London’s always been incredible for radio. A large part of this is due to the city’s geography: the river valley that stretches from Crystal Palace in the south to Alexandra Palace in the north, made it easy for radio waves to bounce about in the basin beneath. This helping hand from the lay of the land is partially what led to the glut of pirate radio stations across the capital in the 90s. However, these were limited in their scope — they could only broadcast as far as the radio waves would travel and they were also constantly being shut down by the police.
As pirate radio stations grew, their cat-and-mouse routine with the police became unsustainable. Some of them — most notably Kiss and Rinse FM — went legal. As technology advanced another path availed itself: broadcasting over the internet. Just as London embraced pirate radio, so too did these new internet radio stations flourish. Here’s our guide to some of the best.
Internet radio’s biggest success story is undoubtedly Dalston’s NTS. Its founders were looking at creating an alternative to mainstream radio stations, where traditionally, you’d have to stay up till unsociable hours to get anything approaching the eclectic mix that NTS focuses on.
NTS launched in 2011, and now boasts over 300,000 regular listeners globally. Part of the station’s appeal is that the schedule makes space for everyone from superstar DJs, to everyday locals who want to air out their record collection once a month.
NTS has stretched beyond its London origins and now also broadcasts out of Manchester and Los Angeles. These days it also creates excellent online video content and even collaborates with Tate Modern for their Friday night lates.
London Fields Radio
One of the major differences between internet radio stations and their pirate predecessors is that they no longer need to hide in fear of the police. So the broadcasts have moved out from towering council estates to east London coffee shops. At least that’s where London Fields Radiohas pitched up.
Apparently the delectable blend of coffee is one of the things that inspires the station, alongside all those eclectic sounds from E8 and beyond. Community is at the heart of the station and they’re at their best when they provide the soundtrack for Wilton Way’s massive street parties.
Radar Radio in Clerkenwell is all about training young people in radio, and focusing on the sounds of the underground. Lots of the stations on this list now have a global reach — something they’re acutely aware of, often sticking to DJs with experience.
Not so the case with Radar Radio, which offers free production, DJing and presenting workshops for aspiring DJs. The aim is to create the next wave hosting the mainstream stations. (Although, to do that they’ll probably have to drop some of the swearing.)
The newcomer of the pack, Worldwide FM broadcasts out of north east London. As their name suggests, they have a penchant for music sourced from every corner of the globe.
Its two co-founders know what they’re doing; Gilles Peterson got his start in pirate radio, before jumping over to the BBC’s stations, finally making the transition to internet radio in 2016. Thris Tian was on the forefront of broadcasting music through the power of the internet, as he’s also a co-founder of the incredibly popular Boiler Room.
Broadcasting out of Pop Brixton, Reprezent Radio is another station that focuses on youth; all their presenters are under 25.
Perhaps the station’s biggest claim to fame is helping to launch the career of grime superstar Stormzy. They gave him his first ever radio interview, which led to them giving his own phone-in advice show along with grime crew Section Boyz. Station manager Adrian Newman said: “Their advice was terrible, but the show was really, really funny, and the phone lines would go off the charts”.
Arguably it’s more of a traditional radio station than an internet one, as it broadcasts on FM and DAB as well as internet. However, the station’s ethos is much more in line with other community focused stations on this list, something the 114 volunteers who work at the station are strongly committed to.
Soho Radio has a van that we imagine is the kind of thing that Scooby Doo and gang would design if they were to move out of the hoax ghost business and into the radio world. Just to clarify, that’s a compliment.
And it’s got the tunes to match their wicked van. Soho radio covers genres as niche as Japanese grime, alongside non-musical options like satirical comedy shows. It’s clearly working for Soho Radio; it was named the best internet radio station in the world in 2016.
Is anyone surprised that Peckham has an online radio station? It’s really the place to be at the moment, and the music is a large part of what’s sucking people in. The Bussey Building hosts massive club nights and the area is home to one of London’s most exciting record labels Rhythm Section, so when Balamii added radio to the mix, it felt like the last piece of the puzzle.
This one’s a bit different than the others, experimenting with the concept of what a traditional station does. There is the usual online live stream, but there’s also an app that lets people approach radio in a different way. It allows people to buy songs they’ve just heard, trying to give back to the artist in the most direct way possible. Perhaps it’s not quite revolutionary, but it’s handy nonetheless.