It’s been quite a ride for the Free Radio Network, an historic online hot-spot for discussion of pirate radio in the United States. The FRN was launched in 1993 as a dial-up bulletin board system (BBS) administered by shortwave pirate enthusiasts John Cruzan and Kirk Trummel.
After transitioning to the Internet, the FRN expanded far beyond its message boards, though those remained a primary draw. In the early days of the World Wide Web, The Free Radio Network was one of the few places online where pirate broadcasters and allies could have frank discussions about their activity and its implications. It’s also been a primary collection-point for reception reports involving shortwave pirate stations.
I first discovered the FRN in 1997, when I began covering unlicensed broadcasting as a part of my vocation. There were so many FM pirates congregated there that the FCC’s chief enforcement officer at the time, Richard Lee, visited regularly under the handle of "TopCop." This led to some interesting back-channel discussions and eventually Lee’s (friendly) appearance at a Philadelphia microbroadcasting conference in 1998.
Following the promulgation of LPFM, most microbroadcasters abandoned the FRN, while the site’s core shortwave community thrived. However, Kirk Trummel died of pancreatic cancer in 2001, after which Cruzan also gradually stepped away from the site.
The Free Radio Network’s new caretakers were not cut from the same cloth as its founders. Updates to the site, save for the message boards, effectively ceased. In the last few years, the content of the message boards significantly declined in quantity and quality, as an apparent tiff between some active members morphed into an all-out civil war that threatened to consume the U.S. shortwave pirate community. Partisans used their administrative access on the FRN to perpetuate the vitriol, which led to a mass-defection from the site.
What seems to have killed the Free Radio Network, however, is a lack of server administration. It became kind of a running joke when the site’s domain would expire every year, because it would take days for someone to renew the registry. When the site disappeared again earlier this spring, I assumed that was the culprit, but queries to frn.net now simply time out – the domain is active, but the site itself is AWOL.
Every time the FRN had a hiccup, it seemed like its community shrunk a little bit. Now, most of that community exists on places like HF Underground and the Free Radio Cafe, as well as the Internet Relay Chat channel #pirateradio, where shortwave pirates and their listeners often trade reception-reports in real-time.
That said, I hope the Free Radio Network is not gone for good, because it represents an important archive of material related to the modern history of pirate radio in the United States, which deserves to be preserved.