We were invited this weekend past to ‘celebrate’ the appearance on our Wireless dials of Radios One, Two, Three and Four and the consequent extinction therefrom of the Light Programme, The Home Service and the Third Programme. I fear I cannot share with the egregious Eddie Mair et al. in the sense of faux ‘celebration’.

With the passage and coming into force of the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act 1967, the death knell was sounded for a wide range of freebooters who had seen an opening in the market on the back of the ‘pop’ music revolution and had occupied it to the very considerable irritation of a Socialist Government which, like the present Socialist Government, was very keen on controlling things it did not already control and strangling those who dared to challenge the overwhelming monopoly of the State in the sphere of broadcasting.

Gone at the end of August 1967 was Wonderful Radio London, now less well remembered than Radio Caroline, which was the best of the bunch by quite a distance. Radio Caroline itself staggered on in various guises until 1990, notwithstanding a wrecking raid jointly executed by the British and Dutch Governments in 1989. A classic example of the free market operating to meet a demand was thus extinguished by State fiat.

There was of course the famous Radio Luxembourg, operating on 208 metres and only at night from the Grand Duchy, which wheezed and spluttered out of our transistor radios that were often concealed beneath a thick layer of bedclothes to avoid discovery by sniffy parents and killjoy House Prefects (if, as I was, at Boarding School), an early taste of the exotic but forbidden being far more interesting than the bland but legal.

This triumph of the corporatist, monopolist State was dressed up (Newspeak = ‘spun’) in a number of ways: during Parliamentary debates which often spilled over into the press, several reasons were stated as to why the operations of British broadcasting by stations unlicensed by Britain should be stopped. In order to promote their political agenda, proponents of legislation referred to the offshore stations as “pirate radio stations”. Because the word “piracy” means theft of property it was necessary to castigate the stations as thieves. These allegations of theft included the misappropriation of former World War II military installations; wavelengths allocated to other broadcasters by International Treaty and the unauthorised playing of recorded music. On top of this other charges were added to imply that the offshore radio vessels were a danger to shipping on the high seas and their spurious signals could interfere with aircraft and land-based emergency communications by police, fire and ambulance services. In the event, virtually none of these allegations could be substantiated.

Only some twenty years later the State itself, sensing the restlessness of a people that mysteriously were no longer prepared to put up with the State’s generous offerings, grudgingly opened up the market by gradually allowing into operation a wide range of commercial stations. Now it is the very same Monoliths of the Taxpayer-funded BBC, having lost their monopoly position, that are themselves struggling to justify their existence and only able to keep the wolf from the door because the Taxpayer is forced to cough up, upon pain of having some really nasty Jobsworths pitch up and invade your house, an annual Tax of £ 135.50.

As Gloria Mundy might say, ‘Sic Transit BBC’.

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