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volume 4
april 2001

Mike Ross looks back at RNI

 





  RNI Memories (11)
by Chris Edwards
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  Mike Ross onboard the MEBO II in February 1971 (photo: Bruce Knopper)

One of the many deejays RNI had on the international service was Mike Ross. His first stint on the MEBO II was in the summer of 1970, a few weeks before RNI closed down to prevent the Dutch government, as the Swiss owners said, to take action against Radio Veronica. The real reason, of course, was that they were out of money. So Mike's first stint was a very short one, but he would come back on the station in 1972. He became a very popular deejay who at one time also brought his wife over to the MEBO II for the presentation of the Request Show with Mike and Sheila Ross. In August 1987 Mike Ross was interviewed by Chris Edwards at the Offshore Convention "Driftback 20" in London.

 
1 Chris: "How did you get involved in radio?"
  Mike: "I got involved with an individual, doing a mobile discotheque in the Reading area. He said, how about shooting down to this rally in London trying to keep offshore stations running. So I said, you'll do that and I'll go out with this delightful young female — which I did. When he came back, he said he'd bumped into this fellow called Larry Tremaine, who was the programme director of RNI. He said the man wanted me to go down and have a chinwag. So I went down to London to have a chat with him. A week later I was on the radio ship MEBO II."
2 Chris: "Did you do radio before?"
  Mike: "I never had any intentions before that."
3 Chris: "When you first saw RNI, what did you think?"
  Mike Ross on air (1974)

Mike: "To be absolutely honest, I was scared stiff when I got on board, I must admit. I was a fairly intelligent and naive person at the same time, although I was quite old. Fortunately a young person, Mark Wesley, took pity on me and taught me the finer points and from that moment I stayed with RNI until its demise."

4 Chris: "When did you actually go out there?"
  Mike: "August 1970. I was out there for three weeks with Carl Mitchell, Spangles Muldoon, Alan West, Andy Archer, Steven Ladd and Dave Rogers. And then the station was shut down at the end of September. It wasn't until February, 1971, that I got a telegram from Stevie Merike, asking if I would like to go out again. So I went out and eventually became the longest serving deejay of all, although I was off air for two months when we made a certain American gentleman programme director by choice. The first thing he did was sack Dave Rodgers and myself, but he couldn't get me off the ship because I was working alongside Peter Chicago as an engineer on the ship and stayed until the very end."
5 Chris: "Where you there during the election campaign?"
  The demonstration to Downing Street 10 (1970)

Mike: "No, I wasn't. It was because of the election campaign that I actually went out there. I would have liked to have been there as obviously it was a new experience for me. And yes, we got involved in a lot of other things subsequent to that."

6 Chris: "What where your most memorable experiences with RNI?"
  Mike: "I think my most memorable experience was not actually while I was on board. I had taken special leave to be off the ship to do a special function for my mother and father, their 25th wedding anniversary and it happened that night. That was the night the bomb went off. I was rushed back to the ship to relieve Alan West, Dave Rodgers and Tony Allan, who were on the ship at the time. We managed to continue under duress, the kitchens were put in the showers with Calor Gas stoves and we all mucked in with the crew, shared all the cabins and slept on the production studio floor."
Mike Ross is reading upside-down on RNI
7 Chris: "What sort of state was the ship in?"
  Mike: "It was very, very burnt and very black. The whole back end of the ship with the bridge structure was totally burnt out. The lifeboats were burnt. If it had happened on a fuel tank instead of a water tank then the ship wouldn't be there now nor would any of the guys on it."
8 Chris: "What happened after that?"
  Mike: "Well, Paul May walked into the Naarden studios looking for a job. John de Mol sr, who was our Dutch boss at the time and managed both Dutch and English services, asked me to interview him and see how good he was as a deejay. We actually made him programme director mainly because we didn't want responsibility of running the station ourselves. As I said the first thing he did was to stop us broadcasting, and to fire Dave Rodgers completely, who left the station."
9 Chris: "Why did he do that?"
  Larry Tremaine (1970)

Mike: "Well, because we didn't agree. Paul wanted to introduce to the station what we nowadays call the Mid-Atlantic format and we didn't want to do that. We were more European than that and wanted to be ourselves. We gave Paul enough rope and he hung himself eventually. I was still on the ship and we got some more deejays in. We had 273 on RNI. It was a pretty rough ride out there. You had to have some stamina to stand the pace. I don't mean amongst the people. I mean the environment itself. Because the MEBO II was a flat-bottomed ship it rolled like there was no tomorrow. The ship should capsize at 32.5 degrees. In the production studio we had a weight on an arm and I've seen it swing to 35 and it should have capsized. It was bottom heavy and as it was a flat-bottomed coaster, when you came into the swell it rolled. You had to spend a lot of energy just hanging on."

