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By: Bennie Dingo -- Rock-it Radio.
It is a somewhat romantic idea to some radiobuffs out there to be in International waters and playing the music you want to play the music you love just off the coast in international waters a ship that has been transformed literally into a floating studio and radio station. But this romantic notion served more then just that idea. It literally brought Pop Music over the airwaves at the time to much of Western Europe. People in Great Britian in the early 60's couldn't hear much pop music over the National radio outlet of the BBC. Only one hour a week was dedicated to the Pop music scene at the time. Many listener's in Great Britain to get there fix of the latest releases in Pop Music had to tune in the AM and Longwave bands to try to pick up Radio Luxembourg a station almost dedicated entirely to Pop Music in the 1960's. But due to the distance the signal was almost always not the best for music reception. In the early 60's Commercial radio was also non existant in Great Britain. Offshore radio to survive would also have to go commercial as well, and they did. Great Britain in the mid 60's had several offshore stations operating ... the two most notable probably being Radio Caroline and Radio London -- 'The Big L'.
It wasn't just the United Kingdom that was getting into Pirate Offshore Broadcasting. Matter of fact Radio Veronica an offshore pirate radio ship started as early as 1960 off the coast of the Netherlands. And had a listening audience that covered not only The Netherlands but also Belgium and Great Britain on the other side of the channel. Ireland, Scotland, Denmark and many other nations have had there offshore pirate stations as well, each with just as much of a colorful history of broadcasting.
Due to be released Worldwide in April 2009 -- The Movie -- 'The Boat that Rocked' is loosely based on the famed Radio Caroline off the coast of the UK. Here is a trailer of that show.
The U.S. release of this movie has now been renamed as 'Pirate Radio' and is due to be released on 13 November, 2009. Keep an eye out for it! And now here is the real story based on this movie movie below.
The founder of Radio Caroline was launched by a musical entrepreneuer by the name of Ronan O'Rahilly. His father
was a well to do Irish Businessman. O'Rahilly began his musical career managing the Rolling Stones in the early 60's. After
managing the Stones - O'Rahilly began his own recording label - to promote his newest client -- Georgie Fame.
MV Frederica waited to be refitted as a Radio Ship.
The vessel MV Frederica was a 760 ton passenger ferry built in 1930 by the Frederikshavn shipyard in Denmark. As a Baltic Sea Ferry she was very tough and built to withstand the ice of a Scandanavian winter. This made her a relatively stable and comfortable ship from which to work. After purchase by O'Rahilly she was renamed MV Caroline and registered in Panama. A 165 foot mast was attached to her deck and the hold was filled with 30 tons of concrete ballast. Two 10,000 watt transmitters were fitted under the supervision of Arthur Carrington, the British radio expert.
Radio Caroline DJ Martin Kayne remembers: In the record library was a cage that contained the RF Combiner that allowed both of the 10KW transmitters to be run together to hopefully produce 20,000 watts of power. The transmitter room was on deck level, more or less belowthe studio where the two Continental Electronics transmitters stood side by side along with an audio compressor/limiter. The transmitters each contained a series of safety features which would cause them to shut down in the event of a problem. In very rough weather it was not uncommon for them to switch off, seldom both together, but the engineer would have to be on hand to push the reset button. I am not sure if this was due to the transmitters being tilted and tossed around or the effects of the waves breaking over the aerialupsetting the antenna tuning. The antenna was a folded dipole with a multiple wire forming onelge and the steel mast as the other. The loading coils were in a purpose built cupboard in the ships lounge with heavy duty coaxial cable leading to the transmitters.' Radio Caroline after being fitted and set sail and on Easter Morning of 1964 began playing Pop and Rock music to the British Populace, off the Essex Coast. Shortly afterwards it's rival aboard the MV Mi Amigo arrived off the coast as well and Radio Atlanta arrived. The two ships finally merged business wise and became Radio Caroline North and Radio Caroline South. It was then decided that the more rugged vessel the MV Caroline (formerly MV Frederica) would travel north up through the Irish Sea to take position off the Isle of Man, broadcasting as she travelled. She arrived off Ramsey on Tynwald Day 1964. Radio Atlanta was short lived as a independent broadcaster and Rock-it Radio does offer one of their recordings on CD in the listing below.
'Scoop of a Lifetime' -- Young Reporter gets an exciting news story (from Pirates of the Irish Sea) -- In 1964 Colin Brown was a 17 year old junior reporter on the Ramsey Courier newspaper. He remembers: 'We heard that the advertising manager George Hare was coming over - And we heard from a local taxi firm that they were going to the airport to pick him up, and I caught a lift. on the way back I interviewed him on his plans for Radio Caroline. Right afterwards he received a interview with Ronan O' Rahilly who was at the same time meeting with some of his colleagues at the Mitre Hotel in Ramsey. I wandered down and asked would he be prepared to talk to the press? O'Rahilly was very friendly, very helpful and told me everything that I wanted to know. It was then arraged that I should go on board Caroline. Colin Brown reminisces that 'When the tender ship got to a certain height level with Caroline you had to jump, literally! One of the first people I met aboard was Tom Lodge, the programme director. I asked if he was ever sea sick? He said NOT! He asked us what record we wanted him to play for us - I just said oh play the next record on the turntable - and I remember it was the Animals 'House of the Rising Sun'.
