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volume 6
january 2004

More Caroline cut-outs: March 1968 - September 1972


  The wet and wild history of Radio Caroline (5)
by Hans Knot
  Next to thousands of newspaper cut-outs, in his archive Hans Knot fosters an impressive amount of diary notes about the state of offshore radio that he started to write down since 1964. In this contribution to our series on the forty-year history of Radio Caroline, he takes us through some of his notes scribbled down in the years between 1968 and 1972 — a period in which Radio Caroline was not on the air from her own ships.
1 Left: The MV Mi Amigo in Amsterdam Houthaven (1968)

Radio Caroline meets Radio Andorra. In March 1968, because of financial problems, Radio Caroline was forced to close-down. It would take four years before the station would return to the airwaves. In the meantime the "Sound of the Nation" could only be heard twice. The occcasion was a one-hour show on a foreign radio station, Radio Andorra. The second time was during the British elections in 1970, when the station was using the transmitters of the MEBO II in its campaign to back the Conservatives. In this case, in fact, there was only a name-change from RNI into Radio Caroline, as the name of the latter station was more familiar to the British public. Here's what I wrote in my radio diary in March 1969 about Radio Caroline's one-time visit to Radio Andorra:

"The Caroline Revival Hour was transmitted on Radio Andorra on 428 meters, which is 701 kHz. It happened on March 2, 1969, from midnight up till ten minutes past one. The programme was a commemoration of Radio Caroline, the offshore station that went off the air a year ago, when both its ships were towed away from international waters by some tugs hired by the tender company Wijsmuller. Reason was that the station owners had not paid their bills for tendering the MV Fredericia, anchored off the West Coast of England, as well as the MV Mi Amigo off the Eastern Coast. I've also heard that the programme was a test for eventual similar programmes in the future. It was first announced in Spanish, while the microphone later was handled by some Caroline deejays. I heard the voices of Don Allen, Bob Stewart, Bud Bullou, Bobby Dee and Stevie Merike."

  My diary continues:
  "In the Netherlands, the reception was very poor during the first twenty minutes. There was some interference originating from a German radio station, but later on the reception improved. The deejays took us back to the earlier days of Radio Caroline and they played many well-known records from those years. An air-check of the August 15 broadcast from Radio Caroline South was also played. I heard some adverts for the "Free Radio Association" and for some music magazines. In Disc and Music Echoes I read that similar programmes can be expected soon in the form of regular transmissions between midnight and four in the morning soon on Radio Andorra."
2 Right: The Caroline bus in London

The plans for Caroline TV. Radio Caroline, however, did not return on the frequency of Radio Andorra. Indeed, it would take some years before Radio Caroline would be back on the airwaves. It certainly was curious to read this memory back in my own handwriting. My words suggested that the station already had known a long history. At the time, however, Caroline had only been on the air for scarcely four years. To me, then, four years clearly were a long period of time and one must also not forget that in those years a lot had happened to the station. Now, we realize that this period was only ten percent of the actual lifetime of the station. The next item I found in my diary regarding Caroline dates back to April 1969:

"The Sunday Telegraph announced that there's a plan for a Beatles' plane. John Lennon and Yoko Ono have agreed to appear in a colour programme for a television station that will be broadcasting to Britain from an aircraft over the Irish Sea. Mr. Ronan O'Rahilly is the initiator and the station will go by the name of "Radio Caroline Television." A lot of show-business people have agreed to participate when the station gets on the air. Curiously, the station won't break any law. The broadcasts will be between six in the evening and three in the night the following day. Ronan O'Rahilly has bought two Super Constellations, each of which will be transmitting in turn. I read in the newspaper that the organisation is discussing some large contracts for advertising with a number of agencies. Most of the advertising will be bought and paid for outside Great Britain. Three countries have agreed to let the airplanes take off and land. The station's policy will be mainly light entertainment with an accent on old films. Also there will be a serious programme with reporters interviewing people on the streets. Invectives will not be censored."

