Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Essential reading

It's probably fair to say that we've all had a little more time on our hands during lockdown. I've been working full time from home which means that although I'm working just as many hours as usual, I only have to commute to my radio room rather than sit on a train for several hours. So, as well as listening to the pirate radio scene more than I have done in a good while, I've also had plenty of time for endlessly browsing website and social media.

Although I've spent way too many hours watching video clips of people making houses out of bamboo and tables from tree trunks and epoxy resin, I've also found some pretty interesting stuff, which I can share with you here.

A regular reader of these pages and a big free radio supporter down the years is Charles Bowman. He writes his own blog too, on which he recently talked about his relationship with pirate radio. You can view his words here, or take a read below. He makes some fascinating points as he talks about life with and without the pirate scene and how he has been pulled back to the bands in recent years:

Aged in my early teens in the Autumn of 1990, little could I have known that randomly tuning around the international shortwave bands on a basic analogue radio one Sunday morning would spark a hobby that has, albeit intermittently, endured to this day.

Already moderately aware of what could be heard using just a bog standard wireless and built in telescopic antenna, I was nevertheless surprised that Sunday morning to hear British(and Irish) accents and contemporary pop music in one specific area, the 48/49 metre band, approximately between 6100 – 6400 Khz. These ‘stations’ sounding more as if broadcasting from my neighbourhood than over the international broadcasting spectrum transpired to be pirate, or Free Radio operators, to correctly moniker the scene’s preferred title.

The early days of UK pirate radio activity inevitably went hand in hand with offshore broadcasting, including the pioneering and most famous exponent of its genre, Radio Caroline. As broadcasting from ships was in reality the preserve and luxury of the few,  transmitting from bedrooms, garden sheds, and out in the field, the latter seen as the least likely location to be detected, became the norm for hundreds, perhaps thousands of UK-based FM and shortwave stations. The three stations I first heard that October morning were to be no exception.

Of the tripartite of stations – Ozone Radio International, Radio 48, and Live Wire Radio – I became great friends but sadly lost contact with ‘Mr. Live Wire’. Powering out a strong and stable signal which reached North America, this English-based operator became for many years a firm favourite amongst free radio aficionados for his initial broadcasts on the 6.6 Mhz ‘Echo Charlie’ band before migrating to where most of the action lay on 48 and 76 metres, with also some notable broadcasts in FM mode on 15 Mhz.
My interest in free radio continued to grow. Once it became apparent that these three stations were but the tip of the iceberg I dedicated my weekends, in particular Sunday mornings, to hearing, and contacting, as many operators as possible. Some great listening ensued, from the likes of Weekend Music Radio in Scotland, to Radio Confusion and its nominal successor Subterranean Sounds based in the south of England. With as many if not far more shortwave operators located in the Netherlands but relatively few elsewhere in continental Europe, I all of a sudden became a correspondent at 14-years of age with exotically sounding stations like Radio Orangutan, Ozone, and in the years to come Radio Fusion from Sweden, and the French-based Radio Waves International.
As my teenage life progressed and atmospheric conditions made listening at times in the mid-1990’s almost impossible I increasingly dipped in and out of free radio, as did some of its higher profile operators. Some disappeared for good; others, like Live Wire Radio concentrated on medium wave broadcast amongst the many Dutch operators around 1636-1660 Khz and nighttime 3 Mhz programmes. Perhaps it was often forgotten by listeners lamenting an absence of their favourite stations but operators too also have lives, relationships, and changes of circumstances just as we all do.
The early to mid 90’s undoubtedly contained a golden generation of UK shortwave free radio stations, or, perhaps as a relative youngster had I been taken in by the notion that everything was better in the past, at least compared to our current technologically advanced but spiritually and morally bereft era? This isn’t though a hagiographic depiction of life as it was, merely to paint a pejorative picture of modern life. Quite simply, be it a crop of footballers, pop groups, or free radio stations, clusters of those bound together by a shared passion and/or skill do without rhyme or reason inexplicably occur in tandem. It is not for us to ask why – there often isn’t an answer – but to simply enjoy a period of time all the more fleeting before it eventually flies too close to the sun or circumstances get the better of it.
As atmospheric conditions fluctuate on a daily basis – something that has happened time immemorial – the one constant that hampered operators and listeners alike was an inexorable increase in background noise, electrical interference – call it what you will. The proliferation of electrical devices within households and subsequent everyday normalcy of handheld telephones has made conventional listening with a radio and longwire antenna a thing of frustration for those in built up areas.
The advent of Software Defined Radio(SDR) now enables listeners to hear stations wherever SDR receivers are located. Should for example an individual audience member based in Manchester find online an SDR located in Sweden, he or she can then hear the shortwave bands as if they were sitting back with a coffee and cigar in Stockholm, or wherever in Sweden the remote receiver happens to be based. Should a report be filed to the station its operator will then know that he is being heard in Sweden, albeit by a listener based in the north west of England. Is this cheating? Maybe, but if it helps keep the art of shortwave free radio alive I view this as one piece of modern technology that hasn’t completely unromanticized the notion of the one man band, homebrew operator broadcasting from where, who know where, to be heard on a laptop or smartphone instead of more traditional equipment.
The current Covid-19 outbreak has for me been a twofold issue. Locked down, quarantined, call it what you will and what the population are having to endure is of course a problem for all, not just me. I also though succumbed to Coronavirus, which heralded some dark, uncertain days before my eventual but slow recuperation took effect. This, and the generic lockdown has given me plenty of time to think, rest, fret, but also dip my toe back into the world of free radio.
Although sounding very different to its heyday I have enjoyed rolling back the years, both from the simple act of listening and being frustrated by trampolining conditions and stations that fail to identify themselves, but also hearing several operators that I haven’t done so for years, or those who I have happened across purely because of my incapacitation.
A QSL card is a written confirmation from a station that the listener indeed heard its output, and something which became collectable in all sphere of radio listening. As a youngster I received by default many QSL cards from stations throughout the UK and overseas, including mainstream broadcasters Voice of Vietnam, Radio New Zealand International, and the Moscow-based Radio Peace and Progress. I never per se wrote to free radio operators as a QSL-hungry listener but more as a novelty of corresponding with the otherwise mysterious and faceless who took calculated or otherwise risks every time the rig was switched on.
This form of verification nevertheless found its way back from station operators to my mailbox, although sadly my archived collection has long since bitten the dust. Having though made contact during my Covid-19 hiatus with several UK and Irish stations, revisiting the ‘back in the day’ novelty of receiving QSL cards in real time has engendered strange feelings of nostalgia, but also those of simple enjoyment which in the grand scheme of modern life has become far more difficult, even to the point of ridicule.
Here are some of the recent QSL cards received during my enforced convalescence:
Radio Pamela’s operation by free radio legend Steve Most predates even my earliest interest in the pirate scene. Although a periodic broadcaster Pamela has seemingly gained a new lease of life and can be often be heard, as ‘she’ was this morning, on 6940 Khz in the 43 metre band.
As one of the original ‘classic’ pirates of the golden 90’s era, The Xenon Transmitting Company, or XTC, was first known as Radio Mutiny before adopting a more abstruse name squarely in keeping with the station operator’s identity – Tommy Teabags. I have at times gone several years without hearing XTC, whose broadcasts prior to the pandemic were limited to bank holidays. As can be seen in the above QSL XTC has once more made several very welcome appearances on the 48 metre band, with special Lockdown Special shows! As the years catch up with us all and maturity casts a depressing but necessary shadow, Mr. Teabags has now reverted back to the less outlandish sobriquet of Matt Roberts, who first identified himself as such during the early days of Radio Mutiny.
Pandora England QSL 2
The third QSL is also a fellow UK station of Pamela and XTC. Despite broadcasting since the mid-90’s operator Steve St. John has only been heard by your correspondent perhaps on a dozen occasions, with atmospheric conditions and technical problems precluding good, or any, reception of Pandora’s broadcasts. Despite approaching his 70th birthday the ever-chuckling Steve has recently been putting out some belting signals on 6322 Khz and can credit the technical expertise and advice of Live Wire Radio’s former operator with such vastly improved signal and modulation.
EQSL Radio Parade
Although present at various times during the last several months on the 76 and 48 metre bands, as well as 5.8 and 6.9 Mhz, I hadn’t previous to last week had the pleasure of officially hearing Radio Parade, another UK-based station. The obvious distinction I can make between Parade and most, if not all other free radio stations, is a particular fondness by Alex, the station operator, to broadcast instrumental, classical, and niche output. The power used and broadcasting setup, combined with the slightly higher frequencies favoured often results in Parade being barely audible in the UK, or at best heard via the North West Ireland Kiwi SDR remote receiver or that based in Arvika, Sweden. Identification is usually confirmed by sporadic canned announcements, although piano concertos and instrumental pieces act as ersatz and distinguishable points of reference.
It is impossible to say whether my rejuvenated interest in free radio will continue once fully recovered from my own brush with Covid-19, and that the strictures of lockdown have finally been loosened. It is certainly not a foregone conclusion to assume the pirate scene will always be there but in one guise or other, the 48 metre band will remain a constant to the many or few for some time yet. Fluctuations in quality and quantity of stations and atmospheric conditions are a given, but a resurgence in listening using conventional and/or SDR technology will hopefully encourage those operating to continue to do so, and perhaps too a new breed of operators to take the hobby into the next generation.

