Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006
Interference FM
Interference FM broadcast live from the Free the Spirit Festival, Luton 1999. Photo: Ian Hunter

Active On The Airwaves

Airto Coral catches up with Interference FM, the pirate politico's.


Teletext March 1 1998......pirate radio activists make unexpected appearance on airwaves....... 

According to The Times newspaper two days later, the Countryside Alliance had sold 50,000 ear-piece radios to pro-hunting demonstrators gathering for the Countryside March. After paying £2.50 each they were expecting to listen to a day of fox hunting tales on the temporarily licenced March FM.

There were angry ripples across the sea of barbour jackets, however, when a clandestine team of pirate radioteers calling themselves Interference FM made their first appearance on the airwaves. Climbing onto a tower block near Hyde Park, five members of the guerilla team crystal-locked their powerful transmitter onto 87.7FM and out-broadcast the hunters with a repeated message: "This is Hunt Saboteurs Broadcasting Association broadcasting to the nation's bigots. Get orf my land."

£125,000 worth of ear-piece radios locked to the 87.7 FM frequency were binned as a result.

The next time Interference FM reappeared on the London airwaves was in the following year when the team reassembled to out-broadcast a commercial radio station in the run up to the J18 in the City of London. Millennium FM are an advertising based radio station which boasts a 75% ABC 1 audience in the Canary Wharf/Greenwich area of London and broadcasts on 106.8FM.

"Millennium FM prides itself in reaching a market with the highest purchasing power and fuels values based on greed and profit," says Chris Winton, one of Interference FM's founder members. "We were only too happy to be taking it out whilst at the same time doing our bizniss." Broadcasting throughout the week on 106.8, Interference wiped over much of Millennium FM, confining them to a small area next to their transmitter in Thamesmead.

On June 18 itself, Interference switched to 107.4 to stay one step ahead of Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) detection, and ministry officials took longer than expected to trace their transmitter. During the day the Interference team broadcast a mixture of music, news and direct action adverts, countering the mainstream media's unquestioned broadcast of police press statements with live mobile phone reports from activists inside the Square Mile.

At 5.45pm, DTI officials finally located the transmitter on a tower block in Peckham.

"We had been broadcasting for several hours and were due to come off air at 6pm," recalls Tim Larey. "We were all fucked on the final furlong as we'd been up for two nights getting it all sorted. Then with a quarter of an hour to go the sound went down. We went out on the balcony with the binoculars and could see the silhouettes of the DTI officials pummeling the transmitter with sledgehammers on a distant tower block."

Using triangulation techniques and maximum resources, it is possible for the DTI to locate a pirate transmitter to within 20 metres of its exact location after only ten minutes of broadcast. By distancing the sound source from the transmitter using microwave links, however, pirate radio stations can avoid easy detection of their studio and therefore avoid personal arrests. During the technical set up on the day of J18, an unusual tower block electrical circuit of 110V threw off Interference FM's microwave link leaving the transmitter broadcasting direct from the sound source. A dangerous situation the team did well to survive.

Chris Winton told SQUALL: "We were booming. Despite a few technical hitches we managed to keep it on air for most of the day and, given the radical nature of the station, we were expecting the DTI a lot sooner. Loosing the transmitter was not unexpected, we were pleased we were able to maintain it for so long with the studio undetected."

Meanwhile, a section of the Interference team reappeared in Bristol a few months later, broadcasting several times in the run up to the Mumia Abu-Jamal demonstrations on October 24. On the day they successfully negotiated a day long broadcast without losing equipment and have broadcast regularly ever since. With the DTI less rabid in provincial towns, Interference FM's Bristol team have avoided any equipment loss, despite the regularity and radical nature of their programming content.

The full Interference team made another reappearance later that year, for the series of actions around the N30 anti-WTO demonstrations. Once again the team relocated between several tower blocks during a number of broadcasts in the run up to November 30. On the day itself they remained on air for eight hours until the DTI finally tracked down and destroyed the transmitter at 5pm.

According to the bizarrely wayward Sunday Times Insight team, the anti-capitalist protests in London on Mayday 2000 were to be co-ordinated with pirate radio broadcasts from Interference FM. The heat was on.

On Mayday morning, Interference activists setting up a transmitter on a tower block in south London happened to glance over the railing to see two police cars and a van disgorge several police officers below. They were looking upwards towards the top of the tower block.

"We grabbed our tools and could hear the lift coming up as we walked down and out through the back route," recalls Chris Winton. "We pulled the nonchalant one as we walked out the front door and noticed the coppers on the roof looking down."

This time then, Interference were trailed and temporarily thwarted but with their transmitter intact they intention is to step up their operations for future actions. According to Chris Winton: "You can look out for us. When we first started we were replying to the lack of decent radio news media but as we've developed we've realised that the exclusivity of radio licensing is part of the comodification of the airwaves. It is another form of enclosure by capitalism. The media is a war and we're ready for it."

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