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volume 6
january 2004

Britain's buccaneer broadcasters: my story of Radio Caroline


  The wet and wild history of Radio Caroline (6)
by Steve Young
  Steve Young began his broadcasting career in 1963 when he put on his cowboy hat and spurs to ride the controls at radio station CHAT in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. He went to visit England in 1965, put a patch over his left eye and became a pirate, joining Radio Caroline South in 1966 to do overnight and daytime relief shifts. He's still having trouble adjusting to a regular routine and he can't catch any decent zzz's unless someone rocks him to sleep at night. In 1968 he returned to Canada and resumed a normal [sic!] life working in the radio and television biz at CKOV Kelowna, CFRN Edmonton, CKIQ Kelowna, CJVI Victoria and CHEK-TV Victoria. He lapsed into a state of semi-retirement in 1998 and has since been masquerading as a voiceover artist, freelance writer and broadcast media producer. Here are some of the many memories Steve Young has to the high days on international waters.
1 Right: Steve "The Curly Headed Kid On The Third Row" Young in the studio of the MV Mi Amigo

A raging storm. A gale force wind was blowing in the North Sea off the East Coast of England one night during the winter of 1966. I was "spinning the discs" on the midnight-six a.m. shift aboard Great Britain's infamous, but dearly beloved, "Pirate" Radio Station, Caroline South. The 650-ton coastal freighter Mi Amigo, registered in Panama and flying a Panamanian flag, carrying a Dutch crew and a staff of English speaking deejays, technicians and news readers, was the home of the Radio Caroline operation, and tonight she was under siege. The boat was rockin' in more ways than one as I turned-up the monitor speakers in the cramped studio to full volume, blasting out the music of the Rolling Stones in a vain attempt to drown out the sounds of the storm that was raging outside.

Waves pounded the side of the ship and she lurched violently each time they slammed into her. The shrieking winds howled through the stays that secured the giant 160-foot transmitting antenna to the foredeck. Chains and metal plates clanked and creaked as the vessel swung into the storm, held only by her forward anchor, and the whole ship shuddered violently as she tugged at the forward anchor chain. I held on to the edge of the mixing console as the boat rose violently, up and down in the heavy swells. The music played on, turntable arms weighted down with heavy English pennies, which were scotch-taped to them in an effort to prevent them from skipping off the surface of the 45rpm records. I turned on the microphone, did some kind of ad-lib when, just as I introduced the next record and turned off the microphone, the door crashed open and a member of the Dutch crew lurched into the studio holding a life jacket. "You'd better put this on," he shouted, "if this storm gets any worse the anchor isn't going to hold and we'll have to abandon the ship." I struggled into the life jacket and said a silent prayer.

  For the next five hours the storm raged while the Mi Amigo, and the music, rocked-on in the stormy North Sea. Luckily for me this would be a time when the storm would subside and life would resume its normal routine, with the 50kW transmitter broadcasting music, news, contests and trivia twenty-four hours a day to listeners across the British Isles and deep into Continental Europe. A few months earlier, in January of 1966, the disc-jockeys and crew had not been so lucky when, during another vicious winter storm, the anchor chain broke and the Mi Amigo was blown ashore and beached at Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. Luckily everyone aboard was rescued safely, but it would not to be the last time that Radio Caroline and her crew would suffer the ravages of the stormy North Sea.
2 Left: Transmitter of the Mi Amigo (1968)

A real alternative to Auntie BBC. To understand how such a broadcasting operation could come into being, let's flashback in time, to the early 1960's, when a different kind of radio service ruled the airwaves. The British Broadcasting Corporation — "Auntie" as she was affectionately called by some — was just about the only game in town up until early 1964. The BBC Home Service and the Light Programme, as they were called, had changed their program offerings very little over the years. Shows were presented in block format and were usually a mixture of light or serious classical music, radio dramas, comedy shows and news. Down at the bottom of the list was the occasional "pop music" show. To be fair to Auntie BBC, she did her best to be "all things to all people" and, being funded by government revenues derived from license fees paid by the listeners, she was at the mercy of bureaucrats and politicians.

