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Pirate radio in UK - article from Independent
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By Ian Burrell, Media and Culture Correspondent, The Independent

11 September 2003

One hundred feet above the streets of south London, Danny Blaze gazes out
from the balcony of an enormous tower block and takes in the view.

"Everything you can see, we cover," he says of a panorama that stretches
from the Millennium Dome in the east to the smart suburbs of west London.

A further 50 feet skywards, a small antenna is broadcasting the music and
message of the pirate radio station Flashback FM, 24 hours a day, seven days
a week.

Flashback is the sound of the underground - the urban music scene that
produced the Mercury Music Prize winner Dizzee Rascal and the previous
year's victor, Ms Dynamite, who in a year has crossed to the coffee-table

In his acceptance speech, Dizzee Rascal, real name Dylan Mills, accused the
music industry of trying to ignore the role played by the pirates. "I came
from nothing. I came from the underground, the pirate radio scene," he said.
"If you don't acknowledge it, it will creep up anyway."

Even though pirate radio is are flourishing in Britain the authorities show
no signs of tolerating the stations. The boom is coupled with a growing
popularity in mainstream radio. More people than ever (43.7 million, or 90
per cent of the population over 15) are listening to legal stations, for an
average of 24 hours each a week.

The Government's Radiocommunications Agency raided 209 pirate outfits last
year, with 181 based in London and others in Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow.
Yet despite official disapproval, stations continue to multiply. They are
also resisting the challenge posed by the growth of digital broadcasting.
The average transistor radio is now able to receive signals from up to 320
legal radio stations, and a digital receiver can tune in to up to 300 more.

But this vast selection of legitimate music, commentary and chat, ranging
from the Asian Network to Xfm, is not catering for many people in Britain's
towns and cities.

In Birmingham and Wolverhampton, Leeds and Sheffield, Bristol, Luton and,
most of all, London, pirate stations are pumping out a musical diet that
would baffle many radio executives. They play grime, sub-low, 8bar, four to
the floor, desi beats, US garage, UK garage, hardcore, hip-hop, house,
bashment, drum & bass and trance, to name just a sample of the genres and
sub-genres that mark out the urban music scene.

Matt Mason, editor of RWD, a magazine that has been set up to cover the
world of the pirates and the music they play, said such stations were
uniquely British. "It's something that will always go on because it's about
freedom of expression," he said. "Urban music has become easier to make than
ever and it is more multicultural than in any other Western country."

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the moment when Radio Caroline,
the floating pirate station, first went on air from the North Sea.

Caroline launched the careers of some of Britain's best-known radio stars of
the Seventies, including Tony Blackburn and Dave Lee Travis. More modern
urban-based pirates have given a start in broadcasting to music business
luminaries such as Norman Jay MBE and Gilles Peterson, who sat on the
Mercury prize judging panel.

Today there are pirate stations to represent every neighbourhood in London
as well as most of Britain's biggest towns and cities.

But the broadcasting authorities claim they are a menace, stealing
electricity from lift shafts and other power supplies and interfering with
the signals of legitimate broadcasters.

Even the pirates admit the dangers of "sprogging", where a signal splits in
two, with the danger of an airline pilot touching down at Heathrow to the
sound of drum & bass.

The number of operations by the Radiocommunications Agency has increased by
81 per cent from 3,488 raids in 1993-1997 to 6,320 in 1998-2002. But still
the pirates will not lower their colours.

According to Mr Mason, illegal stations such as Rinse FM (which brought
Dizzee Rascal and his "grimy" version of garage music to prominence),
Flashback FM, Bassline FM and Freeze FM are giving a platform to the booming
culture of "MC-ing" (the British equivalent of rapping).

"MC-ing is the ultimate easy thing for kids," he said. "You just need to
pick up a pen and paper. The UK MC culture is developing faster than ever.
Dizzee Rascal and the So Solid Crew have inspired hundreds of kids."

Most areas of London have their own "crews", made of MCs and other music
makers, desperate to make their mark. Dizzee Rascal is part of east London's
Roll Deep Crew. In north London there is the Heartless Crew, and west London
has Black Ops.

But the infamy surrounding the south London-based So Solid Crew has given
the pirate stations a new relevance by driving the once-thriving UK Garage
scene, which spawned the likes of Ms Dynamite, Craig David and Artful

A succession of firearms incidents and criminal trials involving members of
the So Solid Crew led to music venues, record companies and legitimate radio
stations becoming wary of garage music, leaving a void for the pirates to

Pirate radio is not for acrophobics. Several miles across London from the
Flashback antenna, the station's studio has been set up near the top of
another tower block.

