copyright (c) S.Bluck. 2004-2019
0 to 40 at 100mph. (1)
My Nan (Dad's mum) used to arrive by train from Somerset. and on one occasion
she gave me a battery, a yard of bell wire, and a bulb. Within a minute it was
all wired up and working. My interest in things electrical was started at a
quite early age. My dad was working as a draughtsman, first for T.M.C. Then
in Greenwich producing layouts for printed circuit boards, and during
the school holidays I would go into work with him and watch... switches,
relays, Nixie tubes, transistors, resistors, capacitors, diodes all being
connected in the 2:1 reality of red and blue tape on a tenth of an inch grid
on a big drawing board. Later on in my life I spent some time doing exactly
the same thing. Although now I use a computer, I still have Dad's big old
drawing board here made redundant when they went over to Wayne-Kerr Artworkers.
I was given an electronics kit when I was about six years old. I started to
discover the circuit diagram and found that reading them was far more interesting
than reading normal books. Anyway, my big brother could read books, but he
couldn't read a circuit diagram, so I drifted into my world of volts.
At school I found a friend who also liked things electrical, and mum had to
arrive and collect various confiscated items from the teacher, She reminds me
of this whenever possible!
a box of old switches, plugs, sockets and bits of wire arrived. and I had a
screwdriver... I was about seven, and Dad gave me a brief lesson in digital
logic. AND NAND , OR NOR , XOR , INVERTER. I spent the next 20 minutes
making logic gates, and taking them back to be inspected, and giving a
description of how they worked. I was then shown how they were drawn and so
began to set myself large arrays of gates to find the truth tables for...
When not playing ones-and-noughts I spent time in the basement of the house.
I had been given a room with a table and was busy dissecting an old television.
and also spent some time mixing petrol, oil, and anything else together to see
if I could make it go bang, and tried to get Mum to buy me some sulphur and
saltpetre from the vilage chemist.
For me, life was good. Holidays in spain dad mum and brother. Going to Le Mans
in france to watch the 24hour motor race, and interesting things to mess with!
mum had started working in a local glazing company and they had a computer.
a machine which occupied a room and processed information on cards with magnetic
strips. all of this was early/mid 1970's high-technology COBOL-programmed-chaos.
This was replaced a few years later on by a far smaller computer which had 5-1/4"
discs. and lived in a two and a half foot high rack alongside the desk. again a
single-user system, with a life dedicated to doing the accounts.
A few more years passed by. mum and dad were now divorced. and I was still doing
some learning, By the time I was 13 years old my school had given up trying to
teach me, and Being a dedicated bored drop-out from the age of about 10, I was a
dificault creature to educate unless my interest was caught. It virtually never
was, So I became a bit of a pest, A maths teacher started talking about logic
and binary one day but he was only reading out of a book, and didn't know
anything about the subject, he was a tad confused to find that I did and he soon
changed the subject.
I decided to have some time off school, and didn't go in for about a month!
I don't think I was missed too much by the teachers.
All were asked to write a story. Fictional. not my subject.. I was asked to
"just write somthing and read it to us.." I produced a three page technical brief
on self-controlled robotic domestic appliances and lost everyone after the first
sentance. As a last resort I was taken to the school library and allowed to find
a book that interested me. Technical Press, Basic Electronics. it had a description
of a radio transmitter, complete with circuit diagram. The teacher couln't understand
my intrest, but I was allowed to take the book home and absorb the information
I had some money, and found a company about ten miles away who had the 6F6 and 6AC7
valves and sockets in stock, PM Components, Meopham. I cycled over the next day and
bought a few of each and started to build my first HF transmitter. And later my first
MF transmitter, this was 1980.
1979-1980 I had bought my first Illegal AM CB radio and was chatting to like minded
people. I had left school early at 15 and was working for a company making Z80
cp/m systems. I was interviewed by the Ministry Of Defence who offered me a job
in Bromley, Kent. But I stayed with the company I was already working for.. (not
one of my better decisions!) I was testing and fault-finding to component-level,
and writing bits of test code. Earning a ridiculous amount of money which I managed
to waste. Usually between eight and eleven in the evening down the pub.