Great archive resource

Our friends at The Pirate Archive have a wonderful website which is regularly updated with wonderful recordings from across the radio spectrum. As I've mentioned before, there are also loads of copies of old radio magazines which make for great reading. And I recently came across another very handy resource with bags of reading material, which you can find here

There are copies of my own Pirate Chat magazine dating right back to January 1991 when I was just 13 years old. And you can also find all nine editions of my MW Pirate Review download from 2012, which are fun to listen to again. It's hard to believe it's been eight years since I last recorded one of these - and it's fascinating to hear recordings of stations I haven't heard on air in a good while - names like Powerliner, Amigo, Vliegende Schotel and Carona, while others are still on air now but were using different names back then, like Euromast and Marconi. It was also lovely to hear the voice of Jan (Radio Wadloper) who sadly died in March 2019.

There's loads more to find as well, including editions of Swedish-based Pirate Connection and various British publications including Anoraks UK, Activity Magazine, Argus and FRM. Well worth a visit.

Legal station MW scan

Terry's Radio Blog is a regular stop-off point for me and many other radio enthusiasts. He publishes his pirate logs nearly every single day of the year, but it was a post on April 29 that particularly caught my eye. Terry is a big pirate fan, but with some time to spare he decided to note all the legal operators he could hear at that time. It was an extensive list and made for fascinating reading. You can see it here.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Coronavirus listening

Good evening from England, where the sun is shining, we're still in coronavirus lockdown, but I'm very happy enjoying the slower pace of life, spending lots of time at home, and listening to the radio most evenings and finding lots of pirate stations on the air. I've also been doing a few tests with a new webcam, and I'm hoping to share with you some of my listening experiences during the weeks ahead.

It's been a couple of weeks since I updated the logbook here on the blog, so it's time for an update. The antenna at this side is the superb Wellbroook ALA1530 LN, which is usually connected to either the Kenwood R5000, Lowe HF-225, or the superb AOR AR-7030.

Freq      Time     Station name SINPO Type of broadcast

Tuesday, May 5, 2020
1617      1840      Marianne 44444 music programme
1615      1845      Blauwe Koe 54444 music programme
1637      1846      Concorde weak signal music programme
1647      1846      Barones 45434 music programme
1657      1846      Pecon weak signal qsoing
1640      1848      Batavier weak signal music programme
1630      1849      Schaduwjager 55444 testing
1636      1854      Alabama 45444 music programme
1665      1926      Zeepiraat 35333, 45444 at 1954 qsoing
1662      1929      Meteoor 45444 qsoing
1664      1933      Armada 45444 qsoing
1675      1938      Digitaal 45444 qsoing
1660      1951      Astronaut 25332 qsoing
1645      2105      Vonkenboer 25332 qsoing
1656      2108      Snowman 25222 music programme

     A very pleasant evening tuning around the band. I’m working full-time from home at the moment but logged off today at about 7.30pm local time, so I moved straight to the radio and was very pleased to find MW alive with pirate activity from the Netherlands. There were some cracking signals as well.
     Marianne was there with his weekly Tuesday broadcast, while Blauwe Koe was coming in very strongly. Although there was only 2kHz between these two stations it was possible to separate them and listen to one or the other. Most of the pirates these days tend to use sound processing and filters that means their audio is quite narrow and doesn’t splatter across the band and so across other stations.
     Barones was also on air tonight, using 1647 kHz and for a bit of fun was relaying Alabama live from his broadcast on 1636 kHz using a web-based SDR!
     There was a nice qso up around 1665, featuring Zeepiraat, Meteoor, Astronaut and Vonkenboer. The signals came up very well at various times, so much so that Meteoor sounded as though he was sitting next to me in the same room, while Zeepiraat - who often actually broadcasts live from a location on the sea - was putting in probably the best signal I’ve ever heard from him. I sent a message to Astronaut when they had all closed down, and he wrote back: “Beautiful MW evening - power stations and qsos across the whole band.” Indeed.

