Pirate is the term given to any radio station which broadcasts without permission from the correct authorities. It became extremely popular in the 1960s and it was not long before the Shivering Sands and Red Sands Forts were viewed as excellent platforms from which to broadcast.
A legal battle began with the British Government trying to prevent any pirate station from broadcasting, but it took some years for them to succeed. In those years, many stations came and went on the forts.
in 1964 the first pirate radio station, Radio Caroline, starting broadcasting from a ship off the British coast. Many others soon took to this idea and in May 1964 Screaming Lord Sutch boarded the Shivering Sands fort and two days later began broadcasting as “Radio Sutch”. It only lasted until September, when “Radio City” took over, continuing to broadcast from Shivering Sands.
It is strange to note that while Government officials dispatched police and other officials to the fort, they were recalled before getting too close. Perhaps stranger still is that while the British Government were discussing the cost of removing the forts in the immediate post-war years, they declared all the sea forts, with the exception of the Nore were outside UK territorial waters. However, in 1967 the Government stated categorically that Shivering Sands Fort was within UK territorial waters and promptly introduced the UK Marine Offences Broadcasting Act, which made all offshore broadcasting illegal.
In 1965 Radio Caroline along with their partners, Project Atlanta added their own transmitter on Shivering Sands fort. The following year Radio City was approached by Radio London, who were looking to buy the unit to form a new station, UKGM (United Kingdom Good Music). However, it seems that the Radio London personnel were not that impressed with what they had seen on Shivering Sands and they left without making any deals or proceeding with the purchase.
On hearing of the possible arrival of UKGM, the owners of Project Atlanta sent a group of people to retrieve their transmitter. They boarded Shivering Sands and removed the transmitter crystals. This prevented Radio City from being able to make any further broadcasts. The following day the owner of Radio City, Reg Calvert visited the owner of Project Atlanta, Major Oliver Smedley. An argument ensued and in the melee Calvert was shot dead.
Undeterred by this tragic turn of events, Reg Calvert’s widow took over the running of Radio City and three days later it was back on the air. It continued to broadcast from Shivering Sands until it was finally forced to close in February 1967.
While Shivering Sands was playing host to Screaming Lord Sutch, Red Sands Fort became the base for Radio Invicta, owned by Harry Featherbee. He began broadcasting in July 1964 under the pseudonym “Tom Pepper”. However Radio Invicta was also struck with tragedy when Featherbee, fellow DJ Barry Hoy and engineer Martin Shaw drowned on a return trip to the fort in December 1964. Radio Invicta ceased broadcasting in February the following year.
Red Sands was then occupied by Radio King; this station only lasted six months but failed to attract an audience. It was closed and Radio 390 took over. Radio 390 was the first station to attempt getting all the correct legal authority and permission to allow them to broadcast from Red Sands Fort. The request was denied and a year later Radio 390 was summoned to court and subsequently shut down in 1967. Some days later £500 of radio equipment was stolen from Red Sands; the thieves were later caught. By this time the British Government had made it illegal for anyone to resupply the stations from the UK. This made the stations financially unviable and spelled the end for Shivering Sands and Red Sands being used as bases for pirate radio stations.