Today (midnight, to be precise) is the 50th anniversary of the enforcement of the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Act which effectively outlawed the operation of pirate radio stations broadcasting to the UK from offshore ships or disused sea forts.
The National Archives holds some fascinating files concerning pirate radio, about which, more later. To begin with, I’ll set out the historical context.
Demand for pop music
Following the breakthrough of The Beatles in 1963 there was an explosion of new groups and singers – a British beat boom, with the emergence of the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, the Animals, Dusty Springfield and many more exciting new groups and artistes.
By 1964 transistor radios were becoming popular, particularly with teenagers: for the first time, radio had become portable (previously ‘the wireless’ was a bulky set containing electrically heated valves). So there was an increasing demand for pop music on the radio. But BBC Radio did not cater for this. The ‘Light Programme’ delivered a mix of entertainment, including comedy shows, but the pop content was limited. There were also restrictions (‘needle time’) on the amount of recorded music that could be transmitted on the BBC.
There was a gap in the market; it was filled by pirate radio stations.