A pirate television station is a broadcast television station that operates without a broadcast license. Like its counterpart pirate radio, the term pirate TV lacks a specific universal interpretation. It implies a form of broadcasting that is unwelcome by the licensing authorities within the territory where its signals are received, especially when the country of transmission is the same as the country of reception. When the area of transmission is not a country, or when it is a country and the transmissions are not illegal, those same broadcast signals may be deemed illegal in the country of reception. Pirate television stations may also be known as "bootleg TV", or confused with licensed low-power broadcasting (LPTV) or amateur television (ATV) services.


The first known pirate TV station in the US was Lanesville TV, active between 1972-1977 and operated by the counter-cultural video collective the Videofreex from Lanesville, New York.[1][2] Another documented pirate TV station in the 1970s was Lucky 7, which broadcast for a single weekend in April 1978 from Syracuse, New York.[3]


There are several techniques for pirate TV broadcasting, most of which have been made very difficult, or obsolete, by better security measures and the move to digital television.

Relay hijack (analogue)

Many analogue relay transmitters would "listen" to a more powerful main transmitter and relay the signal verbatim. If the main transmitter ceases broadcasting (for example, if a station closes down overnight) then a pirate signal on the same frequency as the main transmitter could cause the relay to "wake up" and relay unauthorized programming instead. Typically this would be done by outputting a very weak RF signal within the immediate vicinity of the relay: for example, a video cassette recorder (such as a 12v system designed for use in trucks) sending its signal to a home-made antenna pointed at the relay. As the pirate signal is relatively weak, the source can be difficult to locate if it is well hidden.

A significant benefit of this attack is that the potential viewers do not have to re-tune their televisions to view the content. The content simply appears on an existing channel, after close-down.

This attack is generally now prevented by the channels broadcasting 24 hours per day (e.g. showing test cards instead of closing down), by using satellite feeds instead of repeating terrestrial signals, by electronic security to lock the relay to the authorised source, or by the switch to digital television.

Unsecured analogue satellite transponders have also been reported to have been hijacked in a similar manner.

Source hijack (analogue or digital)

In this scenario, a man-in-the-middle attack is performed upon the source material, such that authorized official transmissions are fed with unauthorized programming from the central studio or play-out facility. For example, a link feed (e.g. outside broadcast) is hijacked by a stronger pirate signal, or pre-recorded media (such as videotapes or hard drives) are swapped over for unauthorised content. This attack would generally have to be performed by an insider or by gaining access to studio facilities by social engineering.

Unauthorized transmitter (analogue)

As with most pirate radio stations, reasonably powerful VHF/UHF transmitters can be built relatively easily by any sufficiently experienced electronics hobbyist, or imported from a less strict country. The primary challenge to this technique is finding a suitable yet inconspicuous vantage point for the transmission antenna, and the risk of getting caught. If the pirate signal is strong enough to be received directly, it will also be strong enough to be tracked down.

Unauthorized multiplex (digital)

The advent of digital television makes pirate television broadcasting more difficult. Channels are broadcast as part of a multiplex that carries several channels in one signal, and it is almost impossible to insert an unauthorized channel into an authorized multiplex, or to re-activate an off-air channel. In order to broadcast an unauthorized digital TV channel, not only must the perpetrator build or obtain a VHF/UHF transmitter, they must also build or obtain, and configure, the equipment and software to digitally encode the signal and then create a stand-alone multiplex to carry it.

In Spain, in major provincial capital cities, usually operates one or more than one pirate TV digital multiplex. Some multiplexes started to operate after digital switch-over migrating pirate channels from analogue pirate television to DVB-T digital multiplexes.

Since shortly after digital switch-over and still today in secondary cities, some channels broadcast by means of a DVB-T transmitter with four analog input sources (in this case, four tuned satellite receivers connected by composite video cable) and then to amplifier, and digital signal is feed to antenna or tower. This method is the one used by most pirate TV channels. However, over the years and due to economic returns, some have begun broadcasting almost professionally. New equipment that they have been installing since three years ago allows remultiplexing of DVB-S programs into DVB-T multiplexes and most parameters can be configured at will.[4]

Since 2010, its number has been increasing in Madrid and in Valencia,[5] for example, and, as of March 2016, there are more than ten DVB-T pirate multiplex in Madrid metropolitan area[6] transmitting without authorization with programming ranging from divinatory, esoteric and occult tarot[7] or fundamentalist Christian to community television[8] (which isn't regulated in Spain as of 2016).

In other countries, there are reports of pirate TV digital multiplexes, but they are very rare and usually suspected to have been false reports, mistaking overspill from authorized multiplexes in neighboring regions or nearby foreign countries. Viewing numbers may be much smaller than analogue pirate TV since re-tuning a digital television may be an entirely automated process which may ignore unauthorized multiplexes, or place such channels in an obscure section of the electronic program guide.


