The Institute Of Contemporary Arts takes a look back at London’s pirate radio scene of the 1980s

It’s a given today that any budding radio DJ or music producer can easily broadcast their work online via Soundcloud or Mixcloud and, with a bit of judicious online promotion combined with editorial quality, can gain a substantial following.

30 years ago it was radically different. There was no internet. The only audio medium was radio and the airwaves were largely the domain of the BBC.

In London, commercial radio was still relatively small, with Capital FM and LBC the two main (if only) city-wide commercial stations. BBC Radio 1 DJs, bar a couple of exceptions, were ignorant of club culture and it took until the mid-1990s for the station to properly embrace it.

And so it fell to pirate radio to fill the void. In the 1980s a vast number of illegal pirate radio stations were engaged in a cat and mouse game with the broadcasting authorities (with some stations using quite ingenious methods to keep their transmitters and aerials out of their hands), broadcasting music that could scarcely be found on the BBC or licenced commercial radio.

One of the most famous London based pirate radio stations was of course Kiss which became a legal licensed commercial radio station in 1990.

Many of the Kiss DJs from its pirate years (Trevor Nelson, Danny Rampling, Tim Westwood) eventually made their way to BBC Radio 1. Kiss, now part of the Bauer media group, has of course become a much more mainstream radio station, to the extent that it recently came ahead of Capital FM in the radio audience figures.

The Institute Of Contemporary Arts takes a look back at the pirate radio scene in London in the 1980s with a dedicated exhibition from 26 May 2015 to 19 July 2015. Contributors include Gordon Mac, founder of Kiss FM and Stephen Hebditch of AMFM.

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