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volume 7
april 2004

A parrot certainly adds to all the mayhem


  The wet and wild history of Radio Caroline (16)
by Michael Pasternak
  Over the four years Radio Caroline was on the air in the 1960's, a lot of deejays came and went. From all over the world they joined in as they heard of the enormous success of British offshore radio. From Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Bermuda, South Africa and the USA, they flew into England to see if they could get a job on one of the radio ships on the North Sea. From the USA came Michael Pasternak, a.k.a. Emperor Rosko, son of producer Joe Pasternak. For our Radio Caroline series he here refreshes some of his memories.
1 Left: The Emperor Rosko in London (1996)

How it all started. On Boxing Day, this year I will be sixty-two, which means that by now I am taken in by radio for over fifty years. Yes, I must have been around nine or ten years young when I did had the idea that I would spent a great part of my life in the role of a radio deejay. Of course I did tune in, in those early 1950's, turning the dial, into the radio of those years. ­On one of the many radio stations in Los Angeles, called KRLA, I first heard people like Bill Mercer who got me very excited in doing the same in the future. Like most of the guys at my age who loved the radio, which had totally changed compared to a few years earlier, I started collecting the music of the day. "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley and his Comets was released. I already did have a lot of language experience as I had lived, together with my family, in Los Angeles, France and Switzerland. Next to Bill Mercer I did like other deejays: Johnny Hayes, Emperor Hudson and the world famous "Wolfman Jack."

  After school I did complete my military service in the US Navy aboard a so called aircraft carrier. However, I thought that my aim during the military service would be to broadcast and so I persuaded my superiors that I had to be replaced and the next step was joining the floating radio station KCVA, aboard the USS Coral Sea CVA 43. It was a trip which brought us deep into Asia and the Vietnam zone. After coming back into civilian live, I decided to complete a broadcasting course, which I did in San Francisco. So KCVA was for me my first experience on an offshore radio station.
2 Right: Rosko as Michael Prescott on the USS Carol Sea

From one ship to the other. My first deejay name was Michael London and then, in honour of another Roscoe, I became "The President" and "The Emperor Rosko." I must confess that radio was my passion and I played it louder than most other deejay's. As I said, I liked Bill Mercer and this was because he followed a style and pattern from a deejay called Bosko and another called Socko. We all did a style called "Rhythm and Rhyme," which today is called "rap." You could say that I'm a fusion of many styles: I am funky and rocky and sexy and poppy. And again thanks to Tom Donahue at KYA, Bob Mitchell at KYA, Wolfman Jack at XERB and Monahue in Chicago. They were for me the front line; of course, there were many the others.

  In 1966 I joined the offshore radio fleet in Europe making my first steps into European radio as well on the MV Mi Amigo, working for Radio Caroline South. I was in Paris and I was with Eddy Barclay doing all the French radio shows and a guy called Henry Hendroid was on the tour with Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. I think, I was introducing the show at the Olympia and we got to talking and the question came up, did I know anything about pirate radio and Caroline? I told I knew it existed and that was it, but it sounded very exciting. So he told me to make him a tape, saying: "I'm a friend of Ronan O'Rahilly and I'll take it over and play it for him." Within a week I was on my way to the ship.
  There, I met up with fellow pirates like Tony Blackburn, Mike Ahern, Tom Lodge, Dave Lee Travis, Graham Dean and many more. We were the lads in those days. Still, in 2004, I'm friends with most of all British deejays from those years. And although we don't chat on the phone every day, we all natter when at a gig or function. On board, sometimes you did two four-hour shifts, depending on who was sick. Sometimes you did one. There were no actual jobs because everybody wanted to do everything. If we had to do a promo everybody pitched in and did it because it was for the good of the ship, etcetera. It was a spirit that you'll never find in today's radio stations.
3 Left: Rosko at Caroline South (1966)

A swearing mynah bird. Of course, I have many stories of those days. One is these is the story of my mynah bird, called Alfie. It always struck me that something that would work on radio was to have a parrot. Instead I got a mynah bird; something that would add a bit of spice when you least expect it, which is really a microcosm of what you want, not the whole programme. If you have a parrot screaming "Rock 'n' Roll" and exciting things when you're doing things, then it certainly adds to all the mayhem. I suppose it was a precursor to the Zoo-format. Whereas they have a few more people, I just had a parrot! Once, I left Tony Prince in charge of Alfie for a week or two, because I had to go somewhere and he spent the entire time with an endless loop of tape teaching the bird to swear.