By ninteen years old I was a hopeless alcoholic. Bored with computers, I could
speak fluent Z80 machine code, a little 68000, hexadecimal, and binary. I re-
started my interest in building radio transmitters, and now I was producing VHF
FM as well as MF/HF equiptment. I was living in a small rented room. After the
rent, I could barely afford to eat. So my weight dropped to 10 stone. I still
managed to find a bit of cash for beer though. Motorbikes, Parties, and getting
pissed and stoned was the survival method of the moment. And on several occasions
I found myself waking up in shop doorways, parks, alleys and once in a river!
a few years further down the line, and many days and evenings down the pub. A
small group of us were in the business of building equipment for pirate radio
stations, and installing it in various places. on our way home from the pub,
having spent the day working on some radio kit. a few CB radios, a few P.M.R.
(mini-cab) transceivers, and a VHF-FM broadcast transmitter for a local pirate
radio station. We decided to test the transmitter and play some records through
it for a couple of hours. There started a fun radio station that was to be on
the air most weekends for the next couple of years. We had a mailing address
in W.Germany and received letters from all over europe. On the occasions when
we had a telephone number available, non stop calls were received for the few
hours we had the lines open. Over the bank holiday weekends we sometimes had
as many as five transmitters running at once, on FM MediumWave and Shortwave.
and we had a pair of pay-phone boxes locally with consecutive telephone numbers
this sounded quite cool, and was fun to do.. We were stopped by a policeman on
our way from the telephone boxes back towards the transmitter one day, but he
could do nothing and became a bit pissed off when I explained that they were
public telephones, and we happened to be members of the public! (another reason
to have a go at the police for being idiots). This was the era of one-of-a-kind
transmitters. Often built from scrap. Some, mostly the links and VHF kit were
transistorised, but not frequency-synthesized. The mediumwave and HF kit was
mostly valve based, And run from either a tediously heavy pair of car batteries,
or from some cables I had run from some lamp-posts along the A2 motorway. During
this time I gained much experience for future use, I had some fun, and then
some time later I started doing my own thing, My way.
It's odd the things people give you. I was given a 24 Volt 15Watt wideband UHF
amplifier module. The data in the Mullard semiconductors book rated the module
for band IV / V television use! So I started putting a small television transmitter
together (for fun!) I visited a tower-block in Essex, just off the A13 and picked
up a few redundant parts from and old BSB satellite-distribution installation.
I had a good quality synthesized modulator, and a very high gain Head-end amplifier.
I built a driver stage using a pair of UHF transistors, double-sided thin copper-
clad board (Microstrip L's monolithic C's), and strung it all together. Filtering
was non-existant and output was DSB but the thing worked quite well! And This,
running from a pair of 12 Volt dryfit batteries, With a battery operated JVC video
and an eight element yagi (modified from an old TV aerial), meant that I had a
complete UHF television transmitter, And it all fitted in a bag.
(My apologies to all who were viewing bbc1 from the Addington Repeater
one evening in the late 1980s! I hope you liked ZZ-Top! He-He).
The ideas I had during this time were to prove valuable in the coming years,
My colleagues during the early days were not as ambitious as me when it came
to building in a level of complexity into the system. call taking, linking, and
station security all became the target of my "flexable imagination". Why have
people hanging around telephone boxes attracting attention. Why leave the
main transmitter, or even the link running, if your site is being raided.
CCTV cameras are small and don't move, unlike people looking from windows!
I kept myself, and many of my ideas to myself until they could be put into practice.
this comes under what I call "Lesson 4" (do not give the game away) basically if
you don't tell them about it, or how it works, they can't mess with it. Also
what they don't know, they can't use against you. And if they don't know how
it works they can't fix it, and you have a bit of built-in control in case you
need to assure payment for services rendered!
I started working for a few select stations who wanted to make thousands of
pounds running raves and selling drugs. The radio station was used to promote
the event. and keeping on the air was all-important. Some of the stations
were fronted by semi legitimate companies offering security or equipment hire
for events. Some were run be known criminals, robbers, and fraudsters. All
were in the drug and violence business, where the main objective of the game
was to get as much money as possible. I say main objective, because some were
in it for thier own reasons. Sex, Drugs, Fun, Music.. For me it was fun, and
a technical challenge. An oppertunity to test my ideas on those who weren't
playing my game, and wern't expecting this level of complexity to be involved.
