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volume 7
april 2004

On and off the air: the second half of 1978

 





  The wet and wild history of Radio Caroline (11)
by Hans Knot
Previous
  In chapter 11 of our Radio Caroline series, author Hans Knot looks into the very first issue of the Freewave Media Magazine, dated July 1978, to see what this magazine had to say about the station at that time. As a bonus, we also learn some more about the "Zeezenders 20" convention, where the magazine was presented to the public. By bad luck, Radio Caroline itself was off the air at that time.
 
1 Left: The Leeuwenhorst Congres Centre (1978)

Freewave Media Magazine's first issue. July 1978 saw the birth of a new media magazine in the Netherlands called Freewave Media Magazine. Now, 26 years later, the magazine is still alive and kicking with a monthly issue. Many of those who were collaborating to fill the pages, now are well-known in the radio world. The Freewave Media Magazine was baptized at the convention "Zeezenders 20," a meeting held in 1978 to commemorate the twenty years gone by since the start of the first European commercial offshore radio station. A large crowd of offshore radio fans gathered together at the Leeuwenhorst Congress Centre in a small township at the west coast of the Netherlands, called Noordwijkerhout. All people attending the conference, received the first copy of the magazine for free. Final editor of the magazine and the man responsible for the lay-out and the administration — as well, with Dirk de Pauw, for the "Radio Log" — was Ton van Draanen. Nowadays he's working for AVRO public broadcasting in the Netherlands. Editor Belgium was Freddy Jorus — now for over countless years active within the radio industry in Antwerp.

  There were many more people writing for the magazine, like Ingo Paternoster from Germany, who grew big in Bavarian radio. Coming from the offshore radio world there were also some surprising contributors. The colophon of the very first editions held the names of the likes of Rob Hudson and Paul de Wit. Two guys who at the time had yet to find their rightful place into the world of radio and television. Hudson, now, is better known under his own name — Ruud Hendriks — and has shared himself in the category of people who have become very rich in the media world. Paul de Wit is no other than Erik de Zwart, nowadays working for Talpa International but also many years on the paying list of Veronica and Radio 538 in the Netherlands. Both started their career on the MV Mi Amigo in the late 1970's and the early 1980's. The editor of the magazine in 1978 was and still is yours truly Hans Knot.
  In this instalment of our Caroline series I will take you back to that very first issue of the magazine to see what we wrote on the subject of offshore radio as I found many pieces referring directly or indirectly to this station. The "Radio Log," for instance mentions the name of Leon Keezer. On June 1, 1978, he presented the Pop News twice on TROS Radio in the very first edition of the TROS Top 50. The TROS was the land-based follow-up of Radio and TV Noordzee, which started as an offshore station on the REM Island in international waters, off the Dutch coast, in 1964. Its public broadcasts started in 1965. Leon Keezer had a relationship with Radio Caroline as he worked for Radio 199 as well as Radio Caroline in 1972/'73. Some more information comes from this "Radio Log." Do you remember which Caroline deejays were on the ship on June 4, 1978? At that time there were four of them, this first "Radio Log" tell us: Stuart Russell, Tom Hardy, Martin Fisher and Mike Stevens.
2 Right: Stuart Russel and Tony Allan (1978)

"Life on board is generally good". Some of the Caroline deejays had a regular column in the Free Wave Media Magazine. Remember it's 26 years ago and so they were much younger than today. One of them was Stuart Russell, also known as Nigel Harris. He was born under yet another name — which I'm not allowed to tell you. Nowadays Harris does a lot of good and hard work arranging the programming side of the satellite station Radio Caroline as well doing other serious work on Sundays, when he's playing the organ in his local church. Way back in July 1978, he wrote in the very first edition of the Freewave Media Magazine:

"Hello, Stuart Russell here from Radio Caroline. For a change a few words from one of the English people on board the MV Mi Amigo. If you listen to Caroline regularly, than you know that it is an album station, which gives up far more scope when doing programmes than on a Top 40 station. Artists these days put all their work into making albums, and then select singles from it, so there are usually a number of single tracks taken from albums, and so Radio Caroline is way ahead with its music."

