Do any pirate ships still exist

Discuss UK-based Radio outside the South East of England
e.g. Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds & Manchester
'Legal' radio topics often go here too.
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Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by OgreVorbis » Sun Oct 21, 2018 2:28 am

Does anyone know any pirates that still broadcast from a ship? It seems like the ideal location imo.

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by Albert H » Sun Oct 21, 2018 2:49 am

The American government still own several radio ships, but they're mothballed these days. It's no longer really economical to operate from a ship. To get significant coverage on AM, you need a very big mast, which necessitates a very big (and therefore very expensive) ship. You need to be in international waters - every country in the world has some form of "Marine Offences Act" which makes offshore broadcasting illegal - so tendering the ship would be difficult and expensive. The price of diesel oil to run generators has rocketed....
Besides - AM is the only feasible medium for widespread coverage, and who wants to listen to their music in sub-telephone quality mono?
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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by McDonalds » Sun Oct 21, 2018 10:20 am

Caroline on 648 am still does.
though the TX site is in East Suffolk.

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by Albert H » Wed Oct 24, 2018 2:42 am

Yes - Caroline with their "through a sock" modulation "quality"! The 648kHz sounds truly horrible. If they want good AM quality, they need to get rid of that nasty BW processor and put in an Inovonics 222 which costs less than half as much and provides the correct audio bandwidth, compression and limiting with little distortion. It's an all-analogue processor - I should know, because I consulted on its design!

The other problem that Caroline has is that they're inaudible at night if the listener is any more than five miles from their site. Their puny kilowatt is completely crushed by a Slovenian station in one direction, and a Spanish one in the other. They may as well switch the rig off from sunset to sunrise each day, and conserve some power!
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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by drumandbasshead010 » Fri Oct 26, 2018 3:23 pm

Why anyone would listen to anything on AM - bar an anorak - is beyond me.

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by oldskoollondon » Fri Oct 26, 2018 9:38 pm

I grew up listening to Caroline on 558 in the 80's, so I tune in for nostalgiac reasons. It certainly sounds rough though without the old Optimod processing.

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by Albert H » Sat Oct 27, 2018 2:58 am

drumandbasshead010 wrote:
Fri Oct 26, 2018 3:23 pm
Why anyone would listen to anything on AM - bar an anorak - is beyond me.
You'd be quite pleasantly surprised just how many Dutch kids listen to AM over here in the Netherlands - even these days. There have been a whole load of ex-pirates who were given AM licences. They're supposed to be for a Watt or two, but many of them run a lot more than that and the NRA usually turn a blind eye unless they cause gross interference! There's some interesting radio going on all over the AM band - and there's plenty of space for everyone since the French and Germans closed down their huge numbers of AM stations, leaving the band clear for everyone else to play with!

Back in the late 70's, I ran a small station on Sundays up at the top end of the medium waveband. (1510 kHz then 1503 kHz when the 9 kHz channel spacing came in). The rigs were battery powered, using rotary converters to get the HT for the valves. I had a cracking little AM circuit, using an 807 in the final using "series-gate" modulation (no big mod transformer needed) which gave around 15 Watts carrier and about 110% positive-going mod and 95% negative-going mod which sounded great and worked well. The aerials I tended to use were either inverted-V or just slopers from a high tree, and the earth was generally a buried dustbin! A couple of car batteries and some pre-recorded programmes and away it went! From its various sites in the Netherlands and Belgium, it got weekly reports from the UK, Germany, Poland and all the rest of northern Europe - with an "entertainment-quality" signal during daylight. I used to assume that a rig would last about 3 months, so always had a few back-up ones ready-built for use!
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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by drumandbasshead010 » Sat Oct 27, 2018 12:24 pm

Albert H wrote:
Sat Oct 27, 2018 2:58 am
drumandbasshead010 wrote:
Fri Oct 26, 2018 3:23 pm
Why anyone would listen to anything on AM - bar an anorak - is beyond me.
You'd be quite pleasantly surprised just how many Dutch kids listen to AM over here in the Netherlands - even these days. There have been a whole load of ex-pirates who were given AM licences. They're supposed to be for a Watt or two, but many of them run a lot more than that and the NRA usually turn a blind eye unless they cause gross interference! There's some interesting radio going on all over the AM band - and there's plenty of space for everyone since the French and Germans closed down their huge numbers of AM stations, leaving the band clear for everyone else to play with!