This was the basic line running in the station manager's head:-
"If we're not transmitting we're not selling. and if we're not selling we're not
making money. We expect to make at least £5,000 a week. and the station is the
key to the scheme. it's the music, the advertising, the rave, and the drugs."
This was the thought process of the DJ's and general station staff:-
"Free drugs, Free records, Free beer, Free raves, Free girls, a car and fuel,
and a chance to be a famous DJ for a London pirate station! Cool!"
For the most part, being the engineer of an FM pirate radio station is a quiet
occupation broken only by beer, food, building and stealing equipment, installing
studios and output sites, fault-finding, driving all over london, breaking into
(usually) empty houses and flats, Messing with telephone lines, and taking speed.
Studios are set up with the record decks, tape machines, mixers and mikes bought
using stolen credit cards, and arrive in the station owners two year old black BMW.
I arrive in a scruffy M.O.T. failed car/van, The giveaway is the 20 foot scaffold
pole tied to the roof-rack or sticking out of the back, along with the tools and
equipment to get the studio and the main transmitter site installed. And the back
filled with boxes and bags of cables kit and records, usually driven by a 17 year
old wanna-be DJ with no licence or insurance.
A simple station setup goes somthing like this.....
It's getting dark, you pull up in a car park. and as quietly as possible get the
kit up to an empty flat, "this was my sister's friend's place until they moved
her out" (probably somthing to do with the rain that runs through the windows
that don't fit properly, the carpet infested with fleas, and the smell of piss
in the corridors and lifts). The carpets are pulled up and when it's dark are
thrown from the 9th floor balcony into the car park below and dragged over to the
bins. Then the place gets it's first and only clean out while I'm up on the roof with
the transmitter, aerial and pole. A cable is dropped down the side of the 12-floor
block and pulled into the flat. The rig on the roof is all setup and plugged into a
time switch. There is still power on in the flat. and a table had been found for
the two Technics SL1200 record decks, mixer, microphone, tape decks for ad's and
jingles. An old bedsheet is used as a curtain and the cable to the roof is
connected to the output of the mixer through a limiter to protect against idiot
DJ's. As time passes the music being played is Broken by inane DJ ramblings,
station ID and jingles. The station's Cell-Phone number is given out and requests
and signal reports start to come in. Later, the ad's for this weeks raves start
going out and the beer, powdered milk, sugar, munchies and pizza come in. My
place is in the other room, with a scanner tuned to the local police channels. a
radio tuned to our output frequency, and a pair of binoculars to take a look at
any cars driving towards the block of flats. Sitting on the floor in a group are
the DJ's who will be running through the night, (usually between three and six of
them), now busy with lager, garlic bread, and a lump of canabis resin the size of
a golf ball.
Once it's all up and running you are left in a corner with some warm beers, and
yesterdays cold chinese food or pizza, that is, until a problem "happens". I made
a point of listening to the stations output whenever I was on "guard-duty" but
this was not always done by others in the studio. Sometimes we didn't know the
station had been off air until the 'phone started to ring! Then the chaos and
paranoia would start, "shit! shit! turn it off, pull out the cable and drop it
out of the window,.." DON'T PANIC! Is there anyone out in the corridor? "no"
Is the transmitter still running? "er... Yes" problem was often traced to somthing
silly.. "we un plugged that to plug in the TV, it didn't seem to be doing anything!"
So the limiter was plugged back in again, and life continued with a really strong
cup of coffee. Always listen to the output of the transmitter. Not the output of
the mixer! I was saying this a few times a day for years, Occasionally somone
bothered, not often enough though.
The days and sometimes the weeks pass with a few minor problems, The station is
working well between 14:00 and 02:00. Then a policy change, and the need to get a
bigger audiance (more advertising, More customers) means that the operating times
are to strech from 08:00 to 02:00 and the transmitter power needs to be increased.
