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MELODY MAKER, March 8, 1975 – Page 3

 

IN NEXTWEEK’S MM

 

Is Pirate Radio dead? Well, it seems to be alive and in one of our metropolitan cities as well. Heavily disguised as gas inspectors, we travel in sealed vans to the headquarters of one of the outfits providing an alternative to the national wavelength fare.

 

 

Melody Maker

 

March 15, 1975   12p weekly      USA 60cents

PIRATE RADIO

 

MM spends a night in  the secret hideaway of the airwave buccaneers – page 22

 

 

MELODY MAKER, March 15, 1975 – Page 22

 

 

Pirates of the air

You won’t find Radio Concord’s programmes listed in your newspaper. That’s because they’re on of Britain’s pirate stations, broadcasting for 12 hours each weekend from a different secret location. MM’s Brian Harrigan entered the illegal world of El Supremo, King Kong and Joe Lung to see how – and why – they do it.

PICTURE a radio station where the transmitter comes biscuit-tin size and often has to be rebuilt before broadcasts.

Where the deejays go under false names and avoid identification like the plague.
Where record requests are taken at a public telephone box manned by the deejays in strict rotation.
Where the aerial, all 180 feet of it, has to be put up before each and every broadcast by one of the deejays.
Where broadcasts are made from a different location every week, from squats and tiny one-room flats, and where every knock at the door brings a sudden dryness to the throat and a cold knot of panic in the stomach.

And you’ve got wonderful Radio Concord, the station of the people, by the people and for the people – at least those people who can actually pick up the signal on 225 metres on the medium wave between 10 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday.

            I joined Concord and its merry band of dedicated faceless men for last week’s broadcast and discovered what life is like on a land-based pirate station.

But first, let me introduce these radio renegades. There’s El Supremo who, apart from delivering shows in a deliberately abysmal phony American accent, also takes responsibilities much of the time for erecting Concord’s aerial – all 60 yards worth of wire.

            “That’s the most difficult part, really. Once we got to the top of a block of flats and started paying out the aerial down the side. We’d lowered about 150 feet when we realized it was disappearing about halfway down.

            “We went to see what was going on and found that a little old woman had seen it come snaking past her window, so she opened it and pulled the wire in. She gave it back when we told her we were scientists conducting an experiment to pick up radio waves from intelligent aliens. She was very impressed.”

            Supremo’s got a fund of stories about aerial building, including the time he was chased up the fire escape of a convent by a very upset nun. She was told a story about Supremo being a student who was testing the atmosphere for humidity.

            “She seemed quite pleased about that. For the next two hours I kept on getting little waves from smiling nuns on their way to prayers and what have you.”

            Next up is King Kong, who is the station’s technical whiz-ape and who seems to be the only one who knows how the Heath Robinson collection of diodes, triodes, fourodes, and fiveodes that make up the transmitter actually work. “You don’t need size. The transmitter we’ve got here once broadcast to Sweden. We got a postcard to prove it from someone who lives there.”

            Then there’s Joe Lung, a Rasputin-like figure who looks as sinister as his name, but in fact is a very pleasant person and the most professional of the deejays on Concord.

   Matt Black comes next, an idiosynchratic figure who makes films for a living and puts out a 100 per cent oldies show.

   Making up the rest of the pirate crew come such colorful names as John the Baptist, Dan Blocker, Len Deevish, the Saskatoon Kid, Wolfman Fred, Captain Banana, Vilfin, Snoopy, and anyone else who cares to go along to a broadcast.

   Their broadcast last week started in typical style with Joe, Matt, Supremo and Kong building a new transmitter. Said Kong: "We had problems last week and it turned out that for most of the time we were broadcasting at about ten watts, which is just about good enough for the bottom of the street."

   That done we took to Supremo's car laden with transmitters - the new one plus a spare - a mixer, microphone, record decks, a transformer, records and the aerial - worth its weight in gold. The whole lot would have fitted neatly into the boot of a Ford Escort.

