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volume 6
december 2003

A ring antenna for Radio Capital

 





  The great Tim Thomason interview (part 1)
by Jelle Knot
Previous
  In the 1960s Tim Thomason and his wife Berthe Beydals initiated the International Broadcast Society. Backed by investor Dirk de Groot and his friends, the IBS realised the plan to start an offshore radio station in the North Sea. To this end two companies were formed — the Kangaroo Pioneering Company and the Salt Water Foundation — and two ships were acquired — the MV "Zeevaart," renamed into "King David," and the tender "Twee Gezusters," renamed into "Kangaroo." The "King David" was equipped with a strange but revolutionary circular antenna. On May 1, 1970, Radio Capital aired its first test programmes. The adventure didn't last long. That very same year, on November 10, the MV "King David" broke adrift and ran ashore near Noordwijk. Recently Jelle Knot met Thomason at his home in Elisabethgaarde, Bussum — where Capital's studios were situated in the 1970's — and asked him how it all started ...
 
1 Left: the MV "King David" in Zaandam harbour (photo: Rob Olthof)

Jelle Knot: As a born Canadian, Tim, what brought you to the Netherlands?

Tim Thomason: I came to the Netherlands in 1960 to work on the Wereldomroep, the Dutch World Service, English department. Before that time I was on the radio in Ottawa, Canada. I was also a radio journalist. In the Netherlands I ended up with Capital Radio as my own project; it was an idealistic project, it wasn't completely done for the money.

2 Jelle Knot: In our archives we found something — the first reference dates back to 1965 — regarding the Global Reference Work. Can you tell us something more about it?
  Tim Thomason: During my stay at the Wereldomroep, I was invited by the then managing director to investigate the usefulness of the Wereldomroep. To my regret, I was very naïve, not politically correct: I said what I thought to be the truth. I wouldn't do that again. I arrived at the conclusion, that the Wereldomroep as an enterprise had no reason to exist. I thought that, except for children, nobody really was listening to the station — people only listened to receive QSL-cards. I didn't make a secret of my conclusion. I gave the report to the managing director, and he was furious about it. We had a huge argument, and the result was that I established a society on the international level, the International Broadcasting Society, aiming at assembling broadcasting companies over the whole world as professionals. It was not a political thing: there were Russians, the then Eastern Block and Asian Countries who were, in those days, unfriendly towards the Western World. It was a professional association and it had two levels: companies could be members ... I won't exaggerate, because I don't have the figures anymore, but I think that we had about 100, 150 organizations that were members, amongst them companies in Africa, Latin America, Canada, Australia ... and next there individual members, probably more than 1,000 of them, all broadcasters.
3 Jelle Knot: Can we see, in the same light, the events in Czechoslovakia? You were very active, it seems, during the Prague Spring in 1968 ...
  Tim Thomason: Yes and no; we had quite a few members in Prague. When they wanted to leave Czechoslovakia because things went wrong there, they had evidence that they were allowed to go abroad to pay a visit to the International Broadcasting Society; in those days they had a legal cop-out to get a visa. Many people made use of that to leave the country.
4 Right: the MV "King David" in Zaandam harbour (photo: Rob Olthof)

Jelle Knot: I heard, the International Broadcasting Society was also presenting awards ...

Tim Thomason: Yes, the aim was to reward individuals, not companies, for their broadcasting contributions. Bull Verweij, and his two brothers, is also a hero in my eyes, for various reasons, not only because he has established Radio Veronica, it's more than that. When there were problems, with the bombing of the RNI transmitter ship, he took the responsibility, though he was not involved personally. I know that by coincidence. I won't give any names: the guy who performed the whole operation is a tricky guy, very intelligent. Verweij took the blame and went to prison. For that reason I very much respect him, as well as for what he did during World War II and afterwards. He had a criminal past and, after the war, he wasn't allowed to work for the bank anymore where he used to work. So he was more or less forced by his brothers to go working with them. OK, in the end everything turned out well, but it's all about the man. A first class man.

