Issue No 111 Winter 2020 / July 1023
Now a confession. In the autumn of 2020 I had largely completed the editorial of the latest London FM Bandscan. It is now time to resurrect this so please bear this in mind when reading. It is not up to date and is probably the last one in the same format. I first started this in November getting on for 2 ½ years ago and now wishing I was that many years younger.
We have a lot of timeline to catch up on across June 2018 up to early 2021 on London’s illegal and legal airwaves. The two are closely intertwined since the 80s when pirates of old campaigned for legal licenses.
This issue is also different as it is the first time that we have created an e-newsletter. The problems caused by COVID 19 means that not only are our regular meetings were suspended and this is the only way of getting this to you.
TO DAB OR NOT TO DAB? THAT IS THE QUESTION…
Not to do with pirate radio but well worth a mention as we try to get up to date with “everything on the London FM wavebands issue”.
The Daily Telegraph on 17th March 2019 carried details of a leaked speech by BBC Director of Radio Bob Shennan. In essence he stated that the future of radio in the UK needs to be a mixture of DAB, FM and internet, i.e. multi-platform rather than just DAB. He says: “We all once thought that DAB was the only digital future of radio, but audiences want choice. We now know DAB is important, but only a part of the story, along with FM and the internet. We need to do more before we consider a switchover in the UK, and for that to be genuinely audience-led. For now, we believe audiences are best served by a mixed economy. Radio is also better served by a mixed economy”. This is Bob trying to put on a positive spin at DABs failure to hit its listening target. As you all know sasradiogroup has been banging about this for over ten years and at long last the BBC gets the point that a lot of the audience are either satisfied with the choice on FM or the fact that the internet offers genuine choice as to the type of music the listener wants and not directed by the Beebs urbanite trendies.
COMMUNITY RADIO ROUND-UP
We’ve got used to former pirates becoming legal. So here is a round-up of developments across London in from 2018 to 2020 and how some of the illegal stations are reacting to it.
Flex FM 101.4 joined the ranks on the FM band after their license application was successful. After a short period of test transmissions which started on 20th June Legal broadcasts commenced on 1st July 2018. The format of House, Drum and Bass, Dubstep, UK Garage, Old Skool, Hardcore, Reggae and Soul. Initial reception in Hounslow and down south was poor. This improved once regular broadcasting commenced. Compared with the old pirate days on 99.7 there was a big drop in transmission quality. To begin with the audio was over-deviated and very bassy at times depending on the presenter some of whom sounded rather rough. Indeed they were not all the normal crew. It took a while for broadcasts to settle down and improve.
Flex started as a breakaway station from Don FM (more anon) in 1992 and transmitted initially from Merton. The station left the FM airwaves and the 103.6 slot in 2003. In 2009 they returned to their roots The station claimed the 99.7 position and remained there until recent times.
All is apparently not running smoothly as around six DJ’s left summer 2019 and a new schedule introduce in August. These guys are mainly specialist DJs playing the likes of Old Skool. Since becoming legal Flex has been streamlining their format and dropping specialist shows from weekly to bi-weekly so a number of DJs said goodbye.
Centrefororce 883 also took to the air the same month on the 14th on London’s Switch 2 DAB multiplex. As you can see they clearly refer to their old FM frequency in their name. The station has a history as a pirate operator from 8th May 1989 to May/June 1990 and again from 2007 to 2008. As we have referred in the past Centreforce did a deal with Time 107.5 based in Romford, Essex to do weekend overnight sessions. These lasted from June 2009 until apparently April 2012.
RELEASED INTO THE COMMUNITY
Now Gerry referred me to an article in the Surrey Mirror where Release FM has also gone legal on DAB this year. The station now renamed as Release Radio is run by a trio of DJ Matthew Rackley, owner Gary McManus and technician Edd Rimmer.
Based in Bracknell Berkshire (the pirate versions stomping ground) DAB coverage is across Berkshire, Surrey and parts of London.
From the press release owner Garry McManus stated "We started in 2009 and broadcast as a pirate until 2015* when we had quite a significant raid from the authorities. Ofcom took us off, silenced us, for the last time... That's when we decided to broadcast online for a couple of years. We needed that extra edge and the only extra edge is to broadcast, so we started to look at DAB as another option. We started broadcasting legitimately in April when we got a licence."
Mathew Rackley, goes by the on-air name DJ Slim, added: "It's been a massive journey. It's been hard work building our studio where we are now. It's something we're all very proud of, getting to this stage, and quite frankly we want to tell the whole world about it.". *We noted a relay in June/July 2017 on 105.1 MHz
Launch date coincided with the Covid 19 pandemic and the owners were facing a shortage of advertising and the founders state that they are dipping into personal their savings to cover operational costs.