   That week's chosen site turned out to be a tiny one-roomed flat. It was short on room but it was warm and private, which are two big plusses for Concord. "Last week," said Joe, "we were in a squat in Islington. We set up all the equipment but when it started getting a bit cold, we switched on the electric fire and all the power practically disappeared."

   King Kong solved the ensuing problem of a blown fuse by replacing it with a lump of copper. It seems that everything electrical was glowing rather orange by the end of the broadcast.

   We were ushered in by the owners, a taciturn bearded guy who was to provide some live music that night and a fair-haired girl who seemed to be tickled to death by the wholer circus. The location was "somewhere in North London."

   The studio was their kitchenette with the record decks resting on the kitchen sink, the transmitter on a cupboard and the deejays plus spectators perched anywhere there was more than three square inches of buttock space.

   "It's aerial time," said Supremo and deftly chenged into his plimsolls. He set off in the direction of a nearby block of flats. After about an hour he came back, frozen and blue-nosed, but happy. He'd strung the aerial from the top of the flats to a tree in the garden.

   "If anyone complains I'll say that I've asked some friends to put up a washing line for me," suggests the bearded flat tenant.

   All he needed was 50 foot long arms, two foot clothes pegs and underpants the size of a Zeppelin and it would have been the perfect excuse. Since he's relatively normal in shape and size he's just ignored as the Corcord men set about their work.

   One by one, they look at the aerial out of the window and say, dutifully, "nice aerial." Supremo looks delighted.

   It's 10:15 p.m. when the show finally gets on the road - slight problems with the earth, which King Kong deftly handles. "Hi everybody, this is Radio Concord coming to you on 225, and we're sorry we're a little late but we've had some technical problems and pretty soon we'll have a a phone number for you to phone in your instant requests, and in the meantime here's a little record for you called, um . . ."

   Supremo's nervous as a kitten and makes endless mistakes, but there's something tremendously appealing about it. Someone once said that all the fun went out of TV when they started recording programmes and eliminating all possible mistakes. They were right. Concord, with its comedy of errors, proves it.

   The night continues in the same vein with each deejay taking his turn. A telephone box is located and the requests start pouring in when Joe Lung reads out the number. The response is astonishing. Before long the number is jammed and they have to pick a new one.

   Despite the gimcrack  appearance of their equipment Concord really get heard - and it's not just the next-door neighbor, Mr and Mrs Scroggins from number 38 who can tune in.  They get telephone calls from south Yorkshire, Lancashire, and all over London, including Leyton where a caller says they're coming through ten times louder than Capital.

   And speaking of Capital, Mighty Joe Lung, so-called because of his long-standing one pound a day nicotine habbit, has a valve to pick with them.

   "They keep on nicking all our ideas," he complains. "Or at least it seems that way. It's happened so many times it can't be a coincidence. We were the first station to feature instant requests. Capital said it was impossible but we went ahead and did it. A few weeks later so did they. Then there's Kenny Everett's competition where he plays just the first note of a record and asks people to guess what it is. We started that weeks before they did. There're loads of other little things. Maybe they are just coincidence, but I don't think it can be."

It's now 1 AM on Saturday morning . .

and anyone with a modicum of sense is safely tucked up in bed. Not Radio Concord and me.

    Supremo decides to take a drive around to see what the reception is like. King Kong and Dan Blocker join us. In fact, the signal is surprisingly strong almost everywhere we go - and that's on a car radio.

    When we return Supremo leaves the car near the telephone phone kiosk, we pass two of the look-outs and get back into the studio.

    As yet, they've been raided only once in four years of broadcasting. "And that was on a day when we weren't actually putting anything out," says Supremo.

    He was taken to court and given a conditional discharge. He also had to pay costs of one pound, much to the disgust of the Post Office who sends out detector vans to try and track down pirate stations.

    Comments Joe: "I really don't know why they don't try more often. I think it's because detector van duties are classed as overtime, so if they put us off the air there's be a lot of blokes who would be short of a bit of extra cash.

