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volume 5
january 2003

The ill-fated story of WRLI and WWCR

 





  Our failed attempts to revive Wonderful Radio London
by John England
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  In 1984 and again in 1990 a group of people tried to revive the famous offshore radio station "Wonderful Radio London". However, both these attempts failed. John England, who was involved from the start, describes the complicated and ill-fated story of WRLI and WWCR, which proves to be closely connected with the history of Allan Weiner's short-lived American offshore station "Radio New York International".
 
1 Photo right: Ben Toney

Getting involved with WRLI. "Wonderful Radio London International" (WRLI) was the brainchild of Don Pierson who created the original British offshore station WRL in 1964. In 1967, when I was working as a British freelance journalist, I wrote to him about his other station "Swinging Radio England". Sometime in the late 1970s in Houston, a plan was created to make a movie about the British offshore stations of the 1960s. The movie about Buddy Holly, the Buddy Holly Story (1978), had just been financed and produced by a Houston related company. This plan put me in contact with Pierson again, who later gave me all of his documents about all of his radio stations. Included in the boxes was my original unanswered letter from 1967.

In 1980, I created a franchised monthly magazine in Texas — of which Genie Baskir became editor — and in one issue I wrote a cover story feature about Pierson's stations of the 1960s and their relationship to Texas radio. Pierson then started a small FM radio station in his hometown and asked me to make programmes for it and thus a show called "Wonderful Radio London" came on the air — first with oldies and then with current British hits. Pierson took the show and started to syndicate it at the Las Vegas broadcasting convention that year, but then Radio Luxembourg and Capital Radio also started to syndicate similar shows. At one point, Genie Baskir was to become the presenter of the syndicated show and at the end of 1983 some literature was printed to promote her and the syndicated programme. Pierson then proposed restarting WRL as an offshore station, and WRLI was born. It went through many phases.

2 The first phase. In the first phase, culminating in 1984, the ship MV "Sea Level XI" was being considered for use. This was a high stack North Sea type oil supply vessel with a large open deck space to the aft. Consultations were held with Bob Carr who was the original Texas engineer who helped to set up the original WRL on the Galaxy. Plans were to rename the vessel into "Four Freedoms" after President Roosevelt's famous "state of the nation" message to congress in January 1941. The mast being considered was a ring variation of the one used by Paul Harris on his ill-fated "Capitol Radio". The idea was to create a ring antenna with an open space that could allow a helicopter to land on the deck inside of the antenna when it was not in use. The MV "Sea Level XI" was to have anchored close to the "Ross Revenge" and the "Communicator" — just as Peter Chicago once reported that it had in fact already done.
  All of this was before Ben Toney came in as General Manager of WRLI. Don Pierson advised but did not have any other connection him self. Once he had come back to the States after the closedown of WRL in 1967, he had tried to get it going again off New York using the MV "Olga Patricia" — or whatever the true identity of that ship really was. At that time, this vessel was berthed in Miami and I still have a magazine article from that period of the 1970s in Florida which shows Larry Dean, who was working at WFUN in Miami, sitting in the studio. It did not work out en then Pierson tried to sell the "Olga" to just about anyone and the net result was a massive Texas lawsuit in which everyone wanted their money from the failed SRE venture. So, Pierson then tried to restart WRL off California and tie it to Disneyland, and that did not work either, and after two failed freeport ventures in Haiti and Dominica following that, Pierson retired and fiddled with his backyard FM-station.
  For our plans, Pierson suggested finding Ben Toney and he came in as General Manager. From our own efforts and watching "Caroline" and "Laser", we learned that genuine Pan-European radio advertising was a myth, and so we tried several other ideas to fund the station. We tried to create a marketing tool using the 250kW XERF in Mexico as a seven nights a week 15 minute hook with the "Wonderful Radio London Show", which was also made into an hour long supporting weekly programme heard on other Texas stations, but this did not work either. The sister station to WRLI hot hits was to be VFG — "Voice of the Free Gospel" — for which jingles were made and the "Southern Baptist TV Network" was used to promote it. VFG used the same jingles music bed as Pierson's other station of the 1960s: "Britain Radio". We changed the planned WRLI format to country music and had some success with the marketing side but we then upset everyone on the programming side! Then Ben Toney got very ill and that was the end of that phase.
3 Photo left: the MV "Lichfield I", a.k.a. the MV "Sarah"

Allan Weiner and the MV "Lichfield I". Later, entering a second phase, the project came back to life with the "Sarah", which we planned to keep in Boston and hook up to WWCR short-wave in Tennessee. This plan arose, when Allan H. Weiner was prepared to sell us the MV "Sarah", a ship that already was fitted out with the necessary equipment. In late 1985, Weiner, a long time radio land pirate, had visited Radio Caroline, the pirate station broadcasting off Great Britain and this gave him the idea of creating his own floating radio station: "Radio New York International" (RNI). This project had started after a vessel named MV "Lichfield I", owned by a company in Panama, broke down off the coast of New England and was towed into Portsmouth and later Boston, by the US Coast Guard. Bales of marijuana were claimed to be on board. The ship was held and then disposed of in a highly irregular and probably illegal manner by a US Customs officer over a holiday period. The legal owners remained the company in Panama and the Government of Panama and Lloyds continued to accept the genuine ownership of the vessel as being in Panama.