  The bird ended up saying a few nasty words and he didn't tell me any of this! I just came back, and mynah birds are very astute and it came up with some good "Fuck you's" at the wrong time! Luckily he didn't remember that one too much, because I encouraged "Sounds fine, it's Caroline" and "Rock 'n' Roll", which were his two favourites. Poor Alfie met his demise in France through my own stupidity. I didn't leave the window open enough in the vehicle he was travelling in, and he had a heat stroke. No doubt I shall pay for it one day when my karma is tested.
4 Right: Rosko at Caroline South (1966)

Pirated jingles. I also remember that on one occasion we pirated some jingles from Radio England while they were testing. It was all part of the spirit of things. We had got the word that a new ship had sailed in and there were these rich Texans, who had spent tons of money. They had a 50-kW transmitter which would blow everybody out of the water and it was called Radio England. So sure enough they pulled in and you could see them with the binoculars about five miles away and we were all sitting there on the boat, gnashing our teeth and wondering what was going to happen. They started test transmitting and we noticed that when they tested they would be very clever because they were transmitting only their jingles! No music!

  So I thought that these were really neat jingles and we had these ropey old things with assorted British soul singers of the period, Julie Driscoll, Madeleine Bell, etcetera, which we paid 50 quid for. They've got these jingles they paid five thousand dollars for and they were slick. The test transmissions kept going so we ran a 15-ips tape recorder and as we were only five minutes away we got perfect quality. We taped all their jingles and then chopped them all up overnight because this all happened basically over 24 hours. We laid beds in there and did voice-overs and put "Radio Caroline" in the middle of them. I think Tony Prince or Mike Ahern went on the air with them next morning and we had them on for the whole day, doing nothing but using their jingles with our "Caroline" in them.
5 Left: Rosko on board of the Cheeta II (1966)

Out of the window. And, of course, we had those Major Minor's plug records. Well, I never really knew Phil Solomon, right off the bat. I heard he was a villain from Ireland and he bought 30 or 40 per cent of the operation and being a smart businessman, he realised that if he was making records, he had a ship to play them on, he could sell records, etcetera. So he thought, if he would send out them out with the tender, every week there would be a stack of Phil Solomon's specials! Load of crap! I was probably the rebel and I really didn't care as I could go back to Paris if it really didn't work out. I listened to all of these records and I thought that if we played this we were going to lose audience. If we lose audience we're wasting our time, so I threw them right out of the window.

  Still, every week they came, I listened and I threw them away! Solomon, of course, was going berserk, asking why his records weren't being played! Each week we would give an excuse, like we didn't see them, or they were warped by the sun, etcetera, etcetera. By the end of the third week it was Rosko who threw them out of the porthole. So Solomon told me I was fired. I could go to London to say goodbye to all the girls in the office and go over to O'Rahilly to tell him that I was fired and leaving. But O'Rahilly asked what I was talking about and I told him that Solomon had fired me. He told me that I was hired again and said me to get back to the boat. That happened two or three times and Solomon was absolutely mad about it. But after a while we actually did become friends. After that I didn't throw the records all out, only selected copies. In the end Solomon even hired me to produce records on Major Minor and I never had any hits either.
6 Right: Rosko with Alfie on Caroline South (1966)

Leaving the Lady. I finally left the Lady Caroline, when O'Rahilly hade made a deal with French Radio Luxembourg in Paris which was a long-wave multimillion watt station. The head of one of the big newspaper magazine dynasties in France bought a controlling share in French Radio Luxembourg and they wondered how to make it work, because it was the least popular of the three big stations. They came up with the idea of starting off with having a pirate radio within the station because on Europe No. 1, "Salut Les Copains" was the number one show for the last hundred years for kids. So they decided that they would have a pirate radio show and they made changes all over the station. But the big change was "How do we make a pirate radio station if we don't have any pirates." So they got in touch with Caroline and asked them if they could do something.

