SO YOU WANT TO SET UP A FREE RADIO STATION?
This is probably going to be the most enjoyable part of getting radio station up and running . The buzz of going on air for the first time , will rarely be equalled . This is from my own experience and it may differ in other radio stations . There's so much excitement about because everybody is taken a back by the fact that you actually got on air and the music and service is so different . Give it about twelve months and the public will take you for granted as if you're part of the system and they'll only miss you when you're gone .
These next few chapters will hopefully give you the necessary knowledge and encouragment to set up your own station and the knowledge of our experiance to keep your station running . The first question you should ask yourself is why should I set up a free radio station , and the second question should be do I need to ?.The first question you'll have to answer yourself , and the second I will try and help you with . Maybe you can go about it another way , it may be only necessary for you to join your nearist "community" radio station get a show that you want to do , and if you're happy that you have total editotral controll , well then there's not much point in going to the bother of setting up a station .
But if you don't get satisfaction from community radio or it doesn't exist in your area , don't be put down by this. This is where most people start and you might meet like minded people who have been thinking on the same line for years. You may also live in a country where it is totally impossible to set up a station , there's two ways around this . One you could set up your studios and make your programmes as usual and have them played on loud speakers in your college campus or on a cable network around your area or secondly you could send your programmes to a neighbouring country to be aired and to be received in your country , if you live near a border of another country you could possibly still broadcast on the FM band , but if the border is too far away it would be better to broadcast on MW or short-wave . This has been done in the past quite effectively , and the audience doesn't have to know where the transmission is coming from , the good thing about this is it is totally legal and you can't get caught , but the station in the neighbouring country might get caught.
That type of broadcasting although safe , is not always practical and there could be delays in programming when tapes don't arrive on time . So if you do decide to go on air from your own state find out the laws and look for any possible loop holes , which you could use . also check out the level of fines and prison sentences and find out how many people have been sentenced for radio related "crimes" if any , ( it's very unusual that this happens).
The next thing you must decide , is who is going to be involved in the station you set up . You could go it alone but there would be a definite lack of input , unless you own a music library and like sitting on your own in a radio studio all the time . So you will most likely want to involve other people , they shouldn't be hard to find most people will jump at the chance of working on a free radio station . But you should be cautious how you advertise that you want to involve other people , a small ad in a news paper could be a bit risky as you would probably have allot of reply's and it would be hard to vet the lot of them individually . This is important because you could find yourself meeting a few fascists or undesirable groups who when not let join would tell the authorities where you are and who you are . the best way to get around this is to work on a network of friends of friends at the start and then if you need to use the public meet them individually in a neutral area like a cafe or pub and if you don't like the look of them you don't have to make yourself known .
With that out of the way you should now consider what way you are going to organise your group, you should start off by holding regular meetings and discussing what type of station you want .You should delegate work to individuals who are capable of the work given. These jobs could be gathering of equipment, raising finance, recruiting volunteers and you will always need someone with a strong technical knowledge to set up the equipment. At a later stage when you do get on air, these same people can be used as day representatives. These representatives would be responsible for running each day when your station is on air.
This would relieve the recruitment person of a massive job of filling the schedule when vacancies arrive. The next important step is to choose the location in which you wish to broadcast from. This will be related to the area you wish to serve. The first rule of radio is that height is closely related to distance of broadcast area. So when you are choosing your transmitter and studio location, height is the most important factor, so choose a tower block or a hilly area. If this isn't possible, improvise by using a tall mast for the aerial ( at least 15 ft ) on top of any building.
As you won't be advertising when you get on air and most likely will not have any form of financial support , it is good practice to start collecting weekly subscriptions from your membership even before you go on air. This will probably be your only source of income so keep it for basic necessities such as rent; electricity etc.
One great trick is to erect your aerial on an unused building close to where your station is and run the aerial cable down the gutter into your transmitter site. This will most likely confuse the authorities if they come to investigate your station. Another handy tip is to conceal your aerial in a plastic pipe this won't affect your signal and will look like a ventilation shaft . It is also handy to choose a site for your transmitter where in a raid situation it could be thrown away thus avoiding charges for possession of illegal broadcasting equipment. Other security conscious items should be considered such as keeping your knowledge of your location to the workable minimum and most definitely not public, using coded rings to gain entrance into the studio.Design your own procedure to be followed in event of a raid and ensure that everyone involved in the station knows what to do if there is an unexpected knock on the door.