A man by the name of Frank Ganter then took physical possession of the ship and resold it to Weiner under the changed name of MV "Litchfield" — remember, its true name was "Lichfield I". Weiner defaulted and Weiner's friend Feraro then made another attempt to take it over, and then both this friend and Weiner laundered the fake ownership of the ship through a number of bogus companies that did not exist. Weiner then renamed the ship yet again after his ex-wife Sarah. A one hundred and three foot tall aerial mast was installed in September 1986. During spring 1987, a 5,000 pound surplus battleship anchor was purchased. On 20th July 1987, with the help of an offshore supply vessel Ganter then towed the bogus "Sarah" out to sea as a broadcasting ship reregistered illegally in Honduras due to another Weiner fraud. The "Sarah" was taken via Cape Cod canal to her anchorage, about four and a half miles off Long Island, New York. On board at the time were John M. Calabro, Pete Cipriano, Ivan Rothstein, Randi Steele (operations manager) and Weiner himself. After twelve hours, the Sarah was 3.5 miles off Long Island and the 5,000 pound anchor was dropped. The transmissions were started on 23rd July 1987.

  Just a few days later, on 28th July, the United States Coast guard and the FCC mounted a joint venture against "Radio New York International". Quite early, at 5:30 hours, the coast guard cutter Cape Horn was along side the "Sarah" and members of the coast guard illegally boarded the ship. FCC field agent Judah Masbach boarded the "Sarah" at gunpoint. Allan Weiner, Ivan Rothstein and a press reporter from the Village Voice newspaper were handcuffed and left in the sun for six hours while the studio and transmitters were dismantled. The former US Customs mess that began this saga had created a hot potato for US Customs, and this in turn resulted in Weiner gaining repossession of the ship — via Ganter — once again. During the following months, the "Sarah" underwent extensive refitting in Boston harbour.
4 The Principality of "Sealand". A year later, on 16th July 1988, the "Sarah" attempted to leave harbour, but was prevented by the coast guard. A Port order was served against the ship. Four days later, the "Sarah" left Boston harbour; just after midnight the ship anchored four miles off Long Beach, Long Island, New York. It was the second time that Weiner tried his "RNI" broadcasts from the fake "Sarah". He did so after coming to England and meeting with Chris Edwards of the OEM magazine, at an Offshore rally in Blackpool. Here Weiner learned that a former wartime fort, seven miles off Felixstowe, was usurped by the Bates family and turned into a separate country. They called the 930 square metre platform by the name of Sealand and had simply declared it a sovereign state ruled by Prince Roy Bates and his wife, Joan.
  Weiner took the opportunity by setting up another scam with Roy Bates' son Michael to use another bogus company set up by Bates in London, to sell airtime for Bates and his fake "Sealand", while registering the fake "Sarah" in the fake "Sealand". To get the fake ship out of Boston harbour this second time, Weiner claimed that it was now a Maine registered pleasure boat used for inland fishing on lakes. Weiner had actually bought a $4 fishing license for this purpose from the Parks Department in his home state of Maine. This silly bit of paper, however, allowed the US to bypass the "Sealand" nonsense after James Murphy — claiming to represent the UK Official Solicitor as an Investigator on behalf of the DTI — was called in to testify that "Sealand" and Bates were frauds.
  So the US prosecuted Weiner for using a $4 US registered inland fishing boat — the fake "Sarah" — for his second attempt. On 17th October the FCC asked district Judge John J. McNought to issue a temporary restraining order forbidding broadcasts to be made, because Weiner was broadcasting from a US ship without a US broadcasting license! That same day, at 22:00 hours, US officials on board of a coast guard cutter attempted to serve the restraining order. Permission to board the "Sarah", however, was refused. The captain told the US Coastguard that the London firm had registered the radio ship in the Principality of Sealand. However, soon after this incident, the transmissions stopped because of financial problems. In December, the "Sarah" was taken to Charleston, where she stayed for a long time. All in all, the offshore radio station "Radio New York International" had transmitted its programmes from the international waters off Long Island, New York for a very short time: from 23rd to 28th July 1987 and from 15th to 18th October 1988.
5 Photo right: MGM movie poster of "Blown Away" (1994)

The second phase. While the "Sarah" was laying in Charleston, our group came in contact with Weiner. Of course, we were interested and Weiner succeeded in conning money out of Genie Baskir to support the vessel until he figured out what to do next, while misleading Baskir into believing the lie that he was the real owner of the real vessel — which of course he was not. Next, in 1990, Weiner "sold" what he did not own the fake "Sarah" to MPLX — Genie Baskir, Paul John Lilburne-Byford and others — via a contract written by Grey Pierson. Weiner went to Texas — which is where Baskir lived before moving to Virginia — for that purpose and even stayed with her. Pierson also wrote a second contract to take care of the ship in Boston. Again, Weiner told Pierson and MPLX that he owned the vessel free and clear.

