On a motoring tour of Britain recently I was amazed at the
way Radio Caroline kept following my car radio around. I heard the South ship
until well past Birmingham, and then the North ship took over and stayed with
me up to Inverness, my destination. Perhaps it isn't surprising. The stations
are heard in Holland (more strongly than their own Radio Veronica), Belgium,
France, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway. And one of Caroline's Australian
DJs had a letter saying it had been picked up in Australia!
Andy Gray is your guide
Radio Caroline enters its 19th month of pouring out pop music this week. It has multiplied its output by two since its ship started off Harwich on Easter Monday, 1964, by sending it North to anchor 3.5 miles off the Isle of Man, while another ship took over 3.5 miles from Frinton, both in international waters.
Together, transmissions from these ships reach nine million listeners in Great Britain, a figure certified by an intensive survey.
Cynics thought these ships would be gone by now, but they're as lively as ever. They had a scare when the Council of Europe at Strasbourg last December tabled a motion to outlaw seaborne radio stations, but several countries refused to sign it.
The two major ship-to-shore stations continue to prosper on almost entirely pop music programmes, with a minimum of chatter from the popular DJs. The BBC has countered in two ways - by reducing its pop music (and losing listeners) and by such late programmes as 'Late Night Extra', which goes on till 2 am.
On the whole, Caroline and Radio London are daytime operations, from 6 am to 8 pm, though they have recently become occasional night birds as well. Radio Luxembourg, the long-established, land-based station beaming commercial radio to Britain, comes on the air at 6 pm for the evenings only.
Caroline has become more legalised since their inception, by paying fees to the Performing Rights Society, so that artists and composers get paid when their discs are played.
Radio Caroline has some 60 staff. Headquarters are in Central London at Chesterfield Gardens. Two joint managers/directors run the show - 24-year-old Ronan O'Rahilly, who founded the Scene Club and Radio Caroline, and Australian-born music publisher Allan Crawford, who started Radio Atlanta, which merged with Caroline.
Michael Parkin (34) is sales director, with representatives in Europe as well as in Britain, who sell the time spots. Co-ordinators between ads and entertainments are Gerry Duncan and Canadian Bill Hearne, formerly a DJ on the North ship. Bill is also programme director of the South ship.
North ship programme director is Chris Moore. Each ship has six DJs, four on board at a time, and South has two newsreaders. North doesn't feature news. DJs, who are in front of the mike from three to four hours a day, earn on average £30 a week. They aren't under contract and so can leave if they want at any time. Replacements are plentiful.
Personalities on the North ship are Tom Lodge (26), Liverpool born, but American raised; Bob Stewart (25), another Liverpudlian who has an American accent; Murph the Surf (Jim Murphy) from Texas; and Ugly Ray Teret (on the Immediate label soon with 'The Ugly Song'), 18, from Liverpool.
Popular South DJs are Tony Blackburn (22), from Guildford, Surrey, a public (Millfield) schoolboy - Philips-recorded singer, with Beatle hair-do; Keith Skues (28) from Cheshire, ex-RAF and BFN DJ in Kenya; and Paul (Nutty) Noble (24) of Felixstowe, tall and bearded.
Recently I took a trip to Caroline South escorted by Caroline's beauty-with-brains press relations officer, Frances Van Staden, and soon found out why so many requests from girls to visit the ship with its bevy of good-looking male DJs have to be refused!
Just as if we were going to France or America, we had to have passports to leave and return to Harwich, where we also had to clear Customs. This makes it a 17-mile sea trip, though the ship is only 3.5 miles from the shore, at a sheltered spot in the bay of Frinton.
It was no pleasure cruise. The smallish tender is built for utility, not for comfort, and the rock and roll starts before you get to the ship! It bounced around on the choppy sea during its 1.5 hour trip to the Mi Amigo the name of the Southern ship, which is smaller and sleeker than the Caroline North or Radio London ships.
It seems as you approach it to be all mast, and indeed the mast, 157 feet high, is 17 feet longer than the ship's length! But just as important is its anchorage. In calm weather it has two anchors to keep it steady, but in heavy seas it uses one heavy-duty anchor, which lets the ship circle it and sail in the wind.
En route to the Mi Amigo we called at the Radio London ship, as both vessels, anchored a quarter-of-a-mile apart, share the same tender and are supplied with food by it from Holland. The crews of both ships and tender are Dutch, working for the same company. Getting from the tender to the Mi Amigo deck takes a bit of agile long-jumping, because the distance between one deck and the other is never the same, as they rock and roll towards and away from each other.