  At the actual moment of writing this chapter, it's December 29th 2003. Today, I heard that Simon Dee will make his return to television today at Channel Four. So it's nice to see in my personal notes from September 1969 that he was already striving for the medium in 1969. Because at that time Simon Dee confessed to the press:
  "I am extremely flattered about the invitation to do a programme on Caroline TV and will consider joining Caroline TV very seriously. At the end of the year I will be a completely free agent. If Caroline TV has a normal, mature format, I see no reason why we should not be involved. I've heard it will be financed by overseas advertisements and the nerve centre will be in New York. But offices also will be opened in Switzerland and Holland. In the Bahamas is a co-backer, called George Drummond, who is only 26 years of age. Ronan told me that the prices for advertisements will be 300 Pounds for 30 seconds compared to the 5500 Pound on ITV."
  Now, thirty-five years later, we know that O'Rahilly's television plan was an ill-fated project, or better said, just one of the many dreams the Irishman had made up to stay in the publicity.
3 Left: The MV Mi Amigo on tow with Ronan O'Rahilly on deck

Visiting the ships. In the meantime, the former Caroline ships weren't doing particularly well. In my diary, I found these lines on the pages regarding September 1969:

"Both Caroline ships, the MV Mi Amigo and the MV Fredericia, are still lying in Amsterdam harbour and have been scavenged by thieves. Four tape machines and a television set have disappeared. The vessels are corroding under the influence of water and weather."

The water police, as I read in a newspaper, was now guarding the ships. It was stated that the ships were now owned by Kernan Corporation and Tesman Investments Inc from Panama with an address too in Liechtenstein. This company did not react on questions about their ownership. The newspaper reported that O'Rahilly had visited the ships in Amsterdam at least three times and it was rumoured that he wanted to bring at least one of the two ships back on the air again with Dutch and English programmes. There were also rumours that Mr. Abe Nathan could buy the complete equipment of the MV Mi Amigo for 450,000 dollars for his Voice of Peace project. The Voice of Peace ship, though, left for New York without the equipment.

  Abe Nathan, indeed, was in the Netherlands at that time. He had already bought his own ship, the MV "Cito," which was lying along the quayside of the Oosterhamrikkade in Groningen. For me, that was only a small distance of 150 meters away from where I lived at that time. With help from volunteers the ship was partly repainted in Groningen and later in Amsterdam. With help of Dutch citizens — who bought shares of the Peace Company — the ship set sail to New York. What has happened to the VOP is another story. It is noteworthy, though, that many Caroline people — including Bob Noakes, Tony Allan en Crispian St. John were involved in the project. When I wrote my logs in 1969, I was 21 years of age. Rereading my own writings now, I notice that I seemingly had a strong believe in O'Rahilly's power at the time. For instance, this is what I wrote about O'Rahilly's television plans at the end of December:
  "On December 25, 1969, there should have been a test-transmission of twenty minutes duration from Caroline Television on the UHF channel 25-30. Regular programmes will commence during spring 1970 at some 20,000 feet altitude above the North Sea."
  In the meantime, it became 1970 and two people from Switzerland, the then 33 year old Edwin Bollier and 32 year old Erwin Meister, both from Switzerland, had brought their own radio ship on the North Sea. They would bring Radio Caroline on the air again during the British election campaign by renaming their station into Radio Caroline. I have written more about it in my article on the fight for free radio (Knot, 2003). It did take a long time before I used my diary again for writing down the word "Caroline." On the December 1970 pages I that I found the next lines, dated December 18, 1970:
  "The former Radio Caroline radio ship MV Mi Amigo, now in Amsterdam Houthaven, was sinking today due to an act of sabotage. A tap in the engine room was opened and the ship listed. The crew of a tug of the Amsterdam port authority saved the famous pirate by getting some pumps aboard."
  A few days later, the British guard on the MV Mi Amigo, Dave Fletcher, told me that Ronan O'Rahilly had visited Amsterdam to see if the ships were still fit for broadcasting. He also told me that O'Rahilly had plans to restart Radio Caroline in case the rumours were true that RNI would be back on the air again. RNI closed down at the end of September 1970 to come back on the air in February 1971. It would, however, take up till September 1972 before O'Rahilly followed suit with Caroline again, or should I write when Peter Chicago and Spangles Muldoon did so?
4 Right: Three in one — Koos van Laar, Leunis Troost and Ronan O'Rahilly (1972/73)

A heavy job. For the last week of May 1972 my radio log again has some lines on both the Caroline ships:

"The Caroline vessels which were in Holland since March 1968 now both have been sold."