  O'Rahilly, being the clever person that he is, did some massive financial deal. I heard later on that we were being rented out for quite a bit of money and I was paid much more than I was making on Caroline. O'Rahilly asked me whether I would like to represent them in Paris. So I went and checked in with the station and we talked strategies and they told me that they wanted to do this show, which was fine by me. When I asked where, they said here, but there was no studio. I told them that we played our own records on pirate radio along with doing the production, the "American way." It had never been done before in France and this was mind-boggling to them, but in the end they did agree.
7 Left: Rosko doing a photo session for Paris Match(1967)

Bringing the Caroline style to France. When talking about my career people do ask me what my most exciting moment was and I must tell you that this is a very hard question. There have been hundreds exciting moments over my 38 years in broadcasting. Well maybe the launching of the "Million Watt Show" on the French Service of Radio Luxembourg. This was pretty exciting to do and from that moment on I became also "Le Président Rosko." The show was called "Mini Max" in 1967 and it would become a totally new style for radio in France. Another great memory was introducing "The Wembly Rock and Roll Show" with eighty-thousand fans; it was a pretty hot thing to do. Of course I must not forget to mention that day, way back in 1966, when I started doing my job on Radio Caroline. This one ranks up pretty high.

Another question asked to me over the years is: "Who did I meet amongst the stars?" Folks, that would be a complete book, as I hosted the "BBC Round Table Show" for three years. That is 52 times 3, or 156 famous artists. Thus, too many to list, I would say. I had the most fun with Little Richard, while Don McLean was the biggest pain in my ass. The late Wilson Pickett was on the back of my motorcycle and this was the most scared one. The most fun I did had during the Stax Tour with Otis Redding. I also do remember Stevie Wonder. He left me on stage for 25 minutes to fill, whilst he played with his piano. That were the roughest 25 minutes I ever had. I must admit that I don't do jokes or shtick, so I had to improvise that day. Wow, talking about sweating! In the end I managed.

  Just as for the deejay that was my idol? Well, for that we have to go back to the rock and roll radio in the USA. All the ones I mentioned before were icons till they died. I am becoming one of those as we speak. A deejay must do other things like voice over work, record producing, gigs etcetera to round out his career. Tony Blackburn sang and became king of the jungle. Dave Lee Travis had his "Convoy" record and there was "Top of the Pops." My thing was: "Do all that you can and be the best that you can be." I did some television work and record producing as a producer. No hits, but I sold half a million over my lifetime as a singing jock. I acted in a few movies: "World War 3," with Rock Hudson, "Life of Elvis" — he was already dead — and, with Neil Diamond, in "The Jazz Singer."
8 Right: Rosko at the French Radio Luxembourg Studio in Paris (1967)

Setting the record straight. Well, let us go back as I am often quoted to set the record straight. I was second as only DLT was ahead of me with his disco shows, but I took it quickly to the next level with added players and dancers and light shows, etcetera. It changed when it morphed to spinning the public exchanged personality and participation for seamless music and the spinner was born. Not my cup of tea. When I started we could spin but we did it by moving frequencies and utilizing natural breaks and so on. Today's jock has all the tolls and this makes his life a bit easier. Hell, when I started with my work in the clubs with my bib mobile rig, we had so much bass rumble that we hung the decks off the ceiling with bungee cords to keep the harmonic bass frequencies from vibrating the decks!

  As of this writing I am heard weekly now on "Classic Gold" in the UK on fo different stations, by the Sky satellite. More info you can find on www.emperorrosko.com. I do also mobile work once a week to keep it fresh. I would not have thought after all these years, that I would still be doing stuff. But yes, the Emperor Rosko is on the air around the world by way of the Internet, in parties and working on a movie. It will be about pirate radio and my life. A DVD on recollections will be out one day. And if I could say one thing to those of you who put up with me weekly. Thanks for being a fan!
  Editor's note: Some parts of this contribution to our Radio Caroline series have been taken from an interview with Michael Pasternak by Chris Edwards — thanks, Chris! The full interview was published in this journal as: Chris Edwards, "Having an audience with Emperor Rosko. An interview with Michael Pasternak, a.k.a. Emperor Rosko." In: Soundscapes, 4, October 2001.
  Look here for the index of this series
  2004 © Soundscapes