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volume 6
january 2004

The wet and wild history of Radio Caroline


by Hans Knot
  On March 27, 1964, the offshore station Radio Caroline started its transmissions from the former MV Fredericia. Nowadays, the station still can be heard by way of internet and satellite. The forty year history of Radio Caroline is characterized by countless ups and downs, each worth memorising — as will be done on these pages. Here Hans Knot introduces this series of a full twenty-five articles.
Next Right: Ronan O'Rahilly, the charismatic owner and initiator of Radio Caroline

Now forty years ago, the offshore station Radio Caroline came on the air for the very first time. The programs were aired from the MV Fredericia, renamed into the MV Caroline. Nowadays, the programs transmitted in the very first weeks — from Eastern, March 27th 1964, on — may seem as dull as most contemporary programs on the usual land-based British and Dutch radio stations. At the time, however, the avid listeners to the station didn't notice that at all, as Radio Caroline aired a lot of music that was completely new to them. At that time the station was playing mostly Top 50 records, while giving special attention to unknown artists and new record companies. During hours when housewives were a major part of the audience, light music was also played. There also was more chatting and conversation going on than people used to hear on other stations. The deejays enjoyed the freedom to pick their own choice of music. For these reasons, Radio Caroline seemed fresh and new. Only later I did learn that in those early days a considerable part of the program had been taped at an earlier date.

Next Left: Transmitter-reach Caroline North

Soon after the first transmissions, the MV Caroline was joined by a second ship — the MV Mi Amigo, a ship that was used before by the Swedish station Radio Nord — to start pop radio, Radio Atlanta. Atlanta hit the airwaves on May 9. However, though the ships were initially rivals, there was much to link them — particularly the fact that they had both been equipped at the port of Greenore in Southern Ireland. Behind the scenes talks were going on to make the links stronger. In fact, a merger took place in July of the same year, and a little while later the MV Caroline steamed off to the Isle of Man, 3.5 miles off Ramsey, to tap an as yet untouched audience as Caroline North. The MV Mi Amigo, now housing Radio Caroline South, stayed at its place at 3.5 miles off Frinton, Essex. Together both stations reached a large audience: for Caroline North it was Ireland and the larger parts of Scotland and Northern England; for Caroline South, next to Southern England it was the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Eastern Germany and even large parts of France, Spain and Portugal.

Next Right: Transmitter-reach Caroline South

Led by the charismatic and idealistic Ronan O'Rahilly, Radio Caroline continued for four long years, till the station was forced to close down in March 1968 because of financial problems. Surprising even its most loyal fans, in September 1972 the station returned for a second time, now airing its programs from the Mi Amigo. The format turned towards impressive high energy radio and, just as the LP was becoming the main medium for pop and rock music, good FM-music. The sinking of this ship in March 1980 meant the end of the second period of the station. Radio Caroline, however, came back for yet another period. Between August 9, 1983, and November 24, 1987, the station could be heard by the very strong transmitters of the MV Ross Revenge. When, due to bad weather, the mast collapsed into the North Sea, it seemed the end had finally come. Still, the crew succeeded in repairing the areals and the programs continued till August 19, 1989, when Dutch and British authorities boarded the vessel and stripped it of all equipment. Yet, driven by sweat and enthusiasm, for a short period, till November 6, 1990, the programs continued under names like Caroline 319/963, Caroline 576, Caroline 585, Caroline 558, Caroline 819, Jamming 963, Viewpoint 963/819, Caroline Overdrive and The 819 Overnight Alternative. On November 19, 1991, due to a heavy storm the Ross Revenge grounded on the Goodwin Sands.

Next Left: The MV Caroline hosting Caroline North, 3.5 miles off Ramsey, Isle of Man

During these second and third periods Radio Caroline was helped by a host of fans, organized in the Caroline Organisation. For one thing, the organisation succeeded in recuperating the miraculously salvaged Ross Revenge. After a real odyssey — the ship went from Dover to places like Kent and Essex — the vessel now lies in Rochester. During the 1990s the organisation again helped Peter Moore, station manager since 1987, to run several 28-day transmissions by way of a RSL, a Restricted Service Licence. That is what I've once called Radio Caroline's fourth period. In the meantime we even have entered a fifth episode. Since 1998 the UK organisation is transmitting programs by way of satellite. In the Netherlands, Radio Caroline returned on January 26, 2002, with programs distributed on the cable networks of Essent and Cogas in the Northern parts of the country. The station had to stop its transmissions on February 18, 2003 due to financial problems. However, up till this day the UK branch of the Caroline organization is still airing its programs by way of internet and satellite.

Next Right: Nowadays station manager Peter Moore

In all those forty years many things happened to the station and its ships. Lots of things have been written down through the years about Radio Caroline and Offshore Radio in general, but many more still wait for the patient hand that will describe them. I'm proud that I've contributed by writing more than 35 books on the subject, featuring a lot of the stations. I was lucky to be allowed to write for a lot of magazines who were willing to publish my articles over the past decades. Therefore I want to give a big thank to all the editors who gave me the chance to publish my pieces all those years. As a result, I now have written thousands of pages and I thought it would be good to return to some of those: memories I did or didn't share up till now about Radio Caroline.

Next Left: The MV Mi Amigo, grounded at Holland Haven (1966)

Next to my own documentation, this series comprises the accounts of many former Caroline-people, like the Emperor Rosko, Roger Day, Johnny Lewis, Paul Rusling, Steve Young, Herbert Visser, Leen Vingerling( tendering), Frits Koning, Ad Roberts, Bob Leroi, John Ford, Steve Conway, Phil Mitchell and Stuart Dobson. A paper version of the whole project has been published by the SMC, Amsterdam — information of how to order this book can be found at the web site of Stichting Media Communicatie. The series starts with an article I wrote way back in 1989, when Caroline was 25 years of age, telling about the start of the station's second period. But, before taking you back to September 1972 in the first issue of this Caroline series, I want to say a big "thank you" to Peter Moore. Not only for the long evenings we had together drinking some fine red wine and a few good beers, but also for the work he and his fellow people have done since he came in charge of the Caroline organization.

  Look here for the index of this series
  2004 © Soundscapes