  So, what were the young people of England to do? Some of them, late at night with their crystal sets hidden under their pillows, tuned into the faint and unreliable signal of Radio Luxembourg "The Fab 208" which broadcast from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, targeting the British market with popular music and sponsored programs. It was the only alternate source that was available in those days, but for one young listener named Ronan O'Rahilly, this was not enough! I first met Ronan O'Rahilly at Caroline House, the headquarters of the Radio Caroline Empire, in London. I'd just been hired and, before I was to head out to the ship, O'Rahilly took the opportunity to talk to me. He was a soft-spoken young Irishman, with prematurely gray hair and penetrating blue eyes. He emanated a spiritual quality as he talked about Radio Caroline and his vision of "Free Radio" in Britain.
  Surprisingly, profiting from his Pirate venture was not at the top of O'Rahilly's list of priorities. He was more interested in providing British listeners with an alternative to the monopolistic programming practices of the BBC. O'Rahilly had been to North America and had listened to "Top 40" radio, with its rock'n roll music, jingles and slick, fast-talking disc-jockeys. He had been subjected to the constant barrage of commercials, which filled the American airwaves, and he knew this could be a way to support his vision. But, more than anything, the free spirit of American radio inspired him, and he returned to England wondering why British audiences couldn't have access to such a form of entertainment. O'Rahilly had yet another reason to seek an alternative to the BBC. In 1964 he was managing a young singer/musician named Georgie Fame and had been trying to persuade the BBC to give his records some airplay. The BBC wasn't interested, claiming that they were only interested in "established" artists. Ronan O'Rahilly was not the kind of person to say "no" to and it only made him more determined to gain access to the radio airwaves and to offer listeners a real alternative to "Auntie BBC."
3 Right: The MV Mi Amigo in international waters (1966)

The smallest boat to rock the nation. O'Rahilly had heard about a new radio station called "Radio Veronica," broadcasting to Dutch listeners from a ship anchored off the coast of Holland and, at last, he knew what he could do to make his radio fantasies come true. After summoning all of his resources and convincing investors that this was "an idea whose time had come," O'Rahilly purchased his first ship, the MV Fredericia which he then began equipping with all the necessary gear to begin transmitting. Soon, with the studio equipment, transmitter and huge transmitting antenna all in place, Fredericia sailed from her dock in Ireland and took up her position in international waters three miles out to sea and 12 miles from the nearest port of entry, Harwich, on the East Coast of England. Then, on March 28th, 1964 at 12 noon, with Canadian Simon Dee at the microphone, Radio Caroline turned on her 10kW transmitter and began her tumultuous life, broadcasting over a frequency of 199 meters on the medium wave band to a listening audience whose ears were hungry for a steady diet of non-stop rock 'n roll music.

  Little did Ronan O'Rahilly know that, when he launched Radio Caroline, he was opening up a Pandora's box of aspiring Pirate Radio operators. Some of them, like Radio Caroline and Radio London, went on to become huge successes, while others signed-on and signed-off as fast as the fortunes of their owners rose and fell in the stormy waters of the North Sea. Even Radio Caroline suffered many, many setbacks but, unlike the others, she always managed to recover her dignity and continue her broadcasting tradition as "The Smallest Boat to Rock the Nation."
  After operating for just a few months Caroline merged with an upstart rival station, Radio Atlanta, which was broadcasting from the motor vessel Mi Amigo. The MV Fredericia, home of the original Caroline, then set sail around the Southern tip of England and up the West coast to take up her position off the Isle of Man where she became Radio Caroline "North," broadcasting to audiences in Ireland and the North and West of England. Meanwhile the MV Mi Amigo, home of the former Radio Atlanta, became Radio Caroline "South" and continued to target audiences in London and the Southern and Eastern counties of England. During the night the station also reached well into Continental Europe as the 50 kW signal, picking up amplification over the waters of the North Sea and the English Channel, boomed deep into Holland, France, Sweden and Germany.
4 Left: Steve Young on deck of the MV Mi AMigo

A new transmitter, a new antenna and a new frequency. For the next couple of years things proceeded smoothly and the Caroline's began building vast and loyal audiences, numbering in the millions, throughout the British Isles and across the European Continent. But then a series of events took place that were to make the lives of Radio Caroline, her disk-jockeys and crew and Ronan O'Rahilly as stormy and turbulent as the seas upon which they floated their feisty little station.

