How to set up a pirate radio station- Updated links for 2020


Buy your stuff...


I'll go over the list of gear I use for easy setup and tear down.  Obviously, get a transmitter.  I use the Broadcast Warehouse TX 150.  150 watts.  It's not cheap though. About $3500 US.

And if you prefer, start out with a cheap Chinese knockoff. Here's a list of them (15watts.. which will get you a mile or two no problem, and a lot further if you put your antenna up high). Most are under $200 (and usually include an antenna).

Next you need an antenna.  I prefer one of two antenna's.  The first one is an old pirate radio standby called a Comet.  Cheap, easy to set up, easy to tune.  Model number  CFM95SL 5/8 wave.

Next, get a cheap laptop.. this is your streaming box.  You'll be streaming from a remote location (i.e. your computer at home or work where you're playing DJ).  I like one with a reasonably big hard drive so I can store music on it that the system defaults to if I lose the internet connection (more on that in a bit).

You'll also need a small 2 channel mixer.  I like USB mixers because I get the best sound signal out of a cheap laptop from USB like the Behringer U-Phoria UM2

USB mixers/audio interfaces are easier to set up and tear down as well. Don't forget the appropriate cable to go from the mixer to the transmitter (RCA, 1/4", 3.5mm, whatever the interface and laptop have).

And, you'll need some 50ohm coax cable.  I would order it from these guys:

http://www.progressive-concepts.com/info/item.php?id=68

Depending how far you're putting your antenna up (and away) from your box of goodies.. you'll likely need 50 ft. and more likely 100 ft.

I use one of these yard storage boxes (often used for garden supplies, hoses, etc) to store the transmitter, laptop and mixer:

http://www.walmart.com/ip/Rubbermaid-Large-Deck-Box-with-Seat/20681996 

Last, you'll need a power strip and a 50 or so foot power cord.


Time to set up...

So...put the laptop, the transmitter and the mixer into a outdoor storage box (this is the kind you use for garden gear/hoses, etc.). The laptop is hooked to the internet via wi-fi (provided by the 'hosts' home or business) and controlled via a remote control host program. I personally like free so use Chrome Remote Desktop.  

The laptop also has a local library of music on it in case you lose the internet.  The antenna goes on a lightweight tripod that sites on the roof of a house or business. You can also mount it on a pole or even in a tree if you're so inclined (make sure it's not touching any branches or leaves).

30-minute setup:  The laptop, mixer and transmitter are already mounted in the box  I just put them all in there on the floor of the box.  The box has a large piece of tape across the front of it that says "Ham Radio Repeater"  

A Side Note on process and operations:  
Why? This is for plausible deniability for the 'host' of the setup- when the FCC shows up they just say to the agent "golly... I thought it was a ham radio repeater. That's what the guy I met at a party who said he's pay for our internet if we let us put this box in our backyard told me it's not mine, here let me turn it off" - once it's off, the FCC has no reason to be there and the host should ask them to leave and say, if asked, NO you can't take the equipment - 'it's not mine'.   
It doesn't matter if the FCC agent believes them. All that matters is that they have plausible deniability.  Remember: FCC agents, by themselves, have no enforcement powers in the field. They cannot arrest. They cannot obtain warrants. Only local police can do that and only in NY, NJ and FL where there are state laws about pirate radio.  The other 47 states: It's just an FCC regulation and the FCC has no real ability to enforce it.

Now, you take the box that's loaded up with a transmitter, laptop and usb audio interface out of your car, you find a good place in the backyard to put it.  Usually against the back of the house.  You run the power cable to a power outlet (outside or in the garage).  You get the laptop hooked up to the local hosts internet via Wi Fi. 

Next you take the Coax cable, and you connect it to the transmitter (through a precut by you hole in the outdoor storage box - stuff some plastic or newspaper around the hole to keep water out).  You then hook it to the Antenna.  You've already PRE-TUNED the antenna (here's a brain dead simple formula) for your desired frequency.

Turn it all on.  Make sure you're internet connection is working and that Chrome Remote Desktop loaded so you can remotely connect to it.  Make sure your transmitter is on and broadcasting.