To go into more detail, it was the shipbroker Frank Rijsdijk, from Hendrik Ido Ambacht, who bought the Caroline vessel, we all know as the MV Fredericia, on Monday afternoon, May 29, 1972 for the price of 26,500 Dutch guilders. This sum was not only paid for the ship but also for what was left of the inventory of the MV Fredericia. The MV Mi Amigo was bought by ships agency Hofman for a sum of 20,000 guilders. The agent could not tell for whom he bought the former Caroline South ship. By the way, the sum paid for both ships was only a small fraction of what the ships and their inventory were worth when entering Holland way back in 1968.

  About the final destiny of the MV Fredericia I can be very short. Frank Rijsdijk resold the ship to his colleague Rinus van der Marel in Ouwerkerk in the province of Zeeland and so her final destination would be the broker in a small place near Zierikzee. The aerial mast already had been removed in Amsterdam harbour and the MV Fredericia made her way through the canals of the Netherlands on her own power to a sand-bank near Ouwerkerk, called "Het Keeten." The 1350 hp motor seemed to be in good condition. During the month of July, the MV Fredericia still could be found at the shoal and the new owner had to wait for a very high tide so the ship could be taken into one of the small channels near the broker's place. Early August 1972, the first work on the MV Fredericia had been done by breaking down the upper decks of the ship where once the studios had been situated. It soon became clear that it would be a heavy job to break down such a strong ship as the MV Fredericia. The ship originally was built as a ferry in Scandinavia, where during wintertime there's a lot of ice.
  Once the upper deck had been removed, the ship brokers decided to set the ship on fire. They had seen that everywhere in the ship insulation material could be found. They thought the could get rid of these materials by burning it away. What Van Marel still didn't know at the time, was that on the ship heavy anchor chains where used as ballast and as we know anchor chains won't burn away. Maybe that's the reason why work on the ship stopped after it had been set on fire. The ship stayed at its place and over the many years that followed, Ouwerkerk became a new pilgrimage place for anoraks who were keen to make photos of the former radio ship. I must admit I was there too.
  I brought some visits to Ouwerkerk and on such an occasion the owner showed me the bell of the MV Fredericia. Rinus van der Marel was very proud he had the thing hanging in his office. It would take up till late 1980 before the MV Fredericia was completely broken up. Later I heard that the bell joined Van Marel, when the old man left the Netherlands for an African country. Since a couple of years he's now back, as well as the bell. On the place of the former broker's shipyard nowadays a museum on the history of ships can be found. Luckily, the Mi Amigo got another destiny. Soon after the auction it was rumoured in the small world of Anoraks — a word that wasn't being used yet in those days — that Gerard van Dam and someone called Rob Vermaat had asked Hofman Shipping Agency to buy the Mi Amigo for them.
5 Left: Peter Chicago (1972)

Gerard van Dam. Gerard van Dam, a young lad from The Hague, was already known for his other activities. Also known as Gerard van der Zee, he was the driver of the car that in those days picked up the people of the RNI at their Naarden studio to bring them to the tender in Scheveningen harbour. While Radio Veronica was busy distributing and collecting postcards for the "Veronica stays ..." campaign in 1971, some Dutch offshore radio fans were trying to organize the fan base. Van Dam joined the action by forming the ISFRA, the "International Society for the Promotion of Free Radio." Together with Hans Verbaan, who in those days lived in nearby Scheveningen and who was the chairman of the Dutch FRA and FRC branches, he wanted to make a front. By a written protest to the government, they wanted to make clear, that the ratification of the Treaty of Strasbourg would make it almost impossible for the Dutch offshore radio stations to continue their programming. He told a journalist:

