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volume 9
july 2006

Working for the Voice of Peace

 





  Remembering the Voice of Peace (19)
by Robbie Owen
Previous
  Gibraltar-born disc-jockey Robbie Owen joined the Voice of Peace in the summer of 1978, shortly after Abie Nathan had ended his hunger strike. Here he tells his memories of his life on board the MV Peace.
 
1 Right: Generator on deck

A meeting at Flasback. I am sure that many people who are reading these memories wished through the years that one day they could try their hand at the "watery wireless." But how to join a pirate station in the past? Clearly some contacts were required, and a chance for Robbie Owen to make these contacts appeared at Flashback '67, a happening in an hotel nearby London's Heathrow Airport in the summer of 1977. As it was ten years ago the British MOA came in force, a lot of people came together to hear the stories of several people who were involved in Offshore Radio. Representing the VOP there were deejays Carl Kingston and Mark Hurrell. Let's follow the memories from Robbie Owen who has worked on the Peace Ship in 1978.

  "It was at Flashback that I had an interesting and long chat with the two guys representing the VOP and Carl told me that there was a possibility to join the station the following year, after my final exams. I was impressed by the arrangements, and considered that the VOP was a better bet than Caroline, because VOP contracts are for a definitive period of at least three months."
  Early in 1978 Robbie had the change to make an audition tape and was a bit worried that with only hospital radio broadcasting as experiences he would have no chance: "I sent a letter to Broadcast Placement Services in London to see if the staff was still required. However I received no reply, and some weeks later I learned from Buster Person that BPS had ceased operation. He suggested that I should phone to the office in Tel Aviv, and speak to Abie personally. This I did and I was instructed to send a tape to Tel Aviv. I put my tape in the post and then eagerly awaited a reply. I waited over a month but still did not hear anything. Having decided to do something different in the summer I applied to Bunacamp, a scheme whereby British students can teach in children's summer camps in the USA. I was about to sign a contract with them when just in time I had a phone call from Guy Starkey who was on leave from the ship, and in the UK. He apologised for the delays in replying and invited me to join the station's staff on July 1st! This was marvellous news, and I was so glad that it arrived in time."
2 Left: Kenny Page

Getting aboard. But is was not yet time for Robbie to leave. First he heard that Abie was on hunger strike against continued Israeli settlements in occupied territories and not much later that the station had closed down and was up for sale. Also it was mentioned that Abie's health was deteriorating. So Robbie was asking himself if he had given up his American plans for nothing?

"I kept in regular contact with the office, and it came as a great relief when I heard, on the external service of Israel Radio that Abie Nathan had ended his fast. I immediately contacted the office and was told that a ticket would be sent soon. It too two weeks and it was only then that I really felt I was going! On the day before I was due to take off I received a call from Crispian St, John, who said that the station was off the air again and the engineer Mike Galloway had left. It had been alleged that Mike had in some way arranged the breakdown, and a report to this effect appeared in the Israeli press along with a picture of Mike."

  The next task Robbie got from Crispian was to take contact with as much as possible engineers to see if anyone was willing go out to the ship too. After several hours of phonecalls he had found one. But at the end this guy also didn't go as from the office it was arranged that the stations first transmitter engineer, Bill Danse, had promised to fly from Holland to Tel Aviv again.
  Robbie Owen again: "I arrived at about 9:00 p.m., on July 16th, to find Tel Aviv sweltering under record humidity. I called Abie, and he told me to take a taxi to the Hotel Imperial and check in there. I met Abie late that night. He was in sombre mood because the station was still off the air, but with Bill Danse back on the ship Abie hoped for a return to the air in a few days. The next day I went along to the office and met the shore staff along with Crispian St John? He was on shore helping the ship supplied with the various parts and equipment needed to get the transmitters working again We spent part of the day travelling around Tel Aviv in a taxi trying to locate the stockiest of a solvent called Freon, which was desperately needed for cleaning the transmitters. In the middle of the afternoon we went to the Karina to join the tender. Stacked in the sun were the fresh meet supplies for the ship along with the many other items, requested by those on board."
  What would be on a normal tender out to a radio ship? Oil, water, vegetables, fruit, meat, milk, fresh water, records (in those days), a fresh copy of the Billboard Magazine and if the people on board the Peace Ship would be lucky also some beers! But the tender did not leave the harbour in time as Robbie recalls: "We spent more than three hours at the Marina and then I found out that things were a lot disorganized. In fact tendering was a major problem as the boats came from Jaffa, a small harbour south of Tel Aviv and the crews were always specialized in one thing: fishing. By all accounts this was very satisfactory until pressure was brought to bear on Abie to use the new Marina at Tel Aviv. During my stay the greatest problem was getting a boat for tendering. Reason was that the boat owners shared the tendering job between them, with the result that many different boats were used, some of them totally unusable for this task. Also often unseaworthy boats with inexperienced crews were used as nobody else was available.
3 Right: Abie during one of his hunger strikes