5 Jelle Knot: How did you get the idea to establish Capital Radio? Did you have specific intentions and did you think there was there a market for the station?
  Tim Thomason: I have to speak for myself, yes, I believed in it — if only we had been on the air for a longer period of time. We had a wad of contracts, mostly from religious and political circles; each wanted some time to broadcast. I have no objection against left wing, right wing, middle wing ... as for me, everyone is allowed some space on the airwaves. For me, it's not one against the other. In America, at the beginning of the 1970's, there were many churches with broadcasting companies and money to pay those broadcasting companies; amongst them the Baptists. Here in the Netherlands we had Toornvliet. In those days we were still building up, we weren't ready yet to do business and acquire contracts.
6 Jelle Knot: The ideal of the organization was that radio had to be made in an attractive way, without influence from above ...
  Tim Thomason: Yes, where the public clearly has a say in programming. I had specific ideas from experience, I came from the broadcasting world, I was completely against the Dutch system, I found it incorrect ... it had to be more American-Canadian. I think, particularly of FM, the public broadcasting system, that it was all right, but difficult to sustain financially ... but, right, that was good. One doesn't have to become rich, to have too many staff, like here in the Netherlands. Radio has to be made by a small group reacting immediately to the public's wishes. If the public wants classical music, it has to get classical music, if it wants more pop, it has to get that. In our days, the 1970's, there wasn't sweet music anymore, only pop. I found it appalling; in my eyes there wasn't music anymore. Thus by programming American country and western music, Latin American music again, the station became enormously popular.
7 Left: the MV "King David" in Zaandam harbour (photo: Rob Olthof)

Jelle Knot: The station even aired classical music on a Sunday!

Tim Thomason: Yes, and not only on a Sunday, but certainly on a Sunday. And I was popular. When we went down, the great drama on the sea at Noordwijk ... who were our supporters? They came in bus loads. The Red Cross was there, with all staff working there, the police, the fire brigade; they were all there to say: "We enjoyed it, keep on, maybe you can be back on the air very soon." It was amazing to see the reactions to our trials and tribulations. We weren't doing better than Radio Veronica. They did their their thing and we did ours. They reached for their audience, and that was nice for us because we hadn't to do it. We ploughed another field.

8 Jelle Knot: The MV "Zeevaart" had been lying at the quayside in Groningen for years before you bought her. How did you find this particular ship? At the time you were searching in England too for a good ship to sail out.
  Tim Thomason: The "Kangaroo" was a small trawler from Katwijk; we bought her, not as a radio ship, but as a tender, for fuel and so on. That was the first ship, but later, from Groningen, we acquired the "Zeevaart," formerly the "Tiny Unitas Veritas." The ship had been build in the 1930's, she was a coaster. Used by the Germans during the war, she had been rather seriously damaged by the Allied aircraft. The former owner, ship owner Van Bruggen, went bankrupt. The ship was offered to us by a shipbroker ... we had various possibilities. There was a nearly new, but sunken ship off Delfzijl; she too had been offered. She hadn't been too long under water — a week or so ... salt does little harm to a ship providing she's handled quickly — and the main engine too could be salvaged if cleaned quickly. Unfortunately she had been impounded, thus I didn't buy her. That's the only reason why I haven't bought her. The price was only fl. 7,000. Later on, I was really sorry I didn't buy the ship: for the ship that we did buy, we had to pay fl. 70,000. In those days that was a lot of money and she wasn't equipped yet. Later on, we invested yet quite a lot more money in the ship ...
9 Jelle Knot: The ship sails out of Groningen, and then bad luck strikes for the first time. Murphy's law definitely was exerting its power over this ship!
  Tim Thomason: Quite right. We had bought that ship in Groningen. She had to go through the canal to Delfzijl, and then to the sea. On the way to Delfzijl, I had a pilot on board and he rammed the lock. That's right.
10 Right: The MV "Zeevaart" at the Oosterhamrikkade Groningen (photo: Freewave Magazine)

Jelle Knot: Just off the coast the captain had to leave the ship.

Tim Thomason: Yes, he was so frightened, and he was responsible, because he was the captain, but it wasn't his fault ... He went to pieces after the accident.

Jelle Knot: The story goes that he had appendicitis ...

Tim Thomason: Indeed, that's what he said at the time, it might be right; it doesn't matter, he was on the verge of a breakdown.

