Race, Class, and Sonic Autonomy in the Tower Blocks: Pirate Radio’s Exilic Possibilities

Larisa Kingston Mann


Despite 60 years of bans, raids, arrests, confiscations, and fines, unlicensed (“pirate”) radio has persisted in the United Kingdom. Why such persistence, even after the introduction of noncommercial licenses and the rise of Web radio? Many factors influence communities’ choice of media technology: Legality and physical location especially shape a technology’s racial, class, and cultural affordances. During the 1980s–2020s, U.K. pirate radio stations’ physical locations—particularly those in public housing towers—facilitated access to and control of broadcasting by the working-class and Black communities, illustrating how social context shapes technological possibility. This article presents a sociohistorical analysis of pirate radio’s capacity to function as an “exilic space” that fostered collective intimacy and relative autonomy. In doing so, the article identifies what is at stake in the changing legal and technological contexts for broadcast media to better understand its capacity to be liberatory or extractive.


radio, pirate, exilic spaces, autonomy, intimacy, broadcasting, dance music

Full Text: