In 2016 broadcasting on a pirate channel seems like a small crime, but it still attracts a fine of up to $26,000 and two year's jail. That is if they really throw the book at you.
In July last year a guy from Portland, Victoria, had his radio equipment confiscated and was fined a relatively affordable $600. But the Australian Communications and Media Authority—who are responsible for broadcast licensing—warned in a media release, "disregard for radio communications licensing arrangements can have serious consequences. [This conviction] should have a strong deterrent effect on anyone thinking of operating a pirate transmitter."
Yet the cost of a legitimate licence is sometimes too high (usually in the thousands), while the thrill of pirate broadcasting too tempting. I discovered this while recently driving through southern NSW. Out of nowhere the radio burst into static-infused reggae, played for half an hour, and then cut out. The station was called IRIE FM and although the DJ donned a rare, potentially offensive Rastafarian accent, I was fascinated.
I managed to track the frequency to a Facebook page. After some online correspondence a 35-year-old, full-time chef who I'll call Paul invited me to his home to see his decks and listen to some more reggae.
VICE: Hey Paul, what prompted you to start a pirate radio station?
Paul: The need for it. Community radio and commercial stations are playing the same genres and not putting out different music. I was frustrated from my own creative outlets not being seen or heard so I just thought I'd shove it on the airwaves, jam it down your throat. If you're not going to let me play it in the club I'll play it in your car, whether you like it or not.
Yes, that's exactly what happened. So how did you start?
For a FM frequency you have to transmit rather than receive. You can get little seven and 10-watt transmitters but the shit cuts out, so I started looking at how I could boost my coverage. I spent two to three weeks building antennas and ringing people who build antennas for radio stations. Eventually one guy gave me some advice suggesting it was all about height and strength of the signal. I have a five-metre pole. I bought the transmitter and antenna from China for around 13 hundred. Now if I get caught I'll be paying court fines before it's even paid off.
Are you worried about being caught?
I fear getting caught because I don't want to be stopped. If I get dragged through their system and slapped with a fine, I'll still want to be heard. I want everyone to know who they are doing it to. We're the small guys, they've got their big towers and we are like a mosquito bite, with crackling reception.
Tell me about the name of your station. Why IRIE FM?
At first I called it Hoist the Sails. It's pirate station and I felt like a bit of a pirate, but after a few shows it was getting some confusion about what I was doing. So my mate suggested IRIE FM. There's a radio station in Jamaica called IRIE FM and it kind of stuck.
Do you have people contacting you thinking it's the original IRIE FM?
About once a week I get a friendly email from an artist in Jamaica wanting me to check out their music. I just don't reply—I feel bad. But IRIE FM Jamaica hasn't contacted me either, which is good.
It's all your own music. Can you describe your sound?
I wanted to cover all genres but IRIE FM leans towards a Caribbean sound. You can still get away with playing hip-hop, drum and bass, jungle, funk, soul, and weirder music. I do a lot of low-volume recording at night. I try to do at least two or three mixes a week, on top of my work and looking after my boy, so it's consumed all my spare time. I have IRIE constantly playing in the house and in the car, all the time.
But you don't talk much on air.
No I don't chat too much. I introduce the set, then at the end I generally just tell everybody to love each other and be good to each other.
Do you ever tune into any other radio station?
I would rather listen to my engine running.
What do you want to happen next with IRIE?
If I can keep it going, man, I'll get a bigger pole. I want to get a 10-metre pole. I guess that would be it. But I am renting, so that could be a problem.
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