The Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map (BPRSM) documents a homegrown cultural phenomenon at once aesthetically vibrant, technologically tumultuous, and undeniably illegal. Every night, over 25 stations take to the air transmitting a wide array of programming to the West Indian Community. For the past six years, I’ve been recording the local pirate radio activity from my home in Flatbush Brooklyn while seeking out station owners and listeners on both sides of the legal divide to dig into the history and understand the context in which these stations thrive.
This high level of radio activity goes back at least to the early 90’s when unlicensed radio stations, popularly called pirates, began popping up on the local FM broadcast band. Originating from secret studios scattered around Brooklyn, they transmit adjacent to and often right on top of legal stations. This creates a certain amount of risk for the pirate operators, but the combination of cheap FM transmitters, and the sheer number of stations have offered a sort of protection from an understaffed FCC enforcement division.These stations face additional challenges and enormous fines as the FCC implements a crackdown, along with new federal legislation known as The PIRATE Act (Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement).
The Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map is a multimedia documentary project launched in 2017 with a grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC). The interactive online sound map containing over 300 archival recordings of the pirate stations is paired with a seven part historical essay tracing the development of Brooklyn pirate radio through interviews, sound recordings and graphics. In addition, I've produced two documentaries about pirate radio in Brooklyn and New York City: Outlaws of the Airwaves: The Rise of Pirate Radio Station WBAD and New York City's Pirates of the Air.
I am seeking additional funding to continue my research, compile the archive, and add new features to the map. A future goal is to expand the map to the other pirate radio neighborhoods of Queens, the Bronx and the working class suburbs of New Jersey, and to document similar activity in Miami and Boston.