Flex FM was set-up years ago as a splinter group from Don FM. One re-action to Flex FM starting legal broadcasts was the re-appearance in early June 2018 of an old name to London’s privateer airwaves. Don FM took on 103.0 MHz with RDS DON. JET noting them on the weekend of 9th / 10th and then back the following weekend. There was then a small break before returning a day later JET thinks from a different site. This was all to spite Flex FM.
In November 2018 Don FM became London’s Most Wanted (RDS L M W) which is what the channel was before Don reappeared. This was the same field strength as Don and we are sure it is the same transmitter being used.
Last May (2020) Ofcom awarded three new community licenses in South / South East London.
Croydon FM – for the Croydon area. Describing itself as the first official independent community radio. Currently on-line only and 97.8 allocated.
Rainbow Radio – Forest Hill and surrounding areas. For the African migrant community with a range of musical genres. The station logo carried the frequency 87.5 FM which is not allocated by Ofcom to any station. This is normally a bit of a giveaway that this is a former pirate station. Although it could be the frequency of a station of the same name in Accra
As well as the Toby Inn bandscans before and after the meets and the usual input from JET, I’ve also been fortunate enough to re-institute monitoring trips this time into Roehampton and Tooting across 2019 and into 2020. So we’ve got some snippets below for you.
Select UK switched off the transmitter on 99.3 last year as they successfully obtained a community license. Now JET feel’s they were far more deserving than Rinse FM in obtaining one. JET describes them as better behaved. Flex’s frequency of 99.3 was swiftly, replaced by Digital Soul (RDS DJT) in Stereo. Unlike Select which would switch sites Digital Soul is not switching and has a weaker signal with both JET and myself. This didn’t last too long and died a death at the end of July / early August. All that remained was on 99.3 up to mid-August. Legal frequency is 94.4 MHz and added DAB in Brighton and Norwich in April and August 2022. As well as the website Select continues on Tunein and via iphone/android app.
As of writing )end 2018) none of the above stations has appeared on the FM waveband and I suspected that due to COVID that probably one station might fail to make it onto the FM waveband
Talking of former pirates time for mysterious tales about Rinse FM. Rinse has been legal for over ten years now having launched on 7th February 2011. Compared with Flex FM 2018 was a bad year for the station. From mid-May I noticed that they had dropped off the dial. The frequency of 106.8 appearing clear. JET also noticed a blank spot oas well. There was a bit of speculation until we discovered that the original site at Maydew House, Bermondsey had to be shut down as it was being refurbished. This forced a move to a site of City Road which proved useless in maintaining the reception area. Even on the 28th July nothing could be heard and Rinse was confined to fairly local reception. Finally the following Sunday I picked them up. Signal strength in our local area is somewhat down on that earlier in the year. And has remained so ever since.
Now anyone who knows me has realised that my radio listening has become more of a patchwork across 2018 into 2020. There are some personal reasons for that but here are some snippets.
Star Radio London – more of a Soul type station heard first by me on 107.6 on 28th August and heard until 5th September.
27th October 2018 I picked up a Drum ‘n’ Base station 87.9 bang next to Pulse. Possibly Number One Drum 'n'
Unique 101.2 and Vibes 93.8 are long lasting (famous last words) and professional set-ups and, if you are into their type of music, very listenable. The same can be said of Real Beat on 101.9. As we’ve commented for a long time this is a low power operation nowadays and determined to continue after community station Bang FM re-branded controversially under Real Beat’s former name of The Beat FM.
TFL Live have continued with some noticeable ups and downs. At one point it was reported on radionecks that the station had folded. In October 2018 TFL Live were heard with strong signals locally on 94.2 at 25db. This we are sure are down on previous levels.
Kool FM or should we say Kool London as they re-branded. This is due to change of management. The reason is that they now regard that being an internet station is of higher importance than having a presence on FM. Transmissions across 2018 on 94.6 have been somewhat sporadic noted last noted in late October.
I didn’t think that the Kool London broadcasts sounded like the Kool FM of old. To me there seemed to be a lot more Drum ‘n’ Bass in the old days.
Flight FM have abandoned London’s FM airwaves for good and are now only on-line. They have not been on 92.8 for a very long time since 2018.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK New York Times in October 2018 carried an interesting piece entitled “London Pirates Changed Music. Then Came the Internet”. The article contrasted Rinse FM and Kool FM as to where they are now. Interviewing Sarah Lockhart from chief executive and co-founder of Rinse FM and DJ Eastman owner of Kool.
