June 2010
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Al Fansome, Call your office

Shortwave Pirate broadcasting has been going on for years.  While it is illegal to transmit radio signals without a license, it is not illegal to receive those signals.  There is something sort of sneaky, like you are hearing something you shouldn’t, part of some underground thing, listening to these guys.  I am almost remiss to write something about it because I don’t want anyone to get into trouble.

Anyway, on any given day or night, pirate broadcasters roam the shortwave airwaves.  Much of what they do is typical sophomoric humor, such as playing a song where the only lyrics are “god damn you” over and over again.  Some of it can be somewhat entertaining.  A lot of what they tell as jokes are inside baseball, you have to listen and do a little research to get it, the Al Fansome reference is one.  There are no set times or frequencies.  It is quite common to hear one guy tuning up and getting ready to go on the air when the current frequency occupant signs off (happens often on 6925 KHz).

Most of these guys build their own transmitters based on designs found on various websites.  Power levels vary, but 10 to 50 watts is common.  Because of this, a good low noise receiving antenna is required to pull them out of the noise floor.  I have used, with good success, a K9AY terminated loop antenna.  We are in a rural area, so it is pretty low noise to begin with.  Even so, the coverage with a 50 watt transmitter is remarkable when propagation conditions are good.  Sound quality can be quite good for a homemade AM transmitter.

There is a lot of focus on FM pirates these days, that particular setup is likely the easiest to attain for most non-technical types.  There are a few AM pirates floating about, those are likely the most difficult to construct and conceal once they are on the air.  Both of those broadcast bands have the advantage in that there are many kits and or instructions on how to build a pretty good sounding transmitter.  Shortwave seems to be a small cadre of dedicated hobbyists that simply like to fool around on the radio.

In any case, with the FCC stretched thin, it is unlikely that a SW pirate will be busted but not unheard of.   One SW pirate station was busted in Florida about a month ago.  Even so, that was the first one in almost five years.

For the most part, the activity seems to center between 6850 to 6970 KHz or so.  Some others operate around 15055 to 15070 KHz.  Here is a brief selection of what one might find on the SW pirate frequencies:

  • WHYP on 6925 USB “Who Wants To Be A Pirate Radio Operator” at 0156z.
  • WMPR on 6925 AM “This is WMPR Dancy Party” ID at 0040z.
  • Captain Morgan Shortwave Radio on 6925AM “Positive Captain Morgan Shortwave ID, email and twilight zone theme at 2209z.
  • Radio Ronin Shortwave on 6950AM oriental-sounding interval signal, id at 01:04, Outer Limits intro, “She Blinded Me with Science”, strange version of “SOS”, anti-BP comedy skits, id at 01:19
  • Indira Calling  on 6925AM pop music that I can’t identify, “Rock-It”, Indian music, id at about 00:37, “Beach Party 2000” show, Calcutta mail drop, Beach Boys medley
  • WEAK Radio on 6925 Shout out to Voice Of Honor. 0048z “Godzilla” 0055z Sabbath.
  • Channel Z radio on 15067AM 2218z ID and contact info, must be an old show (Blue Ridge Summit maildrop)

And so on.  Those call signs are usually spoofs on something.  Occasionally, contact information is given out, usually in the form of a mail drop.  If so inclined, one might write a letter and receive a QSL card.

Radio Ronin QSL card

Radio Ronin QSL card

There is plenty of information floating around out there about shortwave pirate radio, if one cares to look for it.  Two of the more popular discussion forums are HF underground and Free Radio Network Grapevines.

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3 comments to Al Fansome, Call your office

  • J. Aegerter

    Pirate radio stations appear to be on the rise. One was reported to be on 88.9 MHz. in an area served by a licensed station on a tower of mine. Apparently, it was caught and has ceased operation do to the diligent efforts of the Chicago FCC office. In Milwaukee, a church has been broadcasting on AM 1700, and some guy in a high-rise apartment on 92.9 FM. Bubba’s Treasury Department’s agents stormed into Ramsey Electronics in Victor, NY back in November 1999 and seized over $30,000 of inventory. This was before U.S. Customs was moved into the Department of Homeland Security under Bush. The visit to Ramsey was conducted like a ‘drug bust’ with a New York State Police officer reportedly in attendance. It is not clear in my mind what they were after? Was it the FM and AM transmitter kits? Was it wireless microphones? Reports circulated about this raid are many, and the un-professional gestapo-like storm-trooper methods used are further evidence of where our country is going.

  • Al Fansome

    Weather Radio, a SW pirate that broadcast spoofs of NWS stations, was busted informally about a month or so ago. The FCC came by and gave him a “friendly” warning to shut it down, which he did. Nothing official was done, no letters, no fines, and no equipment confiscated.

  • Tom

    The Ramsey Electronics raid you mentioned was due to some three letter agency claiming that the wireless microphone kits could be used for illegal surveillance, and siezed them on that basis.

    they wanted to be the only ones who could bug people!!

    It wasn’t due to them selling broadcast band transmitter kits; in fact, only the products that contained an integral microphone were affected as I recall.

    Now, about that silly 2M transceiver kit they sold for a while… I have one and it will transmit while the PLL is out of lock, there is no logic to protect against this and I put mine out to pasture after noticing it walks right up into the marine band at random… LOL!

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