Back in the late 70's, I ran a small station on Sundays up at the top end of the medium waveband. (1510 kHz then 1503 kHz when the 9 kHz channel spacing came in). The rigs were battery powered, using rotary converters to get the HT for the valves. I had a cracking little AM circuit, using an 807 in the final using "series-gate" modulation (no big mod transformer needed) which gave around 15 Watts carrier and about 110% positive-going mod and 95% negative-going mod which sounded great and worked well. The aerials I tended to use were either inverted-V or just slopers from a high tree, and the earth was generally a buried dustbin! A couple of car batteries and some pre-recorded programmes and away it went! From its various sites in the Netherlands and Belgium, it got weekly reports from the UK, Germany, Poland and all the rest of northern Europe - with an "entertainment-quality" signal during daylight. I used to assume that a rig would last about 3 months, so always had a few back-up ones ready-built for use!
When you say 'kids' do you mean it literally? Because I was just about to make the point that I'm probably a lot younger than most on here which might explain why I'm not as much of an appreciate of AM.
I know it was the business back in the 70's and that and I can see why one would listen for the purposes of nostalgia and such, but I still think that it won't last too long.
But, alas, wasn't the FM predicted to die out this year, now it's 2020? I've a feeling we'll be seeing that deadline go up and up - wouldn't say the FM's going anywhere.

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by yellowbeard » Sat Oct 27, 2018 5:19 pm

They still make DAB radios with AM on - never mind FM. I am in Ireland and the DAB coverage here is about 25% of the population and maybe 15% of the land mass. The stations on DAB are the same as the legal ones on FM, (bland commercial music or old men talking politics or sport) but they don't sound as good. That's why FM isn't dead here anyway. As for AM, I would go on it too if they gave me a licence.

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by dave.parsons » Sat Oct 27, 2018 11:22 pm

I recall reading about stereo test transmissions on AM - Albert do you know anything about that ?

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by Effemm » Sun Oct 28, 2018 10:03 am

I remember in the 80's whilst tuning into Les Adams DMC show on Luxembourg i remember my Stereo indicator would flash/stay a solid light often on various freqs but at the time i thought it was a fault in my set up...

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by drumandbasshead010 » Sun Oct 28, 2018 6:08 pm

yellowbeard wrote:
Sat Oct 27, 2018 5:19 pm
They still make DAB radios with AM on - never mind FM. I am in Ireland and the DAB coverage here is about 25% of the population and maybe 15% of the land mass. The stations on DAB are the same as the legal ones on FM, (bland commercial music or old men talking politics or sport) but they don't sound as good. That's why FM isn't dead here anyway. As for AM, I would go on it too if they gave me a licence.
With you here mate. While the RTÉ offer the nation more stations on DAB, I wouldn't call it "more choice". They're mostly pretty crap. And I'd say it's more than 25% coverage (Dublin, Cork and Limerick plus environes in some cases). Hopefully the new DAB MUX in Cork brings something different. There's a pirate that's literally just left the airwaves trying to get on it.

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by Albert H » Mon Oct 29, 2018 1:16 am

dave.parsons wrote:
Sat Oct 27, 2018 11:22 pm
I recall reading about stereo test transmissions on AM - Albert do you know anything about that ?
About 35 years ago, there were two competing AM stereo systems tried out on some stations in the USA - the Kahn "ISB" system (Independent Side Bands) and Motorola C-QAM which used a "quadrature" system (not too dissimilar to FM Stereo). Both required increased transmitter bandwidth - a problem with shortened, High-Q aerial systems - and there was a third system (Belar) that never really got beyond a few tests. None of the systems really ever gave a convincing stereo performance - separation was always poor, and degraded reception (particularly at night) could destroy the stereo content altogether. The incompatibility between methods also didn't make for widespread uptake of the receivers.

AM stereo arrived too late in the game - FM had largely taken over as the music medium, with talk stations moving to AM. The ISB system was dropped in favour of C-QAM on the few stations that tried stereo, and a few American stations still broadcast it. You can still buy C-QAM receivers in the USA and Canada. The Australians also had a brief flirtation with C-QAM, but it's been dropped now.

