London has always been amazing for radio. This is largely due to the city’s geography: the river valley that stretches from Crystal Palace in the south to Alexandra Palace in the north, facilitated the bouncing of radio waves into the basin below. This boost in the lay of the land is partly what led to the glut of pirate radio stations across the capital in the 1990s. However, these were limited in their reach – they could only broadcast in far as radio waves would travel and they were also constantly blocked by the police.
As pirate radio stations grew, their cat-and-mouse routine with the police became unsustainable. Some of them – notably Kiss and Rinse FM – have become legal. As technology progressed, another avenue opened up: Internet broadcasting. Just as London embraced pirate radio, these new internet radio stations also flourished. Here’s our guide to the best.
Internet radio’s greatest success story is undoubtedly that of Dalston NTS. Its founders sought to create an alternative to mainstream radio stations, where traditionally one had to stay up until unsociable hours to get anything approaching the eclectic mix that NTS focuses on.
NTS was launched in 2011 and now has over 300,000 regular listeners worldwide. Part of the station’s appeal is that the schedule makes room for everyone from superstar DJs to everyday locals who want to stream their record collection once a month.
NTS has expanded beyond its London origins and now also broadcasts from Manchester and Los Angeles. These days he also creates great video content online and even collaborates with Tate Modern for their Friday night parties.
London Fields Radio
One of the main differences between Internet radios and their pirate predecessors is that they no longer need to hide for fear of the police. So the broadcasts moved from the towering civic estates to the cafes of east London. At least it’s there London Fields Radio reared up.
Apparently, the delicious blend of coffee is one of the things that inspires the station, alongside all those eclectic sounds from E8 and beyond. The community is at the heart of the resort and it is at its best when it provides the soundtrack to Wilton Way’s huge street parties.
Radio radar in Clerkenwell is to train young people in radio and focus on underground sounds. Many stations on this list now have a global reach – something they are acutely aware of, often sticking to experienced DJs.
That’s not the case with Radar Radio, which offers free production, DJing, and pitching workshops for budding DJs. The goal is to create the next wave welcoming mainstream resorts. (Although, to do so, they’ll probably have to ditch some swearing.)
The newcomer to the pack, World FM broadcasts from North East London. As their name suggests, they have a penchant for music from all corners of the globe.
Its two co-founders know what they are doing; Gilles Peterson got his start in pirate radio, before moving to BBC stations, eventually transitioning to internet radio in 2016. Thris Tian was at the forefront of music delivery through the power of the internet, as he is also co-founder of the incredibly popular Boiler room.
Pop Brixton Broadcast, Reprezent Radio is another station that focuses on young people; all of their presenters are under 25.
Perhaps the station’s greatest fame is helping launch the career of grime superstar Stormzy. They gave him his very first radio interview, which led to them doing his own advice show over the phone with the grime team Section Boyz. Station manager Adrian Newman said“Their advice was terrible, but the show was really, really funny, and the phone lines would come out of the cards”.
It is arguably more of a traditional radio station than an internet station, as it broadcasts on FM and DAB as well as the internet. However, the station’s philosophy is much more in line with the other community-oriented stations on this list, something to which the 114 volunteers who work at the station are strongly committed.
SohoRadio has a van that we imagine would be the kind of thing Scooby Doo and his gang would design if they were to leave the prank ghost business and enter the world of radio. Just to clarify, that’s a compliment.
And it looks to match their villainous van. Radio Soho covers genres as niche as Japanese grime, as well as non-musical options like satirical comedies. It clearly works for Soho Radio; he was named the best internet radio in the world in 2016.
Is anyone surprised that Peckham has an online radio station? It really is the place to be right now, and the music is a big part of what draws people in. The Bussey Building hosts massive club nights and the area is home to one of London’s most exciting labels, Rhythm Section, so when Balami added the radio to the mix, it was like the last piece of the puzzle.
This one is a bit different from the others, experimenting with the concept of what a traditional station does. There’s the usual online live stream, but there’s also an app that lets people approach radio in a different way. It lets people buy songs they’ve just heard, trying to give back to the artist in the most direct way possible. It may not be entirely revolutionary, but it’s still practical.
Do you have any other internet radio stations based in London? Let us know in the comments.
Read more: How Black Pirate radio stations revolutionized the London music scene