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volume 6
january 2004

Some Radio Caroline cut-outs

 





  The wet and wild history of Radio Caroline (3)
by Hans Knot
Previous
  Radio Caroline sure was prone to headlines. In this third instalment of our Radio Caroline series, Hans Knot takes us back to what the newspapers wrote about the offshore station, adding a few of his personal memories.
 
1 Delving in my archives. Thinking over the four decades of Radio Caroline's history, a lot of memories are coming back to my mind. During those years, I enjoyed many hours of listening pleasure — mostly during the first two decades — and I also had the luck of meeting a lot of the deejays, crew members and technicians. My writings on offshore radio gave me the chance of meeting a lot of these guys on countless occasions. Over the last eight years I was even invited to the reunion parties of the former offshore people. In this third installment of our Radio Caroline series, I want to take you back to a few of their and my personal memories that I did write down in my radio logs in the 1960s. Yes, at that time I already was collecting all that I could find about pop radio — just like others were collecting the stamps of Tonga or Barbados. In these days the newspapers had a lot to write about Radio Caroline and I collected a load of cut-outs for my archive. Here, I present some of it, just grabbing around in this massive pile of paper.
2 Right: Ferry Eden and Andy Archer (1977)

Predicting the future. Looking at the date, the very first newspaper cut-out I found, comes out of a Dutch regional newspaper and was published late April 1964. Describing the ship, the reporter stated that the MV Fredericia had a crew of fifteen people coming from Scandinavia as well as from Holland. Only the captain, fifty year old George MacKay, came from Manchester in England. Next to that, it was mentioned that the Postmaster General, Mr. Bevins, had made it impossible for the people on the radio ship to be in contact with the shore by telephone. The piece suggested that Bevins would put a ban on people sending letters and cards to the station, asking for requests. A few days before Bevins already had declared on Dutch television — probably an item taken from the BBC — that the British Government would declare full war against the offshore station and that all other attempts to start such stations would prove in vain.

  The unknown journalist took his predictions even further: "Things will be made very difficult for Radio Caroline and the station will probably close down in a few months. It is to be expected that the British advertisers won't buy any airtime on the station. The British spokesman for the station, 23 years old Ronan O'Rahilly, told us yesterday that there are talks going on with big international advertisers and that he is not allowed to tell the names of the backers of the project, who have put 2.5 million of Pounds into Planet Productions, as the organisation behind the station is registered. Already the Caroline organisation is in a very difficult situation as the Panamanian government has withdrawn the registration and thus also the flag, which was flying on the ship. This has been done after a request of the British Government to their colleagues in Panama City."
  As the Panamanian government had signed the international treaty covering the rules for Telegraphy and Radio Telephony, they were, in the context of the British government, not allowed to give a registration to the illegal radio ship. Also that same day the news came in that the British Performing Rights Society had announced that the Radio Caroline organisation was not allowed to play music originating from records, as they didn't pay any fee to the society. Obviously the reporter hadn't done any proper research, as was shown by his next line: "Radio Caroline is now on the air from 6.00 in the morning till 6.00 in the evening. It is expected that soon commercials — not more than three minutes per hour — will be transmitted. Compared with the costs of those commercials on Radio Luxembourg, this will bring in proximally 30,000 Dutch guilders a day. The programs are now presented by a 28 year old Canadian deejay. In the future there are plans to be on the air for 24 hours each day." Well, twelve hours of programs each day presented by only one single Canadian deejay?
3 Left: An early Johnny Walker

Philip Solomon. Strange enough, when looking back in the publications regarding the history of Radio Caroline, they always mentioned that by the end of 1966 Philip Solomon did take over from Ronan O'Rahilly as the big share holder in Planet Productions, the company that was behind Caroline in the 1960s. In my archive I even found a note, dating back to February 1966, in which I wrote down that that the impresario Philip Solomon paid 200,000 Pounds to become the biggest single shareholder within Planet Productions, the shore-based company responsible for programming and airtime sales on Radio Caroline. Solomon, who at that time had acquired 20% of the shares, announced that he wanted to make some changes in the Caroline format.

