JEFF'S RADIO GOLD
The GREAT RADIO DECADES
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The Eighties got off to a bad start in Radio terms. On March 20th distress codes interrupted continuous music from Radio Caroline. The Mi Amigo had broken her anchor and was adrift in the North Sea she hit a sandbank and sank. Thanks to the skill of the crew from the Sheerness lifeboat everyone was saved in a daring rescue. Was this the end for Caroline? Well over the next three years there was weekly rumours of the stations return but is wasn't until August 1983 that a report on ITN's 1 o'clock news alerted me to the stations return. On 319 metres Caroline was testing. They had a new ship the former Icelandic trawler Ross Revenge. She looked impressive with her 300 foot Ariel mast. The tallest on a ship anywhere in the world. The lady had returned and Tom Anderson who was rescued from the Mi Amigo re-opened the station.
If Caroline's return was a surprise the site of a second radioship in the North Sea was a complete shock. just before Christmas in 1983 the MV Communicator appeared and when test transmissions began they were using a Balloon flying above the ship as an ariel. Sadly the balloon and the spare were soon blown away by the strong winds around the North Sea. Not to be put off the crew built a makeshift ariel onboard to get a signal out and so persuade the stations American backers to put up the money for a more conventional ariel system. The test transmission during February were announcing the station as Laser 729. The test ceased and all went quiet.
Meanwhile onboard the Ross Revenge, Caroline staff celebrated the stations 20th Birthday. In May tests again started from the Communicator on 558 Khts and on the 24th May Laser 558 was born. The all American DJ line up soon built up a large audience with a format very much like the one used by Swinging Radio England nearly twenty years earlier. With most commercial stations adverts are played out in sets of three or four per break but Laser pledged "You're never more than a minute away from music". It proved very popular all over Europe. Even Steve Wright, who was then presenting Radio One's afternoon show sent up the station claiming his show was "never more than 60 seconds from another minute". Laser also had a positive affect on Caroline herself. Many people felt an opportunity had been missed by the station on it's return as it stuck to it's old 1970's format. When Laser arrived Caroline's playlist became much more commercial. They stuck with playing plenty of album tracks but now had more chart music and classic Caroline oldies.
New kid on the block Laser 558
Over the Easter Weekend of 1985 Radio Caroline was in party mood and rightly so. The station had become of age at 21 and was in the news again. Even the BBC sent a TV reporter to do a story on this world famous radio station. A month later the celebrations switched to the Communicator as Laser held her first birthday party. On land however the stations were loosing thousands of listeners to this slick American station, and were far from happy and wanted action to close down the offshore stations. A certain ILR station boss offered money for someone to "get rid of that ****** ship", referring to the Communicator. Laser DJ Charlie Wolf's answer to the stations was simple. He told them "just do better radio and no-one will listen to us". However the pressure was growing and the government decided to act. The MOA act has proved powerless especially against Laser who employed only non UK broadcasting staff. The station claimed that supplies were coming to the ships from Spain but the authorities were convinced that some supplies were coming from British Ports, which was illegal under the 1967 Marine Offences Act. They put up notices warning boat owners of the penalties for supplying the ships and the in August 1985 they hired a small Trinity House boat the Dioptric Surveyor to sit out at sea and watch the ships, costing the taxpayer around £50,000 a month. Caroline's response was to carry on as normal and ignore the blockade. Laser on the other hand took the view, if they wanted a fight they could have one. In hindsight it was probably the wrong decision but it made for some exciting radio.
Charlie Wolf was one of the stars of Laser 558 and his "fever pitching" show went out late at night and he really took the mick out of the guys on what he called the "spy boat". It was not just Charlie though the whole broadcast team got in on the act. The blockade was christened "Euroseige" by the station and daily random reports from the deck of the Communicator were introduced into programming. When a message reached the ship that the UK media were listening for the reports, they were scheduled twice a day. Spoof adverts and promo's were also aired to poke fun at the spy boat and the government as well as reminding listeners how much this blockade was costing. The Communicator even upped anchor and moved to a new location which confirmed what everyone already knew the government was after Laser. The spy boat left the Ross Revenge and followed the Communicator. Laser then returned to her previous position. The morale onboard had never been higher and it was some of the best radio ever.
