Pirate radio has largely fallen out of discussion today, but the archive pays homage to the movement’s place at the forefront of music reporting in the ‘80s. Contemporary newspaper cuttings line the walls – one, headlined ‘Why the pirates will stay with us’, expresses concern that government raids were ineffective at permanently shutting down pirate stations. Another article profiles Ranking Miss P, who rose to fame through pirate station Dread Broadcasting Corporation and moved to BBC Radio in 1985 as one of their first black presenters. Her legacy, and the legacy of pirate radio, was the introduction of reggae, soul and funk to a UK-wide audience.
Technologies from two very different eras are displayed along the opposite wall. The first, pirate radio equipment used by Kiss 94 FM throughout the ‘80s has long since been rendered obsolete by advancing technology, yet it’s affect at the time was revolutionary – its small size, inexpensive parts and accessibility was one of the driving forces behind the movement. The Sound Limiter, which would have been used to monitor sound levels, was made by hand by a DJ or station technician.
Two iPads, on the other hand, allow you to listen through headphones to jingles from Kiss FM. The jingles show a range of musical influences, from funk, jazz, soul and hip hop entwined with early electronic experimentations, reflecting the burgeoning dance music scene and the rise of the synthesiser.
The demise of pirate radio had began by the 1990s with the introduction of the Broadcasting Act, which allowed any radio station with a sizeable audience to apply to become legal. Many seized this opportunity, as the scene had become a rough place to be – increased government raids led competing stations to sabotage each other’s equipment and their equipment, and intimidation of Department of Trade and Industry staff rose to new heights.
For many, the 1980s pirate radio movement has faded into the background of recent history. This exhibition represents an attempt to recontextualise our understanding of British music and rejuvenate interest in a phenomenon that transformed the musical landscape.
Shout Out! UK Pirate Radio in the 1980s forms part of the ICA Reading Room Touring Programme.