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A pirate television station is a broadcast television station that operates without a broadcast license. Like its counterpart pirate radio, the term pirate TV lacks a specific universal interpretation. It implies a form of broadcasting that is unwelcome by the licensing authorities within the territory where its signals are received, especially when the country of transmission is the same as the country of reception. When the area of transmission is not a country, or when it is a country and the transmissions are not illegal, those same broadcast signals may be deemed illegal in the country of reception. Therefore "pirate TV" can mean many things to many people. Pirate television stations may also be known as "bootleg TV", or confused with licensed low-power broadcasting (LPTV) or amateur television ATV services.
- 1 History
- 2 Techniques
- 3 Stations
- 4 Pirate television in popular culture
- 5 See also
- 6 References
Pirate Television stations are not as abundant in the USA or UK as pirate radio stations are. Only since 2004 has the technology for pirate television stations become easier to obtain and construct, due to advances in technologies and the availability of equipment.
In April 1978, a weekend broadcast on Channel 7 in Syracuse, NY called "Lucky 7" captured headlines across the nation. "Lucky 7" broadcast episodes of Star Trek and the pornographic movie Deep Throat. The source of the transmission was not identified, but it was speculated in an article in the New York Times that the signal may have been transmitted from the area of Syracuse University, as the signal was strongest in that area.
There are several techniques for pirate TV broadcasting, most of which have been made very difficult, or obsolete, by better security measures and the move to digital television.
Relay hijack (analogue)
Many analogue relay transmitters would "listen" to a more powerful main transmitter and relay the signal verbatim. If the main transmitter ceases broadcasting (for example, if a channel closes down overnight) then a pirate signal on the same frequency as the main transmitter could cause the relay to "wake up" and relay unauthorized programming instead. Typically this would be done by outputting a very weak RF signal within the immediate vicinity of the relay: for example, a video cassette recorder (such as a 12v system designed for use in trucks) sending its signal to a home-made antenna pointed at the relay. As the pirate signal is relatively weak, the source can be difficult to locate if it is well hidden.
A significant benefit of this attack is that the potential viewers do not have to re-tune their televisions to view the content. The content simply appears on an existing channel, after close-down.
This attack is generally now prevented by the channels broadcasting 24 hours per day (e.g. showing test cards instead of closing down), by using satellite feeds instead of repeating terrestrial signals, by electronic security to lock the relay to the authorised source, or by the switch to digital television.
Unsecured analogue satellite transponders have also been reported to have been hijacked in a similar manner.
Source hijack (analogue or digital)
In this scenario, a man-in-the-middle attack is performed upon the source material, such that authorized official transmissions are fed with unauthorized programming from the central studio or play-out facility. For example, a link feed (e.g. outside broadcast) is hijacked by a stronger pirate signal, or pre-recorded media (such as videotapes or hard drives) are swapped over for unauthorised content. This attack would generally have to be performed by an insider or by gaining access to studio facilities by social engineering.
As with most pirate radio stations, reasonably powerful VHF/UHF transmitters can be built relatively easily by any sufficiently experienced electronics hobbyist, or imported from a less strict country. The primary challenge to this technique is finding a suitable yet inconspicuous vantage point for the transmission antenna, and the risk of getting caught. If the pirate signal is strong enough to be received directly, it will also be strong enough to be tracked down.
The advent of digital television makes pirate television broadcasting more difficult. Channels are broadcast as part of a multiplex that carries several channels in one signal, and it is almost impossible to insert an unauthorized channel into an authorized multiplex, or to re-activate an off-air channel. In order to broadcast an unauthorized digital TV channel, not only must the perpetrator build or obtain an VHF/UHF transmitter, he must also build or obtain, and configure, the equipment and software to digitally encode the signal and then create a stand-alone multiplex to carry it. There are reports of pirate TV digital multiplexes, but they are very rare and usually suspected to have been false reports, mistaking overspill from authorized multiplexes in neighboring regions or nearby foreign countries. Viewing numbers may be much smaller than analogue pirate TV since re-tuning a digital television may be an entirely automated process which may ignore unauthorized multiplexes, or place such channels in an obscure section of the electronic program guide.
- 1st TV - Originating in Johannesburg, South Africa, the station broadcasts into neighboring Zimbabwe via Wiztech, a free-to-air satellite TV system.
- ABD TV - Pirate Children's TV station broadcating on UHF 32 in Chatswood Sydney Australia in 1996. They later changed to UHF 34 in 1997 and ceased transmission in 1999 after claiming that they received a warning by the Australian Broadcasting Authority.