Here, in a kitchen three feet square, the station's DJs broadcast for 24
hours a day from a young woman's flat. She is paid Ł80 a week for the

In spite of the surroundings, Flashback has been operating for eight years
and is run like a business (though it claims to make no profits). Later that
evening, in the garden of a pub, 40 DJs, engineers and drivers gather for
the station's monthly board meeting, convened by Blaze, the station's
"studio manager". He said: "If this was a legitimate business it would be a
guaranteed success. If it was supported by the Prince's Trust, I would have
an award by now."

The DJs are asked to pay a sub of Ł25 a month, which goes to cover the rent
of the studio and the Ł300 cost of replacing each aerial or "rig" seized by
the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Blaze does everything he can to avoid antagonising officials. During the
meeting, he reprimanded one DJ for allowing a caller to talk about drugs on

Despite Dizzee Rascal's comments, the mainstream music industry is starting
to recognise the importance of the pirates.

Last week, the giant Emap media group sanctioned its radio station Kiss FM
(itself a one-time pirate broadcaster) to stage a competition to allow
illegal DJs to compete for the chance to win a three-month contract and go

The contest was won by a group of three 18-year-olds called Haunted House
who have worked for the pirate station Mystic FM for the past six years

But the Radiocommunications Agency, part of the DTI, was not impressed.

In a notice issued shortly before the competition final, the Agency called
on Kiss FM to hand over "information that is effectively evidence of [pirate
broadcasters] committing a criminal offence". It threatened to raid the
station using "legal powers under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949".

But Mark Story, managing director of Kiss, said he would "resist through the
courts" any attempt by officials to seize the "evidence".

Mr Story said that he was thinking of giving jobs to seven of the other
contestants. "We want to do this every year," he said. "The standard is
really good."

Broadcasts in London. Style: R&B, hip-hop and bashment
Broadcasts in London.
Style: Garage, drum & bass, R&B
Broadcasts in London
Style: Grime, sub-low
Broadcasts in Essex.
Style: Drum & bass, garage
Broadcasts in London
Style: Urban
Broadcasts in Leeds.
Style: Reggae, hip-hop
Broadcasts in Birmingham.
Style: Garage, reggae, drum & bass
Broadcasts in Birmingham.
Style: Garage, drum & bass
Broadcasts in Glasgow.
Style: House
Broadcasts in Glasgow.
Style: House
Buccaneers of broadcasting

The man who did most to create Britain's pirate radio culture was Ronan
O'Rahilly, a maverick young Irishman from a wealthy family.

O'Rahilly, below, founded Britain's first floating radio station, Radio
Caroline, which burst on to the airwaves at Easter 1964.

The station launched the careers of such broadcasters as Johnnie Walker,
Tommy Vance, above right, and even the hypnotist Paul McKenna.

In December 1964, a consortium of Texan businessmen set up Radio London
(later Big L) on the former World War Two mine-sweeper USS Density in
competition with Caroline.

It was seeking an audience in the South-east of England, with rising stars
such as Ed Stewart and Kenny Everett.

Then in 1967 the Labour government did for the Big L (which was also the
home of Perfumed Garden, the groundbreaking show of John Peel) and most of
the other pirates when it introduced
legislation, the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Act. Only Radio Caroline
played on in defiance.

After broadcasting through the winter from off the coast of the Netherlands,
Caroline too temporarily went off air.

But angry and dedicated listeners included students who realised how easy it
was to build an AM transmitter, and they set up the first land-based
pirates, Radio Free London and Radio Free Caroline.
Although they were tracked down and fined, other stations emerged, including
Radio Jolly Roger, Radio North-West and Radio Pamela.

One station, Radio Jackie, even provoked the authorities with the theme tune
"Catch us if you can".
The arrival of FM radio led to a new pirate boom in the Seventies and
Eighties, compounded by the growth in popularity of contemporary dance

The most successful was the London-based station Kiss, now owned by the
media giant Emap, which was granted a legal licence in 1990.

10 September 2003 23:14
İ 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd


Best regards,
Marko - PCS Electronics
Turn your PC into a FM radio station!
fax +386 4 2316 128
Thu Sep 11, 2003 11:40 am View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website

Post Reply with quote

Last edited by StormiNorm on Sun Sep 21, 2003 5:19 pm; edited 1 time in total
Sun Sep 21, 2003 5:14 pm

Post So what is the Deal? Reply with quote
You Folks need me to ask my People to once again help you all solve some problems?Who do you want me to thump around a bit?
Sun Sep 21, 2003 5:17 pm

Post THE THROW DOWN CONCEPT Reply with quote
Well first of all let me state a few observations of mine in regards to the UK scenario.
The majority of the Units manufactured by all the dealers in the Hardware dept of the Pirate Radio Empire are basically designed so that they are somewhat disposable or said another way,the replacement costs is not prohibitive as far as replaceing a Confiscated unit by the Relevant Authorities.