    "I mean, we broadcast a telephone number so I should think it would be quite easy to track that down. Tracking the signal is a different matter. We've got look-outs and we know the cars the Post Office use so they're easily spotted. When we see one we just pull the plug and the signal's gone so they can't trace it."

    They tend to have more problems with accidental discoveries like when King Kong was on a roof of a block of flats - no not tearing it down with his bare hands - checking out the aerial.

    "A policeman tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hello, hello, hello, what's going on 'ere then." I told him I was just getting a breath of fresh air and then ran. I managed to get downstairs, grap the transmitter and get away."

    On another occasion in the murky depths of the morning the Concords were slighly surprised to see their transmitter suddenly leap three feet in the air.

    King Kong looked out of the window and saw a puzzled policeman at the other end of the aerial giving it a hefty tug. "We just cut the wire and made a run for it."

    Fortunately, nothing happened last week apart from the man in the flat next door demanding to know what was going on. At 3:00 a.m. he made his third visit and pleaded, "I just want to know what's happening. I won't tell anyone, honest. I just want to know."

    John the Baptist and Wolfman Fred turn him away yet again.

    By now, it's live broadcast time, and the bearded flat owner and his huge black friend treat us to 15 minutes of their own numbers. Mr Beard perches in the living area, while the black guy sings in the kitchenette. It may not be Top Of The Pops, bit it's live.

    All the way through the 12 hours of broadcasting there's a continuous coming and going of deejays, alias look-outs, alias telephone answerers. The ones coming in are blue with cold and they make a bee-line for the small gas fire.

    The ones going out look depressed - it's not surprising, since the calls have dwindled to a mere telephonic trickle and there's not a lot you can do in a North London phone box at four in the morning.

    Supremo, happy now that he's near the fire says: "It might seem mad but I think we're all doing this for a good reason. "We don't see ourselves as pirates so much as alternative radio. We play absolutely anything on the station and we think it really is an alternative to Radio One and Capital. "They play their top thirty playlists or whatever but we play anything. And anyone can come and have a go. They've all got as much right as anyone to broadcast."

    "The Post Office say we interfere with other stations and emergency stations but that's just not true. We're very careful about that." King Kong adds that with unidirectional aerials there could be thousands of stations throughout Britain. Supremo nods and then lies down to the floor and falls asleep.

    Dawn breaks slowly and now there are no phone calls at all. I've got the horrible feeling that there's just no-one listening. It doesn't seem to bother Concord, though. They just keep on.

    The transmitter is still glowing away in the corned and King Kong looks at it appreciatively. "That's a bloody good transmitter," he keeps saying to no-one in particular and then reaches for a chocolate biscuit, one of about 100 that John the Baptist brought to help us through the night.

    By seven I've just about had it but for Supremo and John the Baptist it's time for the Completely Mad Breakfast Show.

    Says Supremo, in between mistakes, "We run a Bit Tits competition and a Disease of the Week contest.

    "Another quiet night and no raids," he says later, obviously a bit disappointed that there hadn't been any action. "It's very funny really, because if they do raid us they can't legally arrest us. They confiscate equipment but that's it."

    Looking at their gear it hardly seems worth it. Besides they could knock up another transmitter for less than thirty pounds.

    "There's no money in this," says Matt Black.  "It's just an important thing to do." He means it, but doesn't look all that convinced since he's just spent three hours curled up in the car by the phone box.

    "And it's good fun, if you don't get caught," adds Supremo.

    The calls start coming in again but soon it's 10:00 a.m. and time for closedown. King Kong wanders over to the block of flats and climbs to the roof - by the stairs, I hasten to add.

    As he's uncoiling the wire a woman wanders out onto her balcony and sees it snaking down past her window. She summons her husband and he comes to take a look. Pretty soon every balcony is full of people gazing at the wire like it's a giant anaconda, but no-one does anything. Kong, nonchalance itself, emerges and the lads pack up and go.

    "Every day's a holiday on Corcord," comments Supremo as he drives off. Everyone else seems to be asleep.