- BB See - Sligo, Ireland. Operated during 2005 and 2006 broadcasting local events.
- Channel D - Dublin, Ireland (c. 1981)
- Hello Jonny - Rome, Italy. Italian pirate TV closed in 2003 by the Police.
- iStreetTV! - Palmers Cross, Jamaica, a project of !Mediengruppe Bitnik (2008) 
- Kanal X - Leipzig, Germany. Operated during the final days of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
- Lanesville TV - Lanesville, New York, USA. Operated on VHF channel 3 by the video collective Videofreex and broadcast on Saturdays from 1972 to 1977 (a total of 258 broadcasts). The collective and its station is detailed in Parry D. Teasdale's book Videofreex: America's First Pirate TV Station & the Catskills Collective That Turned It On.
- LATELE - Barcelona, Spain - Operated on UHF channel 52.
- Lucky 7 - Syracuse, New York, USA. Operated during the evenings of April 14–16, 1978 on VHF channel 7
- NeTWork 21 - London, England - Broadcast for around 30 minutes on Friday evenings in 1986
- New Stations Broadcasting Network - New York City, New York, USA. Intermittent series of broadcasts in Brooklyn, NY beginning in 2007 created by artist James Case Leal. In New York operates on UHF channel 17, but is also responsible for television programming in other cities including Havana, Cuba (April 20, 2009 - May 22, 2009 Ch 16), Minneapolis, MN during the RNC 2008 (Ch 15), and Piedras Negras, Mexico (July 2008 Ch 23).
- Northern Access Network - Canada, various locations in the late 1970s
- Nova TV Dublin, Ireland (c. 1985)
- Odelia TV - Operated briefly in 1981 on UHF channel 58, offshore of Israel.
- Pirate Cat TV - Operated on VHF channel 13 by Pirate Cat Radio of San Francisco, California, USA
- Star Ray TV - Broadcasting on UHF channel 15 in the Beaches neighborhood of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- SBT - A Serbian language TV station broadcasting on analogue channel 7 in Vienna, Austria. (YouTube videos showing broadcasts are dated as late as 2011.)
- Telefis na Gaeltacht (c. 1987) Connemara, Ireland (not to be confused with its similarly named legal successor). Several Irish deflector systems (normally used for relaying British television signals on UHF) occasionally carried local programming.
- Telstar TV (c. 1984) Birmingham, United Kingdom. Broadcast for about eight weeks on the BBC2 transmitter in the Northfield and Rubery areas of Birmingham. Showed a mixture of films and pop videos after BBC2 closed at weekends and went unnoticed by the authorities for several weeks much to their embarrassment.
- Telestreet - Italy - Movement that set up pirate TV micro-stations
- Thameside TV - London, England - A very early pirate TV station set up by Thameside Radio. There were only two known broadcasts in December 1987.
- TV Noordzee - A 1964 TV station on VHF channel 11 which, along with Radio Noordzee (not to be confused with the later Radio North Sea International), broadcast from "REM Island", an artificial platform 6 miles offshore of Noordwijk in the Netherlands. Both of the stations were knocked off the air by a sea and air raid by the armed forces of the Netherlands.
- TV Syd - A short-lived offshore TV station that broadcast on UHF channel 41. It was the sister station of Radio Syd and broadcast from the MV Cheeta 2 anchored off the Swedish coast.
- WGUN - Mentioned in an article by Shannon Huniwell in Popular Communications magazine, this was a short-lived pirate station in the Lynchburg, Virginia area that broadcast on channel 45, "during the late 1970's". The sole broadcast consisted of a water pistol with "WGUN 45 TV" in cut out letters mounted on a phonograph turntable with audio from "an unmercifully scratchy Baja Marimba Band album". The station was located by radio station technicians after being informed by the mother of a young viewer who found the station while tuning the UHF TV band. When asked, the young unnamed pirate stated he purchased the transmitter, an EMC Model TXRU-100 UHF transmitter, at a rummage sale from a church that had intended to start a UHF-TV station. Upon being informed that his broadcasts were illegal, the station was shut down. The transmitter was reportedly re-sold at a yard sale.
- W10BM - Morehead, Kentucky, USA - Originally a licensed LPTV station on VHF channel 10, it is presently operating on a canceled license, making it a pirate broadcaster.
