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Rock⁠i⁠n’ ⁠t⁠he Boa⁠t⁠ for L⁠i⁠ber⁠t⁠y

By: The James Madison Institute / September 22, 2010

The James Madison Institute

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September 22, 2010

By Francisco Gonzalez, JMI Development Director
Recently I rented a film on DVD called Pirate Radio (2009). Set in 1966, it tells a fictitious story about a “pirate radio” station that was broadcasting rock and roll tunes into the United Kingdom from a ship in the North Sea.Since the British government regulated how many hours a day the emerging rock and roll music could be played on radio stations, a group of music fans took matters into their own hands. One group operated a pirate radio ship which stayed in international waters, but just close enough so that British citizens on land could still pick up the signal and tune in at all hours of the day and night.The disc jockeys at sea also pushed the envelope of free speech in areas that went a bit beyond the music. I suppose one lesson here is that if you try to fight a rebel, you may push them to go further in their rebelliousness. The film is highly entertaining, with lots of laughs and a ton of great classic rock and roll music.For one who believes in individual liberty, this film had many great themes. The DJs on the pirate radio ship were constantly fearful they would be shut down by the government. One DJ said to another, “They can’t close us down, we’re pirates.” The other responded, “Believe me they will find a way. Governments loathe people being free.”Back on land, there are many scenes of the moralizing government minister trying to find a way to shut down the pirate radio ship. One of his assistants tells him that the pirate radio is not outside of the law and so there’s nothing they can do. The government minister replies, “You see that’s the whole point of being the government – if you don’t like something you simply make up a new law that makes it illegal.”Exactly. This Pirate Radio film provides so many analogies to how government bureaucrats, even today, loathe people being free – to start their own businesses, to create their own enterprises, and to make their own moral choices. They don’t understand that the market will regulate itself – if the music was that bad, it wouldn’t last. As the film concludes, on-screen text reads: “By the summer of 1967, Pirate Radio was over, but the dream never died. There are now nearly half a million music stations around the world. They play rock and pop all day and all of the night. And as for Rock and Roll, well, it’s had a pretty good 40 years.”Writers note: After watching the film, I did a little background reading to see what parts of this film were factual. Apparently there is a factual basis to this film, but of course, like many movies, many parts of this one were exaggerated from the factual reality. Before the pirate radio ships, there were British radio stations that played rock music in the 1960s, but they weren’t as commercialized as American radio was at the time – they didn’t play as long of segments of popular rock music, and when they did, they tried to maintain a highly respectable business image. In addition, they were also restricted by union agreements to play a very limited amount of recorded music each week. Go figure – governments, businesses, and unions – the perfect combination of bad regulation. But like the thirst for freedom, the music continues to play.