Pirate Radio Transforming — Going Online

Pirate radio has filled pockets of airwaves in New York for a long time. Over the years, these unlicensed, illegal radio stations have maintained their presence on the airwaves as a movement. But the times they are a-changin’ and the pirate radio movement is joining a growing online radio community, reports The Brooklyn Ink. Melissa Howard of The Brooklyn Ink traces the transformation of once-pirate Hank and Jim Radio Network into an online radio station.

Hank Hayes, a former pirate DJ, broadcasting on the Internet-based Hank and Jim Radio Network from Jim Nazium’s living room in Brooklyn. (Photo submitted by Hank Hayes via The Brooklyn Ink)

Late on a recent Wednesday night, Jim Nazium of the Hank and Jim Radio Network took to the Internet to play classic rock and requests for about 100 online listeners. To the backdrop of a long-ago hit by Bachman Turner Overdrive, Nazium played air guitar and lip-synched the line “Any love is good love, so I took what I could get.”

Meanwhile, Nazium’s partner Hank Hayes joined the broadcast by clicking one of the webcam icons next to Nazium’s feed, allowing his own video feed to appear right next to the DJ’s. So did five other online listeners.

The show represents the evolution of “pirate radio” – for Nazium and Hayes, as well as the underground broadcasting movement in general. The two DJs started putting out shows illegally on AM frequencies from a Brooklyn studio in 1975. Recently, however, they have moved onto an Internet site hosted by Stickam.com.

Their shift to the Internet in 2007 might have reduced the danger of being caught by the FCC, but Nazium and Hayes still miss the ‘thrill of piracy’.

 “There’s such nostalgia for the way it was way back when,” said Hayes, who currently works for ABC News Radio. “That feeling of danger, that the (FCC) could come at any minute, that really was a part of it. But I didn’t know that until we did it for the first time. So it was kind of like once that first kicked in, when the signal was on the air and we knew people could get it, that people were tuning in, then it was so exciting for that reason alone.”

‘Thrills of piracy aside, an increasing number of pirate DJs, like Hayes, 51, and Nazium, 54, have no regrets about embracing the Internet.

 “It’s the most logical thing to do,” said Pete Sayek, who first heard Hayes’ and Nazium’s pirate radio show in his parents’ Midwood home in 1976 and is now a DJ for the Hank and Jim Radio Network. “You have all the freedom that you had being an underground station without having to worry about that infamous knock on the door.”

Jim Nazium broadcasting on the Hank and Jim Radio Network. The DJs communicate with listeners through Stickam.com’s chatroom and webcam capabilities. (Photo by Melissa Howard via The Brooklyn Ink)

Interestingly, change in the medium of their broadcasts has not dented the popularity of Hayes and Nazium’s show.  It has drawn more than 12.5 million viewers from around the world. Internet’s unlimited reach has bolstered their audience which was limited to parts of Brooklyn during their pirate days. Internet radio listenership is constantly increasing and, according to SoundExchange, a company that collects royalties from webcasters and satellite radio providers, about 80 million Americans tune into this medium each week, largely because of the varying perspectives it offers.

A quintessential example of pirates who aim to offer listeners a unique perspective through their broadcasts, Datz Hits Radio DJs Robert Brown and Lloyd Morris said they provide a “cultural listening experience” for Boston’s Caribbean population.

One of the reasons for the tremendous growth of Internet radio is its ability to offer a mobile format which many radio executives call the next frontier for independent and commercial radio. Paul Campbell, director of business and marketing for My Vybz Radio, says this growth is largely due to the smart use of technology.

“We have been using the technology to our advantage,” said Campbell, 35, who added that My Vybz regularly receives anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000 hits worldwide for its live video and audio broadcasts. “A lot of our fan base is not necessarily on the computer. Cell-phone streaming is where the growth has been.”

Many West African radio hosts in New York use free conference call services to broadcast radio shows to anyone in the country who dials in to hear and participate. Voices posted a podcast and an article from Feet in 2 Worlds by Abdulai Bah in April this year that detailed this emerging media in the African community.

The Brooklyn Ink’s Melissa Howard says Pirate DJs are always in fierce competition to broadcast on the most popular frequencies. According to Kenny Ragoo, who was part of the first Internet radio crew to host a live video feed of its studio, DJs take extreme measures to block their competitors’ broadcasts.

“People would kick the door open and steal a DJ’s equipment so then they will know that frequency is available,” explained Ragoo, 40, who said he has worked in radio for eight years. “It’s not a battle, it’s a war.”

This war, though, could phase out if more pirate DJs take advantage of the Internet’s worldwide broadcasting capability. But many current and former pirates, some of whom traveled on boats like the Mi Amigo, home to Radio Caroline, and the MV Lucky Star, to international waters to escape their government’s reach, find a cathartic pleasure in pirate radio.

Their broadcasts’ shift to the Internet in 2007 might have reduced the danger of being caught by the FCC, but Nazium and Hayes still miss the ‘thrill of piracy’.

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