Leave. 

The way you get content into it is by setting up a SHOUTcast stream and then just log into that SHOUTcast stream from the laptop via Chrome Remote Desktop.  Have local music in the playlist in case you drop the internet connection (it then just moves to the next song in the playlist.. I prefer old Winamp v2.91 for this, but 5.X works as well - anything that will stream to a SHOUTcast server works).  Here's a Winamp SHOUTcast plugin that will stream to a SHOUTcast server.

Thats how I set it up in 15-30 minutes. 

Tear down is:  Go on roof, disconnect the antenna, take antenna/tripod down throw in the car.  Pick up the box, throw it in the car.  Actually, it's more like 3 minutes (we actually did this once WHILE the FCC was in front of the house, but that's another long story).

Anyway, I know it seems complex, and it sort of is, but it's sort of not as well.

Here's a wikipedia article on the station i started and ran for years:

TL;DR:  Put a transmitter, a mixer, and a laptop into a box, hook it to an antenna on a roof, hook it to the internet, turn it on, run away.

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EDIT:  Per popular request, how to find a frequency and how to tune an antenna (brain dead simple):

Frequency search tools

(BTW.. yes.. A Pirate Monk is also me).


Nice tools for frequency searches:
So you want to be an LPFM station operator?
Michi Eyre at REC Networks has a few (free) tools that could be of big help.
In the wake of recent FCC decisions, REC has been updating and upgrading its radio broadcast facility information tools.
Most important, perhaps, is the LPFM Channel/Point Viewer. It makes quick work of pinpointing what frequencies may be available and where they are available, sans interference considerations, in a particular market. The Google maps integration makes it fun to simply “look around.” It carries info on the top 150 markets.
Also available is the REC LPFM Search tool for drilling down with greater technical specifications and the more commercial (and more detailed) REC Broadcast Query tool.
 
BRAIN DEAD SIMPLE ANTENNA TUNING:
 
Every wonder how to TUNE that antenna for your pirate radio station to 89.5 or 103.9 (or whatever frequency you can find that's open)?  Here's a simple and highly effective formula I've used many times.  Works great.

Using a properly tuned antenna is essential for micropower broadcasting on the FM band. An antenna that is not properly tuned will not pass along your transmitter's power as efficiently as it could - and this leads to a general degradation of signal coverage.
Fortunately, calculating the precise length of your antenna is pretty easy to do if you follow these three steps. Get a calculator to help with the math:
1. To determine the wavelength of your signal in inches, divide 11811 by your transmitter's frequency in megahertz (MHz). 
2. Multiply the answer from #1 by the fraction of wavelength of your antenna's design (most antennas are 1/2 (.5) or 1/4 (.25)  wave; the popular Comet is a 5/8 (.625) wave antenna). 
3. The answer from #2 is the length of your antenna in inches. 
Try to fine-tune your antenna using a properly-calibrated SWR meter for maximum antenna efficiency.  A perfect SWR match is 1:1; in the real world, you should be satisfied with any SWR of 1.5:1 or less.  Radio shack has SWR meters, with instructions.

You can do it without the SWR meter though.  I have, many times, and the formula above works beautifully.
 


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EDIT #1:  Here's a link to several of the live shows we did on air: 

http://archive.org/search.php?query=venue:%22KBFR%27s%20Van%22

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EDIT #2:  Below are pictures of a past setup.  It's not set up to be mobile or setup in 15 minutes, but it works for me:


This is the broadcaster/streamer setup.  It has, from left to right.. A DJ monitor/keyboard, a Behringer USB mixer, an HP desktop with 5TB of HD space (about 400,000 songs), a studio monitor (there's another to far right out of the picture), then on the rack: a microwave (gotta eat) on top.. the below that... a fan, the transmitter, a netbook that streams 24/7 to my website, a small USB mixer hooked to the netbook and the TX and, if you look on the far bottom right, that's another 150watt transmitter (backup).

Below are outside shots of my mast and on top the Comet antenna.. second one is a close up of the antenna and the last shot is my personal workstation that I also use to do shows from (and the occasional podcast, under another name).




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