Pirate Radio And The Boat That Rocked: A Relevant Story To Share


If you’re a fan of British comedy, music and history, the Boat That Rocked also known as Pirate Radio in the United States, is an absolutely must see. Not only does it provide over an hour of great entertainment but also touches on a very relevant section of Britain’s not so far away history, censorship on the radio. Censorship in general is a subject of relevancy during today’s times, especially with the widespread use of the Internet (we remember the recent SOPA or Stop Online Piracy Act don’t we?). Freedom of expression is something we often take for advantage on any given medium and the film Pirate Radio can remind us of that. Below is a brief review of the Boat that Rocked and the actual facts behind the fiction.

The Boat That Rocked

The Boat That Rocked tells the story of ‘Radio Rock’, a fictitious pirate radio station, and its DJs who spun their discs under conservative British rule. In order to avoid the oppressive environment of the land, the radio stationed was situated on a ship in the North Sea, from where it broadcasted otherwise BBC banned rock and pop music to a delighted UK audience. The British government goes to extreme measures to shut them down.

Pirate Radio in 1960s

BritainThe battle between the government and the Radio Rock pirate radio is somewhat dramatised as movie do but there are some correlating facts. In the UK pirate radio experienced a surge in popularity in the 1960s when pop radio stations like Radio Caroline (first broadcasted in 1964) and Radio London began broadcasting on medium wave to British audiences from either disused sea forts or offshore ships. During this time the radio stations were technically not illegal as they wore broadcasting from international waters. The so called pirate radio stations were popular to the demand in rock and pop music that the conservative BBC radio did not cater for. By 1967 over twenty-one pirate radio stations were broadcasting music to almost 15 million people.

Pirate Radio served to break the BBC airwave monopoly and to broadcast the music that people wanted to hear. In response to the popularity of the UK pirate radio stations, the BBC created BBC Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4. BBC Radio one was dedicated to pop music and attracted many former pirate radio DJs. The UK government then further regulated the airwaves by closing the loophole that the international waters created in the Marine Broadcasting Offence Act (1967).

Pirate Radio Post 1960s

Radio Caroline continued to broadcast until 1988. Because of the act, many pirate radio stations moved from the waters to urban areas. London pirate radio stations in particular boomed in the 1970s and 90s, evolving more into stations that broadcasted music disregarded by mainstream broadcasting such as reggae, hip hop and blues. The story of pirate radio is a familiar battle between what the public want to hear and what authority does not want us to hear. It will be interesting to watch how the medium of the Internet will play out.

Penny Munroe is an avid writer on current affairs and aims to educate readers on the issues of the day and what they mean to the everyday person. The Boat That Rocked is a favourite movie as it highlights the topic of censorship. Radio Rock required boat repairs towards the end, will the Internet share the same fate.

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