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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
A restructuring plan “tears and blood” as announced by Deirdre Anne “Dee” Forbes, general director of the RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann). Over the next three years, cost-cuttings of up to 60 million euros are planned, including the stop of digital channel broadcasting only on DAB: RTÉ 2XM, RTÉ Pulse, RTÉ Gold, RTÉjr Radio and RTÉ Radio 1 Extra. The RTE director also called for legislative action to reduce the evasion of the radio and television license fee (estimated at 11%, with a loss of revenue of around 20 million euros). In recent years RTÉ had already reduced costs by 30%.
If the public radio will free the channels, there is a commercial radio enterprise looking to acquire them: According to Kevin Branigan, Chief executive officer of Radio Nova, they are interested in expanding coverage nationally. The Dublin broadcaster has a team of 40 people and is the only station of the capital, authorised to broadcast the signal within a radius of about 50 km to cover the country and the commuter belt.