Operation of an FM Pirate Station: A look at US Pirating

Pirate FM broadcasting: how to start a pirate FM radio station, discuss or review FM broadcast transmitters, FM broadcast antennas, FM amplifiers, audio processing, software, radio station equipment, and issues related to pirate FM broadcasting.
Post Reply [phpBB Debug] PHP Warning: in file [ROOT]/vendor/twig/twig/lib/Twig/Extension/Core.php on line 1266: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable
User avatar
The Poet
Posts: 575
Joined: Wed May 25, 2011 8:05 pm
Location: Lansing, Michigan USA

Operation of an FM Pirate Station: A look at US Pirating

Post by The Poet » Thu Aug 16, 2012 9:26 am

(This material is rather dated, but worth a look anyway. The source invited reposting of the material.)

III. Operation of an FM Pirate Radio Station: A look at Pirating in the United States.
(Mostly covers FM)

It is the opinion of the author that many pirate radio stations are founded upon the principle of novelty. That is, their founders either find it amusing to inch over the lines of the law, or they get a certain kick out of doing something to make themselves different from their peers. Such stations seem unworthy of the label, "pirate radio station."

In a world of increasing regulation and control, deviance from established modes of behavior is tolerated less and less. New ways are constantly being discovered by the government to discourage deviant behavior. The broadcast community is already regulated by the government and extremely limited in its ability to present alternative expressions. Pirate radio stations enjoy an unfettered ability to present alternative ideas and music and thus are a source of free expressions not carrying the government stamp of approval.

The operation of a pirate radio station is likely to create some controversy if its audience is substantial enough. This controversy is likely to attract the attention of the authorities who are less than happy when during the course of exercising their First Amendment rights, people present ideas not approved of by the establishment. Thus, it behooves those who would operate a pirate radio station to prepare for the inevitable attempts by the law enforcement community to apprehend the responsible individuals and to shut the operation down. This exposition is written with the goal of making law enforcement's objectives just a little bit more challenging to realize.

Careful choices regarding the station location, duration of broadcasts, time of broadcasts, and frequency of broadcasts need to be made in order to minimize the chances of being caught by the authorities.

Under no circumstances should you ever attempt to operate a pirate radio station from a building you regularly frequent (e.g. home or office). This is asking to be caught. You should choose between operation from a vehicle or man-portable operation. If you choose to broadcast from within a vehicle, several factors should be considered when choosing a broadcast location. In addition to the obvious goal of maximizing your elevation for good signal propagation, you should select a location that is well hidden or not likely to arouse anyone's suspicion and you should consider any difficulties that may come up should you need to leave suddenly and quickly.

The location you broadcasts from should not arouse the suspicion of any passing vehicles. An ideal location would be one that is well hidden from all roadways and far enough away from any buildings so as not to attract the attention of their residents. In addition, there should be more than one path away from your broadcast location should need for a hasty retreat become necessary.

In order to locate "undesirable" radio transmissions, the authorities will utilize direction finding (DF for short) radio equipment. Direction finding equipment utilizes a highly directional antenna coupled to a tuner and a field strength meter. After the desired frequency has been selected with the tuner, the operator rotates the DF antenna until he obtains a peak reading on the field strength meter and then notes the heading the antenna is pointed in. Next, a vector is drawn on a map beginning at the operators current location and extending in the direction of the DF antenna's heading. Assuming the "undesirable" radio transmission hasn't moved, successive readings from different locations should result in vectors that intersect at the origin of the transmission. In practice, because of limitations on the accuracy of the equipment, it is not possible to precisely determine the location of the transmitter from the first set of readings. Usually, additional sets of readings will be necessary before the location of the transmitter can be narrowed down sufficiently to allow a ground search for it.

In order to thwart DF equipment, you must be willing to either limit the length of your transmissions such that the authorities have insufficient time to locate your radio transmissions, or you must operate from a moving vehicle. Although possible, neither of these options is particularly attractive, and alternatives do exist.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a location with significant areas of forest nearby, these can often be ideal locations from which to stage your broadcasts. At nighttime, the authorities are very unlikely to venture into the woods in order to locate a pirate radio station. They are far too vulnerable in such situations and generally will not pursue a suspect unless the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor. Rather, they will cover any obvious means into or out of the woods (such as a trail) or any roadways in the general vicinity of the broadcasting and search any suspicious individuals or vehicles they discover during the period of time immediately following the broadcast. By taking a few simple precautions, broadcasting from within a forested area of reasonable size can be the best alternative to mobile operation or 30-minute broadcasts.