Monday, May 4, 2020
1655      2010      Witte Raaf 45333 testing
1665      2013      Vonkenboer 25222 music programme
1670      2016      Vonkentrekker 25222 music programme
1636      2030      Mustang 45344 music programme

Sunday, May 3, 2020
1617      0535      Noordster 35333 qsoing
1629      0540      Polkaexpress weak signal-25322 music programme
1611      0541      Interpol weak signal-25332 music programme
1642      0558      KJ weak signal qsoing
1630      1716      Twentana 25322, 35443 at 1826 music programme
1615      1716      Alice weak signal, 25342 at 1743 music programme
1640      1738      Klaverboer weak signal music programme
1660      1739      Digitaal 45444 at 1858 music programme
1635      1745      Santana en Cobra 24322 music programme
1611      1825      Saporro 25332 music programme
1671      1827      Viking en Tante Foek 35333 at 2054 music programme
1638      2052      Bluebird 55444 music programme

     Having a bit more time on my hands than usual because of the coronavirus lockdown, I’ve been spending plenty of hours in the radio room and have powered up various radios I haven’t used for a while. One of those is an old Pye Cambridge International, which was receiving Bluebird loud and clear tonight on 1638 kHz as you can see in the video below:    

Saturday, May 2, 2020
1633      0430      Barcelona 35333-45444 music programme
1675      1714      Turftrekker 25322 music programme
1611      1715      Telefunken 24332 music programme
1647      1715      Keizer en Keizerin music programme
1672      2128      Barones 55444 testing new thicker antenna wire
1652      2130      Moby Dick 33333-45444 music programme
1615      2135      Ruimzicht 25322-35333 music programme
1645      2157      Monte Carlo 34333 report for Keizer en Kezierin
1645      2233      Nachtzwerver 35333 qsoing

Friday, May 1, 2020
1638      1814      Concorde 25342 music programme
1620      1816      Anton 35343 music programme
1611      1816      Soto 23322 music programme
1633      1817      Uniek 25332 music programme
1642      1943      Barones 55444 music programme
1615      1943      Blauwe Koe 45444-55555 music programme
1633      1944      Derde Man 34333 music programme
1620      1944      Mi Amigo 34433 music programme
1620      2132      Philadelphia 23332 music programme

Thursday, April 30, 2020
1636      0505      Toulouse 25332-35443 music programme
1636      0515      Noordzee 25332-45444 report for Toulouse
1636      0547      Torpedojager weak signal weekly music programme
1660      1645      Digitaal 25342
1629      1719      Monza 25232 qsoing
1639      1725      Admiraal 25232 qsoing
1631      1845      Concorde weak signal music programme

Wednesday, April 29, 2020
1647      1855      Barones 45444 testing
1638      2129      Bluebird 45444 music programme

Tuesday, April 28, 2020
1617      1955      Marianne 35443 music programme
1638      1956      Blauwe Koe 35443 music programme
1647      2128      Driland 35443 music programme
1656      2131      Snowman 25222-35233 music programme
1620      2131      Philadelphia 25332 music programme

Monday, April 27, 2020
1636      0503      Mi Amigo 25332-35343 music programme
1647      0504      Polydor 25342 music programme
1617      0506      Noordzee 35443 music programme
1655      2124      Barones 55444-55555 music programme
1640      2141      Casablanca 45434-55555 testing
1635      2219      Nachtrijder 25232 report for Casablanca

     It was King’s Day in the Netherlands, so I got up nice and early to see who was on air, thinking the Dutch bank holiday might have brought a few more pirates out to play than on a typical morning. Although Mi Amigo, Polydor and Noordzee were all audible over here, I thought there might have been a bit more activity. It was quiet during the evening too, although I had a rare catch of low-power pirate Nachtrijder, and Barones was absolutely powering in on 1655 kHz with his new antenna system as you can see on this short video:

Sunday, April 26, 2020
1616      0433      Telefunken 24322-34333 music programme
1617      0657      Noordster 35443 qsoing
1647      2234      Alabama 44444 music programme
1665      2236      Vonkentrekker 25222 music programme
1620      2253      Philadelphia 24232 music programme