MPLX first attempted to use the vessel as "MPLX Radio Tiananmen", then, due to US opposition to the China movement, MPLX planned to use the ship as the base for "Wonderful Radio London", and to this end two British companies were formed and registered by Paul John Lilburne-Byford and his brother to handle the operation which was not intended to be a pirate but a commercial rival to the BBC World Service — as it was in 1990, not as it is now. One UK company name was based on the WCRL call letters: Worldwide Community Radio London, Ltd., and the other was Radlon Sales, Ltd — the same name as the original WRL London office in the 1960s.

  Repeated attempts were made to get the paperwork for the ship from Weiner. Weiner of course did not have any, and so he lied and stalled and lied and stalled while conning money out of MPLX. But, in the meantime MPLX found that it could not move the ship because there was no genuine paperwork, and in the middle of this confusion Ganter and Weiner took the vessel and, in 1993, sold it yet again to a subsidiary of MGM — after taking off the broadcasting equipment and sticking it on another ship, the MV "Fury". Before Genie Baskir could act, MGM had stripped the real ship to the hull, built on a plywood top deck for the Stephen Hopkins' movie Blown Away (1994), renamed this fake wooden contraption as MV "Dolphin", and then blew it up. It was Genie Baskir who then worked with the US authorities to seize and hold the MV "Fury" with its stolen broadcasting equipment cargo from leaving US waters, and to that end she was very successful.
  The US Justice Department, caught in a bind over all of this illegality, which began with US officials selling the stolen ship "Lichfield I", then sued the broadcasting equipment on board this other ship (the MV "Fury"), but they did not sue Weiner — nor the ship itself. Instead, they took a legal "In Rem" action against "any and all broadcasting equipment located in and on the ("Fury"). After grabbing the "Fury", the US Justice Department then used bully tactics to push out all claims by Baskir and her group to the broadcasting equipment, and then they destroyed the equipment before more questions could be asked.
6 Continuing legal disputes. This is the true history of these events involving Weiner, and the frauds committed by him, and the various and sundry crooks who have acted in conjunction with Weiner to swindle a lot of people. Weiner, for instance, had also conned John Hungerford and his father — and some of Hungerford's friends — to invest in his first scam "RNI" project. It was John Hungerford — who was John Ford on Radio Caroline's MV "Ross Revenge" — who assisted Weiner. Hungerford knew nothing of the scam as such, although he was used by Weiner to obtain a fake Honduras registration for the fake MV "Sarah" to enable its first trip to sea. Hungerford was not involved with the second attempt, but his friend Josh Hayle was then duped into becoming the unpaid "captain" of the bogus "Sealand" vessel on the second attempt. Weiner had first met Hungerford on the North Sea when he came out with short-wave transmitting equipment to the dismay of Peter Chicago, who — we are told — later dumped Weiner's work.
  That, in a nutshell, is the complicated and ill-fated story of WRLI and WWCR. Of course there is much more to this story including hours of recordings which still exist, and in between WRLI and WWCR came my political programs on the "Four Freedoms World Service" (4FWS) which were rebroadcast on several land based transmitters. Legal action in this matter against Weiner is not yet over, and all of that is being handled by Genie Baskir personally, in Virginia, USA. And, since 1994, MPLX-BBC's is still in dispute with Sealand, claiming compensation from the mini-state because of the absurd "Sealand" registration of the "Sarah", which in actual fact was a ship already registered in Panama and known as the MV "Lichfield I". This is factual. Having worked with John Burch and Chris England on an investigation into the real ownership of the MV "Ross Revenge", in which Panama had exposed a Radio Caroline fraud and turned over a case file of documents, I used these same contacts with Panama to obtain the real records of the MV "Lichfield I".
   
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  See also: (in Dutch): Hans Knot (2003), "De wonderlijke geruchten over Radio London van 1984. De wilde verhalen van John England." In: Soundscapes, 2003, 5; and: Paul John Lilburne-Byford (2003), "Occupation: Wonderful Radio London. Open letter to the Insolvency Service of Southend-on-Sea, Essex." In: Soundscapes, 2003, 5.
  2003 © Soundscapes