Pirates still rule the waves

Have I mentioned before that I own one-and-a-half radio stations?  Well, I do.  They are internet radio stations playing variations of dance music (what other kind of music is there?).

I suppose they must be very popular because both appear to have well-wishers who have stuck massive FM transmitters up on, I’d assume, tower-blocks, in order to rebroadcast them on FM across London.

We have no control over this strange thing that these well-wishers have done, and we don’t condone it as it is illegal.  We even have strict notices on our websites saying that we are for the internet delivery only and no re-broadcasting is allowed.

Nevertheless our programming appears to be covering London, and I would assume, drawing conventional radio listeners to us.

When a person listens on FM it is impossible to measure them.  In contrast, we can monitor our internet streams and get an exact profile of who, where, when.

I’m composing this article at 1 in the afternoon on a Friday, and looking at the figures for just one of the stations, I can see that across the streams we currently have just over 800 concurrent listeners.  That’s quite low for some reason. We usually peak at about 2,000 concurrent listeners during popular shows.

Our programming can be heard by anybody going to our website, via an iPhone app, and via various other phone apps dedicated to streaming ‘internet radio’.

We allow interactivity via Facebook and Twitter, having, in the six months of our existence, accumulated over 5,000 ‘Friends’ (yet only 900 ‘likes’) and 7,000 ‘followers’.

During the shows, listeners are encouraged to make ‘missed calls’ or send texts to either of two phones in the studio, as well to send ‘tweets’.  The average hour of a ‘good’ show receives about 600 of these from about 200 different people.

It’s all a steady response that is small but consistent enough to satisfy our advertisers and providers of contra deals.

What we have are creatively-free personality-led semi-specialist DJs picking and playing the music and saying what they want to say.  We strictly enforce a rule that all songs played must be ‘radio’ edits with all extreme bad language masked, and likewise the DJ must moderate the content of his patter accordingly, plus not encourage or talk about any illegal activity, such as drugs and ‘gang-speak’.  And, obviously, they mustn’t actually acknowledge that the station is available on FM, since this is being done illegally and without our consent.

Outside of those little rules, the DJ is free to do what he or she wants.  This means that some DJs remain quite (to my mind) boring and traditional, whilst others are able to freely grow their on-air personality, which in turn seems to grow the listener response.

All about our philosophy seems to be in complete contrast with other commercial radio stations around the country, including those with legal FM signals, who are going through a culling-the-DJ phase and noticing their listener response and interactivity dropping the more and more they become just a jukebox.

Now then.  I cite all this as evidence that what those radio stations are doing is wrong, whilst what we are doing is right!

Our income happily pays for our studio equipment repairs, electricity and rent for a small lock-up from which to operate, with a small profit on top (not enough to actually live on or to pay for a massive cocaine habit).

In addition to believing that what we are doing is right, I believe it is evidence that small radio stations can happily flourish as long as they have the right format that truly connects with the audience.  I can’t pretend that the well-wisher broadcasting us on FM doesn’t influence the success of the station, and if, in that respect, I was to compare the audience for the FM pirates of the 80s and 90s with us today, then I’d reckon that they are about the same as they were ‘back in the day’, just a different generation wanting a different music, as is always the case.

I wouldn’t ever sanction the use of an illegal FM transmitter of course, but there does seem to be a demand for stations that are raw, grass-roots and a million miles away from what the ‘establishment’ is providing, the ‘pirates’. It’s the same demand that started being catered for in the 60s when the pirate radio ships arrived, and then came to land and has been catered for via tower-blocks ever since.

It’s amazing to think that after all these decades, the commercial radio sector is still not providing anything close to what is being provided by the ‘pirates’ to help satisfy the actual listeners.  As the need for ‘through-air’ broadcasting bands (such as FM) declines, as everything becomes ‘equalised’ on the ‘internet’ as a delivery platform, then stations like ours will be on a equal footing with the huge unwieldy radio broadcasting organisations.

Will they have any listeners then?

Will the responsibility for providing ‘radio’ transfer to the hands of the budget operators?

Let’s hope so.