JEFF'S RADIO GOLD
The GREAT RADIO DECADES
The Greatest Real Radio Decade of them all
The 1960ís saw not only a musical revolution, but a pop radio revolution that would change British radio forever. At the start of 1964 in Britain radio choice consisted of BBC Home, Light or Third. On the popular Light Programme, you were more likely to hear Beethoven than the Beatles, and if you heard a Rolling Stones song, it was probably played by the Midland Dance Orchestra. Just a few hours a week you might hear the latest pop songs on record. At night you could tune to Radio Luxembourg, but the output of the station beamed from the Grand Duchy was dominated by the big four record companies. This was all to change on Easter Sunday 1964. A former ferry boat anchored off Essex began broadcasting as RADIO CAROLINE. Six weeks later she was joined in the Northsea by the MV Mi Amigo, that began broadcasting Radio Atlanta. The two stations agreed a merger in July 1964. The MV Caroline sailed to the Isle of Man to broadcast as Radio Caroline North. The Mi Amigo stayed off Essex and became Radio Caroline South. To two Caroline ships did not have the commercial airwaves to themselves though. Two low powered stations had started broadcasts, not from ships but old anti aircraft forts in the Thames Estuary. The first was Radio Sutch, run by Screaming Lord Such. The other was Radio Invicta. Neither posed a real threat to the Caroline ships, but the next arrival on the scene did. When the MV Galaxy a former US minesweeper dropped anchor close to the Mi Amigo just before Christmas 1964, it had aboard the powerful and professional RADIO LONDON The arrival of BIG L brought a whole new dimension to British pop radio. For the first time UK listeners were introduced to professionally recorded jingles and American Top 40 Radio. The station was based on KLIF in Dallas Texas.
In 1965 Screamming Lord Sutch sold his station to his manager, Reg Calvert. He installed new equipment and changed the name to Radio City. Also after a tragic sea accident Radio Invicta closed. The Red Sands fort returned to the air later that year. First as KING Radio, later as the very popular "sweet music station" Radio 390. Radio Essex claiming to be Britainís first local commercial station, took to the air from the Knock John Fort.
1966 was the real boom year for Offshore Commercial Radio. On January 1st 1966, commercial radio arrived in Scotland. RADIO SCOTLAND began "Swinging To You On 242" from a former Clyde built lightship called the Comet.
The Shivering Sands Fort.
That same month Caroline South, ran aground on Frinton beach. Although everyone onboard got off safely and the Mi Amigo was pulled clear, she had to go to Holland for repairs. Radio Caroline returned to the air with a ship loaned to them by Swedish offshore station that had been forced ashore for winter. By the time the refurbished Mi Amigo returned in April, Radio London had increased itís power and coverage. As the two offshore giants clashed head to head for listeners and advertisers, a third player entered the arena. Don Pierson, an original member of the Radio London board had been forced out over programme disagreements. He and new team of backers put together two stations on the former US Liberty ship, renamed Lasseze Faire. When the ship arrived in the North Sea in Spring 66 it had the latest package of Pams Jingles, and radio equipment that most stations could only dream of. Caroline and London now had real competition. Britain Radio had a light MOR format while SWINGING RADIO ENGLAND was pure pop, with fast American Style presentation. SRE employed a team of American dee jays, with lots of radio experience. Johnnie Walker and Roger Day were also on the original line up.
Sadly the slick Swinging Radio England was way ahead of itís time and poor management, meant that by November 66 the station had closed and been replaced by a Dutch Language station. By then a new station had hit the airwaves. This time broadcasting to Yorkshire an the East Midlands. RADIO 270 was run by a team of Yorkshire businessmen. It was based on the former Dutch lugger the Ocean 7.
With now ten stations broadcasting into Britain, threat of action against the offshore stations was made almost daily. The problem for the government, was that not only were the stations unbelievably popular but there was nothing to replace them. The BBC sounded much the same as the day Caroline anchored off Essex and it would have been very unpopular to act against them. The authorities needed an excuse to act. In June of 1966 events on and surrounding Radio City played right into the governments hands. A group of men and a women working for Major Oliver Smedley forcibly boarded the Shivering Sands Fort and put Radio City off air. The stations owner Reg Calvert had done a deal to sell the station to Radio London, who would change the name to UKGM (UK Good Music). This would have a sound somewhere between Britain Radio and Radio 390. Smedley claimed he should have a cut from the deal, as he owned the transmitter. He was formerly a on the board at Radio Caroline who earlier had negotiated to buy Radio City. A transmitter was purchased by Caroline and supplied to the fort. However part of it fell into the sea on delivery and although still on the fort had never worked.
Ocean 7 Radio 270
Reg Calvert, owner of Radio City. On hearing of the boarding party Philip Birch of Radio London called off the deal. Calvert was furious and went to see Smedley at his home, where he was shot dead by Smedley. The events made headline news all over the world. The following month the government announced a bill to outlaw the offshore stations. In the court case that followed Oliver Smedley was cleared of the manslaughter of Reg Calvert. The boarders had long since left and Calvertís widow Dorothy vowed that RADIO CITY would continue. Offshore Radioís image was left tarnished by the episode
Within months the fight was on to save the ďPiratesĒ. On shore free radio groups and organization sprung up. The stations themselves ran on air campaigns, asking listeners to write to their MP and ever the Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The government claimed that the stations interfered with legitimate stations; played music they had not paid for and endangered shipping. The stations claimed they were supported by musicians and paid royalties on music played, had never received any complaints from other stations, that they provided a service to listeners and advertisers and were not a danger to anyone. As the debate raged on the British government announced the Marine Broadcasting Act would become law in mid August 1967. Other announcements said the BBC would provide a Pop Music service and a local radio trial would take place. However no provision would be made for commercial radio.
Early 1967 saw the fort-based stations in court. It was claimed they were inside territorial waters. Dorothy Calvert for Radio City was found guilty and the station closed this despite the police refusing to help following the boarding. They told the station, as it was in international waters they could take no action. The owners of Radio Essex and Radio 390 were also fined guilty and fined. £90 closed but opened again and appealed. They continued to July 1967. Essex changed their name to BBMS (Britainís Better Music Station) and eventually closed. The bill going through Parliament would make it illegal for any British person or company to supply the stations, advertise on the stations, to work for the stations, or to promote the stations. By the summer all the remaining stations with the exception of Caroline & London announced they would close before the bill became law on 15th August 1967.
Radio 355 (formerly Britain Radio) was the first to go on 5th August. Radio London told its listeners that it too would close on 14th August 1967. The final day of Big L was a sad on indeed and millions tuned in to at 2pm to hear Radio Londonís final hour and the Closedown at 3pm. At midnight Radio 270 signed off for the final time as did Radio Scotland. This left the two Caroline ships continuing defiantly. There was high tension on board the Caroline South ship as Johnnie Walker and Robbie Dale saw the station into illegality. Starved of UK advertising and now tendering both ships from Spain made life very difficult for Caroline and itís staff. In March 1968 an act of real piracy brought the most exciting period in British radio history to a close. Tugs from the Dutch company who tendered Caroline seized both ships and towed them to Holland. The company claimed it was owed money from unpaid bills.
So music radio fans in the UK were left to see out the decade with Radio One. The new BBC pop music station, which started on 30th September 1967. Despite having Radio Londonís jingles re-sung and hiring many former offshore presenters, it could not match the excitement of those offshore stations. Although looking back it wasnít as bad as we thought. By the end of the decade the offshore stations had also brought about a change over in the Grand Duchy. Most of the record company and recorded shows had gone. Now most of the output came live from Luxembourg with a more relaxed style of presentation