Pirate Radio New Listener Guide and FAQ

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Revision as of 17:39, 16 April 2012


What Are Pirate Radio Stations?

Brief History of Pirate Radio Stations

Some Examples of Pirate Radio Stations

List of Pirate radio stations

How to Listen To Pirate Radio Stations

Frequencies Pirate Radio Stations Use

In general pirate radio stations try to transmit on unused frequencies. This is for two reasons. First, they don't want to cause interference, as this tends to result in the radio authorities taking an interest in them, and shutting them down, otherwise known as a bust. Second, they often use relatively low power levels, and would not be heard over a licensed station that most likely is using more power.

AM/MW Band Pirates

While AM band pirates can turn up anywhere, they are most commonly heard in the extended band, which runs from 1610 to 1700 kHz, as this part of the AM band is much less crowded. They are also often heard outside of the AM band, with 1710 kHz being most popular, as this frequency is otherwise unused.

Many AM pirates have ethnic programming, in languages other than English.

AM pirates used to be more common in the 1970s and 1980s, with several high power stations operating in the New York City area. High power / long distance AM pirates are not as often heard today. Most AM pirates today tend to be relatively low power, with a range of tens of miles at the most. There are some exceptions, such as Radio Celestial from New York City, which is often heard on 1710 khz.

FM Band Pirates

FM band pirates can be heard throughout the FM band, wherever there are unused channels in a city. They can also be heard outside of the band, with 87.9 MHz being most common.

In large urban areas, there are often numerous FM pirates that can be heard. As power levels are often low, the range of a given station can be only a few miles, if that. Many FM pirates have ethnic programming, in languages other than English.

FM pirates will not otherwise be discussed on this page, which focuses on shortwave and AM pirates.

Shortwave Pirates

Shortwave pirates use numerous frequency bands, depending to a large extent on their location in the world.

United States and Canada

In the US and Canada, by far the most popular band for pirates is the so called 43 meter band. This extends roughly from 6800-7000 kHz, with several frequencies being most commonly used. In order by popularity, they are:

  • 6925 kHz
  • 6950 kHz
  • 6955 kHz
  • 6900 kHz
  • 6850 kHz


The most popular bands are the 48 meter band (roughly 6200 to 6450 kHz) and the 75 meter band (roughly 3900-4000 kHz, which is part of the 80 meter ham band in the US). Europirates (as European pirate stations are often referred to in the US) also make use of other parts of the HF spectrum. Other commonly used bands include:

  • 19 meters, generally 15000-15100 kHz, but also 15700-15900 kHz
  • 13 meters, 21000-25000 kHz

When to Listen

When to listen depends on radio propagation conditions for the particular band, and where you and the station are located. Some generalized examples:

43 meters in the US/Canada

During the daytime, this band operates in NVIS mode, where signals go up to the ionosphere and are reflected roughly straight down. That means that stations generally only reach a distance of a few hundred miles.

During the nighttime, the band "goes long" and more distant stations can be received, at the expense of not being able to receive local stations.

The 48 meter band works about the same way within Europe.

48 meters from Europe to the US/Canada

During the daytime, reception from Europe is generally impossible. Once the path between Europe and North America is dark, reception becomes possible. The actual quality of reception conditions can vary dramatically from day to day, due to changes in the ionosphere caused by general solar activity, solar flares, etc.

The same is true for reception of 43 meter band signals from the US/Canada by listeners in Europe.

19 meters and higher frequencies

Generally, these are long distance DX bands, and are not suitable for relatively local reception. That is, the distance between the station and listener should be many hundreds of miles at a minimum, often thousands of miles. During periods of low and moderate solar activity, these bands are usually open during the late morning and early afternoon. During periods of high solar activity, they can be open 24 hours a day.

Factors That Effect Reception

Keep in mind that lots of atmospherics come into play when you're listening on HF bands, storms in between your location and the operators factor greatly.

Also, for the non-technical listener - there is an atmospheric condition known as Gray Line Propagation: http://www.w8mrc.com/dx/propagation/ which is especially helpful in understanding as it relates to optimal reception of pirate radio broadcasts, especially due to the broadcast power constraints pirate ops must deal with. For listeners, understanding grayline propagation will help greatly in improving what you hear, even at great distances from the op's transmitting region.