Just practising. Of course everytime crew and deejays succeeded in getting onboard the Peace Ship again but Robbie remembers he really was frightened the first time: "I gritted my teeth as one day my heavy suitcase was hauled up the side of an old piece of rope. I was told not to worry as they had never lost anything before. A few weeks after a crate of milk got broken, and a irreplaceable tape recording plumbed under. I clambered aboard my new home around 5:00 p.m. Several deejays introduced themselves, including Guy Starkey, who left the ship the same day. He wished me luck and complained bitterly about the humidity. By this time the weather was tiring me out, so it was a great relief when Vince Mould showed me to my air-conditioned cabin. The cabins were small, but comfortable, and the one Vince and I shared was situated furthest from the "noise centres" (such as studios and generators), so I was always able to sleep soundly. On board at that time were the ship's engineer (the only qualified seaman on board) Bill Bennett, who was assisted by crew man Peter Daphne; on the technical side Dutchman Bill Danse, who was working hard to sort out the transmitter problems; and his assistants Canadian engineer Bruce Sabsay and a young Israeli Radio Ham, Noam Aviram. On the broadcast staff were Crispian, Steve Foster, Roger Swann, Vince Mould, Kenny Page, and Malcolm Barry. There was no designated cook, but owing to an ill-timed admission that he was a qualified chef, Malcolm had been saddled with the cooking. All the DJs were expected to take turns on Galley Duty — washing up and cleaning the Galley after meals."

  With the station off the air Robbie had a unique opportunity to practice in the studio. The equipment was in need of a full service, but on the whole it worked well, and it is a credit to Gates that it should have survived such intensive use, Robbie: "The facilities were typical of a small AM station in the States: two microphones, two Cartridge machines, two turntables, and two tape machines. Apart from the rumble of the air-conditioning the studio was quiet, and particularly in the early hours of the morning had an "atmosphere" that was conducive to friendly programmes. We all helped Bill Danse when we could. In particular the transmitters needed cleaning to remove the effects of months of high humidity, in addition, Chris gave us all other tasks such as cleaning and painting, Initially, I thought I was going to hate the experience, but as the first few days passed I started to enjoy life on board. One of the problems faced by a new DJ is that he is injected into a group of people who know each other very well, and he is an outsider. I think that Vince appreciated what I was facing, and his friendly manner helped me settle in. Sharing a cabin could be a problem, in that when the station was on the air the DJs were going to bed and getting up at different times. However, everyone tried to minimise disturbing each other. A few weeks after my arrival Vince created great amusement among the DJs by announcing that I talked in my sleep! This became a standing joke when on the air, after playing Crystal Gayle's "Talking in my Sleep," I inadvertently said "Vince says I talk in my sleep"!"
  Robbie Owen's first programme couldn't be called a real programme as he was playing non stop music between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. on July 9th, 1978. Two days later finally regular programmes restarted on the VOP and Robbie presented his first spoken links in the Classical music programme between 7:30 and 9:00 in the evening.
  "The following morning I presented the 3:00 to 6:00 a.m. show. At this time both of the transmitters were operating satisfactorily, and a power output of around 40 Kilowatts was giving good reception over most of Israel. I was very nervous at first, but as all the DJs seemed to have gone to bed I settled down and enjoyed the programme. However, the next day many of the DJs were making fun of my programme, and I realised that it was a tradition to eavesdrop on a new recruit; Around this time inspiration struck Chris, who nicknamed me "Flying Officer Kite," which became abbreviated to "Kite." I wasn't aware of the name at first, but after hearing a few pointed introductions of the Beatles' "For the benefit of Mr. Kite," and Kate Bush's "Kites," the penny dropped; I was given the Breakfast Show and the Classical Music programme as my regular slots, so as everyone settled back into a broadcasting routine I had to adjust to getting up at 5:00 a.m. each morning ... a most arduous task as far as I was concerned! At just after 5:00 a.m. Roger (who presented 3:00-6:00 a.m.) would crash into my cabin, turn on. all the lights and put the monitor speaker on full blast: As soon as he'd gone I'd turn off the speaker and spend the next 10 minutes recovering from the shock: During "the first couple of weeks I realised that it was beyond me to adapt to such an early start, and I realised that somehow I would be transferred to another show. After the programme I used to make some tea (I acquired something of a reputation for tea making!) and then from 10:30 a.m. to midday I was on "Motorola Watch.""
4 Left: Yet another generator

Moaning about a Motorola. The Motorola was the two way radio link between the ship and office in Tel Aviv, and Abie insisted that throughout the day there was always someone present to receive calls. It was very useful in that it provided instant relays of news from the office, but it was regarded with hate by everyone on board.

Robbie: "Abie referred to the Motorola as "the best thing that ever happened," but the fact that you had to spend two hours a day just sitting inside when there were many other things to do was very annoying. This was worsened by the fact that Crispian spent most of his time in the small lounge with the Motorola, yet he refused to do Motorola watch himself and always insisted that there was someone else there. However these problems were quite bearable, what was not was the power which the Motorola gave Abie over programmes. For example, if he heard a DJ give himself more than one name check in any particular hour he would call on the Motorola and have a good moan about it. It was for him breaking a fundamental rule of broadcasting. Through the Motorola Abie could comment and interfere in all sorts of matters, and in irrelatively uncomplicated ship-board life this was very unsettling intrusion. Schedules could change at the last moment, extra commercials were inserted with literally seconds notice, and worst of all Abie would try and tell the deejay their job."

