass wouldn’t be what it is today, in fact it wouldn’t exist.”
I remember going to a Jungle Fever and hearing Andy C DJ for the first time, he was doing the warm up set. I salute Eastman still to this day, 23 years later his love for the music hasn’t changed and is constantly pushing things forward.
Your favourite DJ and MC from the 90’s pirate radio scene? Any favourite sets?
“I suppose everyone would say Brockie & Det on a Sunday but mine was DJ Trace & MC Rhyme Time. I had so many favourites from then such as DJ Ron & SL, MC Moose, Ragga Twins… good times!
The Drum&BassArena crew have submitted some of their fond memories of pirate radio, thanks to everyone who got involved. It’s clear from reading these back that your passion and enthusiasm is still massive for everything FM!”
“Loved Pyromaniacs (Pyro) Radio, wonder why and where it’s gone? Nuff entertainment in their chat room back then, and of course, murderous sets by various biggies !!! Oh the good memories.”
“Playing on Drum&BassArena TV on KAM decks was a special moment in my life. I realise that this not a pirate radio related memory!
I was once locked in a garage on an estate in Luton (forget the name, few high rises) with Komatic doing a pirate show with a weird stipulation that we weren’t allowed to swear. That was fucking odd.
I also was part of a revival of an old station a guy called Rage ran called Keen FM with Midas and few others. From what I remember it used to be a pirate station. Then it went quiet for a bit. Rage brought it back but did it with simultaneous web and aerial broadcast which was pretty smart.”
“Having to record a tape of a tape from a mate, that was most likely a tape of a tape already. There was no internet, someone had to record it, worse still when there was a wicked set you listened to live but didn’t have recording methods. Old Rinse fm (obviously pre-license) spring to mind, MC Riddles and Wiley over DJ Target / Switch / Trend.”
“I used to get the tube the entire length of the district line from Wimbledon to Barking to play halfway up a tower block there. Saw a bus crash into some chicken shop on my walk up there one time which was pretty crazy.
I also remember being so lean I couldn’t move, glued to a chair in the corner while Domino, Shaydee and Livewire put down a proper wartime set.
20/20 getting dropped was a big moment in my life.”
“I remember trying to get pirates stations and the only one I could get was Rude Awakening. They kept rinsing a tune and I didn’t know what it was. I bought the Jonny L album Magnetic as I’d heard Piper and thought that he must be good to be on XL Recordings, the same label as The Prodigy! I listened to track 2 and I’d finally found the tune I kept hearing on Rude Awakening which was Brother.”
“I used to listen to and eventually got a slot on Underground 107 FM back in the late 90’s in Wolverhampton. I remember the day well, I spent all day listening to the radio & every so often they would read out the roster & my name was called out doing the 8-10 slot. I was proper buzzing!
I remember getting to the studio & thinking it would be a proper sick studio setup but it was just some Technics & a beatdown mixer that had somehow survived a few studio raids in someone’s kitchen. The last tune the DJ before me played was Nail Bomb by Twisted Individual. I remember being nervous and softly spoken during my first show but overall it went well and was loving it whenever I got a text, that distinctive nokia alert tone…ahhh memories!”
“I remember when the station was in Chervil Rise, Heath Town which is like a maze! I got lost. This old Jamaican man clocked my bag and said ‘you looking for the studio?’ and helped me find it.
The studio was once in a flat virtually above the Police station.
I was on first on a Sunday so I often had to track down management for the key. That guy got about! I often couldn’t find him so I’d have to break into the studio. The lady next door caught me with my hand in the letterbox with a coat hanger trying to click the latch.
Got there one morning and there was two brasses in the spare room. Rotten they were.
All in all though, good times.”
“I used to love trawling through dodgy old pirate sets to discover that one tiny clip of a tune in between the interference and going out on a mission to find it. That feeling of satisfaction when you finally ID’d it was priceless.”
“Ruff & Spinback on Dream FM, Fiaz & Swifflee jokes and phone ins on a Sunday.
Trace and Ed Rush on Don FM.”