Safely aboard, the Dutch captain shook hands and made me welcome. I got a big hello from 'The Good Guys' next, the DJs who do two weeks on and one week off the boat. They took me to the dining lounge, where they asked me about life ashore. Then I went through double doors to the tiny studio, where Keith Skues was busy - and I do mean busy. Whereas most DJs have someone to put on the records and someone else to regulate the sound, and a third person to look after the tape recordings, Keith and the other boys do it all themselves.
So while he's talking, Keith may be putting on a recording or shoving a tape commercial into the appropriate slot, then switching sound from the mike to the turntable or tape recorder, adjusting volume and a dozen other things you don't see him do. He had in front of him a sort of script - a running order for discs and commercials - but his announcements for the most part came out of his head. And yet he found time, during the playing of a disc, to suggest we do an interview. Without giving me any time to think what I was going to say. I was on the air. And the studio was so tiny I had to stand behind Keith and speak over his shoulder. That over, I was shown by one of the two engineers the enlarged generators and the transmitters in the next room.
Cardboard Shoes: You have to be fantasmagorically ambidextrous for this job
Then it was time for lunch. The table sits about seven or eight, and the senior crew members eat there as well as the DJs and the engineers. The food was excellent - three courses, soup, steak and lots of vegetables, and a tasty pudding, with coffee to follow. The Dutch chef was at hand as I ate, and smiled broadly when I praised him. "He's the most important man aboard," DJ Brian Vaughan told me. "If his food is good, the programmes are. But if it isn't, the shows suffer!". After the tender, the boat itself was very stable - only a small pitch at times was felt.
After lunch I was taken below to see the well-fitted cabins - each DJ has one - and the record library, which was formerly the saloon.
Keith Skues came in, looking tired after a three-hour session. "I feel whacked after, but not during, each show. But it's restful out here, and we soon get the urge to be in front of the mike again," he told me.
I asked Paul 'Nutty' Noble, who started on Caroline last Christmas Day, if he found it difficult to get up at 6 am every morning to roll his 'Early Show'. "You're not joking! I get a call at 5.30 first of all..."
"Then every minute until 5.59!" chipped in newsreader Colin Nichol, from Perth, Australia.
"It makes a long day", continued Paul, as if nothing had been said. "We go to bed quite early, of course, unless there's something good on TV."
You might think they have a lot of spare time on board, but Keith assured me they didn't. "We have shows to prepare, and they take almost as long as putting them on. And we have a lot of swotting up to do, from papers like yours."
They miss fresh fruit every day, and the telephone most of all, because they can't ring up from the boat. "We can nip in (on-air) messages to shore, but it's one-sided. We look forward to the tender, which comes out most days with post. Then we have to reply to fan mail, which is getting to be a big job," Keith said. "But it's great to know that, although we're 'exiled' for two weeks in three, we have plenty of friends writing to us. And cigarettes are cheap but we can't take any ashore. Of course, during our one week ashore, we really beat it up. After a week, we're ready to recuperate." It's true that the week ashore is not all holiday. The deejays have plenty of personal appearance requests to fulfil, and they interview stars and compere Caroline nights at the Leicester Square Cavern Club in London and nights at Leyton Baths. "We're just as much offshore as out here," concluded Keith.
When the tender arrived back from the Radio London ship, we had to say fond farewells, and do another death-defying leap from one deck to another. We seemed to roll more on the way back, and one or two were sick. Me? No. I liked my lunch too much to part with it.
Many thanks to Lars for that fascinating article. We asked our Anorak friends and afficionados of DJ recordings, Jon Myer and Peter Young if either of them had ever heard, or indeed heard of, 'The Ugly Song'. Not surpisingly, neither of them had. A boxed set, comprising everything ever issued on the Immediate label does not include 'The Ugly Song', so we can only assume that it was never released. A single too awful to release, eh? Considering the standard of the average DJ recording, this one must have been DIRE!
Steve Young says:
"Ray Andrews sent me a phenomenal videotape with all kinds of film footage and documentary programmes about Radio Caroline and Big L. I've not seen any of that stuff before, it was wicked. I had almost forgotten what an impact the pirate radio stations had on the listening habits of people in the UK. One of these days I'll venture into my basement and open up my trunk of memorabilia...
Now he has done just that, sending much-appreciated scans for both our Caroline AND Big L Scrapbooks.
Steve describes the photo as: "A 'bad' looking bunch. 'Admiral' Robbie Dale, Graham Webb, me and Dave Lee Travis aboard the Offshore 1 tender en-route to the MV Mi Amigo, home of Radio Caroline South, 1966."
See Next Page for a more recent pic of The Admiral...