11 Jelle Knot: Then you went to Zaandam where the ship was equipped. In the dock new plates were put on the hull. The ship was not in a bad state, it was just an old ship. The necessary amount of concrete was poured into the ship to give it steadiness on the high seas. Which technical facilities were built then? Where there already studios on board or were the programs recorded on land?
  Tim Thomason: Two emergency studios were built ... In case a message had to be send from sea to land or vice versa. But in fact ... all we did ... have you ever heard Capital Radio? It was a middle of the road music station. I didn't want to have deejays, no shouting guys or girls or whatsoever. Just music and a time signal every hour. My wish for it was to be 100% accurate. And it was. You get fifteen minutes of uninterrupted music, then the name of the station in different languages: "Here Capital Radio." That was it. The aim was to sell blocks of fifteen, thirty minutes, one hour to the financial backers, in which they could give their message to the audience ... but only restricted messages, not an hour of blablablabla. It had to be music.
12 Left: Capital Studios in Bussum (photo: Martin Stevens)

Jelle Knot: At the start, there was only one pair of emergency studios?

Tim Thomason: (showing some pictures of the ship) Here, at the right, we had recording studio's, two. We had a fairly large record library, because every music producer saw to it that his records were delivered to the station. The collaboration with the commercial world was excellent; we were willing to pay all costs to Buma / Stemra, the Dutch Music Copyright / Performing Rights, but we had no intention of keeping records in order to justify every minute of the day, and they didn't care, as long as we were willing to pay. We had made a deal to pay a particular sum.

13 Jelle Knot: While the ship was being equipped, were there any signals from the authorities, letting you know that they were aware of what was going on and that they intended to take action against it?
  Tim Thomason: We're talking about two countries, the Netherlands and Great Britain; the Dutch government had no objection to pirate ships, because our enterprise had nothing to do with the Dutch laws. The ship was registered in Liechtenstein; we were the one and only offshore station airing from a Liechtenstein ship. And furthermore, as long as we didn't do it in the Netherlands, it was OK. The British had another opinion, but they too have a kink in their law. For a device to be named as a transmitter, it must have a crystal. As long as it's an electronic device without a crystal, for the British it wasn't a transmitter. I bought the old apparatus of Radio 270, I bought two brand new generators with the diesel in England, I collected them with our "Kangaroo," and then we sailed to Aberdeen.
  The English didn't like it, they damn well knew what we did, we made no secret of it, but we had no crystal on board ... the good crystal had been smuggled to the Netherlands. That was a funny story. The crystal came from the RCA 10kW transmitter, the crystal had the shape of a dildo, and you can imagine where you had to use it. That makes it exciting and funny, we were laughing continuously. The English impounded us, with the aim to make it impossible for us to sail out, and at first they succeeded because the only thing that was faulty with us, was the fact that we had no rocket line ... and there was a shortage of fire extinguishers. So we bought everything on the spot. Don't forget that we had capital backing us at that time ... it was fairly easy to buy out and, still all laughing, we sailed out of the harbour, to great anger of the British.
14 Right: The MV "King David" at sea

Jelle Knot: It has been said that initially the Kangaroo Pioneering Company had a shareholder capital of one million guilders with Dirk de Groot as major shareholder. Who was that man?

Tim Thomason: Dirk de Groot was a capitalist. In those days he dealt in metal: the Mississipi Trade and Investment Company. The Kangaroo Company too belonged to him, he owned several companies; he was my age, now 67, in those days around 40. He was adventurous, an honest man, very honest in every respect. He supported the idea of Capital Radio and he was ready to put a considerable amount of money on the table. My wife too, Berthe Beydals, had put the family fortune in it, and she lost it. I wasn't worth anything, I was only a broadcaster. A broadcaster and brains.

15 Jelle Knot: A special construction had been made to finance the whole enterprise. The International Broadcasting Society would pay a certain sum to the Liechtenstein enterprise. What about that? Was there already a shortage of money, even before the station came on the air on the May 1, 1970?
  Tim Thomason: Yes, that's when we got an additional financial injection of Mister de Groot ... Not only him, for he represented a lot of people who were, we can't say too stupid, but still ... There are people who have money and want to invest it themselves. Mister de Groot was such a man, who liked to do it himself ... And while he was doing it very well, supporters, let's call them parasites, came to him saying: "Dirk, help me, I've too much money!" So he helped them out with their investments.
16 Jelle Knot: The "Zeevaart," the later "King David," with its weight of 359 tons, had only been used for coastal navigation to Scandinavia in parts of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Was the ship fit to ride the North Sea lying at anchor, where the sea is much more rough?
  Tim Thomason: That's a good question. I'm not a seaman ... of course I have some experience; but not enough to say it as an old sea captain. I presume that the ship was large enough.
17 Left: The MV "King David" on the beach in 1970 (photo: Rob Olthof)

Jelle Knot: The ship was 43 meters long, 7 meters wide, with a draught of nearly 3 meters. For the antenna installation a very special construction had been chosen: a ring antenna, with all kinds of problems involved. It had to be folded, while sailing through the harbour, and so on. What was the advantage of this antenna, offshore? How is the polarization of such an antenna?