  "We simply have to try to get more members. At the moment, we've 1,000 members in Holland. In Germany and Belgium, we now have around 10,000 members and we hope that this all eventually leads to a total of 250,000 members. That would be fine."
  It is clear, that Van Dam not really had a good sense for numbers, though, he certainly had a good sense for drama. In the interview he said that the FRA stood for answering just this one question about Free Radio: "Going on or not going on as legal stations." The journalist and this young guy next discussed the fact that the Dutch national pop station Hilversum 3 in the meantime, according to the results of recent polls, had recruited more listeners than Radio Veronica. These facts, though, didn't impress him at all. He even made some critical comments about the fact that the programmes of Hilversum 3 were not interrupted by commercials, by saying that commercials were an essential part of the attractiveness of any radio programme.
6 Right: The MV Fredericia and the MV Mi Amigo in Amsterdam harbour (1968)

Fooling the press. Just after he had acquired the MV Mi Amigo, Gerard van Dam made a remarkable appearance in the press in July 1971. Successfully he fooled the press about his plans. Together with Hans Verbaan he sent out a leaflet, saying that the ship would be used as a temporary resort for nostalgic anoraks:

"After long talks with the owners of the former Radio Caroline South ship, the MV Mi Amigo, we have succeeded in making an agreement. For a short period of time, the ship will be kept away from the ship breakers yard. During the next few months, everyone will be enabled to visit the ship for as short a time as one day, or for as long a stay as is required. Food and accommodation on the ship are being arranged. Original studio guidance will come from a well-known deejay. In case the costs of ship are not being covered by the profits for next few months, the owner will carry out his original plans and scrap the ship. This fate has already befallen Radio Caroline North. So, make the most of this unique offer and use what possibly is your last chance to visit the first and last outpost of the golden age of British Pirate Radio."

  This evocative appeal was followed by an extensive price list, stating the costs of different arrangements for stays on the Mi Amigo. The leaflet was taken serious by several newspapers, which uncritically brought the news. The VPRO radio also made a nice small documentary about Van Dam's plans with the former radio ship. In fact, the leaflet contained an error. The MV Fredericia, the ship of Radio Caroline North, was not yet scrapped. It would be on dry land for a long time at Van Marel Ship Brokers in Ouwerkerk, before the bell was taken away and the rest would be broken up. More important, though, was that Gerard van Dam was not really on the lookout for any paid visitors for his museum ship at all. Instead, the ship was towed into international waters. Equipment, stolen earlier from the ship in Amsterdam by Peter Chicago and Spangles Muldoon, were brought back on board.
7 Left: Spangles Muldoon and Gerard van Dam (1972)

Back on the North Sea again. Unexpectedly, on Friday afternoon, September 1, 1972, the MV Mi Amigo was towed by a tug of the Iskes Company from Amsterdam through the Noordzeekanaal — the North Sea Canal — to the harbour of IJmuiden and after passing the locks of the harbour, the Mi Amigo was towed to a position four miles northwest of the Northern Pier. At his return to the harbour, the skipper of the towing vessel told to a journalist that he thought it very strange that the guys wanted to go out with the MV Mi Amigo as the ship was so unstable. And still the same afternoon it was Gerard van Dam in a newspaper telling everyone that the ship would go to England to be exploited there as a pirate museum. During the night from 2nd to 3rd of September, it was the towing vessel of Koos van Laar which towed the MV Mi Amigo to a new position. The next morning people on the MEBO II — off the coast of Scheveningen — suddenly saw the MV Mi Amigo anchored on a position 500 metres on the north side of the RNI vessel.