  "Life on board is generally good. There's plenty to eat and we have a good cook in the person of Kees Borrell, although he is a bit of a nutcase. One of the bad things is being stuck out here for months and months on end. Last time I was onboard with Roger Matthews we were on for four months. And there's nothing you can do, if no replacements arrive for you. Then you either go off the ship or you stay and keep it on the air. But that last time was exceptional. Last time I was on land, I got a new girlfriend and although she likes me to work on Caroline, she does like the day I've got to go back home again. And this is vice versa. I miss her when I'm out here."
  Left: Hans Knot at "Zeezenders 20" (1978) (photo: Jelle Knot)

"People often wonder how the Dutch and English get on out here. Well, the ones out here at the moment are really great boys and we all have a lot of fun together. With Radio Caroline only on the air at night now, it seems our working day starts at 6.30 in the evening and finished at 5.00 the next morning. So we have to sleep during the day, which you get used to. But I would prefer it the other way round. It's been like that since the daytime service of Radio Caroline was suspended last year. Now summer is here and I'm looking forward to getting a nice suntan to show of when I got to land. Anyway must go now, I have to help throw Johan Visser into the sea."

A long time has gone by since Harris wrote these lines. At the time he didn't have to stay on board for another four months. On the day his account was published in the first edition of Freewave Media Magazine, he was present at the convention in Noordwijkerhout, where I met him — in the company of his lovely girlfriend — for the very first time. One of his ship mates from those days, Marc Jacobs, was co-organiser at "Zeezenders 20." Jacobs himself couldn't join us at "Zeezenders 20" as he had left for the Mi Amigo some days earlier.

  In the first issue of Freewave Media Magazine, I also found an interview that had been published earlier on in the Sunday newspaper Zondag. Here Sylvain Tack announced that he wanted to continue his radio station Mi Amigo, but that he had decided for himself that his activities in the radio world would end in two years time. The year 1980, he said, would mean the end of his involvements. However, his decision proved to be too optimistic. Already in October 1978 it was all done for Tack and his role in the history of Radio Mi Amigo, transmitting from the Caroline vessel MV Mi Amigo. The vessel, by the way, sunk in March 1980.
3 Right: Ton van Draanen (1978) (photo: Jelle Knot)

A big deception. The second issue of the Freewave Media Magazine offered a full article about the "Zeezenders 20" Convention. The reporter wrote that he found it a big problem that 80% of the speakers gave their lectures in the English language which, according to him, was a real problem for the main body of visitors of the three-day happening. He really doubted that they would be there if such a happening — a radio meeting — again would be held the next year. Luckily, the author — Richard Havelaar, better known as Rob Hudson or Ruud Hendriks — proved to be wrong in this respect. The Dutch radio days are still being organised. A year later Hans Knot, with Rob Olthof of the Foundation for Media Communication continued the happening, which now has been become institutionalized as an annual event.

As a matter of bad luck both stations sharing the MV Mi Amigo, Radio Caroline and Radio Mi Amigo, failed to be in the air at the occasion. On Friday, July 28, when the first attendees who had booked for a three-day instead of a two-day arrangement, were arriving in Noordwijkerhout, some sad faces could be seen. I was already there and being at the information desk, I asked them if they were unhappy to come to Noordwijkerhout. The real reason proved to be that, being at the west coast of Holland, they really had hoped to get a good listening by a strong signal from Radio Mi Amigo that afternoon. Instead, they told me, Marc Jacobs just had announced in his programme that the transmitters onboard the MV Mi Amigo needed some adjustments so later that day Radio Mi Amigo and no Radio Caroline both would be off-air. It was a big deception for all the Anoraks arriving early in the Leeuwenhorst Centre.

  They were not the only ones. The next Saturday afternoon, still people could be seen on the parking place, trying to tune their car-radios or their transistors in to Mi Amigo and Caroline. They thought the signals hadn't come through the concrete walls of their sleeping rooms. But that was not the case as neither Radio Caroline nor Radio Mi Amigo were on the air during the day. It would take yet another day before both stations could be heard again on their usual frequencies. When the stations returned, Marc Jacobs told the listeners that the deejays were very sorry not being on the air on this special weekend. The next day it seemed that a tender had been out to the ship as Johan Visser, who had joined the convention on Saturday, was back on the "Old Lady" again.
  Left: The Caroline Music bus (photo: Peter Messingfeld)

That same month, the management of Radio Caroline announced that the Caroline Promotion Bus as well as the Caroline Road Show in the future not only would tour Great Britain, but Western Europe too. Next to Great Britain also Holland, Belgium, France and some other countries now would be targeted to attract new listeners. Robb Eden, Roger Mathews and Mr. Rabbit would do the shows in Britain, while Patrick Valain and Alan West would cover the continent. Here also the name of Serge Haderman was mentioned, who — as Serge van Gisteren — at a later stage would become "world famous in Belgium." And at the same time the press agent of the organisation let us know that Radio Caroline now served five million listeners each day!