So it would be fair to assume that the majority of Units are manufactured more for the British Market...Which from all appearances there are causes for concerns.

The fact that i have observed some very sloppy RF construction from folks across the Atlantic..So of course the Authorities gonna consider such operations as a Public nuisance.Hence we also need to diffretiate between purchaseing a unit that is Barebones cost effctive by useing a bit of clever state of the art packageing etc..as opposed to spending a bit more and purchaseing a unit that is a "CUT" above the rest,would be a worthwhile recommendation for those that are desirous of Establishing a presence on the Dial here stateside..Less chance for one to be labeled as a Public nuisance via the Airwaves.

Sometimes i almost wanna Believe that there is a Conspiracy between the DTI and the Hardware Manufacturers....I mean Business must be Booming in the UK due to the amount of seizures.

Anyway out of fairness it would be also a wise move for the Freedom of the Airwaves Advocates in the UK to maybe try and adopt an approach similiar to the approach myself and others have tried over here Stateside.

Or failing that then we might be able to arrange a 'TRANSMIT_A_TON from our elite squad here in the State of Florida...However i am kinda [perturbed by the attitude of some of you British Affiliates...and remember that there is an element over there that are very Racists and Anti-Semetic..so i would really have to give some hard thought as to whether we can lend you all a helping hand is creating an awareness factor and get them DTI folks off your all Backs.

The French i thought would have Been helpfull in helping you British folks to create a Riptide of change over there due to the Geographical proximity and the fact that they the French now seem to have been the self appointed "Attitude Check" specialists....However it seems as if that the French cannot even Take proper care of their Elderly Citizens...Imagine over 11,000 Deaths due to negligence of the French Politico...Amazeing

Respects..Norm B.
Fri Sep 26, 2003 1:28 am
Regular poster
Regular poster

Joined: 04 Aug 2003
Posts: 27

Post Reply with quote
It is believed that in 5 years the UK FM band will largely dead as DAB takes over, the DTI are stepping up their efforts to "cleanse" the band and get given oodles of cash by the government to effect such a cause before the big switch off. Still as much as they try London still has the biggest concentration of pirates in the world despite the radio authority operating on a 24/7 basis to remove unauthorised broadcasts between 88-108.
Fri Sep 26, 2003 11:57 am View user's profile Send private message

Post THE EVOLUTION Reply with quote
A Short History of Transmission Audio Processing in the United States
Robert Orban, San Francisco, CA

In the early days of broadcasting, the primary purpose of transmission audio processing was to protect the AM transmitters of the time from damage due to modulator overload. Simple peak limiters using variable-mu tubes in a push-pull configuration were employed. Because the gain-control signal was, in essence, mixed with the audio signal, these early vacuum-tube devices required careful balancing to cancel "thumps" representing feedthrough of the gain-control signal into the audio. Dynamic range control was effected through careful manual gain-riding -- in classical music broadcasts, the "compressor" was a skilled operator reading the musical score and using it to anticipate the required level adjustments. To this day, no one has invented a more subtle or effective method of compression!

Later, simple compressors were placed upstream from the limiters in situations where the budget did not permit skilled manual gain-riding. These compressors were not gated and could exaggerate noise objectionably.

In the Region 2 countries, 75µs pre-emphasis is used in FM and television sound transmission. This pre-emphasis is up 17dB at 15kHz and can cause severe over-modulation if its effects are not controlled. The obvious solution - placing a wide-band peak limiter after the pre-emphasis filter - proved unsatisfactory because high-frequency overloads would cause severe spectral gain intermodulation: cymbal crashes would cause the sound to literally collapse. The Fairchild "Conax" (originally designed for disk cutting) was often used to ameliorate the problem. This device divided the audio into two bands with a 1kHz crossover and applied pre-emphasis, clipping, and high-pass filtering to the upper band. The high-pass filter reduced the difference-frequency intermodulation caused by the clipper, yielding reasonably acceptable sound.

