By Guy Starkey
An exam of the improvement of neighborhood radio broadcasting and the craze for locally-owned, locally-originated and locally-accountable advertisement radio stations to fall into the fingers of nationwide and overseas media teams. Starkey strains the early improvement of neighborhood radio via to present-day electronic environments.
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Inevitably, though, despite the excitement and unpredictability of broadcasting from the high seas, the arrival of Radio 1 – and later, the new commercial radio sector that inevitably developed out of the sixties pirate era – ushered in levels of competition that deprived pirate ships targeting the UK of audiences large enough to sustain them financially. As transmission equipment became cheaper, smaller and easier for the non-technically-minded to operate and maintain, the term ‘pirate radio’ was to become increasingly synonymous with land-based pirates, whose relevance to our central theme will be explored in later chapters.
Most damaging, though, was the charge that the pirates were operating in a twilight world, perhaps crossing the borders of legality on land. In 1966 a dispute over a transmitter and contentious business dealings between the owner of Radio City, Reg Calvert, and a competitor, Major Oliver Smedley, led to a boarding party taking over the Radio City fort and later Calvert being shot dead on Smedley’s doorstep. This incident seemed proof enough that something had to be done, just over a year later the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 (MOA) came into force on the 14th August.
The relative political stability of the inter-war years with a succession of coalition governments in power had been followed by a post-war consensus around the middle ground of politics. The Wilson-Heath era was, by contrast, one of binary opposites, as we have already seen through Wilson’s implacable opposition to the pirates and the whole principle of commercially-funded, privately-owned radio stations. In a tit-for-tat exchange, vaguely reminiscent of the spying scandals of foreign policy in the Cold War era, in which the East and the West would ratchet up international tension through retaliatory expulsions of spies and diplomats alike, radio – in particular local radio – became a political football.