AM is actually quite capable of reasonable audio quality - especially for mobile reception - if efforts are taken to process the audio properly, and the modulation depth is sufficient. The coverage that's possible at relatively low power - in the daytime - far outweighs the typical FM pirate coverage. Some years ago, we tried out a "tower block sloper" aerial with just 8 Watts carrier / 30 Watts peak from a site in Hackney, East London and got coverage of much of the south-east of England in the daytime! We had the advantage of an otherwise unoccupied frequency (used by France at weekends for sports coverage - sometimes), and a full quarter-wave aerial.

TBH - I'd suggest that it might be worth some stations looking at AM. There's acres of space since many of the European stations shut down and OFCOM won't bother looking for you unless you cause lots of interference. It's possible to build a good quality, PLL-controlled AM rig for under £100. The aerial is usually the only problem, but if you go for a tower-block sloper, the results can be spectacular!
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"Because it doesn't know the words!"
;)

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by dave.parsons » Fri Nov 23, 2018 12:29 am

Albert H wrote:
Mon Oct 29, 2018 1:16 am
dave.parsons wrote:
Sat Oct 27, 2018 11:22 pm
I recall reading about stereo test transmissions on AM - Albert do you know anything about that ?
TBH - I'd suggest that it might be worth some stations looking at AM. There's acres of space since many of the European stations shut down and OFCOM won't bother looking for you unless you cause lots of interference. It's possible to build a good quality, PLL-controlled AM rig for under £100. The aerial is usually the only problem, but if you go for a tower-block sloper, the results can be spectacular!
Albert, AM interests me but obviously the antenna is a problem. Would a coiled antenna work for AM (so in effect I shorten 200 metres of wire by coiling it) ?

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by Albert H » Mon Nov 26, 2018 10:42 am

dave.parsons wrote:
Fri Nov 23, 2018 12:29 am
Albert, AM interests me but obviously the antenna is a problem. Would a coiled antenna work for AM (so in effect I shorten 200 metres of wire by coiling it) ?
It works, but not efficiently. One aerial I built (with some success) for the top of medium wave used two 8m fibreglass fishing rods and had coils wound along them. They met at a BNC T-piece and when this effort was hung from a tall tree, it was quite resonant on my frequency of choice (after some messing with the coils) and the match was pretty good. Unfortunately, the bandwidth was incredibly tight - the modulation beyond 1.5kHz was almost not there! I applied enormous amounts of "top boost" to the audio, but it still sounded muffled! There's a description of how to build one of these in the RSGB aerial manual, but they point out that it's only good for fixed frequency SSB or CW operation.

There are lots of other simple aerials that work well - especially if you have a good earth. The "inverted-L" was every '70s pirate's favourite and the big trick was to get the vertical bit as long as possible.

One aerial I rigged up at college used a ~19.5m vertical wire going up to four nylon rope guy lines coming from the roofs of two buildings. There were short wires along the guy lines, and a "hoop" of wire that went around all four, providing a capacity "hat". The vertical was fed at the bottom through a big diameter coil to get a reasonable match (the coil was would around a big glass preserving jar!), and our puny 4 Watts carrier / 15 Watts peak AM signal went for miles! The aerial was only about 10% of a wavelength high, but it worked remarkably well. In that case, we earthed the rig to both the mains earth and to the water supply pipes coming into the site, which were like cast iron.

A friend of mine claimed that he could get "anything" to match on medium wave, so I got him to load a rig into a 8m scaffold pole. He made it work really well, but it needed a huge capacity hat to get any useable bandwidth! The efficiency was quite poor, though, despite the aerial analyser showing a 50Ω resistive match at the end of the feedline.

You need to get as much vertical wire into the air as you can - a sloper isn't ideal, but can be made to work really well from a tall building!
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"Because it doesn't know the words!"
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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by dave.parsons » Thu Nov 29, 2018 8:40 pm

Albert H wrote:
Mon Nov 26, 2018 10:42 am

You need to get as much vertical wire into the air as you can - a sloper isn't ideal, but can be made to work really well from a tall building!

Thanks Albert.

I don't actually know much about AM compared to FM propagation (though have looked into it before for USB on 27.555). From what I can remember AM will travel over land contours ?

And Long Waves really do go a long way ! The thought of submarines trailing an incredibly long antenna absolutely fascinates me. I think that's what the Rugby array of antennae were for ?