Tim Thomason: Remember that we were an idealistic group, not only in the sense of broadcasting our music ... I have to give a broad answer ... Our crew composition, for instance ... we had a mixture of men and women, we were in those days in favour of a mixed crew, half women, half men. That was one of our little breakthroughs. The ring antenna ... we had in our group of the International Broadcasters Society some BBC-engineers who were wildly enthusiastic about specific technical developments. The law in Europe stipulates ... they regulate who has the frequencies, they restrict that very strongly to avoid competition ... we said, that's all bullshit, that isn't really necessary, you can also have a city radio that can broadcast on low power with high quality, in FM or AM, technically spoken that can be very easy on very low power.

  Prove it, everybody says, well, we did it. The ring antenna had the following advantages: with an AM-broadcast you get nearly FM quality within a certain distance; quality was super, really good. We used a 10kW transmitter, but we used less than 1kW; energy saving, good broadcasting power, all possible thanks to the ring. The broadcasting radius was limited, I have to admit that. As you're on the high seas, however, that is no problem. Five kilometres off the coast of Noordwijk, we could easily cover a large part of Zeeland, Rotterdam, Den Haag up till Amsterdam, somewhat more north maybe. In that area reception was good. In England on the East Coast reception was good as well. That was from the high seas, however. If we had been on land, the limitations would have been far much greater. In political terms, though, that means that it would be interesting for a city such as Utrecht, for instance, to use a ring antenna with low power that could be covering the whole city.
18 Jelle Knot: You could broadcast with only 500 milliWatt?
  Tim Thomason: That is to say ... that has to be tested ... that was part of our message. We wanted to prove that a ring antenna, as developed by the BBC, could be made to work. Besides, there was the fact that both transmitters on 270 meter couldn't give interference, because the one was far away in the north of Norway, the other one the south, in Italy.
19 Right: The wreck of the MV "King David" used as a warehouse at Heerwaarden in the Betuwe (photo: Karel Gerbers)

Jelle Knot: When things went wrong with the antenna ... why did they keep on trying to use that ring antenna over and over again? Why did they not just simply put up a normal mast on the ship?

Tim Thomason: The problems we experienced were not electronic problems. They purely were engineering problems: the ring was too slack, soft, or light, you name it. It had to be able to go up and down rigidly. That's were the problem was. The last time we went to sea, it went good, even during the storm. The initial structure was wrong.

20 Jelle Knot: So the idea was good and the realisation faulty. Now, let's go to the May 1, 1970. At that date, Capital Radio aired its test transmissions using some BBC World Service tapes. The station also used the well-known opening of Beethoven's Symphony Nr. 5 c-Moll Opus 67.
  Tim Thomason: As I said before, we had BBC engineers ... I have no idea where the tapes came from. In respect to the Beethoven Symphony: don't forget, we felt like freedom fighters ... we had the impression that the whole world was against us. Well, Winston Churchill was such a fighter as well, and every Englishman knew the opening of this symphony: "ta-ta-ta-tam" was "V" in Morse code, with "V" standing for "Victory." It was used by the BBC in World War II and at the time it meant tremendously much for people. Today it doesn't mean anything, it has become just a little bit of Beethoven music ...
21 Jelle Knot: Initially, it was said there was no interference. Then the ship is offshore, broadcasting, and all of a sudden the PTT — the Dutch GPO — says that there is interference. Was this a political inspired move or was the station really interfering with other stations?
  Tim Thomason: I don't know. The PTT never came to me with that story. And, we were always in official contact, with other broadcasting companies as well. Officially they were against us, but unofficially they had enormous respect for what our people did. The PTT never complained and there has never been any serious interference, as far as I know.
   
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  Translated by Boudewijn Dom; look here for the second part of this interview.
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