It all began on January 20th, 1966 when a violent North Sea storm snapped the forward anchor chain of the Mi Amigo and, in the dark and rain swept seas, she began drifting towards the shore. As the vessel drifted out of control the deejay on duty that night began broadcasting a "May Day" message to any vessels in the area which might be close enough to come to their rescue. Simultaneously the ships captain transmitted a similar message over the maritime frequencies, a desperate call for help in a time of distress. But it was too late to save the drifting ship and a few hours later the Mi Amigo crunched up on the eastern shores of England near Clacton-on-Sea. The lifeboat crew from nearby Harwich was quickly on the scene and set up a breeches buoy to begin lifting the disc-jockeys and crewmen off the stricken vessel and onto the shore.

  It was a distressful time for all involved, including the huge audience of loyal listeners, who were now deprived of "their Caroline." But, like Ronan O'Rahilly, Radio Caroline was not to be deterred by this little setback and less than a month later she was back in business with studio and transmitting equipment rescued from the Mi Amigo and re-installed on another vessel, the MV Cheetah 2, loaned to Ronan O'Rahilly by a generous benefactor. It was not to be long before the Mi Amigo was back in the water either. This time with new studio equipment, a new 50kW transmitter, a new 160-foot transmitting antenna and a new frequency of 259 meters in the medium wave band, she was back in her old anchorage pumping out the music and entertainment that listeners wanted to hear. In August of that year I joined the station and so began, what was to become, the most memorable period of my thirty-year career in broadcasting.
5 Right: Tommy Vance at the opening of Virgin Radio London (April 1, 1993)

On Caroline's payroll In the summer of 1966, "Swinging England" was the place to be. The British "musical invasion" of America was at it's height and music was everywhere as bands and musicians consolidated their ever-strengthening position in an ever burgeoning music industry. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jim Hendrix, The Kinks, Peter and Gordon, The Hollies, Cat Stevens, Dusty Springfield, Gerry and the Pacemakers were just a few of the acts that had jump-started the musical revolution of the mid-sixties. Chelsea, Kings Road and Carnaby Street were the places to be, and the sweet smell of success — and marijuana — was everywhere. The Pirate Radio Stations were reflecting the mood of the day filling the airwaves with popular music, both British and North American. These were heady times for the Pirates, who were not only satisfying the musical taste of their audiences, but were also helping to set musical trends by introducing new and upcoming artists. Having worked at a small radio station in Canada, I was enthralled when I arrived in England and began listening to these pirates of the airwaves as they shared their shipboard adventures with their listeners. Little was I to know that I would soon be joining them at sea.

  It was the spring of 1966 when my friend, Keith Hampshire — another Canadian — who had signed on with Radio Caroline just a few weeks earlier, called me. He suggested that I get in touch with Caroline's Production Manager, Tom Lodge, who wished to hire an overnight guy to work on Radio Caroline South. Tom Lodge listened to my demo, talked to me on the phone and then hired me. I packed my bags and headed up to Harwich, Essex where I boarded the tender that would take me out to sea and my first taste of life aboard Radio Caroline.
6 Left: The Caroline Disco Night Show in the 1960's

Touring the offshore radio ships. When I set out into the early morning fog on the supply tender that first day, I really had no idea what I would find anchored out there. A gleaming white cruise ship perhaps? I was in for a rude awakening. The tender plied a daily route, carrying mail and passengers to several of the offshore radio stations anchored off the East Coast of England, stopping at Radio England / Britain Radio, Radio London and, finally, at Radio Caroline. Our first stop was at Swingin Radio England which shared quarters with her sister station Britain Radio aboard the MV Laissez Faire a ship that, reportedly, had at one time transported the corpses of American GI's, casualties of the Vietnam War, back to America. The Laissez Faire was a gloomy vessel and life aboard was said to be Spartan. The disk-jockeys quarters were on the lower decks, where they "camped out" in sleeping bags and there were few amenities. "Swingin' Radio England" and Britain Radio were owned by an American consortium which had directly transposed a slick, tightly-formatted, Top-40 radio format, complete with American deejays, onto the British airwaves. It was a format that was, ultimately, to prove unsuccessful. British listeners just weren't ready for that kind of "high energy" radio, preferring a more laid-back and "chatty" communication.

Next stop was Radio London, "The Big L," housed aboard the MV Galaxy, a vessel that was once a Navy mine-sweeper. The ship still bore the utilitarian gray color of a military vessel, with streaks of rust accenting the hull. Against the gray sky and gloomy green seas that morning, she looked grim and foreboding. She certainly wasn't a visual representation of the "Wonderful Radio London" image that was portrayed in the jingles and deejay patter that interspersed the music on The Big L. But living conditions on the Galaxy were a lot better than those aboard the Laissez Faire and the deejays and crew were friendly and welcoming. Finally, about a mile further out to sea, we reached our ultimate destination, Radio Caroline. As we drew near, the stern of the 650-ton coastal freighter MV Mi Amigo loomed out of the fog like a forgotten shipwreck. Its rusting hulk rose up and down in the swell of the North Sea and my stomach rose up and down with it as I prepared to set foot on deck for my first taste of life as a Pirate on the high seas.

  As we drew alongside the Mi Amigo, a deckhand caught the lines thrown from the tender and secured the two vessels together. I waited until the ocean swell lifted the tender level with the deck of the Mi Amigo and, without looking down at the heaving seas between the two ships, leapt aboard. Once safely on deck I looked up and saw a group of longhaired, unshaven, half-dressed, disheveled-looking figures approaching me. They looked like escaped prisoners and I wondered if I had I been dropped off on a convict ship by mistake? They were in fact several of the eight or nine deejays, newsreaders and technicians who were working their fourteen-day shift aboard Radio Caroline. Some were departing for a week-long shore-leave as their replacements arrived. The on-air crew was comprised mostly of Brits, Canucks, Yanks, Aussies and Kiwis, all of whom came from varied backgrounds and who all impressed me, at that time, as being somewhat larger than life. Most importantly though, they were all cheerful and friendly and were soon to become some of my best friends.
7 Right: The MV Fredericia lying at the quayside in Amsterdam (1968)

A band of scurvy knaves. One of the first people I got to know was Mike Ahern, a young man from Liverpool who had once appeared on stage with the Beatles at the Cavern nightclub in Liverpool. Mike is still one of the best on-air communicators I've ever heard. Years later, after leaving Radio Caroline, he went on to host the number 1 rated morning show in Brisbane Australia, then returned to London where he worked at Capital Gold before heading into semi-retirement some years ago, though he came back to Britain to do programs on Country 1035 and nowadays he can be heard on Northern Norfolk Radio, where he works together with Andy Archer.

The Emperor Rosko — Mike Pasternak, son of Hollywood movie mogul Joe Pasternak — was the hip, jive-talkin' Yank who did his show with his side-kick Alfie the Mynah bird perched on his shoulder. Rosko went on to be the darling of the French Airwaves on French Radio Luxembourg. Today he produces syndicated radio shows out of his own production studios in Beverly Hills.

Dave Lee Travis was a big, bearded bear of a man from Lancashire, with a heart as big as his ego. Full of fun and practical jokes, DLT hosted the lunchtime show on Caroline South. Dave was recently featured on the television program "This Is Your Life" and continues his broadcasting career with the BBC, where he left in 1994. Since then he worked on several stations and nowadays he can be heard on GWR's Classic Gold with a syndicated program, Garrison Radio - the Army's in house radio and on BBC Three Counties Radio.

