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Arguments against and in support of offshore radio

Despite their huge audience figures the British offshore stations were not popular with everyone, particularly Government departments and various trade organisations - perceived as a threat by the former to existing national and international agreements and by the latter to the vested interests of their own membership.

Many arguments were put forward for outlawing the offshore stations, but essentially they followed variations of one or more of the following themes:-

1. The offshore stations 'pirated' frequencies and transmitter powers not allocated to them under international agreements, in particular the 1948 Copenhagen Convention and (occasionally) caused interference to legitimate stations using these frequencies. Britain was a signatory to various international agreements and it was therefore the Government's responsibility to uphold its obligations. As a supplementary to this the international frequency allocation argument was also used to refute any suggestion that the offshore stations should be invited on land or that a network of commercial stations could be established to compete with the BBC. "The frequencies are not available for use in Britain" was the standard reply to any proposals by 'commercial' or 'local' radio pressure groups to establish stations on land.

2. The offshore stations' transmissions interfered with maritime, ship-to-shore and emergency service communications, posing a possible threat to the lives of those who found themselves in distress at sea and needing assistance.

3. The offshore stations avoided paying copyright fees for the recorded music they broadcast and did not observe any 'needletime' restrictions on the number of hours of such music transmitted each week - as the BBC was obliged to do under a hard won agreement with Phonographic Performances Ltd.

As a counter to these accusations the offshore stations, and their supporters, put forward the following arguments:

1. At the time (the mid 1960s) over 300 of the 500 medium wave stations operating in Europe did so on frequencies not allocated under the 1948 Copenhagen Convention, including 'respectable' stations such as Vatican Radio, Voice of America and Radio Luxembourg.

2. Admittedly there had been some complaints of interference in the early days of offshore broadcasting, but the number of instances where offshore transmissions had caused interference with maritime and emergency communications was rare. The offshore stations had a responsibility to avoid such interference being caused by their transmissions, a responsibility which most stations acknowledged. They continually made efforts to avoid providing grounds for any such accusations being directed at them. Apart from this moral responsibility the stations also had a vested interest in avoiding disruption to the emergency service's communications network because they themselves were at some stage likely to need assistance - a fact demonstrated many times during the history of offshore broadcasting.

3. Some of the larger offshore stations offered to make payments for copyright and performance fees (although it must be said the majority did not). Phonographic Performances Ltd. refused to accept any such monies but the Performing Rights Society did accept payments (in particular from Radio Caroline, Radio London and Radio 390) and this fact was much publicised by the stations as evidence of their good intentions. However, what was not so widely publicised by either party was that whilst the PRS openly accepted these payments, the organisation did not feel it could fully condone or support the existence of offshore radio.

With the possible exception of the argument about interference to maritime and emergency communications (which in reality was more of a theoretical than real possibility) the other arguments appear even more irrelevant today than they were over fifty years ago. Britain now has commercial local and regional radio stations,  BBC local and regional stations, BBC national radio networks and national commercial radio stations, all of whom have been found and allocated AM or FM  frequencies from within Britain's quota under international agreement. (Although the technology did not exist in the 1960s there are now also a huge number of stations broadcasting nationally and regionally on DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) platforms).

Virtually all of these stations have a music based format, pouring out hundreds of hours a week of recorded music. This, it was argued at the height of the offshore stations' popularity, would destroy the music industry and with it the livelihoods of musicians everywhere. Experience has shown that if anything the reverse has proved to be the case.



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HOLD Noun - cavity in a ship below deck where cargo is stowed. Also the area used to house transmitters on many radio ships.

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