Describing the now legit Rinse FM occupying a spotless studio with leather couches, having their own record label and corporate partners. This contrasted with Kool “a grim warehouse with flickering bulbs and patchy black paint.” Oddly when the NYT interviewed Sarah Lockhart they described the studio as spotless though pot scented! Nothing was said of the aromas at Kool.
This isn’t the first time that whenever an article mentions one the other is used. They didn’t know that in their pirate heyday that both used to co-locate aerials on tower blocks and that the studios were both in the same building but not interconnected. Yet despite their different paths the connections still appear to be there.
The piece went on about Kool FMs background, starting transmissions in 1991and finding themselves like everyone else at the mercy of the authorities. DJ Eastman described pirate radio as “the in thing”. However, the last decade developments of rival internet only stations and licensed community stations changed not only the London’s bandscape but how people tune into radio.
To illustrate this, the NYT spoke to MC Novelist (Kojo Kankham, 21). Who, you’ve guessed it was ex Rinse and Flex FM. Describing pirate radio “kind of like stepping into the past. “I was doing it for the sake of the culture and the style, but it’s not something a young musician necessarily needs to do in this day and age, because everything is so digital now,” An example Balamii an internet only station based in Peckham was quoted. It operates openly. Founder, James Browning “the internet has enabled everyone to do it from a laptop. You don’t have to climb up blocks of flats to stick aerials up there,”
Eastman was quoted as saying “We’re struggling because it’s hard to raise money to keep the station going.” He added that Kool lost 90% of its advertising revenue due to the above changes. Yet Kool like Rinse was an early adopter of the internet to reduce raids on the studios.
In June 2018 we described Kools FM presence as in terminal decline. Kool FM changed focus from being Kool 946 to Kool London. Re-inventing themselves as an all internet station with no reference to FM. Although the shows could, at times still be noted on FM in 2019 and into 2020..
Rinse took advantage of community radio licensing and becoming legal. Sarah Lockhart, now says she hated being a pirate “You couldn’t have a party, you couldn’t do a sponsorship,” she said. “You can get arrested. You can go to jail.” The interview really showed how far removed Rinse has come from its illegal roots and it shows on the comments about the station on the internet. (Flex FM is another recent example)
The article ended that “Rinse and its contemporaries are hoping to do what the pirates did best: give young people without money or connections space to make new kinds of music.” Sadly many now disagree claiming they have sold out. This is the same fate that has befallen other privateers who have taken the King’s shilling.
On 2nd March 2019 I first heard Raw Innocence when I was in the Redhill area with a weak signal on 87.5. This was an announced test transmission by “The South’s Number 1 Dance Music Station”. The next test noted was on the 23rd which included proper programmes. Regular broadcasts started the following day. JET was picking them too in Hounslow. JET reminds me that Innocence FM used to be a North London pirate and well as a similar sounding station in Kent.
Meanwhile UK Raw who had previously occupied the 87.5 slot has been on 107.5 since early February 2019 and have maintained regular broadcasting. This station is still coming from Feltham but from a different location than before. JET thinks they have had hardly any raids in the previous 12 months or perhaps even no raids at all as broadcasting has been very consistent.
We wonder if there is a connection between Raw UK and Raw Innocence. Many year’s ago other ‘RAW’ branded stations used to describe the “RAW family”.
At the end of March JET had a massive signal with Drum ‘n’ Base on 87.5 MHz. This was Raw Innocence again at full strength and this continued until Thursday when it was just a carrier with a mains hum. On the Friday it went off.
JETs report that in 2020 Point Blank has been a crap signal over in Hounslow. DJ Harve is always well worth a listen on Tuesday mornings but since all the changes in early 2018 PB they are not the class leading station that it used to be. Martin in our September 2018 meet said that Point Blank was very strong in Caterham. The station has left the pirate FM airwaves and announced that the station would soon to join the Surrey DAB Mux.starting licensed broadcasting on 26 June 2021.
Vision FM – according to reports by JET these guys are raided a lot.
Going back to our last FM listings (June 2018) The Rock 926 has also been heard on 87.8 MHz. Sometimes this is in addition to 92.6 but for a lot of the time it is the only channel on-air or audible to us. In August 2020 The Rock 926 on 87.8 suddenly disappeared. This was immediately replaced by Vogue with a scrolling RDS set-up. This is in Stereo with superb separation and is massive in the Hounslow area. Vogue is a Dance format station with no proper programmes. It is very automated and somewhat different to The Rock (Soul / Reggae) which was from Lambeth.