Next to Caroline, also its sister station Mi Amigo drew some attention from the press, as some Belgian newspapers and glossies were telling that there were plans to start an FM service for Mi Amigo. For this purpose — yes, you read it correctly — a 10 Watt transmitter would be installed with which all the people could be reached that were staying on the west coast of Great Britain for their holidays. Now, just like the Scottish and English people are always joking about each other, the Belgian and Dutch ones are too. But this really was too preposterous, even for a joke. 10 Watt to cover the whole length of the East Coast of Britain? Moreover, the press report said that the transmissions would only go on if space could be found aboard the MV Mi Amigo for the FM aerial. So, in the second edition of the Freewave Media Magazine I wrote about this newsflash, saying I didn't believe a letter of it.

4 Right: Otto Visser and Johan Visser (1978)

The Belgian police takes action. On August 16, 1978, Roger Thompson presented his very first programme on Radio Caroline. Later that month, much airtime was given to the Caroline Fun Bus, a combination of a publicity team and a Caroline Road Show on Tour in the UK. September 1978 did start with generator problems on the MV Mi Amigo and so the transmitter was switched off too. It did take the technicians onboard five and a half hours to get the thing working again. It wouldn't be the last time during the next months that there were technical problems on the good old lady. The problems even were getting worse with each day. On September 7, for instance, the Caroline studio had to be used during daytime. Usually the "319" frequency was used by sister station Radio Mi Amigo, so the Caroline studio was only used for production work. However, that afternoon one of the record players in the Radio Mi Amigo studio broke down. So, for his programme "Baken 16," Marc Jacobs had to go to the Caroline studio. From there he presented the programme and played the records too, while Ferry Eden at the same time occupied the Mi Amigo studio attending to the commercials and jingles.

  In those days the money to pay the Caroline bills had to come from overseas — in this case from Belgium. Therefore, the people within the organisation were really shocked when they heard that once again the Belgian police was taking action against all kinds of people who were connected to its sister station Radio Mi Amigo. On September 16, 1978, almost fifty different houses, shops and offices were searched by the police for evidence. Most of these buildings did belong to advertisers on the station. Already in the early 1960's the Belgian government had decided to bring in a law whereby it was forbidden to work for an offshore radio station in any way. It was outside the law to provide the ships with food, water and oil as well as to advertise on an offshore station.
  Then and there, Radio Mi Amigo had a massive Belgian fan club (MAF) and their office was also searched. The police took 5,000 addresses of MAF-members. A day later 39 people, who had planned to go for a holiday to Playa de Aro to have some rest and also to visit the land-based studios of the station, were searched by the authorities. Finally were allowed to leave for Spain, but the owner of the travel organisation, Mr. Gossey, decided to make an official complaint against the authorities. He wrote a long letter of complaint to the Belgian government, but never got any response. As a follow-up to all the actions taken by the authorities, a few days later a lot of letters were published in several newspapers in Belgium. From those, it's quite easy to infer, that the main population of Belgium was pro Radio Mi Amigo and wanted a future for their Free Radio Station to operate together with Radio Caroline from the same ship.
5 Left: Aerial mast of the MV Mi Amigo(1978)

Radio silence. The later part of 1978 brought some more news. From October 1978 on, it was forbidden to make advertisements for tobacco products on Dutch national radio stations and so on September 26, Flemish newspapers reported some sayings from the part-time owner of the radio ship, Sylvain Tack, from his Spain residence. Tack, so he said, expected a big new future for both stations, Radio Caroline and Radio Mi Amigo, as a lot of tobacco companies now would be spending their advertisement money there. This new future, however, would never come. Suddenly, in the late morning of October 20, 1978, Radio Mi Amigo went off the air due to generator problems. Again it was Marc Jacobs who announced technical problems and then the station went off the air. During the evening hours, Radio Caroline was on the air for just a short moment. One of the deejays mentioned the numbers for the office followed by a radio silence that lasted till Eastern 1979.

When deejay Rob Hudson wrote his column for the early November edition of the Freewave Media Magazine, he was still rather optimistic:

"It was a little dreadful having Mi Amigo off the air for a few weeks after it closed down on October 20th. But as this edition rolls of the printers, your and our station probably will be on the air again. It will be sending its sounds again all over Holland. Though, in the days of silence, you realise what it means that Radio Mi Amigo is the last one and also the best one on the air."

  Meanwhile, all kind of rumours were going round that Radio Caroline would get a new sister station. The only true fact for the last two months of 1978, however, was that we couldn't receive any signal from the transmitters onboard the good old lady.
   
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