  Johnny Walker came over to Caroline South from Swingin' Radio England. He would later go down in the annals of Pirate Radio history as the lone Caroline deejay to remain aboard the Mi Amigo after the British Government officially banned the offshore stations. Today Johnny is employed at BBC Radio.
  Tommy — "TV on radio" — Vance, a former deejay at KOL Seattle and KHJ Los Angeles, was Caroline's "Mr. Cool" and one of her most popular guys. He's done a lot in radio like Radio Monte Carlo, Virgin Radio and Total Rock Radio. Also Tommy did al lot of television work. Nowadays he lives in Spain.
  Keith "Keefers" Hampshire was "one happy guy" and kept us all feeling good, even when times seemed bleak. After leaving Caroline Keith returned to Toronto where he worked at CKFH, put out a couple of records (he's a terrific singer) and freelanced as a voiceover artist. Keith now lives in a semi-retired state of bliss and raises quarter horses north of Toronto.
  Graham "Spider" Webb was Radio Caroline's News Director. Graham returned to his home in Australia where he became a key personality at the Australian Broadcasting Company. Graham then went on to own several of his own radio stations until personal misfortunes beset him in later years.
  Mark Sloane, newsreader extraordinaire, moved to the Caribbean where he worked briefly at a station in Montserrat. Today Mark is back in England where he owns a successful Advertising Agency.
  Tom Lodge, Radio Caroline's Senior Deejay and Production Manager. After Caroline daze Tom returned to live and work in Canada. In the mid-nineties he was back in England running a record company in London, as well as being involved in a movement to "Bring Back Radio Caroline." He worked on one of the many Caroline Restricted Licenses in the nineties and wrote a book on his career some years ago. Nowadays he's living in America.
  Robbie "The Admiral" Dale was a former member of the British Armed Forces who worked for Radio Veronica in the late sixties. From that point on he went to TROS Radio and Television and stepped out of the radio world to heading cleaning company, whereby his company even cleaned the Capital Radio Studios. Then he was back in radio in Ireland running the successful Sunshine Radio. Robbie nowadays is living on the Canary Islands where he runs a holiday park together with his wife Stella.
  Tom "Tatty" Edwards, a former "Radio City" deejay who joined Caroline South in 1967, went on to become a well-known Television Presenter on BBC East, moved to Los Angeles and is now the "Voice" of the Bob Monkhouse daily gameshow "Wipeout."
  Ian MacRae, an Aussie deejay who is now back in Australia working at station 2SM in Sydney.
  Rick "The Great" Dane, a smooth-voiced, good-looking deejay who seems to have dropped off the edge of the planet.
  There were others too, whose names I've forgotten or who have completely dropped out of sight, but all of them share with me a little bit of radio history — and a lot of radio fantasy — that none of us will ever forget.
8 Left: Keith Hampshire

My second home. Once aboard I soon got to know my way around the Mi Amigo which, compared to the other vessels I'd seen, was extremely habitable. An amidships superstructure housed the main studio, a small production studio / news booth, dining room / lounge, galley, heads and shower. Below decks were four sleeping cabins each with two bunks, a small seating area, a desk and two lockers. In a larger cabin, slightly forward, was the record library, filled with 33rpm albums and 45rpm single records. It also contained a listening area and comfortable seating on chairs and couches. All of these areas were the principle domain of the on-air staff and studio technicians. The ships captain and his Dutch crew — deckhands, engineers, cook and stewards — all lived in quarters housed below the bridge at the stern of the vessel.

Topside, secured firmly to the forward deck — although on several occasions it would prove to be not quite firmly enough — was the huge 160-foot transmitting antenna. Just below decks was a cabin housing the 50kW Continental transmitter and a standby 10kW transmitter. The studios were moderately well equipped with Spot master cart machines, three turntables, a couple of Ampex reel-reel tape machines, fold back monitors and a mixing console above which was housed the famous Caroline ships clock. At the back of the studio was a porthole that could be kept open when the weather was warm. It was also handy for checking out the local weather conditions for the South East coast of England. Outward appearances aside, the MV Mi Amigo was actually quite well equipped and maintained, something for which I was grateful as she was to be my second home over the next year and a half.