"People asked, how on earth can you play records with the ship doing that kind of thing? As an example, you could sit on a carpet, slide down and hit the opposite wall. If it wasn't strapped down, it moved and it was really quite fun. We had to put radiators back on the wall because they were ripped off with you hanging on them. And apart from the sideways roll, the ship went up and down as well. As you went up a wave, the anchor chain would go tight. You would get pulled through it, come out of the other side and the boat would just go "bang" on the top of the wave as it had no keel under it as the Mi Amigo, one of the radio ships Radio Caroline used, did. The MEBO II was definitely not a boat to broadcast from."

10 Chris: "What about living conditions?"
  Mike: "Well as far as that was concerned, the MEBO II must have been the most luxurious off all radio stations. I know, because I've been on the Mi Amigo on several occasions, one time when a storm brought down the mast on the Mi Amigo and beached the Norderney. I was working about 36 hours to get the transmitters back on the air. I think we were the first ones back on the air after that horrendous storm. Next we were looking at the massive engineering problem of transmitting Radio Veronica from the MEBO II three or four weeks before they could get the Norderney out again. This meant having both the two SW transmitters, the FM transmitter and the two MW transmitters running all together and, believe me, that causes great engineering problems just to stop cross-modulation."
11 Chris: "Did you have any problems with your SW service with breakthroughs from the studio programmes in the background?"
  Arnold Layne (1987)

Mike: "You're talking now about the experiments with the World Service we were running on Sundays. Yes, that was fun. That's because Meister and Bollier wanted it to be English all the way through, but it was not economically viable to do that. So as a compromise, we said: let us do an RNI World Service as a sent-up to the BBC World Service. That's why we had AJ Beirens and his DX programme in on that as well. We had fun doing it because for the first time in some considerable period, we were able to broadcast during the day as well as night and it was a problem getting it underneath and getting over the top."

RNI DX AJ Beirens studio tape (1971)
12 Chris: "Was there much contact with Meister and Bollier and did they come out very often?"
  Mike: "They didn't come out very often but there was constant contact. On the bridge we had a large transceiver with a Collins 200 watt linear PA and as you know, they were radio enthusiasts. In Zurich, they had a communication set so we could call them up at any time using anyone with the international call signs on amateur SW. Unfortunately we did get interference late at night because of the big BTA100DB ampliophase transmitter we were using. The thing was twice as powerful as anything else. The only disappointment we ever had was that we couldn't get into London very well. We got into Ireland, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland quite well on MW, but not into London because it was underneath the skip wave which we were throwing out with our rather unique aerial. It was a shunt feed antenna as opposed or a dipole."
13 Chris: "What was the most memorable thing about RNI?"
  Mike: "Let me tell you a little story about the things which happened amongst the disc jockeys. My initiation offers a good example. I was allocated a cabin which belonged to Kurt, who was one of the engineers. Every new boy goes through an initiation ceremony of some description. And being one, it was my turn. In my case, it was fish heads stuffed inside my pillow which, of course, I thought was the natural smell of the cabin because it was my first time on board. It wasn't until they got a little bit putrefied about two or three days later with people complaining about the smell, that I realised I'd been had. I blame Andy Archer for that, who was onboard at that time. It's the sort of prank that he would play. But, with due respect, it kept morale up. And I got my own back two weeks later."
  Mike Ross (middle) leaving the tender in Schevingen after being fired in February 1971 (photo: Bruce Knopper)

"I was doing the news on Mark Wesley's breakfast programme and Andy was doing the 09.00-12.00 show. I had learnt Andy's routines as he always came out of his cabin, pyjamas on, bare feet, padded down the gangway to the wash room, got washed and got himself sorted out before he went on air at 09.00. Now, I was up first, coming on the air at six on Mark's programme with the news bulletin ready at hand. So I was up an hour and a half to two hours beforehand to put the news programme together. I purloined some tin-tacks from the carpenter's shop and spread them on the floor outside Andy's cabin. As Andy came out that morning, and I was in the newsroom, which was just opposite, typing away in my two finger style, he stood on the tin-tacks and all hell let loose. For the next couple of days Andy was accusing everyone of doing this sort of thing. Well, I thought, I've got you back."

