Opening up the Airwaves

April 7th, 2009 by Catherine McIntyre, Archives Assistant

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.

Cover of the Free the Airwaves campaign bulletin 'Radio Crimes', February 1986

Cover of the Free the Airwaves campaign bulletin 'Radio Crimes', February 1986

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.

Cover of Relay Community Radio Magazine

Cover of Relay Community Radio Magazine, January 1986

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.

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One Response to “Opening up the Airwaves”

  1. Satoko Matsuura says:

    Dear Catherine McIntyre, Archives Assistant ,

    Thank you so much for showing Peter’s collection.
    I would like to see them directly.

    Could I visit to your collection 8th July afternoon (around 2:30)?

    Satoko Matsuura

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