The pirate station that came in from the cold

It began as a pirate radio station, but now interface is completely legal, thanks to the internet. Matt Munday on a broadcasting revolution
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Indy Lifestyle Online
ENSCONCED in an office basement a stone's throw from the City of London, a broadcasting revolution is quietly gathering momentum. It has been a year now since a former pirate radio station, interface, came out of hiding and began beaming live dance music onto the worldwide web.

Using the internet instead of the heavily regulated FM radio waves has enabled interface to broadcast legally for the first time in its six-year history. Although other stations have flirted with the net (notably one set up by London nightclub The End), interface remains the only full-time radio station of its kind in Britain.

The last time the station properly researched its listener base was back in November. They found that their site had been receiving an average of 46,000 hits per day. At any one time around 6,000 people were listening in. Compared to, say, the Lord Mayor of London site, which received around 100,000 hits in six whole months, interface is attracting considerable interest.

The station's founder, the mysterious Mad Ash, famous for his radical politics and cast-iron ideals, is still at the hub of the station today. During its five years as a pirate, Mad Ash met like-minded souls through underground music and club networks, and these now form the nucleus of interface. When one of these introduced him to computer expert Adam Laurie from A1 Digital, the idea of broadcasting on the internet was hatched, and interface was born on 24 February 1997.

Cost may prevent other pirates from rushing down the same route. interface receives all the necessary technical paraphernalia, worth nearly half a million pounds, for free. Two companies supply them: Real Audio and Progressive Networks. In return, they get the kudos of being associated with interface, and are able to use the station as a highly effective means of testing their latest audio software.

With over 60 DJs hosting shows, including weekly mixes from Muzik magazine, there is a lot of coordinating to do. Computers must be staffed at all times to deal with the perpetual stream of requests and messages flooding in on e-mail from listeners around the world. Yet the station has only four staff. Philippa, 30, is one of them. "Our listenership is very diverse," she says. "We get everyone from schoolkids to businessmen, and we get a lot of listeners in the States. But most of our audience know what they're looking for. They have either read about us, or heard about us from their friends."

Mad Ash's no-advertising policy is rigidly adhered to. He maintains that interface remains exciting because its music policy, underground dance with a substantial smattering of drum 'n' bass, remains untainted by commercial pressures. Of course, the downside to this is that nobody gets paid. "I've never been so poor in my life, but I've never had so much fun," Philippa enthuses.

However, the financial climate looks set to change, with clubs increasingly eager to pay interface to broadcast their nights live. An on-screen option already allows listeners to hear two evenings a week live from London's Bar Rhumba, including Gilles Petersen's renowned weekly session, "That's How It Is". Future developments also include simultaneous video broadcasts, the first of which are already beamed from interface's monthly club night, The Hub, at London's Club 333. For the dedicated few at interface, the twentyfirst century is shaping up nicely.

interface can be found at www.pirate-radio.co.uk

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