9 Right: Mark Sloane (1997)

Life on board. Life on board was filled with short bursts of intense activity and long stretches of dull routine, which could become very boring. Since most shifts were only three hours in length, there was a lot of time to fill. During the summer months life was pretty good, we would idle away the hours fishing, swimming — when the tides weren't running — or simply lazing on the upper deck, drinking beer and reading mail. Winter was more difficult to cope with as the bitter winds and violent storms forced us to remain inside. A lot of time was spent watching TV, reading, sleeping and playing cards or answering fan mail from the thousands of letters we received every day!

The live-aboard amenities were quite adequate. The dining room / lounge area contained a large galley table where the cook and steward served our main meals. There was a fridge containing soft drinks, beer and snacks and a lounging area with a 14" black and white television. The meals were hearty and included plenty of Dutch-Indonesian food, for which I soon acquired a fondness. Each of the deejays, newsreaders and technicians was given a weekly allocation of beer and cigarettes, accommodations were provided, earnings were tax-free and there were many other perks. For most of us it was a career move that we were glad we had made.

  However there was a downside to life on board. While members of the opposite sex often came out to visit the ship, they were permitted to stay aboard only as long as the tender was alongside. So, with no women stationed on board, there was little need to be on our best behavior and, boys will be boys, so there were lots of pranks and mischievous antics that took place when we got bored. There were also some serious occurrences that led to violent confrontations between individuals and more than one member of the English and Dutch crews became the subject of police files when things got out of hand. There were other goings on too, that were out of our control and we were soon to discover that bigger battles were being fought, which were to affect the tranquility of our lives, and our safety, at sea.
10 Left: An early promotion photo of Dave Lee Travis

The dispute about Rough Towers. In January 1967 a dispute erupted over "squatters rights" on an abandoned wartime defense fort, constructed on stilts and located several miles out to sea. A number of Pirate Radio operators had occupied several of these forts in the hope of starting their own radio stations. One of them, known as Rough Towers, situated six miles off the coast of Felixstowe, Suffolk became the object of a bitter struggle between the Caroline organization and a rival company.

Ronan O'Rahilly had put two men on the Rough Towers fort in order to establish occupancy rights. Meanwhile an individual by the name of Roy Bates the 45-year-old owner of Radio Essex which, like Radio Caroline, broadcast from a vessel carrying the Dutch flag, had his sights set on the same piece of property. Bates sent four men out to "get rid" of the other two, triggering a war, which we were to become caught in the middle of.

  One morning I awoke to the sound of a vessel circling the Mi Amigo. I watched as it sailed around and around us, maintaining a distance of several hundred feet. Aboard the boat was a small group of men who were shouting threats at us. They were also carrying firearms which they aimed at us, although no shots were fired, and eventually the boat sped away. Later that day another vessel drew alongside and a number of "heavies" clambered aboard the Mi Amigo. They were on "our side" and were stopping by to lick their wounds after having been firebombed during an unsuccessful raid on the Rough Towers fort by the opposing forces. Luckily nobody was seriously hurt and, after receiving medical attention they were soon on their way. So the monotony of daily life on Radio Caroline was, at times, broken by events such as these but, as a rule, the two-week stints on board the Mi Amigo were tedious and our weekly shore-leaves couldn't come soon enough.
11 Right: Dave Lee Travis, Steve Young and Robbie Dale

A hearty welcome. When the tender arrived to take me back to shore for my first week of leave I was not prepared for the overwhelming popularity and listener adoration that awaited me and the other Radio Caroline deejays. The novelty of the Pirate stations, the mystique of the deejays who played music on the high seas and the burgeoning British music scene all contributed to a kind of mass hysteria that made the Pirate Radio deejays "rock stars" in their own right. Everywhere we went, doors were opened to us. The press made a fuss over us with never ending articles about life aboard the ships; the popular nightclubs and discos provided us with free memberships and admissions and record companies vied for our attention, trying to get airplay for their artists. Payola was not unknown in the industry and many deejays boosted their earnings with supplemental cash incentives surreptitiously handed to them by record execs.

