Lessons from Pirate Radio

Almost fifty years ago, pirates controlled the airways. In 1964 a radio station called Radio Caroline challenged the BBC's monopoly by broadcasting popular music from a ship off the coast of England. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who and many other groups achieved fame during this period, but it was pirate radio that gave them a voice.

The pirate radio business model should be familiar to us - a free broadcasting service creating a huge franchise financed by advertising revenues.

In 1967 the U.K. government made pirate radio illegal. But the BBC then hired many of the 'pirate' DJs and began to play their music. Rock and roll went mainstream.

The British Government deregulated broadcasting in 1990. Today there are over half a million music stations around the world. Pirate radio redefined broadcasting and the music industry.

In November 2010, The Beatles finally became available on iTunes.

What are the implications for own time?

The real issue with pirate radio and its aftermath was about who controlled the content. In our own era, the arguments against social networking and cloud computing are mainly about content not technology - whose data is it?

According to Wikipedia, there are at least 200 active social networking sites -a long way from a couple of ships broadcasting across the airwaves, but well short of half a million music stations. Social networking is still in its infancy. Enormous growth is still to come.

Cloud computing is the source of many music downloads and replaces the ships in international waterways, while smartphones and other devices replace wireless and crystal sets.

But while regulation is not as Victorian as the Labor Government seemed to be in the nineteen sixties it remains behind the times.

While many of us still hesitate to put our feet in these waters, history has taught us that the returns can more than outweigh the risks involved.


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