It is advisable to first visit the location you intend to broadcast from during the day. Pick a location not too close to any roads or paths and make sure you will be able to find it in the dark. Relatively high points with a line-of-sight to your listeners is another important thing to look for. Think about where you are going to put your antenna. Is there a tree nearby that will provide an ideal placement? Can you climb it at night

without risk of falling? How much coax will you need to reach the antenna from your broadcast location? Think about several different paths of escape should the need arise. Explore these for a short distance to ascertain their viability.

After finding a good location to make your broadcasts from, there will be a strong temptation to use that location again and again for future broadcasts. Unless you want to be caught, resist this temptation. The authorities may have located a site you have used previously, and could be waiting for you nearby the next time you try to broadcast. Also, when you have finished your broadcast and are packing up, keep in mind that anything you leave behind will help the authorities in their quest to find you and bring you to "justice." Assume the authorities will scour the area shortly after you depart so make sure you leave nothing behind for them. If there are smooth surfaces around, don't forget about fingerprints. Either wear gloves during your broadcast, or spray everything you might have touched with a degreaser before leaving.


(Detection and Evasion)

There are two phases to avoiding capture by the authorities. In the first phase, the goal is to detect them well before they have detected you. In the second phase, the goal is to escape without being detected or caught. Success in the first phase will greatly influence the outcome of the second phase.

The authorities rely heavily upon radio for communication. As a result, it pays to purchase a decent scanner and become familiar with its use and the operating procedures of the authorities. Frequency lists are available which list the frequencies used by law enforcement in your area. In addition, books are available which list federal frequency assignments. You should spend time going through such books and making a list of frequencies you think may be used in the event a search for your station were to be conducted. Don't forget to include mutual-aid frequencies in your list as they are often used when different enforcement agencies want to coordinate with one another. You should spend some time in the general area you will be broadcasting from listening to the scanner to determine which frequencies on your list are appropriate for scanning and prune the remainder from your list. While it is generally better to leave a questionable frequency on your list, irrelevant channels may reduce the probability you will hear something important on another channel.

Whenever possible, you should take along someone you trust to your broadcast site and have them stand patrol. They should wear dark (black or camouflage) clothing and find a location to stand where they have a good view of any obvious routes of approach to your broadcast area. A pair of walkie-talkies is ideal for keeping in touch if you will be separated by more than a few tens of feet. Keep in mind that your transmissions could be monitored so watch what you say. Don't use names or other information which could give away your identity or location. If you are using flashlights, purchase some red tail-light tape at an auto parts store and cover the lens with it to reduce your chances of being seen and to maintain your night vision.

If there are just a couple of obvious routes leading to your broadcast location, you might consider setting up perimeter alarms along those routes. Various party noise-makers are commonly available at toy stores which make a bang when a string to which they are attached is pulled.

Using some thin wire, tie one of these noise-makers between a pair of trees through which the route you want to alarm passes through. Make sure the wire is obscured as much as possible to minimize its chance of detection by any intruders. Make sure you set such alarms far enough away to give you enough time to make your escape but close enough that you will be able to easily hear them.

The key to successfully escaping from the authorities can be summarized as follows: DON'T PANIC. Proper planning is essential. You should have planned several routes of escape beforehand and considered what to do with your equipment. If time allows, you will want to pack it up and take it with you. If you need to escape quickly, hiding it may be your best option. This might be as simple as covering it with something to camouflage it. Perhaps you even found a good place to set it up that already takes advantage of natural cover and it is pretty well hidden to begin with. Assuming you are operating at night, it also helps enormously to wear dark clothing and remove any shiny objects such as jewelry or watches (leave them at home).

You will likely become aware of the authorities plans for you through one of two means. You will hear about a search on your scanner or you will detect their physical presence. In the former case, you probably have plenty of time to pack up your equipment and make a careful escape. You may want to leave incriminating evidence such as your equipment hidden somewhere and come back later for it when the heat is off. Plastic garbage bags are ideal for protecting equipment left in the woods for a few days. In the latter case, remaining calm and using your head could will make the difference between being caught with your pants down and just having a close call.

The instinctive reaction to the presence (impending or actual) of the authorities is to flee. The authorities know this and if they are even marginally competent will have taken steps to maximize their chances of capturing individuals mindlessly running away. Unless they have obviously seen you and are actively pursuing you, you should stop and force yourself to look around and consider what options are open to you. Approximately how many people are after you? Are they far enough away that you can move away from them without them seeing or hearing you? Perhaps it would be best to try to remain hidden until they are far enough away that you can more safely risk slipping away?