At the same time that Vogue appeared S-Dance on 96.1 seemed to increase in power and the stereo was also again brilliant. JET wonders if Vogue and S-Dance using the same engineers and are associate stations. It was like listening to Point Blank / Green Apple in their heyday.
In January 2019 Kool, House and Galaxy were all off-air. Unconfirmed reports on the internet stating that Galaxy were off by ‘Court Order’. Kool rebranded as Kool London and it doesn’t sound like the Kool FM of old.
THE PIRATES AND LOCKDOWN Hunting on the internet I picked up on an article in the Southwark News on 8th June. It was mainly about Camberwell police enforcing street drinking and acting against an illegal street party. It also reported that, in a different incident, officers closedown a ‘new’ pirate radio station that had popped up in Champion Hill. Here the police assisted council officers and Ofcom in removing an illegal radio mast and antennae.
To quote Dedicated Ward Officer Mark Saunders “if you see anyone on top of high-rise roofs installing masts please call police immediately as criminals cause damage to buildings installing equipment and large radio masts”
Generally I’ve found press articles on land based pirate radio hard to find but got another snippet which says a lot about modern life below:
Se26life on 3rd November 2018 carried a Tweet by Crofton Park Police with associated photgraphs.
#PCKate and #PCMick are on the roof in the Sydenham Hill estate. What a view! We’re here to prevent a breach of the peace whilst a pirate radio mast is removed https://t.co/ZVUdZC01df
There was debate in 2020 as to whether various music genres such as Soul, Dance D’n’B etc should be classified Urban. This seems to be on the grounds that it implies that the artists who create such genres are black and from impoverished backgrounds. Instead, it was suggested that it should be put under the banner of ‘Black’ music. Of course music transcends racial and ethnic barriers. So increasingly the specific music genre is being specified and terms such as Urban, Black or BAME are being gradually dropped by the music industry.
Urban was always a loose grouping since many of the types of music which came to prominence in the 80s, 90s and beyond owe their origins to artists living in London and other cities and their emergence onto the pirate radio ariwaves.
So we’ll briefly go across onto other pirates which fall outside any of the above categories:
Crystal Studios was quite weak with JET at the end of 2019 into 2020 but is much better now. Generally 89.9 MHz is fired up at weekends but also some weekdays like Monday and Thursdays. Transmissions of oldies last some three to three and a half hours long from 9.30 or 10 am through to 1pm. Broadcasts have expanded during lockdown.
Nation Radio Heard very weakly in Redhill on 87.6 MHz and apparently emanating from SE London. Heard regularly in 2019 across the summer. Seemed to be an oldies station and a relay of a legal DAB / internet station.
Retro FM Rock Steady Eddie transmitted across Sunday afternoons and Wednesday evenings with four hour transmission block of oldies. The Monday evening slot having been dropped. Reception at my locale is highly variable and is at best around 10/11db. For example in January 2019 we didn’t note him at all on the 13th. On the 20th and 27th the station was up to 10db and then the following week he was down again.
It has taken him a long time to appear in other listings. RadioNecks only added him in 2019 but we first heard him way back in 2014. JET and myself thinks he must be 10-12 miles away from me in a south / SSE direction.
Before you couldn’t find any trace of Retro on the internet but now there is a video on youtube noted on 1st September 2019 heard on a Tescun portable at Chanctonbury Ring, which is five miles north of Worthing, West Sussex with just 3db. JET thinks he is possibly some 10-15 miles away from my locale.
Audio is good on the spoken word or quieter pieces of music, after that it gets heavily distorted. Is this one of those Chinese rigs? Talking of videos on the internet it is suggested that that audio should not be tuned past a screw of the front of the rig.
Now I’ve been failing to tune around for him recently and since October 2020 have failed to pick him up.
Another station we sometimes touch upon is Radio England with their eclectic mix of classical, rock, 1940s music and poetry. It seems that the COVID-19 outbreak claimed the 2020 broadcast around the 23rd April. It appears either on this day or a nearby weekend. Nothing was heard across 94 to 94.4 MHz or 87.7. Sadly, rumour also has it that this was intended to be their last year. So I wonder if we will ever hear them again.
Practically all the stations on our London FM bandscan have websites with the notable exceptions being Retro FM and Radio England. The first being a one man band and the second a special event station.
NUMBERS AND MORE
Ofcom claims there are around 50 pirates in London a 50% drop from ten years ago and “hundreds in the 1990s”. As we know Ofcom’s estimates tend to be inaccurate being up to 20% under reported. On the bandscans we were getting up to 44 stations, this on a weekday morning or afternoon, Evidence attached suggests that the overall figure is nearer 60 but not all operators are on all the time.
