I have a book out from the library. It’s a little overdue. Actually, it’s about eight years overdue. I suspect they’ve cancelled my Auckland Public Library membership by now.
The book is called ‘The Shoestring Pirates’ by Adrian Blackburn. It’s the true account (more or less) of four men who set sail to establish a pirate radio station on an old ship anchored in a small triangle of what was deemed to be a patch of ‘international waters’ in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf – as the result of what can only be described as an accident of cartography.
They broadcast pop tunes as well as friendly and hip DJ banter – not to mention commercials and, on occasion, distress calls, for about four years (actually 1111 days, believe it or not) before finally being given a legal licence to broadcast on land.
There are parallel stories to that of Radio Hauraki in other parts of the world at around the same period in history. Radio Caroline in the UK and Radio Veronica in the Netherlands are two close to what is now my home. It’s a story of the battle for independent, private radio in an age of state monopoly control over broadcasting. And it involves men in boats, rock ‘n’ roll records and legal battles.
What makes it of particular significance to me is that I later worked closely with several of the people involved, mostly at other stations (two of the four original “pirates” were management at Radio Pacific, where I worked for five years), but on occasion at Hauraki itself as well.
Of course, what Radio Hauraki represents today is about as far from ‘piracy’ as it’s possible to get in twenty-first century media. But echoes of what it symbolised in the late 1960s and earliest part of the 1970s carried through the station’s development and multiple changes of line-up and ownership until quite recently.
These days, of course, ‘offshore’ means something different to the people of Hauraki. It’s just where the profit goes. And counter-culture has long since been replaced by corporate culture.
But as I go into 2012 – a year in which I write my own book about radio – it’s nice to take a bit of that history with me. And I like to think I’m commemorating their important and historical act of disobedience with a small act of rebellion of my own.
I’ve decided I’m not actually planning on taking the book back for at least another year. And I may even photocopy the whole thing before I do.