The recently released film, ‘The Boat That Rocked’, presents a fictional account of life on a 1960s pirate radio ship. Here at LSE Archives, we have the papers of Peter Lewis, who was involved in the lesser-known movement for community radio. Whilst the pirate stations were often borne out of a frsutration that mainstream broadcasters were not catering to their music tastes, the community radio movement felt that it was impossible for the BBC’s local radio stations to provide a comprehensive service for all the communities in Britain; from geographical communities such as the vast sprawl of inner-city London or rural Norfolk farms, to the specialist needs of ethnic minorities. Community radio advocated local content, created and broadcast by local people, for local residents, but the government strictly controlled who could broadcast on the radio spectrum and both movements wanted more licences granted.
The Lewis collection contains items that document the struggle that both the pirate and community radio organisations faced in trying to “open up the airwaves”. The collection includes government reports, white papers and press releases charting the decisions it made on the future of radio. Organisations such as the Community Communications Group and the Community Radio Association lobbied the government and provided help and information for community radio groups trying to set up stations in their area. Correspondence, responses to government decisions, leaflets and information sheets from these organisations, of which Peter Lewis was a part, and those of potential community radio broadcasters tell the story of the triumphs and disappointments along the way.
Whilst the pirate and community radio stations had different ideas about the content of their broadcasts and the relationship with their listeners, the two often crossed-over when community radio stations broadcasted illegally. The best example of this is Radio Jackie, which is still broadcasting to residents of South West London and whose motto is “close enough to care”.
Peter Lewis continues his involvement with community media and is currently a Visiting Research Associate in the Media and Communications Department at LSE and a Senior Lecturer in Community Media at London Metropolitan University.