Some really interesting research was published by Ofcom today looking at Pirate Radio. As well as some stuff you’d expect they also did some research into the listening figures of pirate stations.
With all radio research there’s a huge problem with listeners recalling what they had listened to (was it Choice, was it a pirate etc etc), so it’s hard to say for sure. But the best mesaurement they did was to show the sample a list of stations (both pirate and legal) and get them to choose which ones they tuned into. This metric gave Pirate Radio, collectively, a 6% reach in London. Which makes it a simialr size to LBC. Claimed listening to pirate radio stations was 16% (and this then rose to 34% across Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth).
Listeners to pirate radio were also asked if they agreed/disagreed with ceratin statements. The ‘agrees’ are as follows:
67% – Pirate radio stations play music that you don’t normally hear on other stations
47% – Pirate radio stations give me info about things I want to do locally
38% – Pirate radio stations are more for people like me
34% – Pirate radio stations support my community
The claim about pirate radio is that it exists because legal radio does not fill the need and play the music that those listeners want to hear. That it’s merely the product of a broken system. It is however illegal, interferes with fire, ambulance and air traffic control and can be a front for other illegal activities like drugs and guns. Participants in pirate radio also often have to pay to broadcast. This means that operators have an incredibly low cost base and can pocket large profits. The fact that pirate stations can pop back up within hours of being taken down re-enforces their need for business continuity.
Most pirate stations are not illegal community stations, they’re merely illegal businesses that damage licensed community and commercial stations and interfere with safety-of-life networks.
The other argument in favour of pirate radio says that they would be legal if they could, but all the frequencies have gone to mainstream broadcasters. Anyone can, of course, apply for an analogue station and some pirates have done, and been successful – Kiss, Choice etc. The response is that these are now mainstream and betrayed their roots. I would say that they actually bring urban music to a wider audience. However, ignoring that, there are also loads of other ways stations can go legit.
Community radio, DAB, RSLs, internet, DTV are just some of the ways that these stations could broadcast legally. The big issue is that they choose not to. It is too easy to be illegal. You don’t pay licensing fees, your power can be as high you like, you don’t need to follow the broadcasting code, and you don’t have to pay for the music you play – pirates may pay lip service to ‘supporting new acts’ but they also don’t stump up any cash for those who write and record the music, as every licensed station does.