  Other opportunities awaited us too, as emcees for rock concerts and other musical events. I was privileged to work on stage with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks, The Turtles, Cat Stevens, Peter and Gordon and many other established or up-and-coming artists. The money was good too, sometimes paid as a flat fee by the company but, more often than not, as a percentage of the gate receipts. After a busy week ashore some of us would return to the ship each with enough cash to fill a small suitcase. But we lived high on the hog too, and we all suffered from a certain degree of megalomania! We partied hard and generally acted like kids in a candy store. It was a high time for all of us! But more powerful forces were at work and these were soon to precipitate a number of events that would see the end of Pirate Radio, as we knew it at that time.
12 Left: Robbie Dale at Sunshine Radio Ireland

The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act. The British Government had never been pleased with the upstart attitude of the Pirate radio stations but, because they were located more than three miles out to sea, beyond the territorial limit of the British Isles in International waters, there was nothing that could be done to stop them. All that was to change when, in January of 1967, the Government under Prime Minister Harold Wilson took the first step towards outlawing the Pirate Radio stations by introducing Parliamentary legislation known as "The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act."

There was a great deal of debate in Parliament. Conservative M.P.'s fought in support of the "Free Radio Movement" while the Labour Party proposed to make it a crime for anyone to supply, work on, or be in any way involved with the Pirate stations. Outraged listeners flooded government departments with petitions. "We Want Our Caroline" became a popular slogan that was taken up by Caroline fans everywhere. A group recorded a song called "We Love the Pirate Stations" which, naturally shot to the top of the charts. The Press, too, featured frequent articles in support of the Pirates. Almost everywhere people were ready to support us in our fight to stay on the air. But it was not enough and, in August 1967, the British Government passed the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act into law. Those who defied the new law could face severe penalties so, on August 14th, 1967 we did our last shows and said goodbye to our listeners. Then we packed our bags and boarded the supply tender for the trip back to shore. As we pulled away from the Mi Amigo we looked back silently at her rusting hulk slowly disappearing into the early morning mists and all of us felt a deep sadness and loss for the place that, for so long, had been our home away from home.

  Many of the Pirate deejays were offered positions at the newly created BBC Radio 1, introduced by the Government as a means of placating the millions of listeners who had become accustomed to 24 hour-a-day music and news. Subsequently a call went out for license applications for the first of the many new "commercial" radio stations that were soon to go on the air. These stations too, became home to many of the former Pirate deejays. Meanwhile the rest of us returned to our various countries to pursue careers in more stable, albeit somewhat less exciting, jobs.
13 Right: The MV Mi Amigo adrift (1966)

A new era in broadcasting. But, as we went quietly about our lives, the memories stayed with us. The cold winter storms, the summer sunsets over the North Sea, the cry of the gulls, the hum of the generators, the smell of diesel fuel mixed with sea air, the clanking of the anchor chains. These, and the ever-present music that introduced a new era in broadcasting all over Britain, would always be a part of our lives. For us they are still the memories that were Radio Caroline, "The Smallest Boat To Rock the Nation."

Although the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act effectively closed down most of the British offshore radio stations Radio Caroline was not to be silenced for many years to come. When the Act became law, one deejay, Johnny Walker, stayed aboard and continued broadcasting. Supplies continued to be shipped in from Holland but, since it had become illegal for British companies to even advertise on Radio Caroline, the positive cash flow was starting to reverse itself. In March of 1968 the company that operated the supply tender was owed money and they seized the Radio Caroline ships. In May of 1972 the Mi Amigo was sold at auction. But it was resold to the Caroline organization, which can be read more about in another chapter.

  Photos courtesy of Steve Young, Rob Olthof, Hans Knot and Freewave Media Magazine Archive. Look here for the index of this series
  2004 © Soundscapes