- Cool TV - Bellingham, Massachusetts, USA - Pirate TV channel on VHF channel 19 broadcasting Cyberpunk movies, shut down by the FCC two weeks later. Not related to the licensed Cool TV.
- 24-Hour Entertainment - Worcester, England, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA and Pushkin, Russia - A 2004 analog pirate TV channel on VHF channel 69 (Worcester #1), VHF channel 22 (Worcester #2) and UHF channel 98 (Pushkin). Broadcast shows such as Adventures from the Book of Virtues, Jep!, Mighty Machines, Inspector Gadget, DuckTales, and the Mr. Men and Little Miss. Ceased transmission after receiving a notice from the FCC.
- WSPOON - Pirate TV station that broadcast from a former US Navy vessel in international waters that broadcast a live cooking broadcast. Ship was raided by the US Coast Guard while sailing into Boston Harbor.
- "K-USA!" - Mexican border - Pirate TV station that broadcast illegal sports, pornography, and comedy series made before and after the fall of the USSR. Shut down by the US, Mexican, and Russian governments after only 5 days.
- Prevue Throwback - USA - A revival of the Prevue Guide with the Prevue Guide emulated using WinUAE on a Windows 7 laptop, broadcasts from the MV Prevue Throwback in international waters using a satellite that gets the signal on analog antennas.
- "All your base are belong to us" - West Kington, England - A unknown broadcast showing the "All your base are belong to us" scene from the video game Zero Wing in a continuous loop. First reported by the FCC of the USA and the British Authorities in 1993. FCC agents and Royal Guards tracked the pirate, who was using the signal to broadcast his love for the scene. He was charged US$40.00 for operating a pirate TV station.
During the 1980s, large numbers of pirate TV stations operated in Italy, Greece, Spain and Israel. Subsequent legislation lead to the licensing of many of these stations and the closure of (most of) the remainder.
- Caroline TV - Advertised in 1970, this was to have been a project related to Radio Caroline, which at the time was off the air. Artwork showing the proposed station's identification graphics were released, but the station, which was to be broadcast from an airplane (similar to Stratovision), never materialized, although there is a website called www.radiocarolinetv.co.uk
- City TV - Was to have broadcast from a decommissioned minesweeper offshore of England. Plans for the station were announced on 8 June 1965, and was to have broadcast on VHF channel 3, but the station never materialized. It is not to be confused with the later CityTV in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada, which began operation in 1972 and are fully licensed and legal full-power stations.
- Sealand Television - Was to have broadcast on Channel 28 from the Principality of Sealand, a micronation established on a World War Two gunnery platform off the coast of Essex, England. The station, which was announced to start in September 1987, was to have been financed by Wallace Kemper, who was facing fraud and conspiracy charges.
- Tower TV - Was to have broadcast from Sunk Head Fort, 14 miles offshore of Essex, England. Reportedly held a test transmission at 4:20 AM on Tuesday 9 November 1965. It was feared that if any transmissions were made on the proposed VHF Channel 5 they would have interfered with Radio astronomy research work being carried out in the UK at the time.
Pirate television in popular culture
Movies often show Pirate TV channels simply "breaking in" over the top of existing channels, often all of them simultaneously.
- Band Waggon (1940) - British film about a pair of out-of-work performers who are evicted from squatting on the roof of Broadcasting House (where BBC's studios were located). After moving into a supposedly haunted castle, they discover television transmission equipment used by German secret agents and use it to put on a show on the BBC's frequencies.
- Bedwin Hacker (2003) - A Tunisian woman hijacks TV signals as a form of political protest, broadcasting short text messages with pictures of a cartoon Camel. A French counter-intelligence (DST) computer expert attempts to track her down by way of a spy sent to infiltrate the hacker's social circle. Note this was several years before the Arab Spring.
- Death Race 2000 (1975) - Political revolutionaries use broadcast signal intrusion to announce their plans to sabotage a transcontinental road race.
- District 13 (2004) - The protagonists force a Defense Secretary into admitting he was planning to detonate a neutron bomb, and the videotaped confession is broadcast via pirate transmission.
- Free Amerika Broadcasting (1981) - A dramatic film about a pirate television station run by revolutionaries in a hypothetical USA where Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew declares martial law after President Richard Nixon is assassinated.
- Hackers (1995) - One of the characters, Dade "Zero Cool" Murphy, hacks into a TV station's network feed and switches the programming to an episode of The Outer Limits. A fictional TV show, Hack the Planet, is shown on a pirate TV channel.