Scanning the bands at Roehampton and then moving across to Tooting it gives a good idea as to how radio reception of London’s urban privateers varied over a distance of almost six miles. Of course reception of many of these stations at home are a lot weaker than in the past due to loss of sites. They still cut across the capital fairly well but ‘spillover’ beyond the M25 into Surrey and Kent isn’t anywhere near what it was. Current strong stations (Ed Autumn 2020) at home are Ontop, Divine and 99.7. When it was on- air Origin would also be strong (15db).
On these trips the RDS sorts out some of the differently named stations such as ‘Anadolu’ (Radyo Andalolu London) and where the likes of Kool FM re-brand themselves as Kool London. RDS IDs do tend to change. As official raids are fairly low these days many of these changes must be down to the operator.
On my most recent one on 26th June 2020 (yes I tune around in hospital car parks) a few of the urban station such as Venture 99.5 were mentioning ”Blackout Day”. On 7th July members of the AfroCarribean community were, via recorded on-air promotions, told to boycott white owned or managed shops and avoid other shops run by other minorities where they felt they were being discriminated against. This is in contrast to the entry on Wikipedia and the BBC where the description was somewhat different. Tuning down the band to 98.3 in the early afternoon the DJ on RJR was saying “don’t know why people stir things. We’ve got to get together black, white, brown and yellow”. I thought that in these, post George Floyd times it was good to hear a sincere voice preaching from the heart that this was the way forward. JET has noted on OnTop phone In’s where he thought extreme views were being aired. Commenting that on a legit station the caller would have been cutoff early on but here, the DJ let the caller continue. I’ve noted similar too. Out here in the wild west (or south-east London in this case) anything goes.
Then I am going onto a point I’ve mentioned many times in the past. It is questionable as to how much the reduction in the number of privateers is directly down to the RIS. Licensing a handful of pirate stations has little effect. When the likes of Flex or Select go legit their slots on the dial quickly get taken by new operators or splinters from the licensed station who don’t want to go legal. We’ve mentioned so many times over the years other factors such as loss of sites and frequency denial take their toll.
Operators for longer standing pirate stations seem to have a tendency to switch off the FM. Their age and the availability of other broadcast technology means that it is not essential to transmit on FM with Point Blank and Release being examples of this.
If we look at Tune In and Radio UK platforms these ‘pirates’ are there with their logo’s often advertising the FM frequency e.g. VibesFM.net. Below is a list of stations that utilize these, platform as of August 2020. And these have been found by Geographical area. More can be found by randomly typing in their names.
Back2backfm, Concious Radio, Kool London, Rainbow Radio (Must be a former pirate since the logo says 87.5FM), Select UK, VibesFM.
Pulse88 but you have to search for it, (it does not appear geographically as does CodeSouth88.8FM
Former pirates SOCA FM, In2beats 106.5 FM Bedford Urban Radio, Storm FM 87.7.com 10 years in Wales
OFCOM FOI REQUESTS
On the internet we can still find recent Requests for Information sent across to Ofcom and the replies are then posted. Ofcom gives the minimal amount of information in reply. This is always a good source and at times, a good laugh.
For example in London’s E postcode between 1 January 2018 to 31 July 2019 Ofcom conducted 17 Illegal Broadcasting operations including visits. Of which none led to any prosecutions. That’s just 1.21 actions per station in a 19 month period. Less than one per year!
The following were named as being busted Concious Radio, Dem Radyo, Flames, GM Radio, Hot, Hitz UK, Kool London, Live FM, Naija FM, Point Blank FM, Pozitif, Point Blank and Supreme FM.
Ofcom spent / budgeted In the Financial Year 2018/2019 £0.8m on spectrum enforcement. In the same period the regulator claimed that the “total number of illegal broadcast stations known to us for this period is 99.
And that is it from this very delayed and extended newsletter and I hope more will be forthcomming on other subjects this all depends on my health situation.
Any mention of radio stations and services included on this newsletter are intended purely and simply as NEWS. They do not imply any support, endorsement or otherwise of the reported stations. We are forced to include such a disclaimer as UK law makes it an offence to support or endorse any unlicensed radio stations. And have in the past threatened legitimate news media with prosecution as they were deemed to be supporting these stations.
SAS Interference is published by the Surrey Anorak’s Society and is for private circulation within the membership of the Society and interested parties, copyright of the Surrey Anorak’s Society or its’ authors with all rights reserved. No part may be reproduced without the written or verbal consent of the society.