  Who was Solomon? The man sure was a riddle, as he didn't place himself in the foreground as Ronan O'Rahilly used to do. Let's go to some notes, I found back in my archive from 1966: "Two of the biggest acts from Ireland come from Belfast and that's the Rhythm and Blues group Them and the Bachelors. And, it is of relevance that both groups were discovered by the same brotherly team: Philip and Mervyn Solomon." So, Solomon was in the music business together with his brother, but they were not alone as their father Louis was also named as one of the three owners of the Solomon and Perez Distributing Company.
  Father Louis Solomon organised the work of the company from Dublin, while son Mervyn did the same from Dublin. In 1966 an office was also opened in West End, London. Mervyn told Record Retailer in March 1966 about their three offices: "Between us, we manage to have stakes in most aspects of the Irish show business world, as far as records and recording artists are concerned." In London Philip Solomon got his headquarters, from where he not only paid attention to the industry of their Irish artists and other bookings, but also acquired his shares in Planet Productions. In respect to Radio Caroline, mostly Philip Solomon is mentioned. I found the name of Mervyn only twice. However, in fact they bought the shares together.
4 Right: David McWilliams

Major Minor. In respect to Mervyn Solomon, I found another note in my archive dating back to March 1966. Here Mervyn told a journalist about his buying of the shares and the resulting co-partnership with his fellow Irishman Ronan O'Rahilly: "Radio Caroline North at present only broadcasts to Belfast and Northern Ireland with weak signals reaching the Dublin area. But, we plan to increase the power of the northern transmitter by 10 kW within the next week or so, and boost it further in April, by 50 kW. This should ensure coverage of the whole of Ireland." At the time, the record company of the Solomon's was called "Emerald Label," but not much later they initiated a new label that would bring in more money, called "Major Minor."

  Most Caroline devotees still think that Ronan O'Rahilly was and is the boss of the Caroline organisation. They don't realise that, when Philip Solomon did take over more shares, he in fact became the main shareholder. He also had a big influence on the programming, though not everyone was as happy about that. Moreover, he was slow in paying the bills, even to the point at not paying them at all. For that reason both Caroline ships, the MV Mi Amigo and the MV Fredericia, were finally taken away from international waters on early March 1968 by the Wijsmuller Company. Philip Solomon, however, would also leave us some nice memories. Don't forget, if the man hadn't been into the Caroline business, we would have missed all those awful long commercials for the albums which were released by his record company "Major Minor."
  Well, I must admit that personally I'm very thankful for many of the releases he made possible. Of course, from the stories of the deejays I know that they threw a lot of those records straight into the international waters as soon as they arrived on the ship. But, there were sure some nice ones too among them. By way of the "Major Minor" label the Irish Dubliners, for instance, made it big all over Europe, and so did Raymond Lévefre and his Orchestra. Above all, without Philip Solomon I wouldn't have bought the double cd with all the early seventies material of the late David McWilliams. Through the ever lasting instant reply of those marvellous commercials for Major Minor MMLP number 1 and so on, I would never have heard the voice of that brilliant talent David McWilliams. So from my point of view I'm still thankful to Philip for taking over from Ronan, though I realise this will never be confirmed by Mr. O'Rahilly himself.
5 Left: Marianne Faithfull in the movie "La Motocyclette" (1968)

Some other names. Of course, all the avid listeners to the station in the 1960s know the name of Philip Solomon. There were many more people, though, working for the organization whose names are still unknown by most of them. Take, for instance, Michael Parkin. I found out, that in February 1966 Parkin did something within the organization. He was one of the persons who helped out the set-on of the Independent Commercial Television stations, "Channel Television," way back in 1960 as a Sales controller. From there on he became General Manager. A few years later he became Sales director for Radio Caroline. Early 1966 he got his own company Caroline films, producing commercials. In the meantime he remained a consultant for the Caroline organization.

  About the time, Parkin started the Caroline film branch, some other things did change. For this, let's go to an item I cut out from the Television Mail, dated February 25, 1966. It contains the message, that the Caroline Organisation got a new Sales Director in the person of Brian Scudder. The appointment coincides with the complete reorganisation of the Caroline Sales Department. They wanted a fresh approach to the media world and Scudder replaced Anthony Welch. But the later wasn't out of working as he could join Radio Scotland. Brian Scudder already had been in the advertising world for more than fifteen years and Ronan O'Rahilly and the Caroline Squad expected a lot from him.
  Next to the names of Parkin, Welch and Scudder, in my archive I also found the name of a curious organisation in a cut-out, dating back to late April, 1964. It tells the story of a few girls in a barber shop in a little town in Kent which had founded the Radio Caroline Defence Union. Everyone could become a member and the tasks of the members included to protest at the BBC transmitter plant in Wrexham, as it was suspected that from this plant a jamming transmitter would be on the air to get Radio Caroline off the air as soon as possible. Jamming by the British authorities, though, didn't happen until 1970, when Radio Northsea was transmitting from the MEBO II.
6 Right: The British title of the movie "La Motocyclette" was "Girl on a Motor Cycle", the Americans called it "Naked under Leather"

