Offshore pirate radio stations, like miniskirts, were big in the sixties – and died out after 1967’s summer of love – right? It’s an easy assumption to make, and the wrong one.
If you were to visit Sotogrande on the southernmost part of Spain’s Costa del Sol and tune into the FM waveband you’d find out that it’s still going strong. Delta Radio International is based on the Motor Vessel Aquarius, an 80 foot long ex-trawler.
She was found by Mitchell Morgan, her current owner, in a dilapidated state in Shoreham, West Sussex, on the south coast of England in the summer of 2009.
The tanker was bought for $25,000, a further $15,000 was spent converting the hold into living quarters, building the studios.
The last, vital part to be added to the station was the transmitter, costing almost $1,300. The 200 watt FM unit was purchased off the internet and mailed to the pirate station’s Gibraltar base. The transmitter can cover an area of about 25 miles radius – a fact that seems to be born out by reception reports.
Delta Radio is, in part, a reaction to the Spanish government’s crackdown on unlicensed radio. In January 2010 the Spanish radio industry group AERC complained that 3000 pirate stations are operating in the country and needed to be shut down. English radio serves an audience comprised of British Expatriates and tourists, and is largely unlicensed – but very popular.
However, the Spanish government overlooked a vital fact; unlike much of the rest of Europe, Spain has never brought in anti-offshore pirate radio legislation. This was probably due to the fact that Spain, unlike Britain, wasn’t troubled by such offshore stations – until now.
Currently Delta operates on automatic, with a computer pumping out the hits, while a skeleton crew of two keeps the boat afloat. The station broadcasts back-to-back oldies, aiming to gain an audience of 35-70 year olds who form the bulk of permanent resident expatriates on the Costa del Sol. The format is one that is largely dying out on radio stations around the world – oldies music is seen as being unattractive to advertisers – but the combination of hits from the sixties and seventies and an offshore pirate radio station seems unstoppable.
Delta Radio International started broadcasting on November 1, income is sought from sales of advertising time to British-owned businesses within the station’s coverage area. However, currently most of the funding needed to keep the station afloat is earned by broadcasting paid-for religious programmes from the Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association twice per day.
The next stage, according to station manager Morgan, is to recruit a team of DJs to keep the hits rocking from the high seas.
Offshore pirate radio, it seems, is alive and well, and living just out of reach of the authorities on Spain’s Costa del Sol.