Big L – BÏG in Björköby!
Hans Åström tells of Radio London's popularity in Finland and confesses to running his own pirate station with the aid of a Pye record player!

To introduce myself:

My name is Hans Åström born 1949, and was an Electrical Engineer at the ABB-factory for large power transformers in Vasa, Finland, until my retirement in 2013. Besides "heavy electric engineering" I also enjoy electronics and radio-engineering a lot and have kept a HAM-radio license, callsign OH6MY, since 1969.

If somebody wants to know what I look like, I hereby attach a passport-photo taken in 2000. About the time when Radio London closed down in 1967, my hair was about 6 inches longer, otherwise not much changes... er...!

Hans: "It is really me in the photo, NOT Bruce Willis...!!"

Some while ago I jumped into your GREAT website when putting in the search-words for "Radio London" into the Alta-Vista search-engine, and well... I have spent hours and hours plowing through all the stuff and suddenly I was pushed back in time some 35+ years or so... (Sorry for that ABB....!) It went as far as my wife really started to worry about my mental health, wondering if I have got some early stage of the Alzheimer's disease going on, putting me back in time or something! (She is born in 1962 so she does not really understand anything about "Offshore radio/Pirate Radio".... er...)

Well, in many of the documents I found the coverage of Radio London, Radio Caroline etc. to be "...reaching as far as Norway, Sweden, Germany...." but nothing about Finland!

Well I have to tell you guys, here at my geographical co-ordinates, the island of Björköby at about 21 and 1/2 degrees East, 63 and 1/3 degrees North at the waterfront of the gulf of Bothnia, 35km north-west from the city of Vasa, on the west coast of Finland, Radio London was THE radio station! (Making it possible for me to be weeks ahead of everybody else regarding the latest in pop-music...)

As a very young boy, in the beginning of the 60s I was struck with Rock 'n' Roll and was frequently scanning the air-waves for good music. I first enjoyed Radio Luxembourg but the arrival of "Radio Nord" in Sweden and "Veronica" and of course "Radio Caroline" really got the world swinging here! You know, neither the public radio services of Finland, nor Sweden, could really attract young people to say the least. The problem was, however, that all the above mentioned stations were rather weak here and very prone to interference from the continent. But then came "Radio London"! The signal was so powerful here, I remember the sectors of the "magic eye" in my old Philips receiver went really overlapping each other from time to time and it was readable throughout the day except for some hours in the middle of the day during summer-conditions.

Well, it seems that the "skip" in between that part of the North-Sea and the west coast of Finland was very favourable to us. I think that the salty North-Sea provided a very good ground-plane and thus a very low take-off angle which in turn provided for a two-skip (maybe even one-skip?) path with very low losses and little multi-phase distortion between us and the offshore-radios outside the east-coast of Great-Britain. The high-power transmitter and the good antenna-design aboard the M/V Galaxy really made a great job!

Both sides of a Bonfire Night 1966 QSL card from Veronica. For the uninitiated, the hand-written message says 'Best 73s' – the DX equivalent of 'best wishes'.

Only during peculiar radio conditions, there could be interference from "Zagreb" radio disturbing the reception of "Big L" but for 90% of the time, it would be booming in as if it were some local station here. Generally a much steadier and cleaner signal than Radio Luxembourg despite Luxembourg's higher power!

Being a very active DX-listener too, I of course wrote signal-reports to the offshore-stations. Attached you will find some scanned QSLs from those. [QSL cards are sent to listeners in return for proof of reception outside the usual transmission area, for example, by stating what track was played at a particular time.] Feel free to use them, as I would be very proud of making a (valuable?) input to a well-recognised website like yours, dealing with one of my favourite subjects! I have also sent an excerpt from the "World Radio & TV-Handbook" from 1967 covering the "International waters". Funny enough, Radio 390 is not mentioned there!
Very interesting to see the information for all the stations from the World Radio and TV Handbook 1967
I cannot really tell how popular Radio London was on a general basis, but in that area where I was living there was at least some 10 to 15 kids at the age of 13 to 18 who were listening to offshore radio and especially to "Big L" (because of the powerful signal) on more-or-less a regular basis.

