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Want to Save Radio? Bring on the Pirates!

2009 November 23

On Saturday night we went to see “Pirate Radio” a film based on the pirate radio stations that broadcast rock and roll music from international waters in the North Sea to millions of English teens from the mid 1960’s to the 90’s.  The movie was a ton of fun!  Great cast, amazing set and costumes, fantastic shooting & editing and one phenomenal soundtrack.

These pirates did what the British government wouldn’t do.  They gave the public what they wanted.

It’s the story of passionate entrepreneurs who enabled entertaining DJ’s to enthusiastically share their passion for The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who, The Hollies, The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield and more with an equally passionate listening audience.  Oh yeah, they also made money doing it.  A lot of money!

The result was more than commercial success.  They were revolutionaries.  These pirates were at the center of a huge cultural shift that disrupted Britain’s business as usual.

How did they do it?  They understood what their audience wanted and gave it to them.  They survived storms at sea to give it to them. They survived isolation and cramped living conditions and they even survived constant threats from the British government to give the audience what they wanted.


Because it’s what they wanted as well.  They shared a passion for freedom to engage in their love of rock and roll music.

The scenes that moved me the most weren’t the ones shot on the ship, though they were pretty cool.  The ones that moved me were shots of teen girls gathered around the radio, enthralled by the music and the DJ’s.

Scenes of a young couple dancing to music emanating from their car radio, a restaurant cook grooving to his transistor radio, and the government secretary who listened faithfully as her boss worked diligently to rid the airwaves of these villainous parasites.

I was moved by the look of horror, shock and dismay on the faces of listeners when DJ “The Count” announced that his pirate station would no longer battle the government and would sign off permanently at midnight, and the look of elation when he returned after about a minute of dead air to say something like, “Nah, we’re not going to be bullied by the government, we’re here to stay!”

It was that shared passion that moved me.  The passion that we now find in online communities that share their love of music, or cooking, cars, politics or whatever;  on Facebook, Twitter, My Space and You Tube.

What’s radio’s role in all of this?


Broadcasters and listeners no longer share a passion.  In fact radio listeners care as much about  broadcast company profits (the only thing broadcasters care about) as broadcasters care about the communities they “serve”.

It’s hard to engage with personalities on the radio when there aren’t any left.

While listeners embraced  the entertainment that bridged the music and commercials, distant corporate owners slashed and cut in the name of more profit until all that was left were cookie-cutter time and temp jocks that had nothing in common with prospective listeners.   And now even they have been “voice-tracked” off the local airwaves.

I have lost faith in the Federal Communications Commission who license our airwaves to huge corporations and ask nothing of them in return.

Those in the radio business would be quick to point out right now that they are just responding to market conditions.  And to them I say, “Aaarg! Bring on the Pirates”!

Pirates who understand what listeners want and engage with them around a shared passion.  Pirates that connect on air and online.  Pirates who are more passionate about their audience than quarterly returns.

Today’s broadcasters, like the British government in the 1960’s, have missed the boat.

Check out the trailer for the Pirate Radio Movie

And feel the passion!

And a short film about the real pirates!

2 Responses leave one →
  1. November 24, 2009

    Steve I was one of the LAST Pirate Jocks in the 80s … because of the movie I have posted some of what it sounded like on YouTube

    and I have also posted part of journal I kept while in the North Sea

    You can also find out more about what I have doing since broadcasting in force ten gales at

    I’m looking forward to seeing the movie!

    You are so right back in the days of the 7/7/7 rule, that became 12/12/12 … I wonder how many people remember that?

    Clinton was a good president, but the worst thing he did (at least legislatively) was the deregulation act of ’96 that opened the door for the what we have to today.

    – Kirk

  2. November 29, 2009

    Excellent post, Steve. That movie really hit home with me.

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