The current rig with it's 50 Watts of output gets out pretty well over the south-
east London area. We now need to cover an extra few miles. An external Power
amplifier was dropped in between the transmitter and aerial, And the output
power was up to 175 Watts. Local TV reception using the block's community
aerial/satellite system was un-affected, But reception of some other FM stations
became dificault especially in the top few floors of the block. and who listens
to radio 3 anyway...
I don't think we're getting out, are you awake? What time did we go off?
"I Don't know!" who was monitoring the output? " no one, we were asleep..."
Still dazed from yesterdays, last-nights, and this mornings beers. and I'm
standing on a 14 inch wide angled-ledge 150 feet above a concrete car park. Not
that there would be any less mess if it were nice soft grass down there for me
to land on. A nice view of the city from up here though, must bring my camera
next time, I wish that fucking wind would stop for a while. Scaffold pole laying
on the roof, Aerial bent and snapped, co-ax cable missing, in the lift-motor
room, the transmitter had gone.
The station is off the air. Was it the D.T.I. I doubt it, probably another station
looking for some kit, But the studio is OK. The transmitter and aerial was replaced
with a spare 80 Watt rig and the station was back on again, This time I suggested
that someone stays awake, keeps a lookout, and monitors the output when I'm not there.
this is done some of the time, with breaks for food and coffee, and trips to the pub.
This time it lasted just two weeks. The police arrived at the end of the
approach road to the block. and a while later the transmitter and aerial was
taken. We dropped the audio cable to the roof out of the window, and as it
was some 40 feet longer than it needed to be, the location of the studio flat
wasn't given away, although they must now know it's in the block somewhere. A lucky
break, Usually the studio is lost during these raids. We layed-low for a while
then packed up the kit and went on a tour of South East London looking for another
output site, and another studio.
We visited the Woolwich, Plumstead, Catford and Eltham areas and after a long
morning An eight storey residential block was found, and 100 Yards away was an
empty house. The house had no electricity, but I soon had that back on again
with the help of a spare company-fuse. the studio was set up, the broken window
above the front door, our method of entry, was borded up. Then the last of my
transmitters went up on the block with a simple dipole aerial for the main
transmitter, and a small steel whip aerial for the link receiver. The output site
could be seen from the studio, and the main transmitter was now "carrier accessed"
so could be switched on and off from the studio.
After we were back on the air, and some pizza's were ordered we went out to pick
up a spare transmitter. We needed at least one spare at all times to keep the
station running, and as we'd now lost two of the three it was getting a bit urgent.
It's far easier to steal a transmitter from another station, than to build one from
scratch. Building transmitters and link gear was done during the days when every-
thing was working well and I had time to go home for a good few days. We found a
pair of residential blocks south of Bromley in Kent. The door entry system was card-
operated, but I have a few methods of getting into these places. On the roof
was a sixty watt transmitter and aerial, linked to a tape deck in the basement. The
kit was dissed, and loaded into the van by our three-man raiding party. We were off-
site in ten minutes. I re-tuned the transmitter, and built a vhf link receiver for
it. The next day I ordered enough components to build the next batch of exciters
PA's and link receivers. my next few weeks was spend building kit.
The station 'phone was an early TACS cell phone, and was picked up by the management
from a dubious source. It was a chat-line phone. and during the evenings we had a
steady stream of calls of calls diverted to us from people looking for a one-to-one
chat! This was amusing, but hardly a good thing for a pirate radio station...
"No! I'm not a sexy blonde looking for love! I'm a DJ on a radio station Do you want
me to play you a record? Maybe for your Wife/Girlfriend..?" A local telephone box
was found, It had a good telephone number and wasn't too busy. One of the DJ's stood
in it with the handset to his ear and a small oscillator held to the microphone. I
was some 300 yards away at a roadside green junction box with an amplifier and probe.
it didn't take long to find the 1kHz tone and clip my 704-set across the line. I asked
the DJ to pop back and pick me up, By the time he got to me there was a battery powered
answering machine on the line giving information on the next rave and ready to take
requests for the station. well, it bleeped but wasn't setup to record anything. I
wasn't planning to make regular trips to the JB, this would have been noticed after
a while. Later the answering machene was set to record requests, and we dialled in to
pick up the messages. After a trouble-free few weeks I replaced the answering machine
with a UHF full duplex link made from ETACS car-phone parts to the studio allowing
incoming-only calls to be taken from the payphone nearly half a mile away. Cellular
'phones became the standard way of contacting the stations, and this was far easier
than messing about with pairs of wires, boxes of kit, and dry-fit batteries in street
Live O.B. from a rave. Yeah Ok I can do that. "let them know what they're missing"
The venue had a proper stage with changing rooms, access to the roof plenty of power.
