Radio Scotland broadcast from the Comet, a 90ft former Irish lightship built on the Clyde surely the most appropriate vessel to accommodate a radio station serving both Ireland and Scotland. Built in 1904, and already of bus-pass age, she was the 'granny' of the pirate ships.
The station had an inauspicious beginning. Glaswegian MD Tommy Shields' envisioned grand Hogmanay launch failed to occur. After delays caused by towing problems and technical difficulties, Radio Scotland made it to air on reduced power, by the skin of its teeth, minutes before midnight on New Year's Eve 1965.
Originally anchored 3.5 miles off Dunbar, the Super S's signal-strength in the west of Scotland proved less than super. In April 1966, to achieve improved coverage and reception, the Comet, (a lightship, and therefore, equipped with no engine) was towed around the top of Scotland to a new anchorage off the west coast. The station continued broadcasting during this voyage of around 1,000 miles. Excess mileage was incurred by the necessity of keeping the vessel safely in International Waters. Ironically, although the new Troon anchorage provided Glasgow with a greatly improved signal, the ship had now ended up back within territorial waters, and the following year, the station owners were prosecuted for illegal broadcasts. The Comet's next unsuccessful home was Ballywater, off County Down, before she was returned to her original anchorage off Dunbar.
Peter Alex's 1966 book 'Who's Who In Pop Radio' claimed that as well as covering Scotland and Northern Ireland, the station's reception area included 'Northern England down to Cambridge.' (It is believed that Cambridge has since relocated to the south of the country.)
Radio Scotland soon established a place in people's hearts. It published its own monthly magazine, '242' (see Raoul's memorabilia) and ran the '242 Clan' fan club, which numbered the Beatles and the Walker Brothers amongst its honorary members. When the Marine Offences Act loomed, over two million people displayed their support by signing a petition to try and save their favourite station.
On August 14th 1967, when the MOA was due to come into force at midnight, Tommy Shields told Gerry Brown of the Sun newspaper, "This is the saddest day of my life. I tried everything to keep the station on the air. I even offered the Government a controlling interest. I appealed for a trial licence to broadcast from land and meet any tax demands the Government wanted to impose. I intend to keep our organisation together as much as possible in the hope that sometime in the near future we may have a chance of getting back on the air."
Tommy never recovered from the blow of the enforced closure of his station. He died six months later, aged only 49.
Tony Mark, writing in the August 17th edition of the Edinburgh Weekly, said, "The death penalty in this country is supposed to have been abolished, yet here we are mourning the execution of what was surely the sound sensation of both '66 and '67 as far as Scotland is concerned."
The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame has a lovely collection of personal photos taken of and on the Comet. David Burke was running an excellent Radio Scotalnd tribute site, but it appears the URL is no longer active.
June 2nd 2002, Gordon Stevenson wrote:
Just thought you might be interested to know that my father and his band, the Carrick Folk Four sang the call tune for Radio Scotland, which I have rescued from the last remaining vinyl and reproduced onto CD.
"Radio Scotland is playing just for you, So beat the ban and join the clan, On station 242" - sound familiar?
The band split in '68 and my father went on to become a solo singer with the stage name Scott Stevens.
Visit the Scott Stevens website here.