CORONAVIRUS: Boom in web and pirate radio stations

With the shutdown of businesses and stringent measures limiting movement in a large number of countries, there are those who are putting their energy into opening web radios. Pirate radio stations are opening up on air and those already functioning are raising their transmission power during this present state of emergency, knowing full well that it is highly improbable that the authorities will be checking.

Ireland: Two women from the world of show business found Radio Quarantine

Kate McKeown, live from home
Kate McKeown, live from home
Image directly received from
Kate McKeown

“After having wasted hour after hour following the news on the imminent end of the world, we had had enough of it and decided to put our energy into making the lives of those having to stay at home more bearable”.  So Anna-Rose Charleton, a film producer who had had all her work cancelled, and the London singer actress Kate McKeown, who had been forced to return to Dublin because of the Coronavirus outbreak, set up the Quaran Team, a team of experts under the guidance of Maitiú Charleton, Anna-Rosa’s quarantine partner, and started webcasting. The programmes go on air from Monday to Friday from 9.00 am to 09.00 pm GMT with music, news and guests from the show business world. They focus on listener participation and try to involve people who have a talent or a story to tell.

Quarantine FM Logo
Logo of Radio Quarantine
Source

Click here to listen to Radio Quarantine. You can also find them on the following channels. Instagram: @quarantinefm
Twitter: @FmQuarantine
Tik Tok: @quarantinefm
Facebook: @FmQuarantine 

New ‘pirate’ radio stations set up and some increase transmission power

Having a lot more time on their hands is also spurring radio stations to go on air without authorisation. In Italy, on March 20th, 2020 it was reported that Radio Zona Rossa was transmitting on 6330 kHz on shortwave. The name was inspired by a programme invented by Radio Codogna but it concerns an autonomous radio station and its own programme. In Great Britain, a group on Facebook reported that Fusion FM, a pirate radio station near Birmingham, had a more powerful signal than those from authorised broadcasters. There is no change in Madrid, where there are a great number of unauthorised radio stations, but the authorities do not carry out checks.

Online FM broadcast monitoring station in Madrid, Spain
Source

Austria: Hitradio Ö3 put DJ’s into ‘shared flat’

Hitradio Ö3 in Vienna, Austria in lockdown in bunker.
Situational Webcam Photo
Austrians radio station, Hitradio Ö3, set-up in a ‘shared flat’
Image: Webcam Radio Ö3, Source

If the pandemic has forced radio stations to set up emergency studios in presenters’ homes in order to keep broadcasting and protect them from contagion, in Austria draconian measures were taken. The national radio station literally ‘locked up’ the presenters working for Hitradio Ö3, the pop channel of Austrian public radio ORF. Their studios in Heiligenstadt, in the 19th district of Vienna, were converted into housing and 22 people (after medical checkups) were put into isolation from March 19th to March 26th, 2020.  As well as presenting their programmes live, they lived and slept in the flat for two weeks. (Hopefully none of them had tested positive after the lock in). 

All the most famous voices

Georg Spatt, station manager of Austria's Hitradio Ö3
Georg Spatt, Station manager of Ö3
Image: Roman Pfeiffer, Source

Apart from the Station Manager, Georg Spatt, who accompanied the team on this adventure, there were six presenters and DJs:  Robert Kratky, Andi Knoll, Sheyda Kharrazi, Verena Kicker, Tina Ritschi and Tarek Adamski.    The other fifteen members of staff included journalists, programming specialists and technicians. The offices were converted into rooms with bathrooms, communal areas such as a coffee bar and all essentials, from a TV to a washing machine, without forgetting the keep fit equipment. Meals were delivered through a security gate.

A song of hope on 183 European radio stations

Disk jockey, Sander Hoogendoorn
Sander Hoogendoorn
Received by Wunderbaum Management

March 20th, 2020 will be remembered as the day European radio stations showed united solidarity during the coronavirus pandemic.  At 8.45 a.m. 183 European radio stations, including RAI and the BBC,  played the English group ,Gerry & The Pacemakers’ version of  ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, an iconic, moving song considered a hymn to humanity.  The song became even more popular after the Liverpool FC fans adopted it as the team’s official anthem (see here) after qualifying for the finals of Champions League in 2019).

The initiative was the idea of Sander Hoogendoorn, a disk jockey working for the Dutch pop music public channel, NPO 3FM, who wanted to bring all the radio stations in the Netherlands together. In the end the initiative went beyond their national borders (find a list of stations that participated here).