  "He was the one who introduced the "Year of the Toad." That was Andy's way of getting back at me. We managed to keep that farce running for about a week or so and, thank goodness, other people appreciated it. The reason was that he called me a toad having discovered I put the tin-tacks down. So they started putting it on air. That was the "Needeep" and everyone else joined in and it took off from there. It carried on a lot later as it came back reincarnated in 1972 to far greater effect than in 1970. Silly little stories like that, there are hundreds of them. Like the time I splattered Paul May with a powder fire extinguisher. He had to spend the next six hours cleaning the production studio up. You wouldn't believe the mess a powder fire extinguisher makes. Poor old Paul couldn't go on the air that night as he was still smarting from powder in his eyes."
  Mike Ross as transmitter engineer (1972)

"There were other times on the ship when guys just didn't get on together. Arnold Layne and I had a bloody great row one night which almost ended in fisticuffs. But it didn't affect the programmes. It was probably one of those down sections where things went up the other way. It was only silly little things, like don't put the tea leaves down the sink. The sort of situation where the quarrel is about things not really important. You know who can unblock the sink at the end of it all. Tension ran high at times as it will in any close community and it did happen especially if you were stuck on the ship for five weeks."

14 Chris: "How long was you on there for one time?"
  Mike: "Five weeks was the longest time I was on the ship. But the record is held by Dave Rogers who once stayed for nearly thirteen weeks, as far as my memory can recall."
15 Chris: "Moving on from RNI, what happened after that?"
  Mike: "Well, I got married and what happened after that was the sound of pitter-patters of tiny little feet. I decided that being involved in the entertainment business and all that it entails, which is all over the place, means that you are everywhere else but at home. I thought that being a husband my family would have a stable home if I went back to being a nine till fiver. I worked at a nightclub — I had a financial interest in it — and became the entertainment manager. It was called the Doorwoman and now is known as Wednesdays. It's the only night club in Brighton. I did that for about 18 months and then I thought, well I can't keep doing this kind of thing, it just isn't right. I was going home and getting the three or four o'clock feed in the morning sorted out and doing the happy change. We weren't seeing too much of each other."
  Mike Ross and Chris Edwards

"So I said, all right, I have an HCN in electronics. I'll get a job as electronics engineer. I applied around the local firms and got a job as electronics engineer. Then I bumped into an old friend who was the head on the techniques department at the school of engineering in Enfield. He said how would you like to come back as we've run out of good technicians, as I was before I went. So I said all right and at the age of 28, I went back to university, got my degree, and worked for Her Majesty's Government for a couple of years. I went out, joined Ferranti and left there in 1985. I then became head of research and development for Texas Instruments in Bedford. I did that because my wife and children, particularly my wife, would not move from Berskhire to Bedford. I thought I can't do it anymore — me doing all the work and you sitting in the lap of luxury. That finished the marriage and I went over to Houston in Texas to set up a new $14 million plant in Rietty to start a new programme of semiconductors which will now come on the market sometime this year (1987)."

  "Having done the troubleshooting bit, they said well, thank you very much. Pat on the back, but we now no longer need you. I thought, well thank you very much. I hit the bottle, bummed around for about 18 months. Got a summer season this year in Yarmouth and that almost brings us up to date, apart from the fact that in between that time I set up SMART. That's short for the Surface Mounted Related Technology Group which is now a fairly powerful body for engineers not coming into new technology but into newer new technology if you understand what I mean, micro miniaturisation. It had sale offices in Maidenhead for about seven or eight months. I did the Internet.com exhibitions '85 and '86 and afterwards I asked myself, well what am I going to do for the rest of my life? Well, I did enjoy being in broadcasting so at this moment in time I'm working my way back into it."
16 Chris: "Are you doing freelance work now?"
  Mike Ross (1987)

Mike: "Yes, very much freelance work. I do voice-overs for adverts, drop-ins, jingles for local radio stations. Meeting the people I used to know, but it's all changed. I was talking to Mark Wesley a couple of hours ago. Perhaps Mark and I will get together and do a couple more with Mark's company. I really don't know what's going to happen from this point on. Yes, I'm free and looking for work. It's as simple as that!"

   
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  The sound fragments on this page are copyrighted. They are used here according to the rules of fair use and academic quoting. Take a look at the index of RNI Memories for other installments of this series.
  © 1987 Chris Edwards / 2001 © Soundscapes