Saturday April 25, 2020
1633      0430      Barcelona 35333-44544 music programme
1647      1742      Keizer en Keizerin 25332 music programme
1617      1743      Simplex weak signal music programme
1660      1744      Digitaal 35333 qsoing
1656      1752      Nachtzwerver weak signal qsoing
1640      1801      Yogi Bear 25332 music programme
1656      1808      Interpol 25332-5333 qsoing
1632      2023      Barones 44444 music programme
1653      2025      Batavier 25332-35443 music programme
1648      2039      Digitaal 45434 music programme
1615      2057      Quintus 24432 music programme
1647      2149      Monte Carlo 45434 music programme
1647      2230      Nachtzwerver 35333 report for Monte Carlo

Friday, April 24, 2020
1620      2230      Philadelphia weak signal-34333 music programme
1650      2238      Vonkenboer 35333 qsoing
1640      2252      Monte Carlo 35443 qsoing

Thursday, April 23, 2020
1642      1740      Marskramer 34443 at 1813, 45444 at 2159 music programme
1633      2120      Concorde 35333-35443 music programme
1645      2148      Monte Carlo 33443 asking for report
1640      2213      Monte Carlo 35333 report for Marskramer

Wednesday, April 22, 2020
1617      1821      Black Molly 24222-35333 music programme from Almelo
1635      1951      Bluebird 54444-55555 music programme
1642      1951      Turftrekker 44444 report for Sapporo
1645      1956      Vonkenboer 25332 qsoing
1646      2012      Vrolijke Mijnwerker 35333 qsoing
1647      2045      Spakenburg 35333-45444 music programme
1615      2119      Spanningzoeker 55444-55555 antenna test
1647      2135      Professor Sickbok 45444 report for Spakenburg

Tuesday, April 21, 2020
1636      0430      Vriendschap 35333 music programme
1633      0625      Schaduwjager 45444 report for Vriendschap
1635      1810      Barones 45444 modulation test
1617      1830      Marianne 34443-44444 music programme
1660      1849      Meteoor 35333 qsoing
1670      1850      Digitaal 35333 music programme
1660      1857      Zee Piraat 25232 qsoing
1670      2207      De Kat 24322 music programme
1620      2215      Philadelphia 24322 music programme

Monday, April 20, 2020
1655      1806      Oldtimer 35333 music programme
1635      1807      Bluebird 45444 music programme

Sunday, April 19, 2020
1632      0635      Noordzee 35443 music programme
1645      0642      Belladonna weak signal-25442 qsoing
1646      0650      Jeneverstoker weak signal qsoing
1640      0658      Quintus weak signal-25442 music programme
1645      1649      Barones weak signal music programme
1660      1851      Vonkenboer weak signal music programme
1632      2147      Polkaman 25222 music programme
1646      2153      Jeneverstoker 35333 music programme
1640      2229      Casablanca 45444 report for Jeneverstoker

     During winter the propagation is such that MW signals from the Netherlands are audible here in England from around 2pm local time, and sometimes earlier - I once heard Schaduwjager at 11.30 and have heard Havanna (two of the higher powered stations) at around 10am. Those times are much later during the spring and summer months, so it was a nice surprise to catch Barones coming through on 1645 kHz today at 5.49pm local time (1649 UTC), some two and a half hours before sunset. Sure, the signal was weak, but the music was clearly audible at times, as was the unmistakable voice of Baro on the microphone. By 1820 UTC the signal was perfectly listenable. It was a busy day for Baro . . . if I’d have been out of bed earlier this morning I would have caught the breakfast show he did from 0545 Dutch time (0345 UTC!)

Saturday, April 18, 2020
1615      2227      Alice 35443 music programme  
1632      2233      Polkaman 24332 music programme

Thursday, April 16, 2020
1636      0622      Vriendschap 25222-35443 music programme
1634      1810      Marskramer 34333 music programme
1630      1812      Napoleon 25222-35343 music programme
1645      1925      Barones 45434 music programme
1657      2105      Vrolijke Mijnwerker 25222-34333 music programme
1655      2211      Monte Carlo 34333 report for Mijnwerker
1647      2227      Professor Sickbok 25232 qsoing

Wednesday, April 15, 2020
1633      0528      Barcelona 35433 music programme
1632      0548      Noordzee 25222 music programme
1635      1838      Bluebird 45434-55555 music programme
1611      1838      Veluwse Ster 34333-44444 music programme
1645      1839      Casablanca (Twente) 25332-35333 music programme
1657      1857      Digitaal 35333-45444 music programme
1615      1901      Blauwe Koe 43443-44444 testing
1611      2120      Technical Man 44444 music programme
1645      2152      Monte Carlo 35443 qsoing
1645      2154      Vonkenboer 25222 qsoing