Three questions RadioReporter asked Sander Hoogendoorn

Sander Hoogendoorn
Received by Wunderbaum Management

RR: Did you expect this success?

SH: No, I didn’t. The plan was to play this song with all the breakfast shows in the Netherlands. When they tagged along I was happy but then radio stations from Belgium started joining in. Then we started to make some phone calls to see if other European radio stations would like to join us. And they did!

RR: How long did it take you to arrange it?

SH: On Tuesday we started to talk to our listeners about the idea. In the same show I called some friends at other radio stations, asking them to join on Friday at 08.45. They were really happy to help. During the week more and more stations joined in, the last ones even on Friday morning. I think that all around the world more than 190 radio stations played the song!

RR: Which song would you choose to celebrate the victory over the pandemic?

SH: Queen – We Are The Champions

15.000 Italian transmitters connected 

La Radio per l’Italia
Source

Three hours later, at 11.00 a.m., radio stations all over the peninsula united to show solidarity and bring everyone together by playing the Italian National Anthem and three very well known Italian songs:  Azzurro (Adriano Celentano),  La canzone del sole (Lucio Battisti) and Nel blu dipinto di blu (Domenico Modugno). The population was asked  to tune in and wave the national flag. The radio stations involved included 19 private networks (Maria, Radicale and Mater only for the anthem) and more than 600 radio stations,  members of Aeranti-Corallo and Confindustria Radio TV, all connected to more than 15,000 transmitters (there are 9.123 national network transmitters alone. Source: FMList and FMScan).

Ukraine: A new TV channel for the occupied territories

Map of Ukraine, the Russian occupied regions in focus: Donbass and Crimea
Map of Ukraine, the Russian occupied regions: Donbass and Crimea in red
Source
Modification by Editor

Starting March 1st, ‘Dom’ has been turned on: a TV channel through which the Ukrainean government is transmitting its voice to the regions where control was lost in 2014. Those regions are the Donbass, in the hand of Russian separatists, and Crimea, occupied by the Russian Federation (see red circle on the image above). This initiative is just one part of a strategy promoted by the government in Kiev: in 2018 the transmitters were already improved to boost the TV signal (five digital channels and two analogue)  to Crimea, where Ukrainian channels have been replaced by the Russian ones.

Ukrainians, come back home

Traditionally dressed local Ukrainians
Locals
Source

The channel has been created to spread the message : ‘Ukraine is our home’, said the general manager of the broadcaster Yuliya Ostrovska ; during a press conference she also reported that ‘54% of the inhabitants of occupied territories can’t watch Ukrainian TV channels, and the 43% of them can’t view Ukrainian websites’. The design of the channel logo is interesting : it has been created to be read as ‘Dim’ (Ukrainian) and also as Dom (Russian), two different words that have one meaning : home. The languages used for the transmission will be Russian and Ukrainian.

A showcase for the country

city view on Kiev, Ukraine, capital of Ukraine
View on Kiev
Source

The broadcaster, now in a testing phase, is going to transmit TV series and sport programmes, selected from the premium content provided by different groups: 1+1 Media, StarLight Media, Inter Media Group and Media Group Ukraine. The 15% of the quota allocated to 1+1 will be realized by Kwartal 95 studio: a production company founded by the current President Volodymyr Zelensky, that has helped forge his notoriety as actor and comedian. The schedule will be enriched with news (national and local) and talk shows, aiming to become capable of creating all the content autonomously.

Jamming

Giant antenna causing jamming
Source

But all those efforts may be compromised by electronic interference, said Mykyta Poturayev, a parliamentary responsible for information that attended the press conference. Just like during Cold War, when high power transmitters with giant antennas were active from the USSR territory, spreading noise, to make listening of Western broadcasters very difficult. Dom is like a foreign channel: it is dedicated to the occupied regions by being transmitted only over air. Once the autonomy of programmes’ production is reached, it will be transmitted via satellite and by cable. 

Italy: Radio tormenting – someone uses the rosary

If your neighbour is listening to radio at high volume, do you use earplugs or are you gonna start a watt-war?
It is also possible trying to solve the problem by knocking at your neighbours door or, in more serious cases, by calling the police. But when the noise occurs often and is intentional, it becomes stalking and thus a lawyer is necessary. 

Hard Rock or Radio Maria?

