Pirate radio is often associated with the off-shore broadcasting of the 1960s, but in the early 1980s it enjoyed a renaissance. This time stations were broadcasting music from the roofs of tower blocks rather than at sea, and in a further shift the movement distinctively celebrated black culture.
Radio Invicta, London Weekend Radio (LWR), JFM (Jackie FM), Horizon, Dread Broadcasting Corporation (DBC) and Kiss FM, became the first UK pirate radio stations dedicated to soul, funk, jazz, reggae and hip hop. Although often overlooked, these stations were pioneers, championing music of black origin and paving the way for such burgeoning rave scenes as jungle, garage and house.
In Thatcher’s Britain these stations offered an escape for those suffering racial discrimination and economic marginalisation. They aimed to empower musical communities ignored or censored by the BBC and the licensed commercial stations.
With the advent of the Telecommunications Act 1984, many of these stations were forced to close down, prompting a new generation of ‘pirates’ to develop imaginative, alternative strategies to outwit the Radio Investigation Service.
By the end of the 1980s an explosion of new pirate stations dominated the airwaves with over 600 stations nationwide, and 60 in the London area alone. The demise of pirate radio came about with the introduction of the Broadcasting Act 1990, but its legacy lives on.
This display tracks the history and cultural significance of 1980s pirate radio in the UK, its legacy and impact on contemporary music and broadcasting.
This exhibition forms part of ICA Touring
Image Credit: No License for Kiss FM, Written Word magazine, 1989, courtesy Gordon Mac