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Ian Koenigsfest: Radio pirate turned local leader


(photo by Francesca Lucia)

For the latest issue of Link magazine, Neetu Garcha introduced us to a big inspiration in her life who himself was once inspired by the lessons of the late Nelson Mandela. Today Ian Koengisfest is the Brand Manager at popular local radio station CKNW AM 980 where he has the opportunity everyday to make people’s lives better, but it hasn’t always been that way. After a long and interesting journey from South African pirate radio to the airwaves of Vancouver, BC, Koenigsfest now takes the lessons learned from his homeland hero and applies them to the world around him, including BCIT. You can read all about Koenigsfest’s contributions to the to BCIT Broadcast Journalism community in the latest issue (online here), but we thought we’d also dig a bit deeper into his pirate radio past and check in on the University of Capetown radio station today.



photo courtesy UCT Radio


Koenigsfest’s story goes back to 1982 when he studied at the University of Cape Town (UCT). There, he and a few friends got involved in pirate radio, a campus radio station, not licensed by the government at the time. Pirate radio is defined as illegal or unregulated radio transmission, in this case used to expose the difficulties and horror faced by people living in South Africa by the apartheid government during its rule. The station would do just that: broadcast real stories of the struggles faced by people in South Africa, largely because of the laws of the apartheid government. Consequences for these illegal broadcasts included twelve years in prison and a fine. For them, it was worth the risk.

Koenigsfest was quick to discover that to be an objective journalist, a story has to be told right, but that many of the stories he had been told growing up were not accurate. The more he read, the more he wanted to get involved.“If I could have some role in telling the story I needed to do that,” Koenigsfest told me. “And that was how the pirate radio came in – the ability then to tell more than five or six people, but to tell hundreds if not thousands.”


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Koenigsfest imparting wisdom at Vancouver’s CKNW headquarters. Photo by Francesca Lucia


With the help of engineering students, UCT radio’s broadcasts spread from solely within the student union building to a 10 to 12 kilometer radius off campus. But the dream of spreading information this way in South Africa at the time was short-lived. He recalls: “I remember clearly one lunchtime, three or four police officers arrived with the university president and demanded to know where the transmitter was to confiscate it.” His days of pirate radio were over.


Bronzed headphones on display at UCT harken back to the days of pirate radio



Turns out the police and president simply couldn’t suppress the voice of the people and UCT radio found a way to carry on. Today they are going stronger than ever and UCT 104.5 has become  the biggest campus station in Cape Town and the only one licensed to broadcast to the Metropole area. Plus, it’s inspiring to know that Koenigsfest and his colleagues’ mission lived on, with the UCT Radio site stating clearly:  “UCT Radio actively engages with an audience best described as aspirational youth – youth with a strong desire to succeed in their careers, finances and personal lives but with enough of a social conscience to reinvest in their communities.”

Check out a few more photos of the modern UCT Radio and be sure to read the full article from Link 49.5 below:






Read the full story on Ian Koenigsfest inside Link Magazine: