It would be difficult, if not impossible, to cover the Emperor's illustrious career in less than a 'War and Peace'-size book. This brief summary of his radio beginnings and the time he spent aboard Radio Caroline South serves as a lead-in to a question-and-answer session conducted with Rosko, via the Net.

Unlike other pirate DJs, Rosko's broadcasting career was 'all at sea' long before he came to the UK to join Radio Caroline. While serving in the US Navy on the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea, the 19-year-old Michael Pasternak quickly realised that there had to be more to life than waxing and polishing. Although an experienced radio listener, rather than presenter, he proceeded to convince the Special Services department that in civilian life, he had been a top DJ. He assured them that he would be a huge asset to KCVA, the ship's radio station.

Left: Hello, sailor!

Right: A most impressive offshore radio station

Michael's luck was in when the vessel was dry-docked for refitting and it was decided that her radio studio should be refitted at the same time. This gave the aspiring broadcaster two months' breathing space in which to learn the art of being a DJ, before he was put to the test. Michael's 'schooling' consisted of spending his nights at San Francisco's KYA. While acting as tea boy to his heroes Tom Donahue and 'Big Daddy' Bob Mitchell, he keenly observed their presentation styles. Dayside, he gleaned info about the studio equipment by watching the engineers installing it. He also made up for lack of skills in the DJ department by hustling all the record companies to acquire his own impressive collection of vinyl. When the refit was complete a new DJ calling himself Michael Prescott hit the airwaves, doing what he describes as 'parroting' his two idols from KYA. In retrospect, he thinks his early shows were pretty diabolical, but an eighteen-month stay with KCVA gave him ample opportunity for improvement!

Even at this fledgling stage of the man's career, there were parallels with the life to come on Caroline South. Naturally, the USS Coral provided much more stable conditions than the Mi Amigo, but on KCVA, records would jump when jets landed on the deck just above the studio. 'Piracy', aboard the aircraft carrier, involved taping bootleg recordings from vinyl, for the benefit of paying sailors!

After demob, still feeling that his DJ skills were not up to scratch, Michael signed up with the Chris Borden School of Broadcasting, obtained his FCC broadcasting licence and was immediately offered a job in Paris. Although something of a let-down at first, the job led to greater things and 'Le President Rosko' had arrived in Europe. Henry Henroid, a friend of Caroline's founder, Ronan O'Rahilly, took a Rosko audition tape back to the UK. Rosko got the job and appointed Henry as his manager.

Accustomed to French Cuisine, the Emperor not surprisingly found the grub aboard the Mi Amigo less than to his liking, when he arrived in 1966, describing it as "basically bread and potatoes". However, he loved the thrill of "just being the voice of those people who wanted radio freedom, playing records all day and night, free thinking and, most of all, being personalities".

Left: 'The voice of the people' tells his audience how much he's enjoying the Caroline haute cuisine

The station's newest personality became Alfie, Rosko's pet mynah bird, who soon learned to say "Sounds fine, it's Caroline". Alfie was a star in his own right and became infamous for interrupting news bulletins by shouting "Rock 'n' roll!".

When the Marine Offences Bill threatened Caroline's existence, Rosko accepted an offer to return to Paris to broadcast on French Radio Luxembourg. Le President Rosko, presenting American-style radio en français, proceeded to become a household name in France.

Right: Who's a pretty boy? A superstar finds an appropriate perch


Having bowed respectfully to 'Le President', I proceeded with my questions.


MARY:
I've talked to friends who were great fans of yours back in the Sixties, and between us we've come up with a list of questions which we would appreciate you answering for the Radio London website.


ROSKO:
Hi Mary. Here are the answers you seek as I remember them!!

Q:
You are viewed by many as being an innovator and having a great influence on radio presenters. Who were the presenters that influenced you, both in your career before joining Caroline and perhaps here in the UK?

ROSKO:
As a child, I listened to Tom Donahue, 'Big Daddy' Bobby Mitchell, The Magnificent Montague and Bill 'Rosko' Mercer, (both from KGFJ, the R&B station in Los Angeles), Emperor Bob Hudson (morning man at KRLA in Los Angeles, after being at KEWB in Oakland, just outside San Francisco), Wolfie (Wolfman Jack), Casey Kasem (on KRLA in LA after KEWB) and... Alan Freeman!!

Tom Donahue was one of the founders of 'free-form radio' in San Francisco. He was on the same station in Philadelphia as Bobby Mitchell and also went to KYA. It's after that (in the mid-60s) that he went more free-form on stations like KMPX and KSAN (where Johnnie Walker went in the 70s).


Q
Back in the Sixties, your use of American jingles along with your individual style, made you stand out as a presenter. You obviously liked jingles as a programming tool. What was your favourite package and do you have a favourite jingle?


ROSKO:
I liked PAMS and the 60's packages were best.


Q:
Why did you choose to join Caroline as opposed to any other of the pirates?


ROSKO:
Caroline chose me!!


Q:
As an American on board Caroline, how did you view the Swinging Radio England attempt at capturing the British radio audience, i.e. you successfully adapted your own style to English tastes, so were you surprised by SRE's fast demise? Where do you think the station went wrong - if indeed, in your view, it did?


ROSKO:
Yeah, they had no respect for the UK mindset, their policy was, 'anything American' will work. They were wrong, and they paid the price.


Q:
Do you have one overriding memory of your days on Caroline?


ROSKO:
Memories of Caroline? I think 'FUN' and 'Happiness', we had a great life, money, women, freedom, etc.


Q:
Do you feel proud to have been a part of changing the face of UK radio?


ROSKO:
More than proud!


Q:
The tales of your Mynah bird Alfie are well-known. Do you still keep any talking birds?


ROSKO:
I had a parrot for 20 years called Polly, (original eh?). She was killed in one of our earthquakes, which broke me up. She is planted in my garden!


Q:
Have you stayed in touch with many of your ex-offshore colleagues?


ROSKO:
I am in touch with one or two. Friendships were shallow - should say ARE shallow, in showbiz. We are in competition with each other and this does not make for a great bedfellow!


Q:
You have presented many shows on many radio stations over the years. Do you have a favourite amongst all the stations?


ROSKO:
My top shot was Paris , #1, undisputed etc., and the best laid, I mean paid!!


Q:
Is there any one slot that you've regularly presented that you most enjoyed?


ROSKO:
Paris, Minmax show.


Q:
What is the biggest live gig you have ever compared?


ROSKO:
Biggest gig had to be Wembley Rock and Roll show, awwwwwsooooommmeeeeeeeeee!!!!


Q:
What is the best live gig you have ever compared?


ROSKO:
Same answer


Q:
Was John Dunn's famous remark half-way through your first Radio One Midday Spin:
"And now here's the news – in English," contrived for publicity purposes, or was it a genuine ad-lib?


ROSKO:
Mr Dunn spoke from his dried up old heart!


Q:
Peter Young asks:
"Towards the end of your Radio One career, you seemed, in my opinion to be 'towing the line' a lot more, musically speaking. Gone were all the hot soul imports of the day and the classic rock 'n' roll. It all became a bit 'playlisty'. Why was this? Pressure from above, or the desire to integrate yourself more into the mainstream?"


ROSKO:
It was something I was not aware of. It would have been the Beeb tightening the screws, not me.


Q:
In 1988, you were offered the lead role in 'Rock the Boat', but the film was never finished. What happened to the project?


ROSKO:
The movie project is still ongoing. It takes about 10 years to finance and 5 more to produce, if you're lucky.


Q:
You've lived in many countries (as well as outside the three-mile limit of this one) and you speak several languages. What is your favourite place in the world?


ROSKO:
Paris/London


Q:
We hear you pop up on various stations here in the UK every now and again. What are you currently doing in the US? Do you present any regular programmes and for whom?


ROSKO:
I am semi-retired and starting to retool and produce music.


Q:
What are your views on current music trends?


ROSKO:
Current music sucks. There is the odd one that makes the grade, I like Destiny's Child 'At This Time'.


Q:
As the purveyor of one of the most exciting shows ever to be broadcast on British radio, how do you feel about the state of radio today (both UK and USA)?


ROSKO:
Radio today is boring and so formatted it is stifling itself.


Q:
Are there any current presenters in the States whom you think are outstanding?


ROSKO:
I prefer talk radio jocks, at least they can show off their personality. Tom Liekus is best.


Q:
If you got shipwrecked on a desert island, which 3 albums would you want to have with you?


ROSKO:
I guess 'The Best of Rosko', released in the UK in May 2000!! Beatles, Stones ...greatest hits!





Well Mary, happy editing ! :) EMP


MARY:

Have mercy!

Thank you kindly, Emperor, and for giving permission to reproduce photographs from 'Emperor Rosko's DJ Book'. Many thanks also, to Alan Hardy and Peter Young for their assistance.


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