Pirate radio has been an obsession for me since I was about 13 years old (I’m now in my 30’s.) In those days, my choice of listening was Hip Hop and a bit of House but I couldn't afford to go record shopping very often and there was virtually nothing on legal radio bar a couple of specialist shows for 2 hrs a week each. Although the occasional track did enter the mainstream and get some radio play, this was not so in most cases. On pirate however, there are no rules, no play lists, nothing to hold the DJ back and stop him from playing whatever he likes. This means diversity, and not just constant rotation of a few selected albums or tracks.
Back in the summer of 1987, The Soul Twins, a soul DJ sound system from Bristol, started a pirate radio station by the name of B.A.D Radio. This was a huge change in the Bristol music scene. Most of Bristol’s top Soul, Reggae, House and Hip Hop DJ's of the time were playing on this station and it was the first station of its kind in the city.
Two DJs from the B.A.D line up decided to start another station with different DJs and a stereo transmitter. This was FTP, which eventually got a licence to broadcast legally, but was sold to Chiltern Radio after less than a year with huge debts. The community didn’t support FTP because they changed their broadcasting policy slightly in order to try and stay afloat in the expensive world of legal radio.
Just before FTP went off air to seek their licence, there was a short lived station that grew out of it called R.A.W Radio. It was apparently set up to cater for an overspill of DJs from FTP. As a result, it was only on for a month or so before it too switched off to aid FTP in its license application. This is where I came in. A friend of mine at school had discovered R.A.W and told me about it. I had been eagerly listening to Tristan B on Radio Bristol every Sunday for a while, and after his show I decided to try and find this pirate station. Luckily for me it would seem, I did find it and managed to record half a C-90 of a Hip Hop mix show. From this point on, my interest in pirate radio grew. Here is the recording I made that night…
The signals were weak in those days and living where I live it was not easy to hear these illegal broadcasts, so I relied on people passing tapes of the pirates on to me. These pirates included FTP, B.A.D Radio and Emergency Radio as well as RAW.
Most of these stations died out before I could hear them live, but eventually a new station came on air, Black FM. Although I still couldn’t hear this station at my house, I’d managed to get myself a ‘walkman’ with a radio by this time and could tune in when out and about in town. Plus, I used bi-weekly visits to my nans flat in Bishopston to make tapes whenever I could. Black FM was joined by SPEC Radio later on.
Listening to these stations was not only providing me with somewhere to hear a bit of what I liked, but it was also introducing me to music I hadn’t really been a fan of before, i.e. Reggae and Soul. It really broadened my musical tastes.
By this point, I was so obsessed that every spare moment I got I would spend scanning the FM dial and moving my aerial around to see if I could hear anything new. Black FM and SPEC got transmitter upgrades and I was finally able to listen to them at home. More stations appeared, including Magnum Radio and two very short lived stations called Inner City Radio and Exodus Radio.
Through certain shows on SPEC, Magnum and Exodus I was introduced to the very early style of music that was to become Hardcore, Jungle and later Drum and Bass. I still listened to a little bit of Hip Hop, but I was starting to find it boring and the rave scene was producing music that was much more exciting. You still couldn’t hear a lot of this music on the radio in Bristol, but it was there, and it was mostly on the pirates where you could hear DJs mixing these tunes together to produce seamless sets. Of course, that was part of the fascination, the DJs themselves and the way they played the music.
Eventually, the rave scene blew up and the station that really represented that music for Bristol was one called SYT (Savage Yet Tender). SYT had been on air in 1988, but I never knew about it until it returned after a 2 year break in 1991. I saw a piece of graffiti on the wall of one of the ‘bear pit’ tunnels advertising the station, and eventually after a few weeks, it finally appeared one Sunday. In 1988, it had started out as a tape based pirate and one of its founders was a revolutionary Marxist, so you can imagine the style of some of the output. This was, ‘The station where you can call the Duke of Beaufort a fucking arsehole.’ In 1991, it was live every Sunday from mid-day until the early hours of Monday morning. It had a diverse selection of music during the day with a little Hip Hop, some Metal, Punk and eventually at about 10pm you could hear DJs like Phil Badland, Cridge, Gizmo and Mad Scotty getting smashed on air and playing Hardcore. It was a very messy station presentation-wise, but fun to listen to, and I miss it even now. The station suffered 2 raids in quick succession and never came back.
By 1993, Raw Radio was back, or was it? Raw FM 101.1 had some of the DJs from SPEC such as Lady G and DJ Style, but it was also the first place I heard Roni Size. There was also a station playing Asian music called Pukar Radio run by two ex-SPEC DJs, Mac and Jab.
Magnum came back in 1994 as Ragga FM, a new station called Power FM had come on air, and we were into the Jungle era with Ruffneck Ting, Bunjy, Paz, Brooklyn and so on providing the sounds. Although there was a lot of Jungle on the radio at this time, the stations didn’t slouch on the other genres either.
Around the end of ’94, a station called Passion FM came on air playing a lot of Jungle, and the legendary Easygroove did an overnight stint of Jungle and Hard Techno. Whilst Roni and Krust were taking care of the legal Full Cycle show on Galaxy 101, Die and Suv were doing a show on Power FM. Power FM and Passion FM merged to become Dance FM at one point, but soon Passion FM returned in a slightly different form.
Probably the best pirate I’ve heard since 2000 was Storm FM. This was a Passion owned and run station that catered for the dance scene in Bristol. DJs like Clipz and Paz had shows on Storm. Bristol has never really got on with dance pirates though. Others that have tried have been very short lived. Storm managed for a couple of months, but they gave up in the end.
My life was getting busier, and I had less time for the radio now, I was making my own records and loosing track of radio. To me, the golden age of the pirates is gone, but I still love to tune in when I can and now, once in a while, I even play on pirate myself. Whilst pirate radio still rages on in London, there is very little room for it in Bristol town these days it seems. This is a great shame. There were two stations until recently, but due to legal stations in Wales and other places using up the frequencies and bleeding into Bristol, one of the stations was raided and is yet to return.
A list of Bristol pirates of the past can be found HERE.
Articles on some of the stations can be found HERE, via the links towards the bottom of the page.
THE PIRATE ARCHIVE WOULD APPRECIATE ANY INFORMATION OR TAPES YOU HAVE OF PIRATE RADIO IN BRISTOL. PLEASE CONTACT THEM THROUGH THEIR WEBSITE