Italian website of Radio Maria
Radio Maria Website
Source

Checking on the web, it’s possible to find a great number of people convicted of  tormenting their neighbours, using noise made by TV or radio programmes. It’s funny that, in Italy, people seem to prefer using religious programmes, such as the rosary (transmitted by the national and most famous religious broadcaster: Radio Maria), instead of music.
Here follows a brief list of the most interesting and funny cases:

2020, Divignano (near Novara, in Piedmont, Italy): A married couple persecuted their neighbour using various religious functions transmitted by Radio Maria
Read more

2019, Vicenza (Veneto, Italy): A man was trialled for listening to Radio Maria at high volume during early morning hours
Read more

2018, Biella (Piedmont, Italy): A night worker can’t sleep during the day because of its neighbour listening to Radio Maria all day
Read more

2012 Golfo Aranci (Sardinia, Italy): 8 months of imprisonment for the two sisters that persecuted their brother during his restaurant opening hours, using Radio Maria as their weapon
Read more

There are also people who use the rosary to defend themselves.
2013 Fiesole (Tuscany, Italy): A family listened to Radio Maria at high volume to drown out the noise made by the neighbours parrot.
Read more

Spain: the legendary “cupón de la ONCE”, the main character of Spanish radio commercials

Everyone who had a chance to listen to Spanish radio programmes, especially the ones on Radio Nacional de España or the private stations Cope and Cadena Ser (on FM and medium wave), has noticed that one of the most common commercials talks about the “cupón de la ONCE”: a ticket of a very popular lottery managed by the homonymous organisation, managed by blind people. Created in the 1930s as a non state lottery, it was promoted by some blind people associations in Andalusia, Catalunya and Levante, which merged in 1939 in the official national organisation that started calling the ticket “cupón”.

The 80s boom

With the advent of democracy in Spain, also the organisation renews itself: the lottery becomes national (1984) and the prize reaches 100.000 pesetas (1987), multiplying by a million the ticket’s value, sold for 100 pesetas. Since then, the lottery took off, becoming more and more popular, and radio broadcasters started being flooded with commercials promoting the tickets’ sale. Lottery’s proceeds, from the 60’s, are invested in the opening of educational centers and libraries, to promote cultural events, and to finance fundamental services such as rehabilitation.

El Cuponazo
Source

Spain: The seventh DAB mux is on air

Transmitter, Antenna, Teide, Spain
Transmitter Teide
Source

Digital transmissions on DAB waveband, channel 9C, started in Tenerife in December 2019. The transmitter is located on the Teide, the highest active volcano in the Atlantic ocean and also the highest mountain in Spain (3.718 m). In total there are nine programmes transmitted: Axel24, BBR and XPR2 are exclusively aired on the Canary Islands, whereas Coast FM, Energy FM, Europa FM, Loca FM, Loca Latino and Magica FM, are also transmitted in Spain. Since February, Gran Via Radio from Barcelona has been added, a well-known station on 91.2 in the Catalonian metropolis.

The installation, made by Techworld Sur from Tenerife, uses a technology called BCAST, by a Polish company which provides small and medium sized radio transmitters and the software platform DABCAST for the digital transmission. In this way, the radio station is just paying a fee for the service without the need of buying any hardware equipment or the transmitter (an initiative funded by European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme). The radio station uses the software Virtual Studio to put together the audio stream with other elements that must be transmitted, such as album covers, the logo and extended text information. Then, the signal is sent to the cloud where it goes through the multiplexing process, it is encrypted with an algorithm that protects it from losing data and then is submitted to the transmitter.

BCAST Transmitter, DAB
Transmitter BCAST
Source

Illegal vs. legal match ended 4-3, but Navarra started a “remuntada”

At this stage seven multiplexes are active in Spain, but only three of them are official: the ones presumably without a license are those located in Costa del Sol (channel 7B in Marbella) and on the Canary Islands (7B in Gran Canaria, 7D and 9C in Tenerife). But Navarra’s government is going to even the score: on January 8th, 2020 it announced a call for the release of six licences for DAB transmission. A regional block, on channel 11D named FU-NAV, with 6 regional channels and another 72 channels for local broadcasters divided into two blocks made of 6 broadcasters in Pamplona, and 10 local blocks. Navarra is the first autonomous community granting regional licenses for digital radio: are other regions going to follow this path?

Pamplona, bull run, Spain, torreros
Pamplona, well-known for the bulls run during the San Fermin festival, will be the first city in Spain having 3 mux DAB, with two of them being local.
Source

The Netherlands and USA: Sanctions against Pirate Radios: Will they be successful?

