Pirate Radio

by on May 27, 2008 · 4 comments

I’m doing a piece on the Seasteading Institute, and I’m reading their fascinating summary of past efforts to achieve sovereignty via the oceans. My favorite case so far is the pirate radio wars of the 1960s:

In the 1960′s, a new form of offshore activity emerged. Commercial radio as known in the United States didn’t exist in Europe at the time. With few exceptions, all that was to be heard were staid government stations. Then a ship named Veronica dropped anchor just off the Dutch coast, with a transmitter beaming programing filled with the latest popular music. Advertisers eagerly bought up all the available time at premium rates, and imitators soon followed in the Scandinavian and British markets…At first, there was considerable violence between ships; however, the practice of maintaining 24-hour watches soon reduced that greatly…

The governments of Europe were outraged, and applied the pejorative term “pirates” to the broadcasters, a term with which they weren’t entirely unhappy – due to its romantic connotations. Attempts were made to jam the ships’ transmissions, but the public outcry was too great…International agreements were entered into to ban broadcasting from ships, but the African country of Sierra Leone chose to offer its flag as a flag of convenience rather than subscribe to the treaties…

The British finally knocked their offshore broadcasters off the air by banning advertising on them by firms doing business in the United Kingdom…then the coup de grace was delivered: the opening of popular music stations on land.

I had no idea. It’s a good story, but I also find it striking that European governments managed to prevent the broadcasting of popular music until the 1960s. For all the bitching and moaning about Clear Channel, at least America’s commercial radio model is reasonably responsive to public demand.

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