“Nothing important dies tonight, just a few ugly guys on a crappy ship. The only sadness tonight is that, in future years, there’ll be so many fantastic songs that it will not be our privilege to play. But, believe you me, they will still be written, they will still be sung and they will be the wonder of the world.”
I remember this quote from head DJ in the movie The boat that rocked because it is the 1960´s pirate radio stations in the UK, on one of which (Radio Caroline) is partly based this movie, which I recall when I elaborate on the term alternative radio. I think in order to understand what this term means nowadays, we have to look back on some of the turning points in the radio broadcasting like the rise and shine of the early pirate radio stations in Britain. If we omit that these radios were broadcasting illegally, which may not be anymore the case of todays alternative radio stations, we can I think trace some similarities. I think in what were these pirate radios broadcasting offshore true pioneers was the labelling of being the “other” voice to the mainstream. These broadcasting ships were the base of a new generation of youth listeners of The Beatles and all those who loved rock´n´roll and pop music nowhere in the main radio provider BBC in the sixties to be found in such an extend and way of delivering the music. Pirate radio broadcasters in the UK were influential in building up a community of listeners who were different than the one of the BBC. They differed not only in whom they attracted, but why they actually did. Pirate radios with its most famous example Radio Caroline were “radical”. They were experimenting with the ways on how to broadcast the content to the listeners and gave in their playlist the space to also back then unknown artists. Pirate radio stood for a new, anti-hegemonic and counter-cultural aspect and I think this is what mainly all the alternative radio stations that followed after have still in common, to stand against the big corporative radio channels.
Despite the fact that some of the pirate radio stations started later to use commercials in order to finance it, so we can say they were not alternative in the sense of being independent of a larger structure, commercial body, but were alternative in its form of bringing a social change, culturally influencing a generation who wanted an alternative source of music and refused the mainstream. The growing popularity of these “floating radio stations” to attract a young audience with a non-traditional music genres its not sure but may have been also an inspiration and reason of BBC to enhance its programming opening up with its first pop music channel Radio 1.