The 70's

 

As the 1970s started British radio listeners were starting to get used to BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2, and it was nearly three years since Radio Caroline had been taken off air. The many rumors of the station imminent return had come to nothing. In February of 1970 test transmission were heard on 186 meters medium wave. The voice on the test was Roger Day who had worked for Swinging Radio England and Radio Caroline. It told listeners “This is a test transmission from Radio Northsea International”. The signal was emanating from a familiar sauce a radio ship anchored off the Dutch coast. Although the British Government had a law to try and stop broadcasting from ships, the Dutch had no such law. Radio Veronica had been broadcasting into Holland from a ship since 1960.

Radio Northsea International was broadcasting from a ship called the Mebo II and was owned an operated by two Swiss businessmen. The station opened on 28th February 1970 and transmitted programmers in English and German. It was in March to move the Mebo II to a position off the Essex coast. A move that really upset the British government, who thought they had put pay to the so-called offshore pirate stations. What made things worse the RNI ship not only had a 100 kilowatt AM transmitter but an Fm and two short-wave transmitters which meant they could be heard all over the world. After reports of interference RNI moved first to 190metres and the 244 meters. The government then to the unprecedented step of jamming RNI’s medium wave signal. This was a remarkable step to jam a free music station in peacetime.

Soon after a general election was called in the UK. The opposition Conservative Party said they were against the jamming and in favor of commercial radio. A campaign against the jamming of RNI swung into action both on air and on land. The station made it clear they supported the Conservative Party and although did not openly tell listeners to vote Conservative, they made statements like “support the candidate that supports commercial radio”. One other remarkable act took place during this campaign. The station suddenly changed its name to Radio Caroline. A free radio rally was held in London to support Radio Caroline. Ronan O’Rielly and Simon Dee both appeared at the event in support of the station. A double Decker bus toured marginal constituencies with poster depicting Harold Wilson as Chairman Moa

Against the odds the Conservative Party won the general election. It is not known what effect the free radio campaign had an their victory but it is worth noting the biggest swings to the Conservatives was in seats where the signal from the Mebo II was strongest. Following the election Radio Caroline disappeared to be replaced again by RNI. The sad thing for radio fans and the station was that the new government did not turn off the jammed and made it clear they had no intentions of doing so. The Mebo II upped anchor and headed by to Holland.

Back of the Dutch coast things at last started to settle down for the troubled station but not for long. On the afternoon Saturday of August 29th as two boats approached the Mebo II from out of the mist. The tug “Husky” and the “Viking” contacted the ship and told the captain that they wanted to tow the Mebo II into port. Hen the captain refused the people on the tug said they would use force and cut the anchor. Programmers were interrupted and listeners were asked to ring RNI’s office in Zurich and the Grand Hotel in Scheveningen where the stations management were staying. The man behind the attempt to hijack the Mebo II was a Dutch nightclub owner Kess Manders, he claimed her was a director of the station and was owed money. The staff on the radio ship stood by to stop anyone getting on or near and the action was broadcast live from the deck of the Mebo II. Manders then threatened to spray the antenna with water to put the station off air. He was warned over the air that the result of this action could kill everyone on his boat. The drama finally ended over an hour later when the RNI tender was seen speeding towards the ship. The Huski and Viking left but vowed to return. Thankfully they never did. A ship from the Dutch navy stood by the Mebo II throughout the night and a special request show for the crew of the naval ship was aired the following day. Then just when it seemed that things were at last going well, a shock announcement told listeners on 24th September 1970, that the station was to close that morning at 11am. The station claimed it was voluntarily closing so the Dutch government would not move to close Radio Veronica. If fact Veronica had paid the owners of RNI around 1,000,000 guiders (£370,000) to stay off the air.

Anyone who thought that it was the end of Radio Northsea International were very much mistake. The Mebo II remained at her anchorage, with a Dutch crew onboard. Meister and Bollier went out on the tender to the ship, tricked he captain into going ashore on the tender while they once again took control of the radio ship. A week later the directors of RNI took one million Guilders worth of Deutschmarks to the offices of Radio Veronica but the offer to repay the money was refused. Continuous music was heard on 220 meters for two weeks. Then on Valentines day 1971, Stevie Merike announced "this is a test transmission from Radio Northsea International" He gave out the medium wave frequency, the FM frequency and the short-wave frequency. He told listeners to "telephone a friend and tell then RNI is back and on full power". A week later regular programmers began in English. Some shows in Dutch began on 6th March 1971.The Veronica organization to the RNI directors to court but the ruling when against then saying that the contract was not valid. So RNI was back with DJ's Stevie Merike, Alan West, Tony Allen, Chrispian St John among the line up. The broadcasts were in Dutch between 6am until 4pm, when English programmers continued until 3am. The Dutch line up included Joost de Draayer and Jan van Veen. Then just as things seemed to be going well for RNI, another dramatic event brought the troubled station back into the headline news throughout the world. At 19:40 on 15th May 1971 three men including the former captain of the Mebo II left Scheneningen in a rubber dinghy and headed out into the North Sea. Three hours later they pulled alongside the Mebo II. As the crew watched a football match on TV, two men climbed aboard and lit a fire in the ships engine room. As the men sped away from the Radio Ship there was a large explosion. Alan West was on air at the time and immediately started to call for assistance for the Mebo II over the air. As the fire took hold of the ship the S.O.S calls became more frantic and more urgent. As the fire spread to the bridge the captain gave out the ships position in Dutch and also asked for urgent assistance. There was a real fear that because of the large amount of fuel on board to run the radio station, the whole ship could explode. He soon called for this ship to be abandoned and just before midnight the dramatic transmission went dead. The Eurotrip arrived in the early hours of the 16th May and took ten men off the ship leaving three aboard and shortly after the Volans a Dutch fire fighting tug started to put out the fire. 

 

NOTE: It is ionic that the tug Volans that helped save RNI, was also the tug from which the raid on the Ross Revenge in 1989 was launched.

 

A Dutch Royal Navy frigate Gelderland was also in attendance. It took another two hour to final bring the fire under control and did almost £30,000 worth of damage. The good news was that none of the radio equipement, including the studios and transmitter were damaged and RNI was soon back on the air. Within a couple of hours of the Dutch police starting an investigation into the three men were arrested. When they appeared in court at the Hague on May 20th, it soon became clear the Radio Veronica had paid the men to carry out the raid and bring the Mebo II. The plan though was not to endanger life by starting a fire, but to tow the ship inside Dutch territorial waters. On September 21st 1971 Norbert Jurgens ( Veronica's sales manager), Veronica director "Bull" Verwey and three divers were all sentenced to one year in prison after being found guilty of the attack. 

 

Meanwhile back on the Mebo, things settles down and the publicity of the raid meant the station started to grow in popularity all over Europe. The on 22nd November 1971 there was further problems for RNI when the ship lost her anchor chain and drifted inside Dutch waters. A tug towed the Radio Ship back to international waters but did not seem to want to release RNI, so the crew cut the Mebo 11 loose.