Years back I found and printed off a diagram of what frequencies are used for (from the bottom of the ultra lows to the top of the ultra highs) - made for interesting reading. I've probably still got it somewhere, though would have changed a bit now.

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by FMEnjoyer » Fri Nov 30, 2018 8:48 pm

Great reading and seems hugely awkward, but AM also seems mysterious and enigmatic. Actually it is that enigma and mysterious nature about pirating that has all but been lost. I remember the intrigue and excitement of hearing a new station on a Saturday, irrelevant of music type and there was a big range of music in the late 80's through the 90's. You had house, acid, hardcore, jungle, rock, Europop, Indie music. It felt like a golden age to me.. although I guess there were golden ages for others of different ages.

It was really exciting, I wish there was some creativity or just mystique put into radio again that brought back the excitement, we are long due something exciting on AM or FM. You always wondered from where it was coming from and I loved the dead air and pops and crackles/hisses and link systems switching on and off and listening to them switching off at the end of TX for the weekenders.

Naughty but nice.

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by Albert H » Sun Dec 02, 2018 1:58 pm

FMEnjoyer - you're right! The "golden age" was the late 70s into the mid-80s. After that, the serious criminal element discovered the advantages that "owning" a station could provide, promoting warehouse parties in particular, generating a ready market for their illegal pharmaceuticals.... The fun went out of the game around 1985 - the change to the Law (it became a "Criminal" rather than a "Civil" matter) and the big money that got involved ruined it for everyone. From '85 onwards, we ended up with endless clone stations , all playing their "brand" of the same dance crap. They were all similarly unlistenable, and pirate radio in London (in particular) became small bunches of kids playing crap records to other small bunches of kids who went to the same clubs. The mass audiences that earlier stations like Jackie, JFM, Horizon, Skyline and Thameside had got were a thing of the past.

Pirate Radio is dead in most cities now. The rise of the internet means that it's no longer necessary to risk life and limb going up tower blocks - it can be done from home entirely legally and for little cost. There's still room for AM pirates covering regions, and SW pirates covering continental distances!
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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by FMEnjoyer » Sat Dec 08, 2018 9:16 am

Nice reply Albert your insider knowledge always respected. You are an interesting fella, you have some close ties with the pirate scene of the past and seemingly managed to capatalise on your RF engineering skills. Hats off.

However think your short sharp take down of a few parties and kids is a bit off the mark. When house made it over here from the U.S. and morphed into acid and happy hardcore it was a very important cultural event for those going through that scene in the U.K. and beyond. The music was new exciting and brought a lot of young people together and built memories that will last a life time.

I cannot comment on any of the other crime related to pirate radio cause I don't know anything about it. But a lot of people had very meaningful times listening to music that let people forget their boring lives for a while each weekend. It is one of societies pressure relief valves.






It meant a lot to many people. The late 80's and 90's would have been a lot worse without rave culture.

However it did seem that mid 90's onwards and late 90's that the vibe got lost on the radio and rock/Indie/rock n roll radio all but vanished which was very sad. And were left with a few jungle stations and house.. then UK garage etc. came along. It had lost its love and respect vibe by then for whatever reasons and got a bit moody.

There is a lot of music out there and it has no representation on pirate radio. As far as I am concerned pirate radio now is similar to commercial radio and has hardly any interest for me. Pirating used to be done as a hobby for fun and the thrill of it and to air something out of the ordinary and now just to run a string of ads I guess. I am sure there are real enthusiasts in the minority and music lovers involved but in the main lost its roots.

The rave scene was HUGE, exciting and fresh and it is not fair to totally dismiss it I reckon.

I like reading your posts on here as I suspect many do. Thanks for taking the time.

I do wish the fun would come back into it all. I know the kit has to be paid for but surely the fun and buzz of it is worthwhile in itself. Or maybe now it is not.

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Re: Do any pirate ships still exist

Post by dave.parsons » Sat Dec 08, 2018 8:41 pm

I suspect another problem is that most people just don't think of radio as an entertainment medium anymore, other than when they're in the car.

I'm lucky enough that I can always have a radio on while I'm working (either in the office or out in the field), but for most smartphones and the internet seem to be the staple medium of entertainment these days.

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