Entertainment News

  • 28 March 2014, 4:01

Radio Caroline Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Way back in 1964, at Easter, a huge change started in broadcasting in this country.

All of a sudden, a ship out in the North Sea was playing non-stop music, with DJs ad-libbing all day.

Up until that time, we had the old, antiquated BBC light programme which let off steam by playing pop music for a mere two hours on a Sunday afternoon.

There was also the commercial Radio Luxembourg, which broadcast from the Royal Duchy, but its signal was forever fading in and out.

But that was it.

Caroline immediately started to gain a huge audience and the sale of transistor radios soared.

Other ships joined Caroline around the East Anglia coast and even old wartime fortresses abandoned by the Ministry of Defence in the early 1950s became watery bases for music stations.

Ronan O'Reilly came up with the idea of Caroline when he could not secure air play for one of his artists,Georgie Fame.

The BBC didn't want to know, neither did Luxembourg.

Being an enterprising man, he had the ship fitted out with generators, a transmitter, a studio and a huge transmitting mast and sailed it all out into the ocean.

I was a young man of just 19, mad on music, and the more I heard of Caroline the more I wanted to be out there.

The Government was jumping up and down because it said it was illegal, but that made it even more tempting.

When I sent audition tapes to all the pirate stations, only one man replied.

His name was Reg Calvert, who ran Radio City from the huge Shivering Sands old wartime forts which still stand to this day.

Before I knew what was happening, I was on a fishing boat sailing out from Whitstable, Kent, to find fame in my broadcasting career.

I was hoisted up some 90ft onto the arrivals platform and almost at once found myself on air.

I don't know what I said or what I played, but Uncle Reg, as I was to call him, seemed satisfied and he left me with the crew and DJs back on the supply boat swiftly back to Whitstable, as the skipper said the tide was turning.

I was to stay on Radio City for two years.

In June 1966, Calvert got involved with a merger with another big station, Radio London.

Major Oliver Smedley, who was once associated with Radio Caroline, had put a transmitter on City when we were going to do a deal with Caroline, which fell through.

On hearing of this business deal, Smedley sent some armed raiders to stop City from broadcasting and held the crew on board more or less at ransom.

Calvert was not happy and an argument ensued between Calvert and the Major at Smedley's home.

Calvert was shot dead - a huge story at the time.

After many months, Smedley was acquitted and walked from court a free man.

This gave Harold Wilson and his Government the very impetus they needed to race through parliament The Marine Offences Broadcasting Act of 1967.

It sent shivers down all our spines. Wilson hated the pirate stations.

Calvert's widow Dorothy carried on running Radio City for another seven months, but with a court appearance and a fine of 100, I was told as chief DJ I had to close down the station for good on February 8, 1967.

It was a heart-breaking moment.

Mrs Calvert told us she would try to find us work and true to her word within days I was on board the Mi Amigo, aka Radio Caroline.

Here I met all my DJ heroes and instead of spinning vinyl records on an old disused fort I was on a ship on a swivel anchor that indeed rocked and pitched up and down in storm-force gales.

At times the Dutch crew had to literally tie me down at night when in my cabin bunk to stop my head hitting the ceiling.

Spring and summer came and it was hot, so I sunbathed right by the transmitter mast which the ship's captain told me was dangerous and could make be bald and sterile. He was wrong.

We also had boats of all shapes and sizes of eager fans who wanted to meet us.

They knew only too well what we sounded like, but not what we looked like.

It was fun, but a shadow was creeping slowly but surely towards us.

The Marine Offences Act was to come into force at midnight on August 14, 1967.

Our supply tender arrived that day with Johnnie Walker and Robbie Dale, the DJs who were set upon defying the law and the Government.

I was due for some shore leave that day and Walker asked me if I was coming back.

I said yes at the time, but on the long sea trip back to Felixstowe docks, I looked back at the lonely Mi Amigo ship that had been my home for seven happy months.

I never went back to sea. If I had I could have lost my passport and gone to prison, which seems totally ridiculous today.

Instead, I knocked on the door of the "enemy", the BBC, and was there for a long time and at least, and at last, I was on terra firma.

Happy Birthday, Radio Caroline. There are a lot of candles on the cake!

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