“We've Just Seen the Mi Amigo Chasing Some Dutch Tug!”

On March 2nd, 1968, at 9.00pm, Bud Ballou closed his show on Radio Caroline South, talking over 'I Was Made to Love Her' by King Curtis.

He said, "I'm in a bad mood tonight. I can't see shore. My show suffers when I can't see shore. Maybe next weekend?"

Little did Bud know that this was to be his final show on Caroline, that he would be seeing the shore much sooner than he'd anticipated, and that his voice would not be heard again on British radio till the year 2000.

In an exclusive interview with Radio London, this, in his own words, is his story of the historic events that took place on March 3rd, 1968.

Bud's Story

"We used to start a music tape at 5.00am and Roger Day would come on live at 5.30am. Our Dutch chef, Tex, came down and woke us and said, 'Hey, hey get up! There's a tugboat here and they want everyone upstairs NOW!'

We were half-dressed and when we went upstairs there was this gigantic tugboat, the Titan. The crewmen had boarded the Mi Amigo and their captain handed ours a letter, telling him what was going on. The two captains obviously knew each other. Our captain asked for all our passports. He's captain; you have to do what he says. We all went down, got our passports, handed them to him. For some reason, he just held on to them till we got to Amsterdam.

The station was shut down straight away and the studios were locked. I think they'd gotten there a little late. They'd meant to arrive before we got the music tape on. Caroline went off the air at around 5.20am, with no closing announcement.

Ray Glennister, the engineer, had his wits about him. He went down into the transmitter hold and removed all the crystals from the transmitters. We had three transmitters; a 50kW and two 10kW backups. He hid them away somewhere, (I have no idea what he did with them) so that legally, when we got into Dutch waters they weren't transmitters, they were amplifiers. We knew where we were going. We'd be taken to Holland.

Right around daylight, they cut the anchor chain and started towing us away. It was a strange sensation, as it was the first time any of us had actually felt the ship move forward.

The station was off the air and we couldn't do anything. We were so in the dark, we didn't know what was going on and didn't even know why we were being towed in. We had generator power to watch TV and stuff like that, but we had nothing to do but eat, drink beer and look at the tug towing us away. The tow line was quite long, and as we passed a big light vessel, we imagined them phoning the coastguard to report, 'We've just seen the Mi Amigo chasing some Dutch tug!'

We spent the whole day being towed across the North sea, and late that night we got to Ijmuiden, where the tender boat used to take us from. They took us down the canal to Amsterdam and the drawbridges kept going up so we could get the antenna through. Then they pulled us up to a dock. Robbie Dale met us. He had been on shore leave and knew more-or-less what was going on. He told us it was something to do with unpaid bills. Dutch officials were also waiting for us. You know, in Holland they all wear those uniforms and they look like military. They came swarming on board and it was kind of scary, but they were very nice and polite to us. No-one was told to get off the ship. We hadn't broken any laws. First thing they did was scoot down into the transmitter hold. They had an expert with them, some sort of engineer, obviously. There were no crystals, so no bust! It was great and Ray's like, "YES!" He had avoided any problems with that.

I assume the officials did this on the North ship too. We'd seen on British TV that they'd been grabbed around the same time as us. They had a much longer distance to travel and were a good two days behind us.

That was March 4th. They stamped our passports and we slept on board that night. I really wish, in hindsight, that I'd stayed around till the North ship arrived. I'd never even seen it except in pictures and we (aboard the Mi Amigo) weren't even sure, other than Don Allen, who else was on board the Caroline. I felt, well, we're not going anywhere any time soon. I had an open-ended plane ticket, so I flew back to New York. I really wish I'd waited a day to meet the guys.

I came back to London later that year and I didn't know what was happening with Radio Caroline. I flew to Amsterdam and I found the Mi Amigo and the Caroline in a shipyard, tied up side-to-side, bow to stern. Of course they were all dark - no generators on. I actually had some clothes, a suit and a couple of things, that I'd left on the ship. They let me on board the Mi Amigo because I explained who I was. When I went down to look in my cabin, there was nothing there; it had been cleaned out. So I thought I'd go take a look at the Caroline as that was on the outward side of the Mi Amigo. I got on there and was walking around on the front deck, towards the aerial. Some Dutch watchman who had been hired by somebody to watch the ships kicked me off. He didn't care if I'd worked there or whatever. It was "Off! Off!" So that was it. That was the last I saw of the ships.

Obviously, Philip Solomon was not paying the bills. That was why the Wijsmuller people came out and took the ships in tow, to hold hostage, I guess, till the bills were paid. Or maybe it was 'seize and sell'. Who knows what their motives were?
I've worked on many radio stations since then, but Caroline is the only station I've ever heard of that's been towed away!"

© Howie Castle & Radio London 2001 – 2018

'Bud Ballou' is of course our good friend Howie Castle. A clip from Howie's first show on Caroline can be heard on northeast airchecks.com, and there is a clip of him on WOLF in 1969, (also one from 1972), on the WOLF tribute site.

Chris and Mary first caught up with Howie in San Diego in 1999 and we have been friends ever since. Howie had broadcast on many US stations since returning to the USA, but never again used the Bud Ballou moniker. He settled in San Diego, where he became an award-winning news anchor on KOGO and ran his own business Howard Castle Productions, recording voiceovers and promos.

After not having had the opportunity to return to Britain since 1968, he made up for the long gap by coming over to the UK to present shows on the Radio London RSLs in 2000 and 2001. He was quite surprised by the continuing interest in offshore radio and by the number of people who remembered hearing him on Caroline. Howie has been coming over regularly since then, for various broadcasts and reunions and was last in London in 2017 for Offshore 50.

On the 50th Anniversary of the towing-away, we received the following email from Howie:

"March 3, 1968:  the journey across the North Sea began as the Mi Amigo was towed away. I guess this is the last of the 50 year anniversaries.  I'm having my morning coffee in my Offshore 50 mug. I still have my old passport from back then with the March 4 (arrival date) Dutch stamp.
I listened on line last night to a bit of Roger Day's Radio Caroline 648 show commemorating the occasion. I tuned in at the beginning of Ten Years After's 'Portable People', a song I haven't heard in those 50 years. Roger was having some technical difficulties with what I assume was an old cartridge machine. "Very Caroline", he joked. How true. I couldn't help but cringe hearing those awful, distorted, chopped up Caroline International jingles. 
I thought back to last year's Offshore 50 reunion. I had a really good time and it was great to see so many others at the gathering. That's probably the last time I'll see most of them, but it's still pretty amazing so many were able to get together after a half century. I never would have dreamed that possible back then, so thanks again for organizing the event.
That's all for now. I think I'd head out later today and tip a few on this anniversary."

(Above) Howie was delighted to receive a special birthday present at Offshore 50 - a copy of 'Sentimental Songs' by Freddie 'Parrot Face' Davies - one of the least popular Major Minor releases that he was obliged to play while on Caroline. (Photo: Martin van der Ven)

(Original Mi Amigo picture taken by Radio Caroline's Keith 'Keefers' Hampshire)

Click on the button below to read Martin Kayne's account of watching 'his' ship being towed away, on the TV news.