  Van Dam was not the only one to mystify the ship's purposes. During the Sky Line programme the next evening on RNI, Tony Allan told his listeners that another ship was anchored near the MEBO II. He added that the ship was empty and had no transmitters onboard. On the Sunday afternoon, the radio ship was also mentioned on the news reports on Radio Veronica and the NOS Journaal — the News on the Dutch Public Television. The camera crew had taken a skipper with them to the MV Mi Amigo and this guy told that the people on the MV Mi Amigo were big amateurs and that the ship was anchored in the wrong way — there was a big risk, he said, of drifting. The MV Mi Amigo also had no position lights on. An official warning was brought out to the captain by a vessel of the Dutch Navy. That same afternoon a pilot boat came out and brought a penalty to the captain. Some lights were brought on the vessel the same afternoon.
  The confusion even became larger by an article in the largest newspaper of the Netherlands, the Telegraaf. On September 4, 1972, the paper reported that the Bell Broadcasting Company Ltd had bought the MV Mi Amigo and that a radio station would start at the end of that very same year or else early 1973. The 259 as well as the 270 kHz were mentioned as frequencies as well as the power of the two transmitters: 50Kw and 100kW. The "259 spot" was planned for an international edition for Radio Caroline and the "270 spot" for a Dutch language variant. Only the international service should carry commercials. In yet another newspaper, someone called Rutger van den Berg presented himself as spokesman for the BBC Ltd. He confirmed that soon a radio station would be on air from the MV Mi Amigo. Very soon even, because he dropped September 6, 1972, as the date for the station's start — a completely different date than the one mentioned in the Telegraaf. Soon after the second publication it became known that the journalist of the Telegraaf had been fooled by two practical jokers. The jokers were Roel Koenders and Henk Meeuwis, both from Amsterdam and both real radio fans. Later on, Roel Koenders became a well-known producer at VARA Radio and Henk Meeuwis became news reader for Radio Caroline on ... the MV Mi Amigo.
8 Right: Damage done to the MV Fredericia (1968)

Back on the air again. Curiously, in the second week of September 1972, 1972, Gerard van Dam brought the news in the Algemeen Dagblad, that the MV Mi Amigo again would be used as a radio ship. He said he couldn't give the name of the station nor the frequency that would be used in the near future. Still, other stories kept on going about the ship's destination. On September 15, 1972, the Telegraaf again added to the confusion with a big article on its front page. Three days earlier, the paper already had a photo on its front page showing the MV Mi Amigo tendered by the MV Dolfijn, a tender from the Jacques Vrolijk tender company from Scheveningen. Now the paper told its readers that the strange ship off the coast of Scheveningen would not be used as a radio ship but as an illegal casino. People visiting the ship could go ahead with gambling as it was planned in international waters and no action could be taken by Dutch authorities. The spokesman for the Casino company — who told that he had already worked as a technician for Radio Veronica and RNI — was Anton Rabeljee from Groningen city. He told the journalist of the Telegraaf — Bert Voorthuijzen — that all the transmitter equipment and other technical gear was taken off the MV Mi Amigo when the ship was still in Zaandam harbour. That this was not true would become clear very soon afterwards.

  Some days later, on September 18, 1972, RNI deejay Spangles Muldoon said in his programme that he would soon leave the station to cross the street to another ship. And for those who didn't got the message, he added: "Just add up 39 to 220." The last figure referred to the RNI spot, so then we knew that there was a transmitter on the MV Mi Amigo and that it would be used on the 259 metres medium wave band. Indeed, on September 29th 1972 in the late evening that for the very first time since March 1968 a signal could be heard from a transmitter on the MV Mi Amigo; this time on 252.7 metres (1187 kHz) with non-stop music. Subsequently, the MV Mi Amigo would host a whole range of stations like Radio 199, Radio Caroline, Radio Caroline 1 and 2, Radio Atlantis, Radio Seagull, Radio Joepie and Radio Mi Amigo. Those stations were all active somewhere between 1972 and 1980, the year in which the ship finally sank down beneath the waves.
  • Chapman, Robert (1992), Selling the sixties. The pirates and pop music radio. London: Routledge, 1992.
  • Knot, Hans (ed.)(1989), Twenty-five years Radio Caroline memories. Groningen: Freewave Media Magazine; Benfleet: Monitor Magazine, 1989.
  • Knot, Hans (2003), "The fight for free radio. The political activation of offshore radio's fanbase, 1964-1989." In: Soundscapes, October 2003.
  • Pirate Radio News. Amsterdam / Groningen (several editions of the years between 1968 and 1972).
  Photos courtesy of SMC, Jelle Boonstra, Martin Stevens, Theo Dencker and Hans Knot. Look here for the index of this series
  2004 © Soundscapes