Known stations

During the 1980s, large numbers of pirate TV stations operated in Italy, Greece, Spain and Israel. Subsequent legislation lead to the licensing of many of these stations and the closure of (most of) the remainder.

Proposed stations

Pirate television in popular culture


Movies often show Pirate TV channels simply "breaking in" over the top of existing channels, often all of them simultaneously.




Comic books

See also


  1. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-07-21. Retrieved 2013-04-29.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ Teasdale, Parry (1993). "Lanesville TV". Ulster. Experimental Television Center. Retrieved 2020-09-28.
  3. ^ "F.C.C Hunts an Illicit TV Station That Pirated Some Notable Shows". The New York Times. April 19, 1978.
  4. ^ "mundoplus.tv • Ver Tema - Canales piratas en la TDT". www.mundoplus.tv (in Spanish).
  5. ^ "TDT PAÍS VALENCIÀ - Pàgina 83 - MónDigital.CAT". www.mondigital.cat (in Spanish).
  6. ^ "mundoplus.tv • Ver Tema - Canales piratas en la TDT". www.mundoplus.tv (in Spanish).
  7. ^ "mundoplus.tv :: Zona TDT". www.mundoplus.tv (in Spanish).
  8. ^ "mundoplus.tv :: Zona TDT". www.mundoplus.tv (in Spanish).
  9. ^ Ritman, Alex (June 20, 2019). "Could This Be the World's Biggest State-Sponsored Piracy Operation?". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 30, 2020.
  10. ^ Cathain, Eamonn (1981-08-06). "Flickering by Night" (PDF). DX Archive. In Dublin. Retrieved 2020-09-23.
  11. ^ !Mediengruppe Bitnik. "!Mediengruppe Bitnik - Pirate TV Station". bitnik.org.
  12. ^ Evelyn Messinger. "Pirate TV in Eastern Europe". Archived from the original on 2007-10-23. Retrieved 2007-09-15.
  13. ^ "3.12: The Russian (Media) Revolution". WIRED. December 1995.
  14. ^ "Videofreex". vdb.org. Archived from the original on November 16, 2008.
  15. ^ "Greetings From Lanesville". Media Burn Archive. Archived from the original on 2012-02-15. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
  16. ^ "Lucky Seven TV Broadcasters In Trouble... When Found". Ocala Star-Banner. Apr 20, 1978.
  17. ^ "Network 21 Archive". Archived from the original on 2012-11-25. Retrieved 2013-01-15.
  18. ^ "Radical Spirit". havenforthedispossessed.org. Archived from the original on October 3, 2010. Retrieved May 7, 2020.
  19. ^ Brand, Mike. "Odelia T.V." The Offshore Radio Guide.
  20. ^ "DIYmedia.net News Archive: June 2005". diymedia.net. June 2005. Archived from the original on October 8, 2009.
  21. ^ "About". Pirate Cat Radio. June 2, 2017. Archived from the original on June 2, 2017.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  22. ^ "The Peoples Community Radio Link, 103.5 F.M Stereo". freespace.virgin.net. Archived from the original on October 17, 2012.
  23. ^ "The Thameside Radio 90.2 Story". thamesideradio.net.
  24. ^ "Special Events - do you remember these?". thamesideradio.net.
  25. ^ Taylor, Barry (10 December 2001). "Offshore Pirate Radio in the 1960s". btinternet.com. Archived from the original on July 16, 2003.
  26. ^ "TV historie". Dansk Radio (in Danish).
  27. ^ a b "405 Alive - History - Pirate Television". bvws.org.uk.
  28. ^ Morgan, Charlie (22 January 2020). "Radical Objects: Covert Broadcasts and the Nuclear Disarmament Campaign". History Workshop.
  29. ^ Shannon Huniwell (July 2009). "The Church Rummage Sale UHF Television Station and Other Minor TV Tales". Popular Communications. Vol. 27, no. 11. pp. 73–74.
  30. ^ Hans Knot. "Inside Radio Caroline". rug.nl.
  31. ^ Hans Knot. "More Caroline cut-outs: March 1968 - September 1972". rug.nl.
  32. ^ "News - Radio Today #15: August 1987 - AM/FM". amfm.org.uk.
  33. ^ "-- Offshore Manual - We walk the walk, and talk the talk! --". offshore-manual.com.
  34. ^ "Radio Tower 2". bobleroi.co.uk.
  35. ^ Free Amerika Broadcasting on IMDb
  36. ^ "Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Flaunt It (CD, Album) at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved 2013-01-15.
  37. ^ Collins, Suzanne (2010). Mockingjay. Scholastic.