A powerful yet understated history of pirate radio and its impact in the Internet age.



A historical retelling of the pirate-radio revolution that swept throughout 1960s England.

In June 1966, pirate-radio rivals Reg Calvert and Oliver Smedley faced off in Smedley’s home, leaving Calvert dead. After chronicling the encounter, Johns (History/Univ. of Chicago; Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates, 2010, etc.) takes a leap backward to the ’20s and England’s initial steps to introduce the nation to radio. After the British Broadcasting Corporation monopolized the airwaves, several music lovers and businessmen set out to win them back, oftentimes employing guerrilla tactics to offer free music to the people. These so-called pirates of radio began assembling their operations beyond territorial waters—most notably, Shivering Sands, an abandoned, high-rise military fort in an estuary of the Thames. Described as “sinister-looking boxes perched on steel legs,” the abandoned structure was occupied by Calvert and his colleagues, who imbued it with new life. What began as an enterprise of free-spirited entrepreneurs transmitting music from off-shore ships soon morphed into something else. “Floating DJs were one thing,” writes the author. “Squatters on military installations was quite another.” The stakes continued to rise, eventually leading to an actual invasion of the fort by Smedley’s men. It was, quite literally, piratical behavior on the high seas, eventually leading Calvert to Smedley's home to settle the matter. Yet Calvert's murder functions solely as a convenient focal point for the larger implications that arose during the movement. The pirate-radio revolution spurred a debate that would have long-lasting implications. While Americans celebrated peace and love at Woodstock, the British pirates pushed the boundaries of copyright and information sharing well into the 21st century. Smedley called Calvert’s murder “a joke gone sour,” yet the lasting effects of their revolution is no laughing matter.

A powerful yet understated history of pirate radio and its impact in the Internet age.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-393-06860-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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