L'Aronaughte. The Television Mail of February 24, 1967, told us about a special form of tendering by using a helicopter: "It was announced this week that Radio Caroline has concluded a deal with aviation specialist L'Aronaughte Limited. This may mean that the offshore station has plans to supply its two ships — North and South — by helicopter after the passage of the Marine Offences Bill, which has received its second reading in Parliament last week. L'Aronaughte will be aviation consultants to Radio Caroline and to Ronan O'Rahilly, a director of the company, personally. A statement from Radio Caroline says is "to provide helicopter and fixed wing support for exploitation and servicing of Radio Caroline. L'Aronaughte has access to a fleet of 275 aircraft from vintage aeroplanes through balloons, to the latest DH 125 executive jet. They are best known as consultants to the feature film industry; David Kaye is managing director."

  By now, we know of course that O'Rahilly himself never used a plane to tender the radio ships. Yes, it was done in the 1970s when the weather was so bad that a plane had to be used to drop the program cassettes nearby the MV Mi Amigo. Probably the news had been mixed up a little bit. In fact a contract has been signed by O'Rahilly for the use of a plane for the making of the movie "A Girl on a Motorcycle," featuring Marianne Faithfull and Alain Delon. The movie was shot in France and England during 1967 and early 1968. The soundtrack was composed by Les Reed. Ronan O'Rahilly was co-director of the movie and "Girl on a motorcycle" can nowadays be found in the category "cult movies."
  Other names, worth mentioning are those of Don and Nan Richardson. Some time ago Andy Archer told me a nice story about these two: "Back in 1967, I remember coming off the tender in IJmuiden and taking the train to Amsterdam and walking down to the office at the Singel 160. The woman who looked after the office was a formidable lady named Nan Richardson, who was a real sweetheart. She was married to one of our transmitter engineers Don Richardson. On this occasion, she was telling me about some of the happenings on board the Mi Amigo, things that would not have been broadcast by the deejays. I asked her how she knew these things and she replied: "Through telepathy with Don, and I communicate every night." When I got back to ship, I told the guys on board who were all amazed — that is until Johnnie Walker got up in the middle of the night to go to the lavatory! He noticed that the red light outside the studio was on, so he went out to investigate. He stood outside the door, which wasn't soundproof, and could hear the voice of Don giving an account of what happened on the ship today. It seems that Don wouldn't switch off the transmitter, all 50 kW of it until after he had spoken to Nan at the pre-arranged time of 3.00 o'clock in the morning. No one had the heart to tell them they had been rumbled! I wonder if Don and Nan are still around or if anyone knows what happened to them."
7 Left: Simon Dee

Some figures. And, finally, to conclude this chapter, I will give you some facts and figures from the pages of the Television Mail of May 19, 1967. That particular issue offered a rundown of facts and figures under the heading "Caroline gets 4 million entries." The message continued: "The other morning 180,000 letters poured into Caroline House. On May the 5th, the 4,000,000th entry to Cash Casino was delivered. Whilst it was eleven weeks before the 1,000,000th was received, the following 16 weeks another 3,000,000 poured in. The response to a contest has been described as outstanding. It represents an income in excess of 67,000 Pound for the Post Office in 4d postage alone, and many people used registered and special recorded mail delivery services. The latest NOP Audience Survey Figures show that Radio Caroline has an audience in Great Britain in excess of any other radio station with 19% aged 16 and over, whilst Radio London did have 12%. In the South East England new standard regions 4 and 5, Radio Caroline has 27% whilst Radio London has 24%."

  Though it certainly does say something about Caroline's reputation at the time, we don't have to take figures like these very seriously. In my archive, I have many articles from newspapers, official reports from the stations or from advertising agencies about the listening figures of both these offshore stations and I can tell you that most of the time, when you put the all figures of the same period next to each other, they're will deviate completely. In those days, one really didn't bother about getting the figures right. The people concerned only wanted to hear that they were magnificent and so they did get the figures they wanted.
   
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