Impending legislation may make it possible for pirate radio stations togo legit. Mab goes behind the scenes of one local station to discover how the miscreants are responding.
At around 5.30pm on this particular Friday. two young men arrive at an unassuming (ilas‘gow flat and proceed to hook together pieces of equipment. A 4-track portable recording studio is plugged into a transmitter. which whirrs noisily into life. while the flat‘s stereo improvises as a monitor for the sounds that the two men (2mm (f'uirn'uvt's‘: (‘andyman and Boy Wonder) are about to broadcast over (ilasgow for the next three hours. My watch is the most reliable timepiece available. and though I know for a fact it's at least a minute-aml-a-halfout. l cue them in when it thinks it’s reached six o‘clock precisely. The tape rolls. and
Romanticist I).l (‘hico‘s reggae programme. the first of tonight's Radio Mercury offerings is on the air.
Piracy of the airwaves. it hardly needs to be pointed out. is strictly illegal. and Radio Mercury has been busted by the UH (Department of Trade and Industry) once before. with a loss of £30( )0 of equipment. Now. (‘andyman and Boy Wonder tote walkie-talkies. which this evening have decided. for reasons of their own. to go on the blink. Despite this setback. (‘andyman and I go out to pose a few shots anyway. Meanwhile. Boy Wonder commandeers the phone and rings
around friends to check on the reception. The Anniesland contact reports that the signal is strong. much clearer than last week. The new lead must be working. After photos are taken. there‘s not much to do but drink coffee. read a magazine and change the tape every half-hour. The life ofan
airwave—raiding desperado. I decide. has been grossly romanticised. Why did (‘andyman decide to start up a pirate radio station in the first place? "Cause I couldn't play an instrument.‘ Oh well.
Radio Mercury has been broadcasting in the Glasgow area for a year now. on 96. IFM. publicising itselfwith posters. handouts and occasional one-off nights at clubs. Now. tired of ‘skulking and hiding’. they‘re ready to go legit by taking advantage of a limited number of community radio licences to be awarded to lucky applicants by the Home Office. probably in 1990. There‘s no guarantee. ofcourse. that they‘ll actually get one — they suspect that the lion‘s share will be snapped up by southern stations. particularly London pirates. Whatever happens. licence or no. they‘ll continue to broadcast. The DJs will be live within a matter ofweeks. a move which would leave them much more
vulnerable ifthey were raided again. as it would allow police to seize turntables and records along with the transmitter which whirrs aggressively in the middle of the room.
What Mercury are counting on is that one of the criteria by which the Home Office decides who is to get a licence is that the station should provide a service not fulfilled by anyone else in the area. Here they feel on solid ground. Mercury's output is concentrated around independent records. ‘specialist' music and local bands. Or as Boy Wonder puts it. ‘We want to integrate ourselves in the local culture. ifyou like. and take it from there. Because there's an awful lot of grass—root things. lfthey don‘t fit a particular image they get brushed to one side. We‘re providing the
medium for those various ideas to express themselves. As far as competing with Independent Local Radio goes. all we can do is take part ofthe music scene that they only touch upon and dig deeper into it. and provide something for people who are involved in this sort of thing in this area‘.
Unlike Radio One and ILR there is no playlist. no programmmer. and the presentation is markedly
amateurish. though enthusiastic. The bosses. (‘andyman and Boy Wonder. exert no control over what is played (‘so long as they don‘t swear or say anything political' — a hotbed ofCommunist subversion Mercury isn't). so the half-dozen or so DJs on the station play only what they like. Mercury's secret. so its founders claim. is that its listeners stay tuned even when they don't like a particular record. because they
know that there probably will be one they like just a few minutes away.
This is easy to say. but unfortunately very hard to prove. What with Mercury's illegal status. a proper survey of listeners is out of the question. though their postbag indicates the size of their catchment area: the whole ofUlasgow, Hamilton. Airdrie. Bridge ofWeir.. .Candyman explains that the clandestine air of the station is part ofits appeal. ‘People say. “Did you hear that pirate radio station last” night? I managed to tune into it. as ifthev're doing something illegal. So you're getting that vibe. they're doing something.‘
That‘s all very well. but as the man said. you can't live off good vibes. You‘ve got to eat. And because ownership of the new stations by political parties. pressure groups or
8The list I()— 23 June 1988