As Autumn loomed the tide was turning for Laser, a Sunday newspaper claimed in an interview with some station staff that they were owed money and supplies were critically low. It was true that despite the stations huge audience advertising had been hard to come by and the owners had recently installed a new management team. In September other popular DJs including Charlie Wolf told listeners he had had enough and was leaving. It wasn't all gloom and doom though station supporters including DJs and pop stars made a record in support of Laser called "I spy for the DTI". It was clear though, that the government were prepared to stick it out for the winter. They replaced the small Dioptric Surveyor with the much larger Gardline Tracker. The appearance of this ship in the North Sea was incredible as it was the Communicators sister ship. The Communicator was formerly the Gardline Seeker.
Since day one Laser had been dogged by technical problems including a poorly installed ariel system that was prone to falling down and generator problems. On November 5th the station suddenly left the air. The Communicator had lost all electrical power in a storm. The crew of the Gaudline Seeker offered help. The Communicator's captain had, had enough and accepted help to raise the ships anchor and under her own steam the Communicator headed in to Harwich. Once inside a British Port she was impounded by the stations creditors.
So not for the first time Caroline was left alone to fly the Free Radio banner and strangely enough the spy ship disappeared. Caroline almost immediately changed frequency to 558 to improve her signal. She also introduced more chart music into her playlist to try and capture disappointed Laser listeners.
In the autumn of 1986 the Admiralty Marshall announced the Radioship MV Communicator would be sold by auction and invited bids. It was bought by Ray Anderson of East Anglia Promotions fame. Rumours in the press began to circulate about the return of Laser. When the ship left Harwich everyone including the DTI waited to see where it would head for. Once outside territorial waters the ship changed hands to an American Company. Early December 1986 tests were heard on 576Khts claiming "Laser is Back". The station was now called "Laser Hot Hits" and was again staffed by a team of American DJs. Regular programmes began on August 6th but didn't last long as yet again the ariel towers collapsed in a North Sea gale. The station did return for a while in early 1987 but the technical problems were still there and she disappeared for good in April 1987. The ship stayed at sea for quite some time with former Caroline man Johnny Lewis looking after her. The rumour said she had been sold and would return as Starforce 531 but sadly she never did.
Caroline had seen many of these problems over her long career but tragedy struck the Ross Revenge one November night a loud cracking sound was heard. The 300 foot tower had crashed into the sea. The crew had to franticly cut it free in atrocious weather conditions to save the ship. The lady was not gone for long, the crew soon rigged up a small ariel array using the ships own masts. Caroline was back albeit on very low power. As work continued to improve the ariel the signal improved.
Laser Hot Hits in more trouble
Caroline kept going by funding the station in much the same way as they did in the seventies. The hired a second transmitted to a Dutch Station. Firstly the popular Radio Monique and later Radio 558. More money was earned by broadcasting paid for, religious programmes. The staff on Caroline had started testing a short-wave frequency to put the religious programmes on. Leaving more time for Caroline and in the evening a new Rock Service "Overdrive". In hindsight this was not the best idea. The Dutch were furious about the new short wave service and claimed it was causing interference problems. On the afternoon of August 19th 1989 Caroline's programmes were interrupted by DJs asking franticly for help. The large Dutch tug the Volans had come along side the Ross and it's crew had forcibly boarded the radioship. Some were even carrying guns. The broadcast team barricaded themselves into the studio. Once onboard the raiders stripped everything they could from the Ross Revenge, even the entire record collection. Everything they could not take they smashed to pieces. Once they had smashed their way into the studio that to, was completely ripped apart and taken to the Dutch tug. Everyone on board were invited to leave with a promise of no charges being bought against them. The Dutch broadcasting team left but Caroline's crew refused to leave the ship. Had they have left it would have been towed in.
On land everyone was shocked by such a ferocious attack on the ship. Caroline's management threatened to sue both British and Dutch governments for piracy on the high seas. Supporters of the station marched on the DTI offices to protest against the raid. Unable to broadcast the Ross Revenge could be legally supplied from the UK and supporters sent food parcels gifts and even parts of their own record collections. People in the radio establishment were also disgusted by the raid on the lady and BBC and ILR stations secretly donated equipment to Caroline. At the march in London I met Caroline presenter Dave Richards who amazingly told me the station would be back in six weeks. Almost six weeks to the day my radio crackled into life with Caroline by the Fortunes followed by Lady in Red. I could barely hear the signal but I knew the lady had triumphed again.
The station however was never the same again and the last Free Offshore Broadcasts from Caroline was in November 1990. The magic of the lady was to work one more time when the Ross Revenge was blown onto the infamous Goodwin Sands of the Kent coast. The skeleton crew were airlifted from the ship and many people thought the sands would claim her. Only three ships have been on the sands and survived. Amazingly a salvage team managed to pull the Ross off the sand and towed her into Dover.
The Lady in a British Port