PIRATES OF THE IONOSPHERE

PIRATE face, drawing

Pirates: the name evokes images of peg-legged men in strange clothing and wearing eye patches. To computer aficionados, it means the people who illegally copy software and sell it. To radio listeners, pirates are altogether different.

To one extent or another, there have been radio pirates for more than a hundred years. In the beginning, there were no regulations. You could just build a transmitter and find a vacant frequency to broadcast on.

Then the government decided to step in and end the confusion. It wasn’t long before frequency bands were set up for specific types of broadcasts or point-to-point transmissions.

As with any rule, there are those individuals willing to break it. The most famous of the pirates set up stations on ships in international waters off the coasts of Britain during the 1960s. Because the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) refused to broadcast rock music, enterprising disk jockeys filled the void. Most of these pirates ended their transmissions when the BBC relented and started playing what teens wanted to hear in 1967.

Even so, people still liked to buck the system in the UK as well as the rest of the world. Even in supposedly regulated countries such as China, pirate stations pop up on the FM dial. It appears to be the most popular band for these illegal stations due to the quality of the FM signal and the ease of hiding antennas.

The only problem with FM is that its coverage is limited. That’s why some pirates broadcast on shortwave. The sound quality is not as good but a single station can blanket a continent with its signal. Since they seek to evade the government radio spectrum enforcers, they never turn up on the same frequency or have regular broadcasts. Peak times for these broadcasters are during holiday evenings and Saturday night.

Last Halloween, I spent the evening finding and taping pirates with my shortwave radio. I was able to identify half a dozen of these pirates, plus there were many more which I never found out their names. If all goes well, I hope to tape even more of these broadcasters. After all, I find it exciting to hear these pirates of the Ionosphere.

Radio has played a large part in my life. It was my lifeline to the outside world when I was at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind. I wrote about how special it was to me in Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School.

I also mentioned my citizens band and amateur radio hobby in How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. Read more about this compelling testimony of God’s providential care at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

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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 thought on “PIRATES OF THE IONOSPHERE”

  1. A key appeal of pirate radio for both operators and listeners is the content. It’s different and more creative than what can be heard on commercial broadcasts. Sometimes pirates are able to go legal. I remember years ago hearing Radio New York International on 6.240 shortwave. Later key people involved with that put WBCQ shortwave on the air.

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