  Robbie remembers that he got straight instructions from Abie about his personal presentation style: "He told me that it was an insult in Israel to talk over the music. I already knew at the time that it was pointless to argue with him so I just said: "Okay Abie."
  The next day I presented the first hour of my programme exactly as he had instructed, with no voiceovers whatsoever. Then the following hour I reverted to my usual technique. I had recorded both hours so if Abie complained I could send him audible proof that his suggested method didn't sound so good. Abie announced one day that he was trying to buy a hand-held Motorola so that he could be in contact with the station 24 hours a day; we all groaned. The consequences were almost too horrifying to contemplate — he could pester us even in those small hours of the morning which were so tranquil. 24 Hour Motorola watch? "Heaven forbid please!" was our thought in those days."
  Like on any radio station the Voice of Peace of course had presentation rules, which could differ from programme director to programme director but during Robbie Owen's stay there were some special rules: "Perhaps it would be useful to mention some of the many rules which governed the DJs. Many of them were very sensible, but a few bordered on the stupid, and others were plain killjoy. The position of the ship was never given, you had to refer to it only as "somewhere in the Mediterranean" . Additionally, for security reasons, the arrival and departure of tenders was not mentioned. To help unify the sound of the station, spoken links were not permitted before or after commercials (thus avoiding the possibility of a DJ making a reference to the commercial), and double time checks were encouraged ("12 after 7; that's seven, twelve"), The standard of English amongst the Israelis is not particularly good, and therefore we were encouraged to fit in the maximum amount of music per hours, and to "keep it tight"; this entailed using short links, around 12 seconds, spoken over music and running one record straight into the next. The emphasis was very specific, there should never be any dead-air. These were the sensible rules, then there were the less liked rules, such as only being allowed one name check per hour. This was to discourage the growth of personalities. We were not allowed to encourage mail by giving the station's address, and many DJs never received any mail from listeners (I had only 5 letters in 3 months, and they were all from the same person."). Requests and dedications were strictly forbidden, unless Abie had given special permission The consequence lack of feedback was very frustrating, and it was an incredible surprise when on shore, I found that the office received many phone calls each day from interested listeners. The Motorola was never used to relay any of this feedback, unless it was unfavourable. Probably the most stupid rule was "no instrumentals"."
5 Right: Robbie Owen

The ban on instrumentals. Particularly in those days a deejay on a radiostation tried to use an instrumental record to fill the hour up till the news. The deejays talked about this with Abie and he had always the same story why he didn't want deejays to use instrumentals: "Abie would always tell the story of the Tel Aviv taxi driver who could not sing along unless the record had a vocal. Sounds silly, but nevertheless the rule was a firm one, strictly no instrumental records. At first, working within these rules was very taxing, but after a while I got used to it. I was always in trouble for talking too much, but still I felt that the self discipline required was very good practice. The format that applied at that time was introduced by Chris after Abie had seen a Capital Radio poster which said "All the Hits."

  Abie's wish was that the VOP would play all hits, and hence the format was very oldies-orientated. There were just 3 records from the Top 40 in each hour, the rest (about 13 records per hour) could be anything from 3 months to 25 years old. The format hours applied from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., although Crispian used to include a greater number of Top 40 records in his 4 to 6 Drive Time slot. The Top 40 was placed in three boxes in front of the DJ and the records were taken from them strictly in rotation. When Kenny took over as Programme Director the format was changed and shortly afterwards tightened still further. Crispian his format left about 13 records per hour to the choice of the DJ, but by the time I left all you needed to select was one oldie per hour, the rest were taken in rotation from various boxes. Basically this format consisted of 4 Top 40 records, 2 new releases, 1 Hebrew track, 1 album track, 1 oldie, 4 recent hits, and 2 from a box of standards (compilation LPs, etc.)."
  On board the Peace Ship also unexpected people could be found like an Israeli Professor of Art, called Ze'ev, who joined as a cook. He wanted time to practice his photography and enjoyed cooking, so had volunteered to cook. for the VOP without pay! Robbie recalls: "There were great differences of opinion about his cooking. Several DJs wanted more potatoes and puddings, and others complained that it was always a salad at, have taken a dislike to Ze'ev's offerings, and fortunately the people with the most influence, particularly Bill and Kenny, seemed to have taken a dislike to Ze'evs offerings, and after Kenny had written a letter of complaint to Abie Ze'ev called it a day. He had been with the station about five weeks. Bruce took over the cooking while a new cook was sought, and the cooking continued at Ze'ev's high standard. Then we were joined by two lads from a Kibbutz, Mike and Phil. They were an ideal choice for the station's cooks; apple pie and custard in abundance: They could also turn the requisite deaf ear to any complaining disc-jockeys!"
   
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