Unless you are certain that your vehicle has not been detected by the authorities (because it was extremely well hidden, or parked with a number of other vehicles, for instance), then do not approach it after your presence has been detected. It is very likely that the authorities will have discovered it and left someone behind to watch it. By itself, the vehicle is little more than weak circumstantial evidence to connect you with any wrongdoing, but if you are caught returning to it (especially with equipment), you will probably live to regret it. You should have previously considered other means of getting home if there was trouble and follow those plans.


(What to do when you get caught with your pants down)

There are at least two different ways of getting caught. The FCC could catch you and send you a notice of violation or the police could catch you while broadcasting or while attempting to flee them after broadcasting. Two entirely different methods are called for when dealing with each of these.

If you receive a FCC notice of violation, you are probably best off ignoring it. If they start getting serious about trying to collect fines from you, I'd suggest picking up a copy of "How to File for Bankruptcy" by Nolo Press. It details a number of different strategies for keeping bill-collectors out of your pockets, and if necessary, tells you how to file for protection from creditors (it helps if you don't have a lot of obvious assets -- a house or expensive car, for instance). You may also wish to discuss your options with an experienced attorney.

If you are apprehended by the police during a broadcast or after an unsuccessful attempt at fleeing from them, remain calm. They will ask you questions related to the incident for which you have been apprehended. It is ok to answer questions about your identity, but do not answer any questions related to any illegal activities you have been involved with.

If you can get away with telling them you don't know the answer to their question(s), do this, otherwise answer politely but firmly that you cannot help them. If it isn't obvious (e.g. you have not been read your Miranda rights), ask them if you are under arrest. If not, you are free to go. If so, tell them you would like to speak with your attorney before answering any further questions and then KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. They may try to trick you into incriminating yourself or providing them with information that will assist them in building a case against you. Do not help them! Make sure any and all people that are with you are thoroughly familiar with these procedures as one person slipping up could have devastating results for everyone involved.

It's probably a good idea to carry the name and phone number of an attorney specializing in criminal law with you whenever you are involved in such activities. Attorneys are very useful when it comes to reducing the police's likelihood of violating your civil rights and they can arrange to have you bailed out promptly as well.

Suggested Equipment


Motorcycle batteries make ideal power sources. They are available in a number of different sizes. A 12-14AH battery will power a typical 25- 35 watt station for at least two hours before needing to be recharged. These batteries are light enough to be carried in a backpack along with other equipment for several miles by a single person if necessary.

You will also need to purchase some wire to connect the motorcycle battery with the transmitting equipment. For the power amplifier, especially, make sure you don't use thin wire. It could draw 5 amperes or more which will not only cause thin wires to get hot, but will also result in a substantial voltage drop across the wires as a resulting loss of power output. In general, 18-gauge wire should be sufficient for amps up to 25-35 watts.

It is advisable to buy a cheap analog voltmeter that can be clipped onto the battery during a broadcast to monitor its condition. Any sudden drop in voltage across the battery indicates it is discharged, and measures should then be taken to switch to another power source or end the broadcast. Digital voltmeters are harder to read from a distance or at night and are more expensive.

Transmitting Equipment:

Obviously, you'll need an FM transmitter. A number of kits are available. Any kit that runs off of 12 VDC will do. If you want your signal to propagate more than a few miles, you should get a power amplifier, too. Power outputs around 25-35 watts are ideal for portable operation with a motorcycle battery as the power source.


Most FM antennas have 300 ohms of impedance. Most FM transmitters and amplifiers expect a load of 50 to 75 ohms. It is important to match the load the transmitter/amplifier sees to the antenna in order to get as much signal out as possible and in order to prevent damage to the transmitter/amplifier. For low- power setups (under 5 watts or so), one way to do this is with a common 75/300 ohm transformer. These are sold at Radio Shack. They mate to a female F-connector, so it would be advisable to get whatever adapter you need to mate your coax to the transformer (most coax has BNC or UHF connectors on it). Running more power through this small transformer will probably saturate it and cause the output signal to be distorted.

For higher power setups, you can make a 1/2-wave dipole with two 1/4-wave lengths of wire and some coax. The J-Pole antenna is also relatively easy to make and very portable. See, for example, the ARRL Handbook (available at most libraries and many bookstores) for instructions on making these and other antennas. It should also be possible to build a 50 or 75/300 ohm transformer to enable you to use commercial FM antennas with your transmitter. Once again, the ARRL Handbook is an ideal source of information for how to do this.