Butler High School Science Fair, 1962

"Modern audio processing" could be said to derive from the work of the design team at CBS Laboratories in the early 1960s. Their "Audimax" (mispronounced by generations of engineers as "audiomax"!) was a gated wideband compressor that successfully eliminated the noise-breathing problem of earlier compressors. The "Volumax" was a clipper preceded by a limiter with a moderate attack time. The moderate attack time prevented the unit from punching holes in the program, while the clipper controlled the peaks that the preceding limiter did not catch. The "FM Volumax" introduced a high-frequency limiter to control overload due to the pre-emphasis curve. This high-frequency limiter was a program-controlled 6dB/octave shelving filter placed between the limiter and clipper. Once again, a moderate attack time was used and the overshoots were controlled by a final clipper. The "Dynamic Presence Equalizer" measured the ratio of midrange energy to wideband program energy and applied midrange equalization as necessary to correct the midrange spectral balance of the program.

In the early 1970s, Dorrough Electronics introduced the "Discriminate Audio Processor" ("DAP"). There were versions for AM and FM. The DAP divided the audio spectrum into three bands with gentle crossover slopes and compressed each band independently. The bands were recombined and applied to a clipper with a very "soft" transfer characteristic. The DAP greatly reduced spectral gain intermodulation by comparison to its wideband predecessors. Additionally, many engineers adjusted the three bands for different gains, using the device as a dynamic program equalizer as well.

In 1975 Orban Associates introduced "Optimod-FM." This unit combined compressor, limiter, high-frequency limiter, clipper, 15kHz low-pass filters, and stereo multiplex encoder into one box. This greatly reduced the possibility of misadjustment of the processing chain. The unit's 15kHz low-pass filters were non-linear filters without significant overshoot, and therefore permitted higher average modulation by comparison to the linear low-pass filters used in the stand-alone stereo encoders of the time.

In 1977 Orban Associates introduced "Optimod-AM." This unit contained a high-slope receiver equalizer to pre-compensate for the highly rolled-off radios of the time, and also included an 11kHz low-pass filter to ensure that the unit complied with the occupied bandwidth requirements of the 1978 FCC Rules. It also introduced the distortion-canceling clipper, which substantially reduced difference-frequency intermodulation distortion caused by clipping.

In the late 1970s, Circuit Research Laboratories introduced a processing system for AM whose most important novel features were a phase rotator [the Kahn "Symmetra-Peak" being a fore-runner] prior to processing (to make voice more symmetrical, reducing clipping distortion), and a subsonic equalizer after final peak clipping to pre-distort the output waveform of the processor to compensate for low-frequency tilt in the plate-modulated transmitters of the time. Compensating for this waveform tilt enabled the better transmitters to be substantially louder by eliminating a factor that would otherwise increase the peak-to-average ratio of the modulation. Although intuitively inobvious, using a phase rotator to purposely eliminate the asymmetry in voice proved to be far more effective than the older "polarity follower" [Pacific Recorders AM "Modulimiter"] circuit. The older circuit preserved any natural waveform asymmetry and switched its output polarity such that the side of the waveform with the higher peak level modulates the carrier in the positive direction.

In the late 1970s, a number of manufacturers made "composite clippers" designed to be placed between the output of the stereo encoder and the input of the transmitter. These controlled the peak modulation of the composite stereo signal unambiguously at the expense of introducing harmonic and intermodulation distortion throughout the stereo baseband. Many "hit-format" broadcasters thought that the increased loudness achieved by these devices justified compromising the spectral purity of the baseband. Eventually, the FCC judged these devices to be in violation of the FCC Rules of the time if they caused the instantaneous 19kHz stereo pilot tone injection to be less than 8% modulation. In essence, this meant that the pilot could not be clipped and must be injected after the clipper. In 1982, Modulation Sciences introduced a composite processor that did this, thereby performing to the letter of the FCC Rules.

In 1982, Orban Associates introduced the "Hilbert-Transform Clipper" as part of its Optimod-TV processor for stereo television. The "Hilbert-Transform Clipper" was later adapted for use in shortwave as well.

In general, transmission audio processing in the 1980s refined and built upon the revolutionary developments of the 1970s without introducing any radical novelties. Each manufacturer, for example, has a proprietary technique for producing non-linear overshoot-free low-pass filters for FM and television applications. Several manufacturers (including Inovonics and Circuit Research Laboratories) introduced programmable processors whose subjective setup controls can be changed by remote control to match the programming of the moment.

In the 1990s, the field must be considered "mature." As in every other area of audio, digital signal processing (DSP) is likely to eventually supplant analog circuitry. As of this writing, Orban, CRL, Valley International, Gentner Electronics, and Audio Animation have introduced transmission processors in which all processing is done in the digital domain. [The Valley, Gentner, and Audio Animation units are no longer manufactured.] If properly designed, such a processor can be readily reconfigured in milliseconds to change almost any aspect of its topology, such as the number of bands in its multi-band compressor. Subjective setup control settings can be stored and later recalled by local clock, remote control, or computer to daypart processing. The processor can readily generate test and signalling tones, facilitating tests of the transmission system and the generation of EAS alert tones.

In a digital processor, achieving sound quality equal to or better than its analog counterparts requires a marriage of art and mathematical design more rigorous than anything in the genesis of its analog ancestors. Many common analog processing functions (such as clipping) are much more difficult to do competently in the digital domain. However, digital also presents the opportunity to do things unachievable in analog, and digital's overwhelming advantages will ultimately manifest themselves as clearly here as they have elsewhere in the audio processing arena.

Copyright 1992 Robert Orban. All rights reserved. All trademarks are the property of their respective companies
Dear Radio World,

In "Composite Processing Remains Hot" (Radio World, May 29, 1996) Eric Small wrote "The reign of the Volumax ended when Orban and I developed the Optimod FM integrated processor and generator." This statement cries out for- amplification and a trip down memory lane into the mists of broadcast history, ca. 1974.

In 1972; I was helping out an old college friend at his Class-A FM in Los Altos, Calif. I built him a custom stereo limiter, which used clipping as the means of final peak control. A mystery arose when peaks that were clearly well controlled at the studio produced egregious overmodulation on the air as read on the station's Belar FMM-1 modulation monitor.

A call to Arno Meyer at Belar revealed the reason: The 15 kHz low-pass filters in the Collins stereo generator were overshooting and ringing. I took a scope up to the transmitter and, sure enough, Arno was right that was exactly what was happening.

Two years later I decided to design a broadcast compressor/limiter as Orban Associates' next product. I remembered the problems I had encountered with the stereo generator's low-pass filters.

It occurred to me that a good solution would be to design non-overshooting low-pass filters and to package the compressor, limiter, high-frequency limiter, filters and stereo generator together, as a system. I proceeded to design and prototype a single channel of this processing and build it on a perf-board.

I had been working with Eric Small on the tests of the Nippon/Columbia quadraphonic broadcast system for FM, so it seemed logical that I take this prototype to him. We hooked it up to his Belar and he was very impressed. He had never seen the modulation meter swing so high with no peak flasher activity.

I told him that the way the system had to work was that two channels of this processing had to be packaged with a stereo generator so that any circuit elements that could cause overshoot would be contained within the system and would thus be controllable.

After thinking about it for a bit, he agreed, and said that he wanted to get involved with the marketing and development of the product that was to become Optimod-FM Model 8000A.

Eric's primary contributions to the development were three: He consulted on the user interface, he helped design the packaging so that the unit would be RFI-resistant and he interfaced with the FCC to ensure that the unit could legally be connected to transmitters (by making the unit's output look like the output of a composite STL because these had already gotten the FCC's OK).

However, the circuit design, systems design and even the "Optimod" moniker were my creations, and I am the sole inventor named on the relevant patent (U.S. #4,103,243).

After my business partner John Delantoni and I completed design and packaging of the production 8000A in 1975, Eric Small and Associates was engaged to market and promote the unit for a period of two years.

Eric did a fine job in communicating the advantages of the systems approach to processing, and made sure that the unit got into the hands of the industry's movers and shakers early on. As part of the marketing effort, he made a number of measurements demonstrating quantitatively that the new system's approach achieved up to 3 dB higher on-air loudness than the old technology, while controlling peak modulation far more consistently. Optimod-FM was up and running and Orban started a period of rapid growth.

The 8000A was manufactured until 1980, when it was replaced by the 8100A, which ultimately became the best-selling FM processor in the history of the industry and is still being manufactured today.

After the expiration of Eric's two-year contract, Delantoni and I decided that Orban had grown large enough to move sales and marketing in-house where it could be more tightly coupled to our management structure. Eric moved on to other endeavors, eventually founding Modulation Sciences.

Robert Orban
Chief Engineer
San Leandro, CA

Rumours thru the Grapevine Gossip columinsts have reported that Trent Lott..Tony Snow and Brit Hume as well as George Wills (ABC) used to hangout with Mr.OptiMod Himself..Dont know if that makes a difference to the State of Affairs as we all know it today...hahahaha!

Fri Sep 26, 2003 7:46 pm
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