DEAR JERRY: Recently I heard a reference made to the UK pirate radio phenomenon.
I know nothing about such a thing. Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Jim Chandler, Fraser, Mich.
DEAR JIM: I relate to how you rattled off the five Ws, with the panache of an investigative reporter.
In no particular order, all five questions should be answered by the end of business today.
Radio Luxembourg was the first so-called pirate radio station, but their proliferation really began in the early 1960s, fueled mostly by millions of teens craving pop and rock hits, especially tunes not on the BBC's playlist. More about Radio Luxembourg will follow.
Sources whose task it is to keep track of UK pirate radio stations estimate there are at least 150 currently broadcasting. Most are based either offshore, on international waters, or on land in or near London.
That is substantially fewer than in the 1980s, when listeners had over 600 stations from which to choose. At its pirating peak, there was no conceivable programming format that was not available to UK listeners.
But significant changes came in the early 1990s, in particular a more aggressive clampdown by the Department of Trade and Industry (DT&I), with tougher penalties for offenders.
In late 2003, the Office of Communications (Ofcom) was created as a government's regulatory and competition authority over all forms of broadcasting, telecommunications, telephones, and even the UK postal system.
Similar to the USA's Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ofcom governs licensing, including the legalization of compliant pirate stations, and the pursuit of unlicensed operators.
As for the when, where, and why the UK has pirate radio stations, the seed was planted in 1922, when the Brits bestowed a monopoly license to the BBC.
This guaranteed the BBC that there would be no other commercial broadcasting within the UK. What the monopoly license couldn't control was radio waves emanating from across the English Channel, and easily received by anyone in the UK with a radio.
Thus was born Radio Luxembourg.
A few years after the BBC deal was struck, the government of Luxembourg awarded a comparable monopoly license to operate a commercial radio station there.
Livid at no longer being the only commercial radio heard on the Isles, the BBC and British government accused Radio Luxembourg of "pirating the airwaves."
In 1964, Radio Caroline signed on, becoming the UK's first homegrown pirate station. Their pop music radio beams originated from one of several different ships strategically anchored in international waters.
Flashing forward, most current pirate stations have expanded their audiences far beyond those in the footprint of their transmitted signals. Made possible thanks to the Internet, it's a ghostly grotto where pirates can capture a domain.
DEAR JERRY: I'm hoping you can identify a novelty number that I heard just once. It's something that Doctor Demento might have played.
The gist of the tune is the singer's love for fried chicken. There is much random screaming, and someone with a voice like Howlin' Wolf.
Not much to go on, but you've solved musical mysteries with fewer clues.
Dixie Woodside, Waycross, Ga.
DEAR DIXIE in Dixie:
Howlin' Wolf had nothing to do with this wacky tune, but your reference to him, coupled with the singer's craving for fried chicken, closed the case.
The original title of this novelty is "Cuz It's So Good to Eat," written and recorded by Ernie Englund in 1955.
A Chicagoan by birth, Ernie lived most of his life in Sweden. He was primarily a bandleader and trumpet specialist, but "Cuz It's So Good to Eat," a vocal, and "Night Train Fantasy," an instrumental, were the A-side tracks on his second Swedish EP (Metronome MEP-108).
If there are other vocalists besides "Shouting Ernie," they are not mentioned on this EP, but his 1954 Swedish EP is titled "Ernie Englund and His Shouting Men" (Karusell KEP-3004), so he didn't always work solo.
In September 1955, Archie Bleyer's Cadence Records picked up the two A-side tracks from the Metronome EP for a U.S. single (Cadence 1269).
Cadence made a slight change to each title, issuing the disc as "'Cuz It's So Good to Eat" backed with "Night Train."
At the time, the Cash Box Record Reviews graded new releases with an A, B, C, or D, with a plus or minus to indicate a slight upward or downward rating.
They strongly preferred the B-side, raving about "Night Train" and giving it a B+:
"Ernie Englund comes up with a fabulous pop instrumental arrangement of a tremendous R&B jump hit. This side really swings. One of the best swing dance items to hit the market in a long while. Could break big if it gets enough exposure."
Apparently, "Night Train" didn't get enough exposure. It only spent one week at No. 72 on Music Vendor's chart. "Night Train" did not appear on Billboard, or even Cash Box, after such a glowing review.
As for "'Cuz It's So Good to Eat," that side earned a C+, and this brief comment:
"A gravel-throated vocalist goes wild on this zany driving rhythm side. Makes you laugh."
IZ ZAT SO? In 1953, when Ernie Englund and His Crazy Men covered Bill Haley's first hit, "Crazy Man, Crazy" (Essex 31), it was hailed as Sweden's first rock and roll record (Karusell K-45).
In an uncanny connection to our first topic, Ernie Englund's only appearance on a UK chart came in 1966, when "Merci Chérie" (Polydor 56714) reached No. 48 on . . . Radio Caroline at Sea!