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12 Feb

London’s Pirate Radio Pioneers

by amfmLondon amfm.org.uk

Tracing the history of London’s original dance music stations through clips, music and contemporary news reports and interviews.

The beginning

It seems crazy now, but in 1980 there were just three stations playing popular music in London: Capital Radio, Radio One and BBC Radio London. Even worse, the music licensing agencies restricted them to playing records for 12 hours a day or less. On Sunday evenings Radio One closed down at 7pm and Capital Radio had classical music followed by an arts programme. No wonder people wanted something better.

1980

Radio Invicta was Britain’s first soul music station. It started in 1969 but it wasn’t until the late seventies that it was on the air regularly. Before long the leading club DJs were pushing to do shows on the station as they saw the impact it was having. At this time Invicta played everything from sixties R&B to disco to the more commercial contemporary soul played by leading Soul Mafia DJs like Steve Walsh, Chris Hill and Jeff Young.

1980

Radio Invicta: Steve Walsh (RIP), Roger Tate (RIP) and Chris Hill. Thameside Radio, Britain’s first weekly FM pirate: Aleks Wright and Bob Edwards, who talks about the risks they face.

  • Light of the World – London Town
  • The Human League – Gordon’s Gin (Extract)

1981

As the technology continues to get cheaper and easier, the FM band starts filling up with stations on the air for a few hours each week with shows off C120 cassettes from the tops of towerblocks. Most have a mix of different styles: alternative, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, but pop and rock still dominate.

1981

Radio Invicta: Steve Chandler, Steve Devonne, Bluebird Records ad with Steve Walsh, Nicky Holloway. Uptown Radio, South London Radio, Radio Suburbia, Keith Allen’s Breakfast Pirate Radio. Station boss Tony Johns (RIP) talks about Invicta’s listeners and what the station means to them.

  • The Rah Band – Slide
  • MFSB – Mysteries of the World

1982

The first pirates start turning into businesses, not just hobbies, and some stations begin live broadcasts. Invicta gets regular competition from JFM and Horizon Radio, while DBC becomes the first black-owned radio station. Jazz-funk dominates the soul stations but DBC broadens from its reggae core to other black music styles.

1982

Alternative music station Radio Zodiac: Roger Vosene, Vince Cent and Mike Standing. The Dread Broadcasting Corporation: Ranking Miss P, talks about the need for a black radio station in London while Capital’s deputy head defends their programmes. JFM: boss Brian Anthony talking about the station and future Radio One DJ Jeff Young presenting.

  • Silicon Teens – Chip and Roll (Extract)
  • Ranking Miss P & Night Doctor – Striving To Be Free
  • Cocoa Tea – Lost My Sonia (Extract)

1983

A loophole in the law is found and some pirates are now on the air seven days a week. Mixing crosses the Atlantic and forward-thinking DJs start incorporating mixes on their shows for the first time. However, the more conservative soul DJs start complaining as electro becomes the new dance music sound and, like their rock refusenik counterparts, some refuse to play anything without real instruments.

1983

Horizon Radio: Greg Adams. LWR launches playing everything from pop to rock to soul – and Tim Westwood with his rap show. Radio Invicta: Steve Devonne interviews The Mastermind Roadshow’s Max LX and Leroy who talk about the reaction in clubs to their mixes.

  • Indeep – Last Night a DJ Saved My Life (12″ Version)
  • Captain Rock – The Return of Captain Rock

1984

Horizon, JFM and LWR are on the air twenty-four hours a day, but in July the Government passes a new law plugging the loophole that allowed the pirates to operate more freely and some stations close. Invicta and LWR leave the air, but in the autumn LWR is back, under new management and playing only black music. While – with a few notable exceptions – DJs aren’t really playing electro, the sound increasingly influences the rest of dance music.

1984

LWR: Tim Westwood plugs his Saturday lunchtime session at Spats, early mix DJ Barry B, alternative dance presenter Mark Mason. Alternative and metal with Phoenix Radio and Alice’s Restaurant. City Sound Radio: advert for Peckham’s Kisses Nightspot with DJs Froggy (RIP), Gordon Mac, Steve Walsh and boogie godfather George Power. Gilles Peterson on Horizon. JFM goes electro. DMC remixer Les Adams on Radio Contact. What the media and politicians were saying about the new anti-pirate laws. Gordon Mac, drivetime jock on JFM. Skyline and Horizon campaign for licences while JFM reassures listeners that its promotions are still going ahead. Radio Shoestring and LWR close down ahead of the new laws. Solar Radio launches after Horizon is taken off air in a big raid that autumn. Graham Gold presents JFM’s soul chart.

  • EBN OZN – Aeiou Sometimes Y
  • The Edgar Winter Group – Frankenstein (Extract)
  • Cybotron – Clear (Extract)
  • The Fresh Band – Come Back Lover (Extract)
  • Newcleus – Jam On It (Extract)
  • Shannon – Let the Music Play (12″ version)

1985

Raids from the authorities start getting more serious as some stations close down when the Government announces an experiment in community radio. JFM is taken out permanently by a massive raid, while Horizon and Solar leave voluntarily to apply for licences. Kiss-FM launches in the autumn to an increasingly empty FM band with boogie, underground soul and electro-funk to the fore. Wayne Smith (RIP) unleashes a new breed of digital dancehall tracks that are quick to spread through the reggae DJs on air and Under Me Sleng Teng refuses to leave the airwaves for the next year.

