Sixties Offshore Radio in the Thames Estuary
– and the
Galaxy's exact position

In January 2004, a message arrived from 'J', who was in the process of constructing a new website featuring important locations in the history of The Who. J said:

"Radio London was obviously fairly important in that it featured heavily on the band's 'Sell Out' album from 1967. Now, here's my (probably utterly stupid) question! Would you please possibly be able to tell me roughly whereabouts Radio London was located offshore? I don't need exact co-ordinates (though that'd be nice!) just something so I can stick an 'X' on a map. Thanks for your time, and thanks in advance!"

J's question prompted us to realise that this vital piece of information was missing from the Radio London site, so we sprang into action to rectify the matter.

The Galaxy was anchored 3.5 miles off Frinton-on-Sea, Essex and her exact position was broadcast daily. In 1965, the Managing Director of Radlon Sales, Phillip Birch, was so impressed with a suggestion received from a listener that the ship's position should be broadcast as a navigation aid to aircraft and shipping, that he sent a memo instructing staff to do this every morning at 08.00.

A recorded announcement of the Galaxy's position as "fifty-one degrees, forty-seven point nine minutes north; zero-one degree, twenty point five-five minutes east" was then broadcast daily from April 1965.

The map is based on one included in Brian Long's privately-published book, The London Sound, with many thanks. It covers the Thames Estuary sea-based broadcast locations from ships and forts during the period 1964 - 67, rather than the stations that were aboard them. Not all of them were there simultaneously. The Laissez Faire, for instance, did not arrive till May 1966 and the Caroline ship Fredericia was only briefly in the estuary, setting sail for the Isle of Man to become Caroline North in July 1964.

Proposed Offshore Radio and TV 1966

While the map above left covers all the stations that were (or had been) sited in the vicinity of the Thames Estuary between 1964 and 67, this newspaper map of existing stations and anticipated new stations, covers the UK. It dates from May 1st 1966, when Radios 270 and England/Britain Radio are described as 'about to start'. The two latter broadcasters aboard the Laissez Faire are seen as 'the most formidable (contenders)so far in the unofficial commercial radio stakes.'

The caption: 'The pirate radio ships: where they are and what they offer' omits to mention that several of the stations are based on WWII forts, rather than ships. The statement that Radio London covered 'all Britain' was a little fanciful. Many parts of the UK would have struggled to receive it.

One of two of the broadcasters on the map never made it to air. Radio Tower, broadcasting from Sunk Head Tower, had previously been broadcasting as Tower Radio, but the change of name failed to bring a change of fortune for the short-lived project.

The designated ship for The Mystery Pirate (Radio and TV) said to be heading for the Bristol Channel, was the Cheetah II, already renowned for her history of offshore broadcasting. This was a Philip Solomon scheme and like the proposed Radio Channel, it was a non-starter. Edward Campbell was the man behind Radio Channel, planning off operate from off Bexhill and cover all the south and parts of the Midlands although no ship was named for the broadcaster.

Neither Wales, nor the West Country ever got their own pirate stations. Ronan O'Rahilly later revived the notion of pirate TV, but it came to nothing.

Roving Kneeporter Keith Milborrow points out, "The projected new station, Radio Channel, is shown with an anchorage off the Bexhill, Sussex coast. I do not know what would have happened had this station taken to the air and used that anchorage. Bexhill is where the English Channel starts to gets very narrow. In fact, it is said that the only place in Sussex where you can see France is on top of the cliffs at Fairlight, just the other side of Hastings from Bexhill. I would have thought that, three miles out from there, a potential radio ship would have got dangerously close to the major shipping lanes! The only other time I have found mention of Radio Channel was when I read Paul Harris's book 'When Pirates Ruled the Waves'. Presumably this inspired a group of local teenagers along the coast at Worthing to operate a land-based pirate station in 1969 using that very name and I heard a lot of that station during that year. Any resemblance between one of their deejays and a certain Kneeporter of your acquaintance was purely coincidental..."

I noticed that Radio Caroline South was shown quite correctly on the map as then operating on 253 metres. This was accurate, as the frequency 1187 KHZ converted to a wavelength of 252.7 metres (approx.) but Radio Caroline insisted on calling it '259' so it rhymed with Caroline. This created a quite ludicrous situation when Caroline returned in the Seventies on the same channel and was found on '259' right in the middle between 247 Radio One and 257 Radio Victory (local ILR)!

To close with a further bit of wavelength/frequency talk, it has always amused me that Radio 390's frequency was 773 KHZ, the nearest European channel to the American 770 KHZ used of course by WABC New York. I cannot imagine any radio stations being more of a contrast to one another than these two!"

(Sunday Times clipping courtesy of the late John Bennett. Thanks to Jon Myer, who has the complete feature by Dan van der Vat (provided by Mike Lewis) on the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame, second item on the page.)