Pirate radio station behind Iron Curtain

I was born in Tallinn, Estonia during Soviet occupation era. My childhood hobby was transistors and thanks to my parents jobs, I had free access to the best of Soviet electronics. 

So, I started to build transistor radios and amplifiers in my early childhood. 

My nights went listening radio waves under my bedsheet without my parents being aware about this activity. They where sure that their children are sleeping after they had sent us to sleep when local TV station ended their broadcasts. 

Somehow my parents supported my hobbies and my usual birthday presents where “multimeters”. 

I was trying to measure the “resistance of Soviet Electricity System” by burning those items and this was a joke inside my family and everybody was happy to donate me a new one. They where never supporters of Communism or Soviet Occupation. 

Shortwaves was my favorite, but AM during a nighttime was interesting. 

Usually Estonians listened local “VikerRaadio” – a night-program having some interesting topics and occasionally banned radio broadcasters, but when this ended radio “Caroline” was coming to air using nearby frequency after Estonian Broadcasting Network was shut down for maintenance. They had something 50 Kw station using tubes and tubes needed to cool down. 

Obviously, the need for a good antenna, therefore our family apartment balcony was wired by me. 

And being in my teens, the music from “Caroline” station was something nobody else behind the Iron Curtain wasn’t aware. Only BBC managed radio Luxemburg was known for some enthusiasts but no-one wasn’t aware about alternate British music. 

And I was listening when Caroline sunk. Those feelings has been haunting me rest of my life. When I tried to woke up my parents during that night, they just told me that I had a bad nightmare.

Finns where allowed to visit Tallinn during that era and Finnish YLE TV was freely available for view in Northern Estonia. As our languages where similar, every Estonian had some friends from other side of the bay and we where loyal customers of their service. The event of Eurovision Music contest was broadcasted by YLE and I assume that most of Estonians where staying alert to record the music from this event, even all that music sucked to my taste. 

Music (cassettes and LPs) where trading inside Estonian youth together with jeans and plastic bags. Those where not allowed for Soviet Citizens, therefore Soviet Militia usually confiscated those and sold them in “black market”. 

My friends (usually older than me) where fans of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, etc. 

Disco music (especially Boney-M) was allowed to listen and supported by communistic regime, while some rock bands where banned in our era. Somewhere in Internet there is a list of Soviet banned music artists, including Deborah Harris (Blondie), Johnny (Rotten) Lyndon, Black Sabbath, etc. 

Having access to transistors and music; and being inspired by radio Caroline, I just had to build my own pirate radio station. Obviously that wasn’t much activity to promote as KGB had ears everywhere. 

Built in small metal box and having a cheap soviet consumer cassette player on top I had my station built. Soviet 4,5 volt batteries where cheap and widely available from any toy stores. 

Soviets where not so good to manufacture transistors capable to handle high frequencies and being powerful enough. While KP903 was giving enough power to build Hi-Fi amplifiers, KP913 was rare and usually military grade. 

Actually it was the same transistor manufactured same way. After manufacturing process they just measured the characteristics and labeled the result accordingly. 

My station used only one military grade KP913 and it was working on AM frequency. Transistors capable to handle FM frequencies and crystals to produce high frequencies where unknown in Soviet Union. My station used simple transistor/capacitor/spool based frequency generator having multiple filters afterwards. 

It still had problems as my solution was broadcasting also in alternate frequencies, but that wasn’t much my problem to get my station online. 

The station power was up to the voltage sent to this transistor. Connecting a box of 4,5 volt batteries together could make me 40-50 volt package, but this made my transistor very hot. So, I cooling it down was a major problem. However, in Soviet Union crap metal was free to take everywhere and with some help of metal workers the proper cooling solution was found. In Western World they usually used small ventilators to cool powerful transistors during that era. But Soviet metal did it’s work as well. 

I assume, that it could have been something 10-25 watts station. 

Another problem, I encountered was where to connect the antenna and ground. 

Because my neighborhood was tall housing area, obviously putting something to the top of those buildings made me a solution. But we need an antenna and ground to keep that high frequency transistor to work properly. 

Those buildings where full of metal, but measuring where I should put the antenna and ground was kind of “over my teenage brain capacity”, therefore any metal was just good enough to get my station to the air. 

I just connected one wire to some metal and another wire to another metal which was making full housing at least 300 apartments as my broadcasting station. 

So, there was a small box containing a cassette player, a radio transmitter in metal box with strong metal plate hosting the transistor and bunch of batteries taped together. I just had to hide it somewhere in the roof in those Soviet buildings. 

During my first broadcasts, I just stayed in front of those buildings. 

Soviet cassettes where usually 30 minutes of recording while Western ones where either 60 or 90 minutes. I decided that 20-30 minutes is enough for one broadcast and used Soviet tapes. 

So, I wondered around looking for KGB to show up. And they did. Some military colored vehicles having antennas in their roof showed up. Later figured out, those where not even KGB. There was a secret organization to study “anomalies in aether”, like there where organizations to study “unknown flying objects” in Soviet Union under Science Academy and answering directly to Communistic Party. 

They just drove around and stopped nearby parking slot. Never figured out the exact location of my broadcasting station. 

After initial broadcasting attempts playing only “allowed music” recorded from Soviet produced plastic disks like Paul McCountry, Simon&Garfunker, etc I started my DJ voice to introduce “unknown” artists. And it was exiting, what kind of sounds my teenager acting voice was able to produce for my broadcasting program. 

When I got my hands to Sex Pistols “I’ama Anti Christ”, it took to air. I never had any idea do my station have any listeners. But taking a electric bus next day, I was surprised that some bus driver had recorded my broadcast and was playing it from bus speakers system. Electric bus drivers where jobs that creative people had to take and they sometimes connected their personal cassette players with bus internal speakers. Those speakers where actually meant for the driver to announce stops. 

Estonians just loved Johnny Lyndon (Rotten) voice with me trying to create same kind of vocals with him. 

And when I got my hands to Kate Bush “wuthering highs”, it was another punk song that I introduced from my pirate radio station. 

Also Nina Hagen with her exceptional voice and Frank Zappa where frequent music I introduced using that self-made compact box system nobody wasn’t much able to figure out. I assume, that everyone was just thinking that this is some kind of CIA project to manipulate Estonian youth. 

Similar Topics: