We’re all familiar with AM and FM stations but did you know there are some which broadcast illegally on shortwave? In fact, radio aficionados enjoy monitoring these unlicensed broadcasters and telling fellow listeners about their finds.

Pirate radio, as it’s called by radio hobbyists, has been around for most of the medium’s history. When broadcasting was young, there were no regulations. If you had a transmitter and knew of an unused frequency, you could go on the air.  In the beginning, ships and land-based stations used Morse code. Then on Christmas Eve 1906, a Canadian named Reginald Aubrey Fessenden made the first broadcast featuring voice and music.

As problems with stations interfering with one another grew, governments around the world passed legislation to regulate who could broadcast what, where, and when. The International Telecommunication Union formed to coordinate broadcasts in order to prevent interference from one country’s broadcasters with those of another land.

Human nature, being what it is, caused some folks to rebel against governmental restrictions. People who knew how to build transmitters launched their own stations and played whatever they felt like on the air. Government agencies soon developed signal-tracking devices and the chase was on. The offending broadcaster was usually caught and fined for breaking the law.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have heard some of these radio pirates. Most of these played music but some had interviews and lectures. On Halloween nights, I’ve heard some pirates play spooky music and radio plays. I’ve also heard illegal broadcasters transmitting their programs during other national holidays.

I haven’t heard any pirates on the AM dial but I did hear one operating from the University of Alberta on FM. I also watched a demonstration of how to build a transmitter.

Some cities are plagued with FM pirates. Watch this documentary called Palladium Presents: London Pirate Radio for more information.

Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city, once had a Christian pirate TV station which rebroadcast the Trinity Broadcasting Network satellite signal. It was on channel 39 for about a year in the late nineties before the  government shut it down.

Though setting up an Internet radio station is now an easy thing to do, some pirates still feel the romance and wonder of putting a signal on the air. Many radio listeners feel the same about receiving signals without satellite or Internet links. I certainly feel that way.

I’ve mentioned my love of  radio in all three of my memoirs. Check out When a Man Loves a Rabbit and Deliverance from Jericho on the Bruce Atchison’s books link. How I was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers.


Author: bruce Atchison - author

I'm a legally-blind freelance writer as well as the author of three memoirs and scores of articles. Contact me for details.


  1. I think we’ve all been pirates in one way or another. When I was a kid, my dad drilled a hole in the kitchen ceiling and installed a cable for a second television set so we wouldn’t have to pay extra for the cable company to give us another cable hook-up. After I moved into my first apartment, he hooked my stereo to my television cable so I could get PBS and other television stations that played music.

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