No Problem. Ground-plane aerial on the roof fed from the transmitter, just a microphone
and a limiter on stage. The station was due to be off air that evening anyway, all
the DJ's were working at the rave! Now all they needed to do was plug the station, and
tell everyone we were live-on-the-air It worked too! A few weeks later that venue was
raided and closed down (Drugs Raid).
Another station. another location, still the same game. we'd been running from
the Catford/Lewisham area for a couple of weeks but were changing location due to
too many raids and technical problems. After a bit of looking around we chose an output
site in Southwark SE London. With the studio setup in a squat just across the road, I
lost confidance in the choice of the studio when a long thin black guy with dreadlocks
said "yah man! Is dat a rig?.. where's da station?" As I carried some of the kit up
the stairs to the studio!.
The transmitter site was jinxed too! It was in a flat formerley occupied by the brother
of the station owner. we had the kit installed, power on and running, and this looney
wants to trash the roof-fire-escape from the flat, This was to try to stop anyone getting
in and taking the transmitter. By the time we get to the ground floor there are police
all over the place thinking we were breaking in! Customers, Dick-heads! Who'd bloody have
'em! I avoided being searched, or telling the police my name (real or otherwise) by
using thier own predjudice against the young asian cop who was questioning me. He wanted
to search me and tried to put his hand in my pocket. I called him a pervert loudly and
askedif he liked sticking his hand in peoples trouser-pockets? he backed off quickly when
his colleagues started laughing at him. a narrow escape! This station was in the drug-
dealing business (coke, resin and E's) some of the kit for this station was picked up from
another station in N.London. A radio station was using a block of flats for it's output
site, The transmitter was on the flat roof of the lift motor room, Power was supplied
from the lighting circuit by a thin cable running out through a vent. The aerial was
a pair of dipoles on a scaffold pole clamped to the wall. A flat in the block was used
as the link RX point fitted with a modified satellite receiver and LNB. the studio was
the top-floor flat in a house a timed 10 minutes away (by fast car!) and was linked
using microwave at 10.4GHz. We (two of us) took the transmitter and were out and away
before anyone arrived at the block. Then a few days later we did exactly the same again
taking a second rig, This time as we drove out of the car park as thier cars came racing
in! A narrow escape, and time to give raiding that site a rest for a while! A delay of
15 seconds and we would have been a pair of un-identified corpses in a burnt out car!
You think I'm kidding? NO! Because they were in the same business, and staying on the
air was just as important to them. Taking the kit from another rave-promoting station
meant more than just picking up a free transmitter. They had lost thier audiance, and
we were still on the air. The fact that we also had two of thier transmitters, and had
saved about £400 was a bonus! The manager of this station was hopeless. He was known
to the police far too well! it was chaos from the start! He eventually went to prison
for attempted murder for shooting at a member of the public from the studio flat when he
complained about the noise!
The rain started, and the transmitter stopped. This kit was installed by one of the
DJ's who thought he knew what he was doing, He didn't! My 'phone rang and I had to
magic-up a transmitter. a tour of south-west london found a dance-music station
transmitting from a 13 floor block near the A4/paddington (I had been on a raiding
party to another block in the area some time earlier, and on that occasion had aquired
a PMR base-station for spare parts). The transmitter was in an empty top floor flat
and was being fed audio from an auto-reverse tape deck. it was before seven in the
morning and kicking down the door so steal the transmitter was not an option as it
would have made far too much noise, The station's aerial was a pair of 20 foot
scaffold poles attached to the top-floor flat's balcony, supporting a pair of dipoles
some 25 feet above roof level. Getting on the roof was easy, I used my "access set"
of keys. The only way to get into the flat quietly was over the edge, holding onto,
and sliding down the lower scaffold tube. Luckily the toilet in the flat had a good
supply of soft paper! So now, we had a rig! Some modification and re-tuning done.
