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volume 9
february 2007

Bon Jour, Magda Maria and Mi Amigo

 





  The changing names and destinations of a radio ship
by Hans Knot
Previous
  For over a year the "Bon Jour" served as a radio ship for the Swedish offshore station Radio Nord. The organisation, however, stopped airing their programs on June 30, 1962. That same year, in October, the ship anchored off in the North Sea. About one-and-a-half year later, on April 27, 1964 the ship, now renamed into "Mi Amigo," anchored in international waters near the coast of Frinton-on-Sea as the home base of Radio Atlanta. In-between these dates, as Hans Knot shows, the ship's destiny was surrounded by a lot of rumours.
 
1 The MV Magda Maria anchored next to Veronica's Borkum Riff (1962)

A new colour and a new name. Radio Nord became part of Sweden's radio history when the station started beaming its programs on the 495 metres from international waters on February 21, 1961. The station aired a commercial radio program for 24 hours a day for over a year, to be precise till June 30, 1962. Publications about the station never forget to mention that at that date Radio Nord's radio ship "Bon Jour" left the Baltic Sea and next was heading out for the North Sea. Almost always, it is also dutifully reported that the ship arrived in El Ferrol, Spain, on August 2, 1962. But, what were the whereabouts of the radio ship later that same year? And, what happened to the ship before it was renamed into the MV "Mi Amigo"?

  Early October 1962, Dutch newspapers mentioned there was yet another radio ship anchored not far away from the "Borkum Riff," at that time the radio ship of Radio Veronica. The ship was identified as the former Radio Nord vessel "Bon Jour," now repainted in the new colour of a soft green, which had stopped her programming off the Swedish coast due to a law brought in against offshore radio. Research done at the time also brought the news that a new registration had been made for the ship at the Lloyds offices in London. The ship now went under the name of "Magda Maria." An industrious journalist even hired a small boat to visit the "Magda Maria" and reported that there were nine persons aboard: one Swedish radio technician and eight people from Poland. The captain had also told him that the ship was only temporarily anchored off the Dutch coast and that it would soon steam up for New York.
  That was all the Polish captain had to say. The man categorically refused to give any further information about the identity of the people aboard the radio ship and even less about its owners or those interested to buy it. Still, rumours were floating around as yet another newspaper wrote that not only a party of Belgian business people were interested in the ship but also one coming from Holland. Meanwhile, the transmitters on the former Radio Nord ship were not used off the Dutch coast and the Dutch transmitting authority PTT announced that as long as transmitters were switched off, an official visit to the ship would be left aside.
2 Advert for Radio Atlanta (click on the image for a larger view)

The Veronica connection. A few days later the newspapers brought the news that in the near future the vessel probably would be used by the Veronica organisation as a television ship. Veronica director Verweij, however, publicly denounced any contacts whatsoever between his organisation and the Swedish owners of the ship. Veronica, he continued, also had no plans for television transmissions from the North Sea. To this he ambiguously added: "If we would like to start commercial television we would need a far bigger ship than the "Bon Jour"." Indeed, Veronica was in fact toying with the idea of an offshore television station, but not in relation to the former Radio Nord vessel. Nor did the organisation want to voice its plans too loud. And, neither did Veronica plan to use the "Magda Maria."

  The reason Verweij wanted to keep silent about his television plans was that Veronica worked under a British certificate. He clearly disliked the idea of his name becoming attached to yet another renown radio ship. To him as to many others it was unknown what the authorities held in sway for the ship. The journalist, however, was a professional and he overwhelmed the unnamed ship's captain with a lot of other questions. The man told him that at least one Dutch person had shown interest in the ship and even had been aboard the "Magda Maria" with the aim to purchase the former Bon Jour. "He hadn't too much information about the reasons why his backers wanted to buy the ship and we will keep our mouth shut as much as possible, as we promised this to our bosses." The captain forwarded all other questions to the shipping agency: "Our shipping agency is Mr. Dirkzwager at Maassluis and he can eventually deal with people interested."
  More news followed on October 18, 1962, when some Dutch newspapers brought a totally different story. Now they reported that the ship had been sold to the government of Cuba with the aim to transmit propaganda programs off the American coast. One of the newspapers, however, had traced down the interested but still anonymous Dutch person. Asked for his comment about the Cuban project, he said: "That's ridiculous. I've been aboard the ship just a few days ago and I've told the owners that I'm very interested to buy the ship and rebuild it as a competitor to Radio Veronica. And if that's not a successful enterprise, I would take a second try off the British Coast."
  The Dutchman also told that he directly had contacted the owner of the former "Bon Jour," whose name was given to him by the ship's agent Mr. Dirkzwager. "He gave me the name of this person in Germany and that guy told me the ship was for sale, completely with transmitter and equipment, for 350.000 Dutch guilders. I replied him on the phone that this price was too high, but that we were willing to start a cooperative station with the owners." The unknown Dutchman clearly had plans with the ship. The mysterious owners, however, decided otherwise.
3 Radio Atlanta rating card (click on the image for a larger view)

The Ostend episode. A day later, October 19, 1962, they ordered the captain to leave the anchor position and, reportedly, to head for Spain. The radio ship, they declared, was drawing too much attention in the press. The ship, however, did not return to Spain. Only two days later, a local newspaper from Ostend, Belgium, reported that the "Magda Maria" now had entered the harbour of this town. To this they added some information of the ship's past, by telling that the ship for some years had transmitted radio programs to the people in "Denmark," but that the owners now had stopped to prevent actions against the station because of a new Swedish law against offshore radio.