Pirate ship in the ocean
Pirate Ship
Source

Since December 2019 The Dutch telecommunication agency (TT-Agentschap Telecom) toughened the penalties for unauthorised radio broadcasting. In the Netherlands, pirate radio stations have been a mass phenomenon since the 60’s. Back then, broadcasters like Radio Caroline introduced beat music on the airwaves. This has resulted in the Dutch being infected with ‘piracy’s virus’ and they started transmitting local folk music, especially in rural areas with radio programmes spoken in dialects. The phenomenon became really big: the Dutch Telecommunication Agency estimated the existence of 10,000 to 60,000 unauthorised broadcasters operating in the country during 1984, this equals to one pirate per 250 inhabitants. The radio stations were operating on shortwave (above the 49 metre band), between 1620 and 1700 kHz (X-Band), and also on FM. The programmes were usually broadcasted on evenings or weekends.

The ‘ghost radio’ signals are going to increase

Pirate Antenna Image
Pirate Image
Source

During 2003, with the first crackdown, the illegal signals decreased by 73% and now, to restrict them further, the minimum penalty has been set at € 2.500.
But why do pirate broadcasters want to transmit over air, when they can easily do it via web?
The reason is the thrill of being caught, according to what one of the protagonists said to Arno Van Der Hoeven, a student that carried out research on this phenomenon in the Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication and Culture at Rotterdam University.

The hypothesis is a possible increase of ghost signals: to not being caught by authorities, the radio transmitter and antenna are installed on a tree and remotely controlled. When the inspectors find them, they usually only deactivate the equipment without looking for the signal source.

USA: record penalty reached US$ 450.000

Radio Tele Boston
Radio Tele Boston
Source

Even the United States has its pirate radios. In the US, the coverage area of every radio and television station is set and verified rigorously (due to their model of planning for the over air transmission). And the fines are hefty: the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) imposed a fine of US$ 453.000 to Radio TeleBoston, a station that broadcasts programmes for the Haitian community and operated illegally on 90.1 and 92 MHz (with a total of three transmitters), interfering with other radio stations duly authorised. After some notices have been sent (since 2017), FCC decided to assign the maximum penalty (US$ 151.000) for every transmitter; in the meantime, TeleBoston is asking listeners for donations in order to finance the radio station.

Switzerland: Postcard from the Shortwave’s time

SwissInfo.ch –the international unit of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG SSR)– published a collection of historical photos and recordings on its website to commemorate 70 years of broadcasting. The partners of the “The Sounds of…” project are the international services of Canada, Poland, Romania and Czech Republic whose journalists provided videos to explain how they did their work. Sounds and images that enable to go back in time – when the sounds were disturbed by atmospheric noises and people were smoking cigarettes in their offices.

70 years of shortwave broadcastings

SWI Logo
Source

Switzerland’s international service started in 1935, called the SOC (Short Wave Swiss Service): in those days these bands represented the only effective way for radio to travel long distance, allowing to receive news from foreign countries.
In 1989, when the Cold War came to an end and propaganda was no longer necessary, the governments started trying to cut the high broadcasting costs (being able to reach the whole world needs transmitters up to hundreds of kW and huge antennas). Operators have reacted in different ways, like turning off some frequencies, reducing the languages offered or changing the broadcastings method.

Optimism in technological transitions

Switzerland, for its part, has turned off the high energy-consuming transmitters and continued to broadcast programs via satellite and – since 1999 – via internet, making it one of the first online radio stations. The editorial staff has been extended adding new languages like Chinese, Japanese and Russian and new audio and video contents. This is the reason why the programme changed its name to Swiss Radio International.

Click here to watch some videos by SWI.

Spain: A cyber attack blocks the Cadena SER’s computers – production returns into the 1980’s

announcement of the cyber attack on SER on their website
Announcement of the attack on the SER Website

Ransomware, a software that prevents the use of computers (by blocking them or encrypting files until you pay pirates a “ransom”), has paralysed the Cadena SER production system on November 4, 2019. To prevent risk of further infection, the computers connected to the network were turned off. However, since the Redacta platform (which assembles audio and text) could not be used, the journalists wrote the articles on sheets of paper or used word processing apps on their smartphones. Only after four days the 202 radio stations of the network were able to take up their work with their usual facilities again.

Announcement of the cyber attack on SER on the Twitter account of SER
Announcement of the attack on Twitter by SER

Services skipped, but no interruptions

Among the setbacks, the services on the MTV Awards, held in Seville the night before, were not broadcasted. On the other hand, radio hosts could provide a summary of an important electoral debate, by recording the audio from the TV (reduced quality). ‘El Confidential’ dedicated an extensive report on the emergency.

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