A link receiver fitted and we were ready to go! I was collected with the kit and taken
to a block near Deptford. Up on the roof it was a joke. They were told to use a bucket
for the rig. ther had but upright! it had filled with water and everything was dead!
I told them the bucket goes upside down with a couple of bricks on-top to hold it in
place, this keeps the rain out of the transmitter and link receiver inside. I sent them
down to get a few bricks while I waited up the top. It's a pity they didn't pull the
roof access door shut! I was standing inside when the door swung open and two
policemen walked in.. "what have we got here then.." do I really have to answer that?
"shall we go up and have a look?" One was scared of heights and stayed down in the
lift-motor room. the other followed me onto the roof. He was having radio problems
and couldn't call back to base. so I cleaned the contacts on his battery pack for him
and his radio came back to life, he called in... "We've got one on the roof installing"
No No. That kit was already here. I came with this lot and haven't installed it. The
only thing you can do me for is trespass, and that's only with the council's permission!
"Er... Aparantly we can only do 'em for trespass.. the stuff was already installed, and
it's full of water!" So.. Yes they took all the kit off the roof, And a year later I
got everything back. Two transmitters, two receivers, and the aerials! No charges could
be brought against me as I was just waiting on the roof with the kit, Not installing!
Most of the stations closed down by the D.T.I. or police really do deserve to go out of
business. I've worked for all sorts. From kids with a 10 watt transmitter in the loft,
and old hippy types with a few watts on mediumwave who want to pretend they are radio
caroline. To murdering drug pushing bastards. Usually, getting shut down is avoidable!
it's your lazyness that gets you caught. Attention to a few basic ideas could save
you some prison time, and save you a fortune in court costs!
There are no excuses for causing excess interferance. Yes you can expect a certain
amount of de-sense to local receivers due to the relatively high signal levels produced
by the output-transmitter. Good filtering of harmonics, and a well positioned aerial
will sort out the vast majority of these problems. The authorities will claim that
your equipment could cause interferance to the emergency services as it is not
built to a high standard. This is un-true if you build and install your transmitters
well and monitor their output for frequency stability, over-deviation, and harmonics.
I spent five years working for the radio section of the ambulance service and I never
once had an interferance complaint tracable to a pirate station. Minicabs and french
stations were the largest source of problems, and then second only to faults on our
own kit or operator errors.
Monitoring your own output is essential. Not just for the above engineering reasons.
How do you know if you're still on the air if you arn't monitoring? rig stolen? Just
been raided? You should make it your business to listen, IT'S UP TO YOU.
Don't invite people to the studio or output site, also no parties. Be careful where
you park your cars. Don't be seen lugging big boxes or records in and out of the studio.
Try to be as quiet as possible, As normal as possible, And talk/chat to your neighbours!
thay will often be an extra set of ears end eyes for you if you get on with them!
Choice of link method. Audio cables work if you can hide them or use existing telephone
or T.V. distribution cables. VHF and UHF radio are OK but easy to DF back to the source,
and if the link transmitter is at the studio you can look forward to being arrested.
Microwave is better, especially if you use a highly directional (dish) tranmitter aerial,
With a 2 foot dish at the studio end, and a simple feed-horn at the output site you can
easily run a few miles! as the transmitted beam-width is narrower alignment becomes more
critical, and detection/tracking of your studio far more dificault. most stations only
use a 15db feed horn. This works but the range is limited, and as the transmitter beam-
width is wider you can be traced with mobile/handheld equipment. Optical and laser methods
have been tried too, but were usually dropped due to excess attenuation, and line of sight
If you're running multiple transmitters, feed the mediumwave and shortwave rigs from
your VHF FM output. (not the other way round!) If working over a greater distance how
about using a mid-point repeater? microwave-in microwave-out a good way to add confusion
especially if the receiver and transmitter are in seperate flats using the telephone or
TV wiring to link the audio paths.
___see part 2_____
copyright(c) S.Bluck. 2005-2019