Tom Lodge was the Program Director for Radio Caroline along with being a fantastic DJ
Soon O'Rahilly was sitting on top of the pop radio empire. The MV Caroline had been fitted out for Caroline North. And with the sister ship off the Coast of Essex for Radio Caroline South. Radio Caroline had a combined weekly audience in the region of 22 Million Listeners!
Daily listening to Radio Caroline brought a musical kaleidoscope dizzying in its bredth and depth to listeners starved from Pop music and brought for the musical sounds of: The Beatles; Bob Dylan; The Rolling Stones; The Dave Clark Five; The Hollies; The Who; The Beach Boys; Otis Redding; The Four Tops; The Kinks; The Byrds; Gerry and the Pacemakers; The Supremes; Elvis Presley; The Searchers; Donovan; Manfred Mann and Herman's Hermits and hundreds more pour out of Radio Caroline's powerful transmitter to pop culture hungry teenagers.
Radio Caroline Staff - Sort thru 100's of Requests and Fanmail.
Those living and working aboard the ship fell into three groups: The presenters; the radio engineers, and the ship's crew. Normal routine for the DJ's was to work for two weeks and then to have a week's shore leave. The shore leave was often hectic as the DJ's did stints in dance clubs and halls. The ship was at the mercy of whatever weather the Irish Sea chose to throw at it. Radio Caroline DJ Tony Prince told fans: "I suppose I was very lucky as I was rarely sea sick (sick of the sea yes! but sea-sick , No!) but some of the lads had a rough time, and sometimes they were so ill that they couldn't leave their cabins to do their shows. The studio on our ship was built right in the middle, and way up on the top deck, so when you did a show in a storm it wouldn't be at all unusual for the records to come piling down on top of you, or for the stylus to lift off the record as the ship suddenly lurched to an angle that seemed to be all of 45 degrees.'
The MV Caroline had a mainly Dutch crew who prepared a motley selection of Indonesian dishes, something which did little to sooth those suffering from a bout of Sea Sickness! However, unlike other offshore stations, on Radio Caroline North crew and DJ's mixed and messed together, creating a happy atmosphere.
Radio Caroline staff Martin Kayne remembers: "The DJs had excellent living quarters with a wash basin and electric heater in each cabin. Portholes with curtains and a wide staircase similar to that of a hotel leading to the main lounge and dining room."
The Dining Room aboard Radio Caroline.
Texan Radio Caroline DJ Jim Murphy 'Murph the Surf' - doing his Radio Caroline Show. Later Murphy would leave Caroline and did a tour of duty in Vietnam.
Radio Caroline DJ's taking a break in the TV - Lounge Quarters.
Not all Radio Caroline DJ's were aboard ship -- Jack Spector (above) was a big name DJ on New York station WMCA. As a former Brooklyn Dodger player, he had a massive following. In 1965 he began hosting a taped daily show, recorded in New York. It was the nearest thing that British Radio Listeners could be hearing the true American Top 40 Radio. Compared to UK Radio, it was wild! Jack would yell, ring bells, throw in sound effects and every word was drenched in echo. He called himself 'your main man, jake, your leader, your boss with all the hot sauce."
In 1967 London the Labour government of Harold Wilson was oposed to pirate radio stations from the outset. The Labour Government stated that they were in contravention of international agreements, interfered with foreign radio transmissions by using their frequenies, and presented a hazard to shipping. However, there was a strong suspicion on the offshore radio listener's that this attitude was derived from snobbery because pirates played pop music. And there may very well of been an element of old style socialist reluctance to relinquish state control over mass communication. Television was still in it's infancy and was not taken particularly seriously by many politicians. Radio, however, had been a very powerful instrument of propaganda during the second world war and was still widely regarded as such.
Postmaster General Tony Benn announced the British government's intention to introduce legislation to close down Radio Caroline, in spite of the fact that this had not been in Labour's election manifesto and that the Isle of Man government opposed to it. The British government insisted that the Isle of Man had no choice but to accept the legislation.