At this stage you should have chosen a name for your station. Before you come on air start an promotional campaign telling potential listeners who you are and where you can be found on the FM band .The next step can be hard and this is obtaining the transmitter , this has proved the most singular stumbling block in getting a station on air in the past . This has been changing recently with the availability of D.I.Y kit form transmitters these usually serve the micro power area of . 5 watts to amplifiers of 100 watts . Smart kit in England and Free Radio Berkeley in the USA are doing a great job in making these kits more accessible and with plenty of back up information .
Free Radio Berkeley are also working on a network of engineers and technicians who will be available to assist groups in building kit styled transmitters when they arrive in your country . The main reason they are sent in kit form is that they are not illegal until they are assembled and can be legaly posted to any where in the world . These kits range in cost From £5 to £70 depending on the supplier and the type of transmitter , but this a very cheap start and a great way to learn about the principles of radio . If you ever do receive one of these kits and you aren't competent that you could assemble it yourself ask around for an electronics expert to build it for you , and watch how it is built so you will know how to do it next time.
If you think that you wouldn't be able to remember all that technical info in one session , grab a loan of a camcorder and video the essential parts and then you could copy this and send it on to other groups in the same situation . You can also see transmitters advertised in buy and sell newspapers and small ads in your local papers , keep your eyes on the radio section and see if anything turns up . If nothing turns up you could put an ad in the wanted section and if you want you could use the local phone box as a reply number , to avoid the authorities turning up at your house asking why you wanted to buy a transmitter . Hoping that you don't have too much trouble in getting a transmitter on air and working , read on through the next chapter with technical information on all aspects of radio stations such as studios , transmitters aerials .
Depending on what type of station you are going to run, you must decide what type of studio you are going to use. You may want to operate your station from the passenger seat of your car, while you are parked on the side of a hill looking over a city. This sort of set up would depend totally on 12 volts i.e. off the car battery, or you may decide that you want to have all your studio components to run on their own batteries. The most important part of any studio is the mixer, this will control the levels at which all the inputs go out at. For outdoor operation you will have to find a mixer that has a 12 volt power socket or runs on internal batteries (tandy and radio shack have a good range of these mixers). The studio components i.e. tape decks and CD players should be walkman types connecting the ear phone sockets or line out sockets to the input sections on the back of the mixer.
This is all very simple but you would be surprised that some DJs don't know this basic stuff. If you are using the ear phone socket to connect to the mixer you will have to set the volume on the walkman to near minimum to obtain a line level, failure to do this will cause unwanted distortion.
When operating from a car or other road vehicle, the transmitter will not be very far away and this could cause hums and buzz's on the output, so keep all studio leads as short as possible and well screened. If this doesn't clear up unwanted hums try to earth the mixer to the chassis of the car (check the polarity of the chassis before doing this it is usually negative) Also when operating with a transmitter so close to the studio, CD players can do some weird things like make the motor go backwards or it can stop intermittently during play this can even happen working with transmitters of power as low as one watt. To get around this check that the SWR of the aerial / transmitter is safe and the problem should be avoided SWR will be explained latter on. So good luck with your passenger or back seat studio you will be amazed what you will be able to get out of it and the listeners won't even know the difference.
If you decide to operate your studio from your bedroom or kitchen or somewhere more elaborate than that, then you will have the advantage of more stability and space. You will also be able to use separate components from your HI FI unit. This will save you lots of money off your shopping list for studio components. If you are working in a group you can each sacrifice a CD player or tape deck and if you want you could use the record players as well. The only component that won't be readily available will be the mixer, you should go for one that can be expanded to take extra microphones and extra components, these are widely available from specialist electronic shops and range in price from £100 to £300 depending on what you want.
Most mixers will have a record out socket on the back this can be directly connected to the record in section on the back of the tape recorder, allowing programmes, jingles and station announcements to be recorded off air to be played back at any time, it would be advisable to use a tape player that has continuous play facility, as a pre-recorded program can be looped over and over to fill in time when a volunteer doesn't turn up for his /her show. The leads connecting the studio components to the mixer are usually of the phono to phono type, these hold up good under broadcasting conditions, but always check that they are well screened and as short as is workingly possible to avoid hums and buzzes.
The output from the mixer can be directly connected to most transmitters, as they accept standard line voltage, this will work correctly but can be a little raw and constant supervision of studio levels must be kept to avoid OVER MODULATION. This can cause your signal to splat which means break up and sound shit or cause your frequency to drift. This can be avoided by using two different components, one is a standard graphic equaliser that would be used as a separate in your HI-FI and the second is a compressor this acts as an automatic level control, when set right will stop any over strong signals going into the transmitter. Both of these operate as linear pieces of equipment plugging the output from the mixer into the input of the graphic or compressor and the output from that into the input of the transmitter. These two components can also be used together in line with each other.
When choosing a mixer, you should check which type of record decks it accepts. There is two types magnetic and ceramic, this will have to match the type of cartridge your record player has. Some mixers will be capable of both types but some are only capable of either.
Every studio will need some form of monitor, so the presenter can hear what is going out. There is two ways you can do this, one is to amplify what is going out of the mixer using an amplifier from your HI-FI, this will work well but the second way is much easier an better just tune a radio to what is going out and the presenter can monitor what us really going out on air. It is advisable not to have the monitor too loud as it will cause a feedback with the microphone when it is turned on. It is also a good idea to get the DJs to bring their own headphones because they will treat them with more care, in our experience they are the most common piece of equipment that breaks down due to them being moved around so much.
If you require extra microphones and there isn't enough sockets on your mixer, you can use a sub mixer with four channels on it and the output from the sub mixer can be plugged into the microphone input on your main mixer this will allow you to have four microphones at different levels connected to the mixer at one time making it very handy for doing interviews and plays.
This is all I can think of that could be of help with studios, it is not very detailed and most of the equipment is available at your nearest HI-FI shop so you shouldn't have too much trouble getting it together, it would be a good idea to put the studio together even before you get the transmitter so you can get some practice.
One major rule with transmitters is if it is working ok then leave it alone. So many stations have to take a break every so often because somebody said if I move this little thing here I can get more power out of your transmitter, and bang goes the output transistor and you have to wait two weeks for parts. If you want to do this type of work do it on your back up transmitter it causes less trouble.
So with that out the way we can explain a bit about transmitters. Tranmitters (txrs) are the only component that is illegal and it doesn't have to be turned on to make it illegal, in most countries around the world it is an offence to simply posess a txr, so be warned and read the relevant laws covering this. Txrs can range in size and power, the ones you will be most likely to use are micro power txrs, these range in power from 1 watt to 100 watts. This sort of txr is big enough to cover any large city depending how your aerial is set up, and shouldn't cost more than £200. A txr should always be connected to an aerial or a dummy load. This will help avoid the transistors blowing.
As I explained earlier txrs accept standard line inputs meaning they don't need amplifiers to drive them. This is because there is a modulator at the first stage of of the txr. This stage is followed by a stereo encoder (if fitted) this encoder mixes the stereo onto the oscilator. This is where the frequency of the signal is created and there is usually a variable capacitor in this stage which will be able to change the frequency you want by a few MHz either side. The next stage is usually a buffer this doesn't increase power, it stabilises the oscilator preventing the frequency from shifting when amplifier stages are connected on in series after. The amount of amplifier stages can differ in different txrs but it usuall follows a sequence of 1 watt stage, 5 watts stage and then on to the output stage of about 15 to 50 watts. After the output stage there is nearly always a filtering stage which isolates harmonics from being allowed onto the aerial and an antenna tuning unit (A.T.U) whitch tunes the aerial to the txr. All of these components and stages are concealed inside the sheilded box, and unless something is wrong should never need to be adjusted. Changing the frequency of a txr is not as simple as changing the frequency you are listening to on a reciever, like moving the dial. It's a lot more complex than that and should be only tackled by a person who is confident. I explained earlier that there is a vari cap on the oscillator board, when this is moved clock wise or anti clock wise the frequency can be changed a few MHz up or down. And this will appear to have changed your frequency on a nearby radio but there maybe no power going out. Next you will have to tune up each amplifier stage to the new frequency, this is done by plugging a 40 watt light blub or power meter and dummy load into the aerial socket. Start by tuning up the first amp stage through to the last and repeat this a few times, always stopping when you get maximum readings from the light blub or power meter. And then moving on to the next stage, always trying to obtain maximum readings.
