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volume 7
april 2004

An American in Europe


  The wet and wild history of Radio Caroline (12)
by John Ford
  Not only English deejays played our favourite songs on the Radio Caroline over the past four decades of the station's existence. There were also a lot of English-speaking guys from other countries, including Scotland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the USA. In the mid-1980's, for instance, John Ford took a trans-Atlantic flight to Heathrow to become another American in Europe doing radio programs from international waters. Almost twenty years later he wrote down his memories for our Radio Caroline series.
1 Left: John Ford and Mike Barrington (photo: Leen Vingerling)

Too tall for the hatchways. Here is a quick biography of me and my remembrances of The Ross Revenge, Radio Caroline and the people meeting there on the ship and ashore. Before I went to Europe, I spent seven years working for radio stations in the USA, including WSLT, WAYV, WKGR, WKCS, WIBG — AM and FM's. It was in 1984 that I was working in Florida at WKGR when I had read about Laser Radio in Forbes Business Magazine. The story was so interesting that I decided to have a go on making radio in Europe.

To make my wish come true, I sent my CV to the Radio Laser Group, which had their head office in New York. After some time I did get an answer from Laser, telling me that my application had been considered. However, they told me that I was "too tall" for living on the ship. John Catlett, the Program Manager at the time, was afraid of people injuring themselves on the low hatchways. About a month later, former Caroline deejay Alec Neumann was back in Florida and passed my info on to Mike Mango and Tom Anderson in London. From my music tastes, they felt I would work out well on the MV Ross Revenge, the wonderful house of Radio Caroline.

I arrived in Europe in the summer of 1985. I do remember the names of some of the deejays onboard at that time, which were Johnny Lewis, Peter Philips, Fergie McNeal, Susan Charles, Dave Andrews, and Cozmic. Ad Roberts was morning drive deejay on Caroline's sister station Radio Monique. He was there along with Maarten, Ferry and Leendert Vingerling to name a few. Kiwi Grahame Vega did the news on Radio Caroline. Mike Barrington was ship assistant engineer and John "B" the TX engineer.

2 Right: John Ford and Marjo Marcus 1999 (photo: Leen Vingerling)

Surviving the Blockade. It seemed like everyday that summer: lots of people were coming and going until, about early September, the DTI decided to do something about the tendering of the ship. At that time the Dioptric Surveyor made its presence known. With this ship the British Authorities tried to block the tendering of the MV Ross Revenge and the MV Communicator, the radio ship of Laser 558. After the well-documented "Blockade" started, there were less and less visitors and even less supplies. Some of the people working aboard put stockings over their heads not to be identified by the DTI when working on deck. We did not admit it on the airwaves, but food did become very scarce at times. The many supplies that Kate Webb and the Dutch team of Leen and Marjo had stockpiled aboard were soon dwindling. At its worst, we drank manifold water and ate a lot of marmite.

Marmite was something new to me being American. After some time I started liking it. I think we did continue to brew batches of ale from the manifold water and it came out fairly well. The Blockade made life difficult. I remember when the tobacco was rationed and finally ran out. A lot of people — smokers — were driven to their limits. Sharing a found chocolate bar with Wim van de Valk made for a good day, after not having had any chocolate in a few weeks.

Power on board the radio ship was kept low on the generators to keep from running out of diesel. The generators were shut off periodically. Howard Beal would occasionally run the gauntlet with his fast boat and bring some supplies. I also remember John Birch bringing a boat load of food from Essex. Humane society, all for mascot Raffles. Raffles ate very well, and so did we. One night Peter Chicago and Dick Palmer arrived to drop off supplies and do some transmitter maintenance and they wound up staying on for a couple of weeks. No return tender. It turned out they liked Country Music and so did Ad Roberts, so we all put a Country Show together for the evenings after the "God hours." It seemed to be well received by the listeners.

3 Left: Ad Roberts in the production studio of the MV Communicator (Laser 558)

Adding some Jazz. It was very interesting trying to play darts on the Ross. Americans don't play darts like the English. Trying to hit a dart board at all in rough seas was a challenge especially after imbibing in the "GBH" homebrew ale. One day the MV Communicator upped anchor and moved off into the distance. The idea was that the one and only DTI ship would have difficulty tracking two radio ships that far apart. That idea proved correct. Unfortunately for the Laser crew, the DTI kept up the pressure on them. As most of the on-air taunts came from Laser to begin with, the "heat" directed to them from the DTI was more personal. This made it easier for us to slip a supply tender through to the Ross Revenge from time to time before the Guardline Tracker — DTI boat — could pull up anchor and chase back to our position.

With the tender back now and again, some new people came aboard. Some will have to remain anonymous, at least that is still best for now. Tom Anderson came aboard and brought a whole lot of great new records. Tom and Fergie brought "Overdrive" to its debut that early December. Everybody enjoyed that show immensely. Reggae was played and caught on quite well, as Radio Caroline was the only station in the area to showcase Reggae at that time. Deejays Susan Charles, Jenny MacKenzie and I added some Jazz to our play lists and had some fun with that in afternoons. Letters showed good listener response especially from the Continent.

Johnny Lewis kept up a great Breakfast Show, with Peter Phillips as program director keeping things somewhat uniform. As always Radio Caroline took the initiative to airplay new artists. Some of the new artists introduced in 1985/'86 that I remember were: The Hooters, Kate Bush, Big Audio Dynamite, George Winston, Cocteau Twins, Larry Carlton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Fela Kuti - just to name a few.

4 Right: Tom Anderson, Suzan Charles and Mike Barrington while the tender is arriving

Bitten by the sea bug. Boxing day 1985 brought a terrible storm. The Ross Revenge was still anchored in the Knock Deep Channel and took a severe beating. The 300-foot mast had been weakened. I was not aboard when the mast fell down about two months later, but I was very sorry to hear about that. At this time the Arabian Sands Resort in Tangier, Morocco, had been one of our sponsors. All the deejays had a chance to go to Morocco and work there — being paid back in UK pounds or NL guilders after return. I found it a fascinating place and went back many times.

Radio Caroline started to go through one of its "bad patches" after the tower came down. The Blockade had expended resources, and I had to get back to a job in radio in the States in order to survive. Luckily, I got my old slot back at WKGR in West Palm Beach. The sea bug bit me pretty hard, though, so after awhile I signed in to do ship to shore communications with the American merchant marine. This is what I do to this day, occasionally doing adverts or canned music shows to keep my hand in the business, which with MP3's and home edit suites is constantly changing. I stay in touch with a core group of friends from that era of Caroline, and I still occasionally do a show or two for Radio Caroline and help out from time to time.

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