Pirate Radio Has Made Its Way Back to Aotearoa

A few weeks ago, audio anarchist Bridget Chappell flooded the airways with breakbeat loops, jungle, old school drum and bass and grime.
Bridget Chappell, the artist, standing in a field with a radio receptor
Bogong Centre for Sound Culture

Pirate radio has made its way back to Aotearoa.

And no, it’s not the outdated salty sea dogs from Radio Hauraki. It’s Bridget Chappell, AKA @hextape.wav, a DJ, audio anarchist and community organiser.

Chappell is based in Australia’s Mparntwe/Alice Springs usually, but describes themselves as “long time listener, first time caller in Tāmaki Makaurau”

Less than 2 weeks ago, Chappell jacked some radio frequencies adjacent to commercial channels around Tāmaki Makaurau, flooding them with breakbeat loops, jungle, old school drum and bassand grime. The experiment is described as “an homage to the golden era of pirate radio in London” a pioneering time for jungle, drum and bass, and garage. Back then, people would tune in to record new music they heard on these illegal stations, like a radicalised, real-life algorithm that let people escape commercial radio.


And this isn’t the first time Chappell has taken over the airwaves. In the early days of COVID lockdowns, Chappell got a hold of high-powered FM transmitters from AliExpress to release their new album in Melbourne. With everyone releasing and debuting content over IG live, Chappell wanted to get away from the impersonal and invite people to come to parks, in their bubbles, to listen over the radio as a way of creating a “beautiful, weird, dispersed rave of hundreds of people''.

There’s a nostalgic attraction of finding new music off the radio – it forces you to be more present with the music when you can’t just skip to the next track. It’s certainly better than just aimlessly scrolling through the Spotify discover weekly.

But in this most recent iteration of pirate radio, Chappell was working with weaker transmitters, changing the game a bit. 

So how does this work?

If you’re imagining a janky looking set up with lots of wires hanging overhead and computer chips… you’re kinda right. But, in this case, you truly can’t judge a book by its cover (cliche, I know, but trust me).

As Chappell showed me, you can actually boost the signal of those tiny transmitters that are commonly used to bluetooth your own radio station from your phone in your car. When you open them up and remove the inhibitors, plus a few other things that – I’ll be honest – I didn’t really understand, it gives you the ability to use a  “civilian piece of technology” to jump on unused frequencies or mingle with others for a bit of fun.


In Chappell’s words, the idea is that you can “take the dial (on your radio) for a walk, and just make this bizarre Frankenstein track from all that together.”

So, on Friday, March 3, Chappell did exactly that. The unused frequencies of Tāmaki Makurau that run adjacent to commercial stations were filled with breakbeat, jungle and house (pretty much better than anything they ever play).

If you were scrolling through the radio on that early March day, you may have passed over these pirate stations of tunes just before you landed on larger commercial ones.

One of the most well known pirate radio stations used to be Radio Hauraki. Starting in 1966, the station operated on a  ship off the coast, broadcasting rock’n roll illegally to the people of Aotearoa as a protest to the state-owned monopoly. It ran until 1970, when it was finally permitted to legally broadcast on land.

A lot of the frequencies used, though, were positioned around Radio Hauraki. Chappell said they have found its history of “an offshore pirate radio station in a leaky boat” so incredible. But of late, Chappell says  it’s a station that now shares “some pretty disappointing political views” and has lost its “revolutionary zeal”. 

If you want to see this display of decentralised dance music, Chappell is running an installation “I was in a long dark tunnel” at The Audio Foundation from March 9 to April 5. You’ll be able to walk around the space, tuning through the frequencies to piece together a breakbeat track of your own, maybe even learn a thing or two about the history of pirate radio.

Harry Waugh is a Multimedia Producer @ VICE NZ in Aotearoa.