Radio Equipment


Whip antenna built into the radio

Random wire (longwire) antennas


Loop Antennas

Active Antennas

Online/Web Radios

If you want to get started listening to pirate radio stations, but don't want to invest in a shortwave radio and antenna, one free solution is to listen via the many radios that individuals have put online.

QSL Cards

A QSL is a verification from a radio station that you, the listener, actually heard the station. The listener sends a reception report to the station, which contains details sufficient to prove reception. This can include things like songs played, quotes of things said, etc. Information concerning the quality of reception is also generally given, this feedback lets the station know how well it was received. It is also customary to indicate what type of radio and antenna was used, as this can help qualify the reception quality information.

In return, the station sends the listener a QSL card, either as a physical card or letter by mail, or, more common today, as an eQSL card, which is typically a JPG or other image sent by email.

SIO Code

The SIO Code is a 3 digit number used to indicate how well the station was received. Each number is from 1 to 5, with 1 representing the worst possible reception, and 5 the best.

  • Strength - how strong the signal was
  • Interference - how much of a problem interference was
  • Overall - the overall quality of the reception

An SIO code of 555 is the best possible. Likewise, and SIO of 111 is the worst, and means the station was barely audible. SIO codes are inherently highly subjective.

The SIO code replaces the older SINPO code, which included two additional parameters:

  • Noise
  • Propagation (fading)

Examples of QSL Cards

Tips for QSL'ing Pirates

Things to keep in mind

  • QSL'ing preferences vary from op to op, and some ops QSL later rather than sooner (sometimes after many years...), as time, safety and costs allow.
  • Be patient and open-minded. Some OPs choose to remain a mystery or QSL within the broadcast via SSTV, digital mode that can be decoded by numourous free and low-cost applications:


Snailmail QSL etiquette

Traditionally, the pirate radio operator would announce a maildrop address for reception reports. This is a PO Box, and a third party collects the reports for various stations, sends them to each station, gets the QSL cards back, and sends them to the listeners. This provides a level of anonymity for the pirate operator.

It is customary to send $1 US or 3 first class postage stamps with a reception report, to help cover postage costs for the letters that have to go back and forth between the station and maildrop.

eQSLs have mostly replaced traditional paper QSL cards for pirates. The listener can directly contact the station via email with the reception report. The QSL can be immediately sent back to the listener, there are no postage costs. And if the operator uses gmail or another secure email system, he does not run the risk of his identity being revealed by the drop operator.

Email or "eQSL" ettiquette

In your request, offer as much technical feedback as your experience allows, include where possible:

  • What content you heard, music, dialogue, distinctive ID's or properties of the broadcast that will help the op know that you uniquely heard his broadcast, as many ops use same frequencies
  • Congeniality: Live Radio is full of surprises, even for the operator, technical glitches 'happen' -- the QSL report you send should be respectful, and if any audio deficiencies are noted, be gentle and descriptive i.e. "Slight audio drift and slight distortion noted at <insert time during broadcast>" , if known. If the op was making technical adjustments during the broadcast, mentioning what you heard may help them understand how their adjustments affected a broadcast.

Remember, Pirate Ops do this for fun and challenge, at their own expense, for the entertainment of others, and face a number of risks to do so. Let them know that you enjoyed their broadcasts, for many ops, this is the sole payback they get for their efforts.

A few VITAL points

  • Try NOT to publicly speculate on the location of an operator, even if well-meaning or you suspect the operator is somewhere near your region. This has a chilling effect for operators, and past controversies, (available for reading on the HFU wiki) will dicourage ops from coming on the air for fear of FCC intimidation or 'outing'.
  • Personal Privacy and Safety: As with all things on the internet, your privacy is important, consider using a non-personal webmail account for corresponding with HF Pirates, both for your safety and their anonymity.

Webmail accounts vary: Gmail [1] currently offers the best file storage capacity and doesn't share your sending IP's in the headers, Hotmail [2] and Yahoo [3] do currently still appear to embed the sender's IP address, and might be considered accounts to be avoided. Your level of vigilance/paranoia may vary, but consider a mail account that discloses the least amount of personal information possible.

Getting Up To Date Information About Pirate Radio


Mailing Lists

Chat Rooms

Pirate radio listeners often keep in touch with each other using real time chats. This allows them to immediately find out when stations are being heard, and what frequency to tune to.


IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, is one online chat system. Full details are available here: [[4]]

Iann's Chat

Iann's Chat is a web based chat, which is very popular with European listeners and pirate station operators: [5]


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