At this stage your transmitter will be working at full power on the new frequency it is sometimes advisable to turn down the power of the output stage by about 5%, this will give a longer working life to your output transistor as it wont be run at the max level all the time.
Transmitters should allways be kept in dry and cool areas, if your txr does not have a fan supplied and seems to get hot when on for more than five minutes, you may need to put a fan on close to the transmitter to keep it cool. The aerial should always be fed by 50 ohm coaxial cable, this is different to the type used for televisions and can be bought at any good electrical shop and is about 65 pence per meter. Co-Axial cable is available in diferent sizes depending on what sort of power it is going to handle, the heavier the cable the better as it will let less radiation leak from it causing less local interference.
There hasn't been much research into the effects of radiation emitted by radio stations, but when using micro power txrs there is little chance of geting any health complaints. This does not mean it is not dangerous, there is just no proof that it is. It is still possible to get electric shock from the radiation of a micro power txr, it is called RF burn and it is not very pleasant at all. Working with low wattages such as 15 watts won't kill you, unless you get a burn while working on a difficult roof and die from the fall. It is then advisable to turn off transmitters before doing any aerial work, and to also note that even when the transmitter is turned off there can be a static charge built up in the aerial, so always short the aerial to the pole before commencing aerial work. One time when I was working on an aerial at night (which is nearly all the time because the neighbours can't see me) my brother nearly fell off the roof when he saw the sparks coming off the aerial, it was like lightening. So be safe when working on aerials and roof tops, the world needs free radio activists so don't take risks and kill yourself.
Aerials or antennas are not difficult to make from scraps of aluminimun and wood and they do work quite well. But most aerial suppliers will be able to supply you with commercial broadcast band aerials. Make sure you get an aerial that is designed for broadcast and not one for receiving, as it will probably be not matched to your transmitter and this could damage your txr.
The one you will be looking for will need to have 50 ohm impedance. A common type is a folded dipole this type is very stable and will cover the broadcast band of 88 to 108 MHz, it will also increase your signal by 3 times, this means if your txr has an output P.E.P (peak emission power) of 30 watts, using this type of aerial you can get an E.R.P (effective radiated power ) of 90 watts. Also using two or more folded dipoles in parallel connected together with matchers the E.R.P can be increased. Folded dipoles are only one type of aerial, you could also use a half wave dipole or a beam depending where you want to beam the signal.
If you decide to by an aerial from a registered dealer be cautious not to give your real name and address, as the authorities would only have to look up who has bought a broadcast band aerial and the knock on your door and catch you.
One last note is that you must never turn on a transmitter when it is not connected to an aerial or dummy load. You can also check if your aerial is working ok or matched to your transmitter correctly by plugging a S.W.R meter in series between them and this will give you a reading whether it is safe to leave the txr plugged into that aerial any longer.
There is many books in most libraries which go into futher detail on these subjects and you will find plenty of valuable information in them. Another place you will find the best information on transmitters is in your local amature radio club. These people have all the information you will need to set up a free radio station, but it is unlikely they will share this information with you (because they are usually a bunch of middle aged middle class wankers who always side with the state on everything to do with radio). So the only way around this is to join the club as a SPY and don't tell anyone about your free radio ideas, because you will also find that nearly all the workers from your local FCC and dept. of Communications are members of these clubs as well. As they will probably not suspect you at all, they will let you in on information about their work and you might be able to find out how much they do or don't know about the free radio movement and if you're lucky you might even find out when and where the next raid will take place. There is another advantage to membership of this type of club, you could show your licence to neighbours when they complain about how terrible your aerial mast looks and that you are interfereing with their televisions, when they see a licence for radio experimentation it will make you look legitimate and they'll get off your case. Where if they didn't see a licence they might persue the matter with the TV cable company who in turn will inform the authorities of suspect goings on in your area.
It would also be a good idea to build a homing device into your transmitter, this can be easily done with a 1 watt kit and rechargeable batteries, the signal could be tracked down to find out what government building it was sent to.
Hope this helps you with your free radio movement, any questions, queries or complaints, direct
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