Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
Spot the Difference!signal strength
Saturday 28 May, 2011, 15:48 - Pirate/Clandestine
Posted by Administrator
Driving around London the other day, there was time to have a good old tune through the FM band to see how the various new community radio stations were getting on and whether Ofcom had had much success in shutting down the myriad of pirates. But the job was much more difficult that usual! The difficulty lies in the fact that many of the community stations sound like pirates, and the pirates that are still on air sound almost professional, at least as professional as the community stations that are slowly replacing them.

rinseTake Rinse FM (now legally broadcasting on 106.8) as a case in point. Now you might not particularly like the wack-a-jaffa, hardbeat, dirty garage or deep-boom gruffty music that they play (at least that's what it sounded like), but since their move to legality, the main thing which seems to have changed is that the presenters are marginally more professional (some of the street slang used before seems to have been tidied up), can read out a proper phone numbers, and can say where listeners are calling in from and give their names. So instead of 'big shout out to the hard-jaffa massive' and 'big up the 607', it's 'but shout out to Doreen of Tooting', and 'big up Dave who's cleanin' the missis's car'. It's lost it's edge a bit. Much the same can be said of Reprezent whose youth-orientated broadcasting sounds much of a muchness.

london pirateOn the other side, it looks like Ofcom has been doing a reasonable job on some of the pirates. There were certainly a lot fewer on the band with many of the smaller stations seemingly off-air (though this could be because it was mid-week). There was only a brief glimpse of Point Blank, whose signals on 90.2 and 103.5/6 were staples for house-heads. A scratchy sound on 90.2 was all there was and 103.5 has been dead for some time now. Passion FM was still audible on both 91.8 and 97.9 MHz. Unknown FM seemed completely absent but there was a strong signal on 89.4 around North London with no RDS and no announcements which was assumed to be them. One new station was Pulse London who were on one of Unknown's old frequencies of 108.0 MHz. Listening to them, it's clear that they have set up as a streaming web radio station and even state on their web-site that they are 'not available through digital or analogue broadcasts' - a common ploy amongst modern-day pirates, so that they can deny knowledge of the FM transmitter and pretend to be totally above board.

The thing is that with pirate stations increasingly claiming to be legit (and probably paying their PPL and PRS dues) they can start to be a bit more daring with phone numbers and names too. The upshot is that they sound much like the legitimate community stations. The fact that both often fill their daytime schedule with pre-recorded non-stop music makes the situation even worse.

As a result, telling what is legit from what is not is getting increasingly difficult.

Surely it's time for Ofcom to hold an amnesty and work with the more established pirates to find a solution. Give them a licence (cf. Rinse) and bring it all under control. The new 'Vibe1076' for Watford is a case in point. It's test transmissions sound just like any other commercial radio station of which the need is rather dubious. But in North London (much the same area) there are three Turkish language pirates (Bizim FM on 101.8, Radyo Umut on 102.8 and DEM Radyo 90 on 104.2). Surely sitting down with the Turkish community and finding a way to give them something they need would have been much better use of the frequency. (The irony of Umut being just 500 kHz away from London Greek Radio is not lost!) Alternatively, perhaps setting up a London-wide DAB multiplex to be shared by pirates might have the double effect of getting them away from their illegal FM transmitters and encouraging sales of DAB radios. Either way, the true 'pirate' sound of London is morphing into a less exciting, homogenous, slightly blandified version of its former self, but perhaps that is the way of progress!
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