The Marine Offences Bill became law in 1967. An emergency delegation from the Isle of Man, led by Speaker of the House of Keys Charles Kurrish, travelled to London that summer to put forward the case that the Island was exempt from the legislation, but they were unsuccessful. It was applied to the Isle of Man directly by an order in Council. The Manx Parliament of the Isle of Man (Tynewald) originally refused to ratify the Act, which made it illegal for anyone to supply the pirate radio ships and that it was a domestic matter and the island should not be dictated to by Britain. The strength of feeling was such that the House of Keys even briefly considered an approach to the United Nations over the issue. The exact nature of the constitutional relationship between the British Government and the government of the Isle of Man is kept deliberately vague, for the convenience of both parties. However, this crisis was one of those rare instances which sharply define that relationship, and the British Parliament took precedent and ruled the decision.
Young Radio Caroline protestors rally in Isle of Man.
Isle of Man protestors demonstrate the coffin of Isle of Man (Manx) Freedom over Radio Caroline anti offshore broadcasting legislation.
After the passing of the Marine Offences Act in Parliament most of the British born DJ's left Radio Caroline. The Risk of prosecution was too great for them to continue. This act however, did not apply to the non-British radio personalities, most of whom carried on into 1968. They were joined by new hands, who were willing to risk the wrath of the law. One of these was Jason Wolfe, who was thought to be a South African but was actually born Chris Bowskill in Cheshire.
Jason Wolfe with a Radio Caroline Card - reading -- Fight for Free Radio!
Jumbo Jim Gordon at the Mic. on his show on Radio Caroline.
Since the Act became law it was now technically illegal to supply the ship from the Isle of Man, and tender journeys now had to take an arduous journey to Ireland, making joining and leaving the ship all the more difficult.
Radio Caroline land headquarters had now relocated to Amsterdam and fan mail took about six weeks to arrive. Listener's also detected a lowering of morale among the DJs. Political and legal pressure was mounting on Caroline and her crew. Radio Caroline DJ Mark Sloane was on shore leave in a pub in Bristol in 1968 when he was approached by a man in a dark suit who told him not to rejoin the ship ever again. He believed he had been warned off by MI5.
But the end of Caroline was because of unpaid bills and NOT Government legislation remembers Don Allen. "It happened on a Saturday evening. We went off the air at ten o'clock and we watched a bit of television -- and about two o'clock Sunday morning, we were all set to go to bed when we heard this 'thump' on the side of of the ship. We all thought what could that be? Men from a tug had come across and had taken over the ship. They had pirated it. They said they had their orders to cut the anchor chain and late Sunday afternoon we were towed away.
Picture from the air of a Dutch Tugboat hired by Creditors towing the Radio Ship MV Caroline back to Dutch Waters.
A rusting MV Caroline sits in port until scraped in 1980.
Radio Caroline was a watershed in British Broadcasting history. Today it is difficult to imagine a time when radio was closely restricted by Government, and pop music was effectively 'rationed'. In 1980 MV Caroline was finally broken up and scraped. But Radio Caroline had already broken the mold of broadcasting in Britain, and set the precedent for modern commercial radio. The Explosion of pirate radio sent listener figures soaring and sales of radio sets quadrupled overnight.
Radio Caroline DJ's provided the blue prints for amny of today radio presenters -- Jerry Leighton's off the wall humor was echoed by Kenny Everett who in turn gave rise to the likes of Steve Wright with his cast of characters and the 'shock jocks' of today. The DJ 'hand-over' was born as one jock passed the baton to the next with a schmaltzy greeting. The lavish competitions have remained the bedrock of popular radio, whilst charity appeals, mid Atlantic accents and the publicity stunts had been copied many times over. Radio Caroline brought to the mainstream cultural influences which had prevously been undercurrents in British Society. Radio Caroline was influential in the Northern Soul scene - the station played a lot of Rhythm and Blues and Soul Music, at a time when the BBC did not play black music.
The British Government seeing the unpopular pressure they had put on Offshore Broadcasting quickly put a replacement for the pirates -- BBC Radio 1 and was launched the same year as the Marine Offences Act became law. And it was based firmly on the programme format created by the Pirates. It even employed mostly ex-pirate DJ's and used the same jingles.
In spite of the growth of Television, popular radio today is stronger probably than at any other time in its history, and that this is in no small part due to the impact of Radio Caroline North --- 3 miles off Ramsey -- in the wonderful Isle of Man.
Bennie Dingo's Rock-it Radio and it's staff salute the Spirit and Legacy of Radio Caroline and it's history making endeavors -- and would like to give thanks to the Manx National Heritage for their assistance in the making of this article. Rock-it Radio has over the year's collected and remastered several of the original DJ's of Radio Caroline and offer the following broadcasts below.
Note: Just click to the title to get a complete description of the broadcast and playlist.
1960's Pirate and Offshore Radio Broadcasts
Pirate Radio Station - Radio North Sea International -- circa 1972 4 miles off the Dutch Coast.
Here is a list of various items that sell Microcasting Radio kits etc.
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