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Offshore Radio is radio broadcasting from ships or fixed maritime structures, usually in international waters. Broadcasting in the territorial zone (up to 22 km from shore) or the exclusive economic zone (between 22 km and 370.4 km from shore) remained illegal. Even in the international waters, a legislation in the UN convention on the law of the sea exists (article 109) that actively supports the suppression of pirate radio (called "unauthorized broadcasting"). However, since states do not have actual jurisdiction in international waters, they can not board and seize control of broadcasting ships (as long as the ship itself can not be considered unsafe).
The claimed first wireless broadcast of music and speech for the purpose of entertainment was transmitted from a Royal Naval craft, the HMS Andromeda, in 1907. The broadcast was organized by a Lieutenant Quentin Crauford using the callsign QFP while the ship was anchored off Chatham in the Thames Estuary, England. The majority of offshore broadcasters have however been pirate radio stations using seaborne broadcasting as a means to circumvent national broadcasting regulations, for example the practice has been used by broadcasting organizations like the Voice of America as a means of circumventing national broadcasting regulations of other nations. The Council of Europe in 1965 passed the "European Agreement for the Prevention of Broadcasts transmitted from Stations outside National Territories" to address this loophole, although member states were slow to implement this in national law.
Offshore pirate stations have operated off the coasts of Belgium, Denmark, Israel, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, The United Kingdom, Yugoslavia and the United States. See Pirate radio for full details.
Most offshore broadcast is usually associated with European pirate radio stations; the trend never caught on as much in the United States as most organizations that could afford an offshore broadcasting boat would instead buy a legal station. Still, there were a few American offshore stations that made a lasting impression. The first station to broadcast in the U.S. from international waters was off of the coast of California in the 1930s.
The station was called RXKR, and broadcast from May 1933 until August 1933. It was operated from a cargo carrier named the S.S. City of Panama, a ship that was actually supposed to be advertising tourism in Panama to Americans from California. The operators of the ship actually broadcast popular music and advertisements, fooling the Panamanian government and eventually being shut down at the request of the U.S. Department of State.
One of the most popular offshore radio broadcasts in Europe came from Radio Caroline, which developed out of the strict broadcasting regulations in England in the 1960s. By the late 1920s the BBC was formed, and the “UK government concluded that this was such a powerful means of mass communication that it would have to be in state control.” Because of rigid governmental controls and a lack of popular music broadcasting, much of the British population began to turn to radio stations from abroad, such as Radio Lyon or Normandy, Radio Athlone, Mediterranee and Radio Luxembourg. In the UK, only signed artists from major labels were broadcast, and only for short periods of time during the day. Radio Caroline was the brainchild of Ronan O'Rahilly, who dreamed up a way to air music by “unestablished” rock and roll artists. The ship broadcast its first show on Easter Saturday (March 28) 1964. Other well-known stations of the period were Radio Atlanta, Radio London, Radio 270 (broadcasting of the coast of filey Yorkshire) Radio 390., and Radio City.
- Aimed at British listeners
- Laser 558
- Radio Caroline
- Radio Essex
- Radio London
- Radio City (previously Radio Sutch)
- Swinging Radio England
- Article 109
- "European Agreement for the Prevention ofBroadcasts transmitted from Stations outside National Territories". European Treaty Series. Council of Europe. 22 January 1965. pp. ETS No. 53. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
- Rugge, Hans (October 2003). "The fight for free radio". Soundscapes 6. ISSN 1567-7745. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
- Yoder, Andrew R. Pirate Radio: The Incredible Saga of America's Underground, Illegal Broadcasters. Solana Beach, CA: HighText, 1996. Print.
- Robert Chapman, Selling the Sixties: The Pirates and Pop Music Radio London: :Routledge, 1992 ISBN 0415078172
- All abouth Offshore Radio - website dedicated to the offshore stations.
- The Broadcasting Fleet (Attempts to provide a comprehensive list of all ships and offshore structures used for broadcasting)
- Offshore Music Radio - website dedicated the music and radio presenters of the offshore stations.
- Radio London - site dedicated to UK offshore radio, especially Radio London.