October 3, 2013

The Origins of Free Radio

Free radio, the term at the head of the free radio movement, and frequently a synonym of pirated radio, has seen much evolution since its introduction in 1960. To get the full story, however, we will begin at free radio’s origins.

Free radio’s predecessor was pirate radio. Any station that wasn’t licensed by the laws presented in 1912 was declared a pirate station, and most of them were shut down. However, a hand full of broadcasters around the globe continued their air wave efforts from transmitter equipped ships in international waters. Sometimes the motivations were political, sometimes they commercial, but in any case they were difficult to prosecute.

It was in San Francisco in 1960 that the “free radio” variety of pirate radio came into being. At the time, directly following the famous “Summer of Love,” a number of small time broadcasters courageously began transmitting from land based locations. While many were shut down, protesters were vocal about this decision. Both listeners and broadcasters declared that the media should be free, and not merely accessible to the large stations who were able to gain monopolistic control over the radio frequencies.

The phrase “pirate radio” had come to describe the groups known as border blaster who, although less commonly by that point, still sent signals from off shore. Listeners, legal groups, and transmitters of these illegal inland stations dubbed the broadcasts “free radio,” both to differentiate it from ocean based transmissions and to tie it with its political motivations.

From that point forward, a number of free radio stations have sprung up. Radio technology has become more affordable and accessible for amateurs, so group expression through this medium has become more common. Many of the advocates of free radio fight for legal rights to broadcast in this way.

Other modern radio brought about in part by the free radio movement include web broadcasts (which are legal if they license any music correctly), collective radio stations that allow individuals or small groups to have their own show on a licensed frequency, and the continuation of both land and sea based illegal transmissions.