The skills in the English language were rather good amongst young people already at that time, at least among the Swedish-speaking minority, living along the west and south coast of Finland where the provisions for the reception of "Big L" also were good

So if one extrapolates the percentage from my village, 15 kids out of 450 people, makes 3.3%. Apply it to the whole Swedish-speaking minority, 300 000 people, and we will find some 10000 listeners. If we cut the percentages down to 0.5 % amongst the Finnish-speaking majority (because of less skills in English and living inland, with poorer receiving conditions) we will have some 20000 listeners more. That makes a sum of 30000 regular listeners in Finland!

This could really be a source for somebody making a Pro Gradu at some university I think: "The impact of Radio London and other offshore-radio stations on the young people of Finland during the mid-sixties." Hi! I think I have to contact some of the ethnological faculties at the universities of Finland and provide them with this idea.
The hours of poor reception of Big L in the summertime needed to be filled out with something and me being technical enough, put a small, 5W, medium-wave transmitter together during the spring of 1966. I hired a friend, who possessed a PYE-record player with a built-in LF-amplifier, as a disc jockey and we started to transmit a few days each week for an hour or so, from the attic at my parents' house.

The antenna was a 25m piece of wire strung between a window in the attic and a shed. The frequency was chosen to be about 1311 kc/s so I squeezed it in between "Stavanger" and "Szcecin", both very powerful and thus covering my faint signal outside the village. My signal was powerful enough to be received on any regular tranny at a radius of 2km around the house. Can you imagine the whole village (about 450 people) going silent, everybody including old ladies and gents listening to "Wild Thing", "My Generation" etc. streaming out of our station....?

Well, many years later, when called upon to repair someone's radio, I could still find receivers adjusted to 1311 kc/s medium wave, where they had been tuned the last time on MW!

My girlfriend in the Sixties (who turned out to be my first wife...) made a lot of tape-recordings from Radio London, on occasions when I was not able to listen myself, but it seems that every reel is erased and reused, nothing found. There should have been some recordings made out of my own "pirate" station as well....

I know I have a QSL card from "Radio England" as well, but it seems to have been lost during some move from one location to another. I can still remember it as a standing-format black-and-white photo of the Laissez Faire with the text; "Radio England" in black on white at the bottom. I will keep searching for the missing QSL and post it to you immediately when I find it!

Well guys, keep up the good work and give my best regards to everybody involved back then and who are still alive and not destroyed by over-exposure to RF-power! I will drop in frequently on your website to get the latest "offshore news"! Hans

We much appreciate Hans enlightening us about offshore radio reception in Finland in the Sixties and for his useful tips on how to entertain the elderly using only a Pye record player, a 25m piece of wire and a copy of 'Wild Thing'! Many thanks, too Hans, for taking the trouble to scan the QSL cards. The Radio England one is bound to turn up eventually. We also apologise to Hans's wife for being the cause of his premature onset of senile dementia!

Contact Hans here

Thanks to Per Alarud from Stockholm, for adding a PS to the story, and sending another scan from the World Radio and TV Handbook. Per says:

It was interesting to read the story from Finland on your website. Also in Sweden Big L, and many of the other stations, had a lot of listeners. Enclosed, please find another scan from WRTH 1967. As you can see, several of the stations had 'increased' their power!

Update from Hans: September 2001

Hi Mary and all you Anoraks!

During my summer vacation (mostly spent "offshore" outside Bjorkoby of course...) I met my old friend and owner of the record-player that made our pirate station possible and told him about your website. He was very enthusiastic and upon asking him if he will allow me (ie you) to reveal his name on the website he told me, "Yes, I think that this offence to the law and jurisdiction of Finland in 1966 is written off by now so please feel free..."

So the name of this eminent guy is: Ulf Degerlund. Mr Degerlund is a son of a (now retired) captain at sea and also an Anorak by default. He will turn 50 at the end of next January. He is now living in the city of Umea in Sweden, working as a local manager for the Eurest organisation.

So when you eventually are updating your scrapbook, please add his name.

Back to 'Lil's 60s Scrapbook'