- Riders of the Storm (1986) (released in Australia as The American Way) - Disgruntled Vietnam War veterans operate S&M TV, a pirate TV station, from an airborne B-29 airplane.
- RoboCop 3 (1993) - Dr. Lazarus and Nikko transmit over Mediabreak to tell the city about the goings-on in Cadillac Heights.
- The Running Man (1987) - Revolutionaries uses broadcast signal intrusion to "detour" a popular TV game show.
- Serenity (2005) - Criminals with a sense of honor use a pirate television broadcast to expose a large governmental cover-up.
- Simon (1980) - A psychology professor, brainwashed by scientists as a prank to believe he is of extraterrestrial origin, attempts to reform American society by broadcasting his pronouncements with a high-power transmitter that overrides TV network feeds, becoming a national celebrity in the process.
- They Live (1988) - A group, seeking to warn the populace of an alien invasion, use broadcast signal intrusion on local TV programming.
- Used Cars (1980) - Feuding used car lot owners use broadcast signal intrusion to discredit each other.
- Via Macau (1966) - A pirate television station is used to spread dissent among representatives at an international conference.
- Videodrome (1983) - A TV technician discovers an encrypted pirate TV signal transmitting what appear to be snuff films.
- Channel Umptee-3 (1997) - Animated children's educational television series. The main characters operate a pirate TV station "located in the white space between channels".
- Dark Angel (2000–2002) - One of the series protagonists, Logan Cale, operated a pirate television broadcast known as "Eyes Only" primarily to broadcast news reports, expose political/corporate corruption, issue public alerts, etc.
- Family Guy - On the episode "PTV", Peter Griffin, angered that authorities are censoring TV broadcasts, starts his own well-liked pirate TV station, PTV, containing deleted risque' scenes from movies and TV shows, partial nudity from TV programs and dogs mating.
- Max Headroom (1987) - One of the TV series' characters, "Blank Reg", runs Big Time Television, a pirate station, from a converted bus.
- On the Rocks was a short-lived 1970s British ITV children's show starring Arthur Mullard among others, featuring a pirate TV station that broadcast from a deserted lighthouse.
- Rock 'n' America was a 1984 US series in which Rick Ducommun played a VJ named Rick, who would play rock videos by "jamming into" existing TV channels. The character was relentlessly, but always unsuccessfully, pursued by an FCC agent. When the agent asked if Rick was doing it for a lark, Rick replied (via his illegal transmission) that his father had invented the system and offered it to the US military for jamming into Nazi propaganda broadcasts during World War II, but had been rebuffed.
- Télé Pirate (1991–1996) - A children TV show from Quebec which was mimicking an illegal intrusion on the diffuser's channel as a main plot.
- Torchwood (2006-2011) - In "Children of Earth: Day Five," a pirate television station broadcasts footage of soldiers taking children to a rendezvous point on "Digital 141."
- Flaunt It (1986) - The debut album by British band Sigue Sigue Sputnik was notable for containing paid advertisements between the tracks and in the liner notes, including one for London pirate TV station NeTWork 21.
- The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966) - In the science fiction novel, self-aware computer helps revolutionaries by generating and broadcasting synthesized TV transmissions of their non-existent leader "Adam Selene" via an internal TV network.
- Mockingjay (2010) - This book, the third in the Hunger Games trilogy, describes the hacking of official government T.V. broadcasts at several points in the novel, replacing them with calls to revolution, before the original broadcasts are restored by the government.
- American Flagg! (1983–1989) - A science fiction comic book series created by Howard Chaykin set in the early 2030s. A plot device in the story is Q-USA, a pirate TV station that broadcasts illegal sports, pornography, and movies and television shows made before the collapse of the pre-existing order .
- WRAB: Pirate Television (1985) - A graphic novel by Matt Howarth about a pirate television station broadcasting from international waters that hacks into other networks' satellite transponders, with the intent of capturing a worldwide audience.
- Broadcast signal intrusion—the intentional "hacking" into a licensed facility for broadcasting pirate television
- "F.C.C Hunts an Illicit TV Station That Pirated Some Notable Shows.", The New York Times, April 19, 1978.
- "Network 21 Archive". Retrieved 2013-01-15.
- Popular Communications July 2009, pp. 73-74, "The Church Rummage Sale UHF Television Station and Other Minor TV Tales"
- "Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Flaunt It (CD, Album) at Discogs". Retrieved 2013-01-15.
- Collins, Suzanne (2010). Mockingjay. Scholastic.