1985

Solar Radio promos, including Curtis Hairston (RIP) and Chuck Brown (RIP). LWR plugs their DJ services – get Tim Westwood for your wedding or pub. Horizon boss Chris Stewart closes the station down to apply for a licence, as does Solar Radio’s Paul Buick. Kiss-FM launches with Gordon Mac and Tosca. It promises it will be the first station with regular live mixing, but Paul Oakenfold just pulls out some DMC vinyl. TKO launches from former Horizon jocks. Gilles Peterson’s K-Jazz with Chris Philips.

  • Wayne Smith – Under Me Sleng Teng
  • Nu Shooz – I Can’t Wait (Long Dutch Mix) (Extract)
  • Les Adams – Hip Hop What’s Up Doc

1986

The Conservative Government axes its community radio experiment over political concerns, but there isn’t a rush to the air as new technology and the use of private detectives means stations are getting their studios regularly busted. It seems like the authorities are finally winning the war against the pirates. With the first wave of hip-hop flagging, some DJs start pushing Washington DC’s go-go as its new replacement. As the major labels put their efforts into pushing their back catalogues on CD rather than investing in new talent, so some club DJs also seem more interested in the past and rare groove is born. Some enterprising DJs start bootlegging the tracks they’re pushing on the radio.

1986

North-West London’s Time Radio. Tim Westwood ad for his new gig at Hammersmith Town Hall. Fame-FM: Scott Tracey. Starpoint-FM launches with founders Ben West and Chris Philips. Desmond D plugging him and Gordon Mac at Camden’s Electric Ballroom. Trevor Nelson on bootlegging.

  • Macattack – The Art of Drums
  • Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam – I Wonder If I Take You Home (12″ Mix) (Extract)
  • Rochelle – Magic Man (Magic Mix) (Extract)
  • Maceo and the Macks – Cross the Tracks (Extended Version)

1987

The number of pirates begins to grow again, some old names relaunch and there is a steady growth in the number of Afro-Caribbean community stations on air. Derek Boland (RIP) leaves Kiss-FM to launch WBLS – named after Kiss-FM New York’s competitor – with the cream of DJs from West-End clubs and warehouse parties but is sabotaged by rivals. House starts to appear on a few shows, usually the more soulful tracks, but London’s still gripped by rare groove.

1987

Hits-FM, Clockwork Wireless, Fresh-FM. TKO: Sir Lloyd, Ian Laird’s African show and Tony Bevins’ mix show. Kiss-FM celebrate their second birthday at The Wag. Derek B and Jez Nelson talk about pirates attacking each other. Jazzy M’s Jacking Zone on LWR. Faithless’ Maxi Jazz. Streetsounds help pay everyone’s bills pushing their numerous compilations. Starpoint goes big on acid jazz with DJ Willber (Willberforce, future One-Xtra boss) and Galliano’s Rob Gallagher.

  • Hardrock Soul Movement – Double Def Fresh (Scratch Side) (Extract)
  • Raze – Break 4 Love (Original Mix)
  • Galliano – Frederick Lies Still

1988

The FM band explodes with new pirates. Cheaper, increasingly robust and more secure technology makes it easier to get on air while the growth in stations tempts more to try and then the sheer number of them on air makes it easier to stay around. Rare groove finally loses its dominance as more DJs get into house, especially as it mutates into acid house and more local productions make it to the shops. As the year ends, stations close down in order to be considered for new licences being offered by the Government.

1988

Starpoint-FM: Chris Philips and Jez Nelson invite listeners to page in questions on any topic for a late-night talk show. More new stations: Studio-FM, Groove-FM, London Rock, Radio Jennifer, Sky Radio, CRN, RJR, London Greek Radio, RFM, London Asian Radio, Fun Radio, Time Radio, PCR, CD-93. Kiss-FM’s Word, a round-up of music news, what’s on and interviews with Tony Farsides and Lisa I’Anson. Danny Rampling goes full loved-up, Judge Jules jumping on the acid house bandwagon, Matt Black and Jonathan More. Lindsay Wesker on Kiss leaving the air to go legal. Kiss-FM’s pirate closedown with Gordon Mac, LWR’s second closedown.

  • Steve Reich – Electric Counterpoint 1. Fast (Extract)
  • LNR – Work It To The Bone (Extract)
  • Corporation of One – The Real Life (Original Mix)
  • Baby Ford – Oochy Koochy
  • Turntable Orchestra – You’re Gonna Miss Me (Club Mix) (Extract)

1989

With the older stations off-air the FM band goes crazy. Every part of London gets its own black community station pumping out reggae, dancehall, lovers rock and soca. Then, as the summer party season begins, the first 24-hour rave stations start to appear with a new generation of DJs playing a mix of house, acid house, Italian disco and pitched-up electro. Together these two groups set the template for the next twenty-five years of pirate radio in London.

1989

Gordon Mac on Kiss going legal. The black community pirates: Traffic Jam, Lightning, Twilight, Tropical, WLIB, Passion. LWR fails to get a licence and returns yet again. Even more stations: the indie Q102 with Steve Lamacq, Eurojam, Faze-1. The birth of the rave pirates: Sunrise-FM starts to move from soul music to rave: Ellis D, Centreforce, Injection. Fantasy-FM: Shadowfax talks about the station, DJ Hype, Freedom warehouse party ad, Mystery Man, DJ Rap. Closing words from Kiss-FM engineer Andy Howard (RIP).

  • Home T, Cocoa Tea, Shabba Ranks – Pirates’ Anthem
  • Doug Lazy – Let It Roll (Extract)
  • The Octagon Man – Freer Than Free
  • Renegade Soundwave – The Phantom (Extract)

Read more about all these stations in the book London’s Pirate Pioneers.

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