Battle Times For Pirate Radio

Daily News (19 June, 1986) Clair Wolf

How the city's illegal station is surviving despite the raids

UB40's Ali Campbell: "Let Them Continue"

Battle Times For Pirate Radio

"THAT was Sweet Reggae Music by Nitty Gritty. And now listeners, I've got something to interest you.

  "We are holding a sports day and anyone interested in a five-a-side football or netball should drop us a line. Write to me Calton C."

  The next record by Birmingham musician Pato Banton was followed by a radio request to 20 AA and Sister Theik.

  The reception is clear, the DJ rota well-organised and the station as all the hallmarks of a legitimate community radio station aimed at the Asian and Afro-Caribbean minorities.

  Instead Birmingham's Peoples Community Radio Line, on 103.5 FM is a pirate station which failed to win a Home Office licence and has become a thorn in the side of the authorities.

  Despite 24 raids by Department of Trade and Industry officials, when all their equipment was seized, PCRL has vowed to stay on the air until legalised.

  Every day is a battle to evade detection. The 25 volunteers move secretly to ever-changing studio base, and rely on tip-offs to out-wit the law enforcers.

  When I visited them in their Edbaston base, used solely as a mail-drop, a slite fuzziness marred the reception for a few seconds. They immediately sent someone down to the studio to find out if there was any trouble. It was a false alarm.

Gave our blood

  The slogan "We gave our blood and we sweat now. All we demand is our black music" hangs above the door.

 The presenters known by such colourful names as Calypso Queen, Princess and Lady D, play Afro-Caribbean, Indian and Gospel music with a predominance of reggae.They drew many listeners from areas like Handsworth, which is heavily populated with blacks and Asians, but boast that their one million plus audience stretches to Wolverhampton and Droitwich.

  They say they refuse to quit because they fill a gap in the radio network and have become an important and indispensable voice for the minorities since setting up in 1980.

 Oganisers warned that listeners, many of them unemployed, view a clamp down on PCRL as a restriction on their freedom.

Their phones are jammed with irate listeners whenever are forced off the air, many of them viewing the action as a personal attack.

  "There is always a danger of some of them demonstration their anger on the streets," said a leading spokesman. "We always try to get back on the air as quickly as possible to calm them down before trouble a dares.

  "A lot of unemployed youngsters stay at home to listen to us instead of going on the streets where they risk running into trouble." He said he feared the authorities would only appreciate their role as peace-keepers if they were forced off the air for more than a fortnight.

  The station's musical content is indisputably unique to the area. They also provide the biggest outfit for new up and coming Midlands musicians.

  Tapes flood in from undiscovered bands and some record companies even patronise the station by sending in albums of artists in need of air play

  The city's independent station, BRMB, puts their own costs at just under  £1 million a year.

  With the help of new technology, PCRL manages to get away with a fraction of this with a total outlay around £4,000. About £400 is needed to replace equipment after each raid.

  But PCRL's organisers told me: "If advertising kept us on the air, we wouldn't be her." The finances are somewhat bizarre. Local businessmen just starting out get a plug on the station in exchange for a donation.

  Donations also pour in from listeners who dig deeper into their pockets whenever equipment is seized.

  While I was there, the daily post produced a pile of cheques, letters of support and free albums sent by the reputable record companies.

  The phones were still buzzing with anxious listeners who had just experienced a radio black-out caused by the latest raid.

  Several budding bands also rang in to be assured their taped  music had arrived and would be listened to with a view to putting it out. Many of the callers are also after free help, either in broadcasting a birthday message or in appealing for the return of stolen goods.

  In return, the station has a long list of possible studio bases offered by listeners in the event of another raid.

  They also get offers to guard the studios, a move they they have so far resisted.The presenters are mainly jobless and clearly enjoy the unpaid work.

  They are quite happy to see the small profits being spend on free social events like discos and Christmas parties for children and the elderly in the community.

  The sports day announcement is the latest venture.

  Several hundred pounds has also gone to charity including sickle cell anaemia research,which affects blacks.

 Gospel music presenter George Franklin said: "The station is a part of us.

  We feel close to the community and do it joyfully. I use my own record collection and from the feedback I get to know it's in tune with what listeners want."

  The pirate station gets no sympathy from BRMB or the Home Office.   And they risk a maximum penalty of a £2,000 fine and three months in jail.  A BRMB spokesman said: "This is probably the most insistent pirate station we've come across in the Midlands.

  We want action taken to stop them.  "PCRL is escaping all payment to official bodies.

  We pay an enormous amount to people like  Performing Rights Society for playing records and the Independent Broadcasting Association for the use of their transmitter. "We spent not much short of £1 million a year to operate before we pay staff  or rent buildings".

  As far a BRMB was concerned, they were already providing a lot of music for ethnic minorities an 1984 won an award for their output from the Asian Listeners and Viewers Association.

  "We pay a significant amount of black music in the day and we've a lot of West Indian and Afro-Caribbean origin listeners," he said.

   "We have a two-hour slot for Asian music on Friday and an Afro-Caribbean programme of about one and half hours. "Part of our application put to IBA when we set up 12 years ago was a pledge to run an Asian programme and we stuck to it."

  A Home Office spokesman said pirate stations created anarchy and often muscled in on air space which had been allocated elsewhere.

   "They break the law by not having a licence, they are liable to cause interference and they undermine legitimate stations by stealing copyright and snatching advertising."her said.

  A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said they had received complaints that PCRL broke into car radio airways used by the emergency services.

  "We will find then wherever they are and prosecute. Anyone involved in the station faces a penalty," she said.

  PCRL organisers say they will gladly abide by all the regulations if they are given a licence.


  But They feel they were dealt a bitter blow in 1980 when the new community radio franchise went to Solihull, preventing them from applying for it.

  The campaign for a local station to focus more on the culture and music of the city's ethnic minorities began ten years ago.

  A PCRL spokesman said a group negotiated for better coverage with the BBC and BRMB but failed to achieve as much as they had hoped.

  He said frustrations were building up and black community leaders felt tension would be erased by setting up a separate station which they could identify with. "It reached the stage where the Government, The BBC and TBM were blind to what was going on,"" he said. To plug the gap, two pirate radio stations sprang up - Sounds Alternative and later Radio Star, which broadcast at weekends.

  Attempts were made to legitimise Radio Star and there were hopes that it would be successful in vying for a community radio franchise.   It was expected that at least two of the 21 stations being offered by the Government would go to Birmingham. Instead it got none. But extra ones are being planned for London.

The PCRL studio

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