It took almost a month before the Belgian newspaper again wrote about the ship. On November 16, 1962, the paper reported that a mysterious phone call had come in that within four weeks the "Magda Maria" would be the home base for transmissions aimed at a Flemish public and that TV transmissions would follow as soon as February 1963. The journalist from the newspaper found out the ship's agency was now attended by Ruys and Company in Zeebrugge and that the ship was owned by Deco Company from Liechtenstein. A spokesman for this company declared that no plans or propositions would be issued to the press and that the Polish captain as well as the crew members were ordered to keep silent as much as possible.

  Again, some days later, the Dutch press brought the news that a Dutch and two American people had shown interest in buying the ship. Two names, an English and a Dutch one: "Weaver" and "De Jong," were revealed. Asked about his plans, the latter confirmed the rumours about a new offshore station for a Flemish audience. He stated that within weeks the ship's papers would lay ready in a foreign country and that the ship would anchored off the Flemish coast. Transmissions would start at FM as well as AM with 605 on the dial as the first to start. "The radio ship is in a very good condition," he said, "and it can find a position off the coast on its own power. We have a lot of American money involved and the new station can become a huge European success."
  Only two days later, however, yet another Flemish newspaper denied all these statements. The ship was only in Ostend, it said, for a short overhaul. "An international agreement tells," this paper wrote, "that every ship, whether it is a radio ship or a normal cargo ship, should get an overall maintenance overhaul every two years. This was the only reason the "Magda Maria" was in Ostend. First it was tried to get the maintenance done in Hamburg. There was no place then in the harbour and above that the prices were too high." Strangely enough Dutch newspaper Telegraaf reported that due to financial problems the owners would possible go for the option scrap in Spain, as the future was economically to unsafe.
4 Mr. Bob Thompson from Texas, USA

The French connection. Still the rumours that the vessel again would serve as a radio ship kept going. Early December 1962 it was written that the former "Bon Jour," would be heading for America where the radio ship would be used as a base for a radio station called KRKU in Houston. Only a day later, however, Het Laatste Nieuws (The Latest News) reported the radio ship would be anchored off the French coast to start transmissions on December 18th. "The station can be received within a radius of 360 kilometres. The ship now has two AM-transmitters, each 10kW and the aerial system is 42 metres while the "Magda Maria" is now registered in Panama."

This new plan for the ship somehow seemed to be confirmed when it was discovered that the Deco Company from Liechtenstein was run by a Mr. Thompson from Texas, USA. When a journalist contacted the company, a spokesman told the astonished journalist that the ship was sold to a very rich Englishman, a Mr. Burmann, who purportedly had paid 15 million Belgian Francs for the radio ship, including all of the equipment. He added that Burmann had been the co-owner of "Radio Normandy" in the 1930's. In those days Burmann had signed the Convention of Kopenhagen, which — so the journalist dutifully reported — enabled him to still legally use a frequency.

  After that last message silence fell over the ship off the Dutch coast. Later on it became clear that the ship had left to sail across the Atlantic to the USA. It took almost a year before more was heard about the radio ship. Late 1963, the first short messages about the "Bon Jour" or "Magda Maria" appeared in the press. It was told the ship would go to the harbour of Greenore as it was bought by a British organisation, headed by Alan Crawford. After rebuilding the ship would become the home base of Radio Atlanta. This time the news was right. On April 27, 1964 the ship, now renamed into MV "Mi Amigo," anchors in international waters near the coast of Frinton on Sea.
5 Alan Crawford tells his story to the press (click on the image for the full text)

A new destination. On April 28, 1964, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, brought the news: "Radio Atlanta, the new commercial radio ship which has taken up station off Frinton-on-Sea Essex, expects its transmissions on 197 metre band to reach as far north as Durham and New Castle. It will be beamed particularly on an area from Bournemouth to the Wash. The ship, the MV "Mi Amigo," has a Dutch skipper. She was fitted out in Greenore Ireland and has a Panamanian flag. She is in fact the old Radio Nord, which was banned by the Swedish government under a law which say the sponsors of the present venture has since been deemed unconstitutional."

  "Soon a team of disc-jockeys," the paper continued, "will be broadcasting to 14 million listeners in Great Britain, it is claimed. Eventually transmissions throughout 24 hours a day are planned. 'We have talked to lawyers here and abroad,' said Alan Crawford, managing director of the company, 'and they also say is not illegal to listen to us and that, in their opinion we are not unauthorised." Due to bad weather conditions, Radio Atlanta officially started airing its programs on May 12, 1964. Only a few months later a merger took place with the Caroline organisation that brought yet another stations name to the ship's transmitters, "Radio Caroline South," but that's another story.
   
Previous
  More about this episode in the history of offshore radio can be found in: Hans Knot (1993), The history of offshore radio, 1907-1973. About pioneers, failures and thumbsuckers. Amsterdam: Foundation for Media Communication.
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