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Top Ten Pirate Stations

Knowledge asked me to compile a list of top ten pirates most influential to the jungle / drum & bass scene. Where do you start? How do you choose? Lists are often difficult since they’re highly subjective. People tend to big up a station as it’s the one they’ve always listened to – even if only out of habit. Does longevity rule over cultural significance? Or are the best stations the ones which broadcast passion, music and vibes, attracting and retaining an extremely loyal following?

The best stations weave compulsive musical webs through our lives. Switch on and magic floods out your speakers. The underground music we know and love would never have reached the global prominence it has without the support of the pirates.

Most listeners will be unaware of all the shenanigans involved in keeping a pirate radio station on air. Government agents from Ofcom whose search and destroy mission it is target illegal broadcasters, admit a certain admiration for pirates: “It’s not easy to set up a station and broadcast, yet they achieve it, week in, week out.”

I’m still listening, week in, week out. So here’s my all-time top ten of the most influential pirate radio stations.

10. Radio Caroline
The original 60s pirate station, playing fresh pop / rock music to Britain’s young masses from a boat in the North Sea, floating in international waters four and a half miles off the Essex coastline. The BBC played catch-up launching Radio One and recruiting the same pirates for their roster. Decades later BBC Radio still recruits former pirate radio DJs. Check the (somewhat flawed) movie The Boat That Rocked on DVD. Kool FM’s guvnor Eastman saw Radio Caroline DJs as heroes.

9. Invicta
I rolled into underground music as a street skater in the early 80s. Someone had a beatbox in Hyde Park. Out flooded soul, funk, jazz and electro; music you’d hear in the clubs, not on legal radio. To catch a good signal you’d be attaching a wire or metal coat hanger to your radio and balancing on the furniture. Of this time General Levy commented, “Black people hit the airwaves.” And underground music would never be the same again.

8. DBC
Now Dread Broadcasting Corporation was one of those early to mid 80s pirate stations which many claimed to have listened to but few actually did. Perhaps it laid with the station’s memorable street name. But they weren’t on the air for long. What did run for long was The Lenny Henry Show featuring Lenny as Delbert Wilkins, a pirate radio DJ based in the back room of a local Greek Cypriot cafe / restaurant. In real life Lenny was one of Kiss FM’s financial backers.

7. Station FM
Most pirates were only on air at weekends. Station’s reggae orientated broadcasts pulsed out 24/7. They just didn’t seem to care. As if that wasn’t enough, officers from the local notorious Metropolitan police station would be invited into the station to ask help from the local community. The powers-that-be realised that the only way to reach the grass roots was through pirate radio. Later DnB stations would follow Station FM’s lead broadcasting all day and all night.

6. Kiss FM
They rocked London town in the 80s with a mighty world class roster including Norman Jay, Judge Jules, Trevor Nelson, Paul Anderson, Danny Rampling and the legendary Jazzy B of Soul II Soul. Kiss FM were the vibe of the clubs and streets. Their parties were legendary – until they applied for and received license. The accountants moved in as quality artists and music moved out.

5. Centerforce
If the power of the unlicensed broadcasters was ever doubted, come the dawn of the late 80s rave scene, those doubts were dispelled. Centerforce were a station dedicated to playing 100% rave. Most importantly, if you wanted to know where the party was, you’d have to tune in. Centerforce was the essential rave station.

4. Weekend Rush

An apt name for this early 90s station – especially as they were known for putting their raving first. They played hardcore and proto-jungle. The station’s location was important since it shared the same East London, Nightingale estate as Kool and Defection FM. As Shabba D said, “All the mans was from there.”

3. Origin FM
This North London station arrived in 1999, way after the first wave of jungle stations. But their crew of artists were products of those early stations and scene. Their DJs played music which reflected DnB’s musical roots. Though they weren’t the first to try, respect is due for their mission to stay on air 24/7.

2. Rude FM
I’ll always have a soft spot for the first pirate station to give me my own show. It’s only then that you realise some of what it takes to keep a station on air. DJs Dylan, Flapjack, Magistrate, Nikki Dimensions, Mister T and MC System have passed through Rude’s transmitter. They remain on air after 15 years, with DJ E being one of the longest broadcasting drum & bass DJs in London. Lady Flava’s is one of the scene’s few female voices on pirate radio. And to the joy of their listeners, Rude FM operates a strict no MC policy.

1. Kool FM
This multi, multi award winning station is still the biggest pirate station on the jungle / drum & bass scene. In terms of their historic, musical and cultural significance they’re unbeatable. It was listening to Kool FM which inspired me to write to Radio One with the idea for One in the Jungle.

Founder Eastman was the first to introduce multiple MCs on air and on stage. 1994 was a seminal year for Kool FM. MCs Navigator, 5ive 0, Shabba D, MC Det, Cogee and The Ragga Twins ruled the roost. DJs including Brockie, Bryan G, Funky Flirt, Ron and SL rinsed the grooves at Kool FM’s hyper legendary Jungle Fever raves.

Kool have broadened their playlist to include other black music genres but in their most radical step, 5ive0 and Lady Diamond’s discussion show dares to touch political and social subjects previous pirates have avoided like the plague.

No pirate radio fanfare is complete without acknowledging the technicians who keep the stations on air and out of the grasp of the authorities. Let’s hear it from Kool’s Eastman:

“Us, [Weekend] Rush and Defection had our aerials and rigs together. We were getting whacked by the DTI so much, we got an empty flat on the 20th floor, blocked it up with concrete filled with girders and iron bars and left our rigs in it. We put a metal door on, then a front door and climbed up the side of the building. Our Smurf, Colin Diser from Rush and Miley from Defection would just jump over the roof and climb on the balconies.”

They risked their lives just because the people loved jungle.

For more information check www.londonpirates.co.uk