Where Can I Find Pirate Activity
Frequencies Pirate Radio Stations Use
In general pirate radio stations try to transmit on unused frequencies. This is for two reasons. First, they don't want to cause interference, as this tends to result in the radio authorities taking an interest in them, and shutting them down, otherwise known as a bust. Second, they often use relatively low power levels, and would not be heard over a licensed station that most likely is using more power.
AM/MW Band Pirates
While AM band pirates can turn up anywhere, they are most commonly heard in the extended band, which runs from 1610 to 1700 kHz, as this part of the AM band is much less crowded. They are also often heard outside of the AM band, with 1710 kHz being most popular, as this frequency is otherwise unused.
Many AM pirates have ethnic programming, in languages other than English.
AM pirates used to be more common in the 1970s and 1980s, with several high power stations operating in the New York City area. High power / long distance AM pirates are not as often heard today. Most AM pirates today tend to be relatively low power, with a range of tens of miles at the most. There are some exceptions, such as Radio Celestial from New York City, which is often heard on 1710 khz.
FM Band Pirates
FM band pirates can be heard throughout the FM band, wherever there are unused channels in a city. They can also be heard outside of the band, with 87.9 MHz being most common.
In large urban areas, there are often numerous FM pirates that can be heard. As power levels are often low, the range of a given station can be only a few miles, if that. Many FM pirates have ethnic programming, in languages other than English.
FM pirates will not otherwise be discussed on this page, which focuses on shortwave and AM pirates.
Shortwave pirates use numerous frequency bands, depending to a large extent on their location in the world.
Factors That Affect Reception
Solar activity (or the lack of it) has a tremendous influence on which bands will propagate. When solar activity is very low, higher frequency propagation (above around 10 Mhz or so) is more difficult. Keep in mind that lots of atmospherics also come into play when you're listening on HF bands; storms in between your location and the operators can cause a great deal of noise. There is a whole host of things in a typical home that can cause interference; everything from plasma TVs, defective heaters and numerous other sources of noise are a challenge on HF.
For the non-technical listener, a great place to start how a HF signal travels is the HF Radio Propagation Primer by AE4RV (requires Flash player). This site is especially helpful in understanding as it relates to optimal reception of pirate radio broadcasts, especially due to the broadcast power constraints pirate ops must deal with.
When and Where to listen
As a general rule, frequencies below 10 Mhz propagate much better during the times of local darkness, while daylight is generally needed above this.
United States and Canada
Because they are usually low powered and use simple antennas, pirate radio stations are more difficult to hear than most other shortwave broadcasters. This is especially true if you are located in western North America, since most pirates are found east of the Rockies. The answer to this question shifts frequently, but these are good bets.
- 4000-4200 khz
- 5100-5200 khz
- 6200-6450 khz for many Europirates, some Latin American pirates too
- 6700-7000 khz
While these are the usual ranges where logs show activity, expect the unexpected. Just recently, Sycko Radio showed up on 11775 Khz using USB - in the 25 meter band. In addition religious pirate YHWH has been noted on the fringes of the 40 and 25 meter bands.
The most popular bands are the 48 meter band (roughly 6200 to 6450 kHz) and the 75 meter band (roughly 3900-4000 kHz, which is part of the 80 meter ham band in the US). Europirates (as European pirate stations are often referred to in the US) also make use of other parts of the HF spectrum. Other commonly used bands include:
- 19 meters, generally 15000-15100 kHz, but also 15700-15900 kHz
4, 5 and 6 Mhz in the US/Canada
During the daytime, these bands operates in NVIS mode, where signals go up to the ionosphere and are reflected roughly straight down. That means that stations generally only reach a distance of a few hundred miles.
During the nighttime, the band "goes long" and more distant stations can be received, at the expense of not being able to receive local stations.
The 48 meter band works about the same way within Europe.
48 meters from Europe to the US/Canada
During the daytime, reception from Europe is generally impossible. Once the path between Europe and North America is dark, reception becomes possible. The actual quality of reception conditions can vary dramatically from day to day, due to changes in the ionosphere caused by general solar activity, solar flares, etc.
The same is true for reception of 43 meter band signals from the US/Canada by listeners in Europe.
19 meters and higher frequencies
Generally, these are long distance (DX) bands, and are not suitable for relatively local reception. That is, the distance between the station and listener should be many hundreds of miles at a minimum, often thousands of miles. During periods of low and moderate solar activity, these bands are usually open during the late morning and early afternoon. During periods of high solar activity, they can be open 24 hours a day.
- Return to Pirate Radio New Listener Guide and FAQ
- Go to List of Pirate Radio Frequencies
- Go to Pirate radio stations
- Go to A Brief Survey of HF Receiving Equipment
This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Some links may be affiliate links. We may get paid if you buy something or take an action after clicking one of these.