An SWR meter is an invaluable aid to checking the performance of your FM antenna. They should always be used anytime you are transmitting with more than a watt or so of power in order to detect a bad match between the transmitter and the antenna before the transmitter becomes damaged. Once again, Radio Shack sells relatively inexpensive SWR meters that are adequate. Better ones can be obtained at your local amateur radio store.

Make sure you purchase enough coax cable to allow you to place your antenna a reasonable distance from your transmitting equipment. 50 feet is a good compromise between signal loss and flexibility in antenna placement. RG/58 is adequate for such short runs of cable, but you should consider using RG/8X or RG/8 if you need longer runs of cable.


Many radio stations will want the ability to broadcast pre-recorded material from a tape or CD as well as live material from a microphone. A mixer is an essential piece of equipment for such operation. Small, battery powered mixer decks are inexpensive and available from Radio Shack. By connecting them between your microphone, CD player, tape player, and transmitting equipment you will be able to switch between any of several sources or mix them together.

If you want to use a portable CD player, bear in mind the expected battery life of a fully charged cell, and make sure you bring an extra if you plan a long broadcast. Likewise for a walkman. Also, you will need an assortment of patch cables to connect your CD player, walkman, microphone, and mixer together. Once again, Radio Shack is a good source for pre-made cables of this type.


It is advisable to bring along an FM radio. This will allow you to monitor your transmissions to make sure you are getting good modulation and you are tuned to the frequency you want to be.

A piece of foam or other material upon which to place electronic equipment to keep it away from dirt and rocks is advisable. It is also good for sitting on. Strong, thin cord is handy for tying up your antenna in a nearby tree or other tall structure.

Head-lamps (head-mounted flashlights) are invaluable for nighttime broadcasting. Purchase some red tail-light-repair tape at your local auto supply store and cover the lens with it to turn the beam red and thus preserve your night vision.

Don't forget to bring along a bottle of water and some snacks to eat during your broadcast.


Buy yourself a decent scanner. Next, get a copy of local, state, and federal frequency assignments for your area. Program the scanner with the local police, sheriff's department, mutual aid frequencies, and anything else you think might be relevant. Spend some time monitoring the authorities to become familiar with the operating practices of them.

A partner can be an invaluable aid during a pirate radio broadcast. Make sure he is someone you can trust! While one person operates the radio equipment, the other person can monitor the scanner and watch the perimeter for intruders. Walkie Talkies are an ideal way for the DJ to stay in touch with his security.

Further Reading

o Barnett, Richard; Monitor America, SMB publishing, 1992,

ISBN #0-939430-19-3

Contains lists of frequencies used by the local, state, and federal government for the entire United States.

o Hughes, Gene; Police Call, assorted volumes, Hollins Radio Data, 1991

Available at Radio Shack. Various volumes cover local, state, and some federal government frequencies for various regions in the United States.

o ARRL; ARRL Handbook, ARRL, 1992

Available at many bookstores and Amateur Radio stores. Contains a wealth of information about amateur radio station operation much of which is applicable to pirate radio as well. Contains information on constructing transmitters, amplifiers and antennas, among other things.

o Swanson, Chamelin & Territon, Criminal Investigation, Harcort Brace,

1992, ISBN # 0-07-062618-9

If you want to become familiar with police investigative techniques, this is an excellent place to start. Contains a wealth of information which when applied appropriately will better enable you to avoid undesirable run-ins with the authorities when involved in questionable activities.

Homebrew Broadcasting
Pirate Radio and TV Broadcasting Techniques
"This compilation is freely distributable. Much of this information has been written by other folks. If you want credit, e-mail us! We don't want to rip anyone off....enjoy!"

The Poet
"A treasonous voice of dissent"
'Demonstrating a Deliberate Disregard for the FCC's Authority and Its Rules,' Amen!

The Crystal Ship :: Shortwave Pirate Radio
Free Radio Cafe on Facebook
Follow FRC Loggings on Twitter


Post Reply [phpBB Debug] PHP Warning: in file [ROOT]/vendor/twig/twig/lib/Twig/Extension/Core.php on line 1266: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable
[phpBB Debug] PHP Warning: in file [ROOT]/vendor/twig/twig/lib/Twig/Extension/Core.php on line 1266: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable
[phpBB Debug] PHP Warning: in file [ROOT]/vendor/twig/twig/lib/Twig/Extension/Core.php on line 1266: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests