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volume 7
august 2004

The making of the young Paul Alexander


  The wet and wild history of Radio Caroline (24)
by Paul Rusling
  In the late Spring of 1973 two stations, both calling themselves Radio Caroline, were airing their programmes: one in the English language with a Top-40 format, the other in Dutch with an easy-listening format. In those days, Hans Knot frequented the MV Mi Amigo and the Caroline offices at the Van Hoogendorpstraat and befriended many of the people working at these centres of radio-activity. Among them was a young lad by the name of Paul Alexander, or rather Paul Alexander Rusling, who desperately wanted to go out to the ship. Now over thirty years later, he wrote down his memories of those days.
1 Right: The young Paul Alexander

Discovering offshore radio. I came rather late to the Caroline family: we were too poor to have our own television and family evenings were spent listening to Radio Luxembourg. I remember that the radio wouldn't be on much during the day — the Light Programme was pretty square, except for Saturday mornings, and we would borrow a record player from neighbours from time to time. At Christmas 1964, I got my own transistor radio and my interest was sparked — I helped to set up a school electronics club and realised that I was outside the reception area of a lot of stations, which I had read about "down south." A friend came back from a holiday in the Lake District with tales of a Radio Caroline and we eventually heard it very late one night, around the wavelengt "199." It sounded so different — the deejays were enthusiastic about the music, but somehow still "cool." My holy grail was to hear this Caroline station during the day and I strung out some elaborate long wires across the school fields — claiming them to be a pilot for changing the PA-system to a 100-volt line-system. Eventually one lunchtime, I found Radio Caroline North, weak but there — and what a breath of fresh air.

  Big L was still my main listening — one day I woke to found it obliterated by a station playing "Strangers In The Night" by Frank Sinatra. Yuk, not a schoolboy's favourite cup of tea at all, and that station was much discussed at school that day. It turned out to be a new offshore station, Radio 270, which later played an important role in my life. Tuning away to lose Radio 270 and find Big Lil again, I suddenly found Radio Caroline at an unusual spot on the dial. They had of course moved up to "259" with the return from Holland of the Mi Amigo and a brand sparkling new 50-kiloWatt transmitter. The signal was now superb and it had some new deejays I hadn't heard before: this American guy Emperor Rosko, but still DLT — I didn't realise until some years later that he had moved down from the North ship to the Mi Amigo. Quite a difference to the old 199-spot with 10 kiloWatts — Radio Caroline was now listenable and a big part of my life. One day they mentioned a new station, Swinging Radio England, and I found it immediately — on 355 metres. The best signal I had ever heard from any station. Loud, shrill and playing my music. The jocks were wonderful to my young ears and I became an SRE-listener, for a few weeks until they disappeared off to 227 metres, where reception was more difficult. They were replaced by Britain Radio — with the old "Radio 270" diet of easy-listening music. I went back to Radio Caroline, which improved tremendously and simply became hipper and hipper.
  Over the next few years I became a staunch offshore radio supporter, organising petitions, clubs and DJ sessions up in Hull with star deejays — the 270-men of course: Mike Hayes, Rusty Allen, Mike Baron and Alan West, who we knew better as Ross Randell, plus Daffy Don Allen who became pretty well known across Yorkshire — even his fan club was run from Yorkshire by Norah Swallow in Halifax. Caroline North had become listenable across Yorkshire some time previously when it moved from 199 to 259 metres. When we brought Don to Hull the first time in June 1968 the club was packed with fans eager to see him — so Caroline North did have listeners that far east!
2 Left: Andy Archer and Dick Palmer

The phone call that changed my life. Winding my life forward a few years, at the time the MV Mi Amigo sprang back to life off the Dutch coast, I was working in nightclubs as a deejay to pay my way through college doing radio engineering. One day I had a phone call that changed my life from Kate Carey. She said that her husband Chris wondered if I would be interested in coming out to the ship for a while and doing some programmes. They were soon to relaunch the "Caroline International" service at full power and wanted some bright and breezy Top-40 deejays. To say that I was pretty excited for the rest of that day would be an understatement — I was over the moon! I couldn't eat — unusual for me! — or concentrate on my gig that night at a new venue in Bridlington. It had opened only three days previously and the owners had spent a fortune promoting it with billboards, newspapers, and so on, and my face was incorporated into this. Imagine their dismay when I told them I was leaving to join Radio Caroline. I didn't know when, the arrangements had been a bit flaky to say the least. I remember being told by either Chris or Kate that "there wouldn't be a great deal of bread in the trip." I didn't mind — I would eat toast instead!

  My long suffering girl friend Anne was the most difficult to break the news to as she had just moved her own career up to be near me in Bridlington and we planned a great Summer up there — now suddenly I was darting off elsewhere. I was scared stiff what her reaction might be — a big girl (four inches taller than me) and with a fiery temper and a tongue like a knife, she could be formidable when crossed, but to her eternal credit she was 100% supportive and knew it was something that I had always wanted to do. She wouldn't let me go now, after being 32 years together, though. Eventually I found myself at the Van Hoogendorpstraat in The Hague, an office near The Hague's "Holland Spoor" railway station. There was much reconstruction going on with a suite of studios being built on the top floor and someone assembling a motorcycle in the downstairs porch. Kate gave me a lovely warm welcome and said that they were worried that I wasn't coming as I hadn't said I would join when asked. I was surprised — the question "Would you like to join Radio Caroline" at that time was similar go asking a musician if they would like to join the Beatles. Did it really need an answer?
  After a tour of the building we ate lunch using some carpet tile cartons as tables and chairs — they took up almost every available nook and cranny in the offices, presumably the result of some advertising contra-deal. The company cars were supplied by "Stam" auto rental, until the ones returned were too battered and bruised. The offices were fairly buzzing at that time with a constant procession of wheelers and dealers — Caroline was big news having just helped out Radio Veronica for a few weeks at a critical time for radio politically in Holland and the ship was running test transmissions on two frequencies — both of which were covering wide areas of the Benelux and the UK. Hot Chocolate, at that time Mickie Most's hottest property, were in town for Radio Veronica, but when he called Caroline House to do an interview there was nowhere to sit down and no studio complete to record an interview, so they went off to a bar instead. Our advertising contracts were coming together very well — we had probably the best guy ever to handle this for us in the form of Terry Bate. He had been brought over from Canada by Ronan O'Rahilly in 1966 to help boost Caroline's profile and had come up with "Cash Casino" and "Partners in Profit," two excellent promotions which resulted in Caroline House being deluged in mail. Although he had three applications in to the IBA for the forthcoming ILR-network, here he was bagging deals for Caroline and still finding time to help out train deejays and record commercials on the top floor at Caroline House.
  Right: The Caroline Wall

At the office the whole of one huge wall was dominated by "Radio Caroline" picked out in cyan blue using the legendary square letters, I remember it as clearly as yesterday and only wish someone had taken a picture; it was so imposing and impressive. There were a small army of helpers "getting things together" in the office at that time — Dennis King probably being one of the hardest workers after Chris and Kate who worked like trojans day and night to get the station operational. One of the most interesting, however, was a little girl of about three years old, whose image became part of the Caroline logo — the outline of a little girl eating an ice-cream? That was Louise Cary, a little bundle of energy who was proficient than most of the English team at taking calls in Dutch and acting as translator. She certainly knew her way around — I remember going to the post office with her to swap the huge bundles of International Reply Coupons that arrived at Caroline House each day for postage stamps. Louise was able to show me where to buy ice cream on the way back!

3 On board of the Mi Amigo. That day there was only one tender out to the boat, we often had three and even four, perhaps a measure of how disorganised things were and how things could change rapidly as new supplies became available. Tender time was often hectic — everyone decamped down to the office of Jacques Vrolijk on the quayside in "De Tweede Binnenhaven" in Scheveningen — about fifteen minutes away from the office, unless the Police got too interested in your unusual load. The comings and goings to the radio ships were all a magnet for radio aficionados of all types — I spent many happy hours here myself. Dick Palmer gave me an introduction to the Mi Amigo, "and how to stay alive out here" as he so worryingly put it. The ships engine room was a bit of a death trap with several contraptions in varying states of disassembly and, one presumes, repair. The big problem seemed to be getting parts — everything was awaiting something or other. The one remaining generator had no intercooler so Dick and his assistant had rigged up an inventive way of cooling, where jets of seawater simply cascaded over the outer jacket of the engine and flowed off into the bilges. Rudimentary, but it worked and kept us running for a long time.
  Dick Palmer was a first class engineer, driven to despair by a lack of tools and parts — for the equipment, not personally! — who was also a superb mentor. He was always willing to give pearls of wisdom, on life, after-life, but above all on human consumption of food, drink and other ingestibles. He knew so much about everything, or so it seemed to a young 19-year-old, and I remember being totally amazed at some of his theories, many of which he would expound late into the evening. He was genuinely concerned for some of the young guys who ended up out on the ship and many of my colleagues and me plus the greater Caroline family and indeed the listeners owe Dick a great debt of gratitude. Dick was ably assisted by two terrific guys from The Hague called Peter and Jaap. Like Dick, they had a wicked sense of humour and loved winding people up — we had some terrific times and I can still break into fits of giggles even now, thirty years later, thinking of some of the antics we got up to while people were on the air — some involving such props as frozen bananas and cans of cream, I think!
  Left: Jacques Vrolijk, Hans Knot, Martin de Wit, Hans Verbaan, Steven England

I seem to recall doing a period of test transmissions, the usual pleading for reception reports. We decided against trying to spell out the Van Hoogendorpstraat address, as it would diminish the amounts of mail, and simply announced Radio Caroline, The Hague in Holland. To the credit of the Dutch PTT, we received all the mail without a problem at all. I understand that we took up an entire corner of the sorting office for quite some time and the amounts of mail certainly kept the army of workers at the office occupied. Mail addressed to the deejays was sent out to the ship and I have to say that it is one of the most pleasing things about working in radio — receiving mail. The mail we received at Caroline was phenomenal — I have never seen so much. I used to sit for hours opening the stuff, and of course, it provided superb programme material. My sincere thanks to everyone who has ever written to a deejay on a radio ship — you made the life so much more fun.

  After some time doing test transmission as Radio Caroline 1 and Radio Caroline 2, Chris decided one Sunday that we would start full programmes the following day. It was a bit of a surprise to most, in particular our breakfast deejay Roger Day. He was to record his breakfast programmes on tape at his home in south London and we would play them ... when they arrived. Of course, none were available for the first day, so at 7:00 pm on Sunday, June 3, I was told that I would be hosting breakfasts, from the very next morning. Andy Archer had come out to the ship to live host the morning strip — a technical term for programme, sometimes very representative of one's attire — from 9:00 to 12:00 and he assured me that the TV and press would all be out in force the next morning for the launch, and I should dress smartly. I obediently wore a snazzy psychedelic necktie and a mauve three-piece suit at 6:00 am the next morning, I even polished my shoes! Of course no press showed up, however I kept the suit on just in case. One visitors boat showed up and on board were two very keen radio aficionados of the day who came out are still stalwarts of the offshore radio scene, Hans Knot and Rob Olthof. I should think they wondered what on earth I was doing dressed like that!
4 Measuring field strength. Peter Chicago wanted to take some measurements of how far the two signals were going — it's normal to measure field strength at about a mile distance to gauge the radiated power, so I set off with him in one of the ship's lifeboats to do this. We had no outboard motor, just an old oar and about a mile and a half of rope, which we tethered to the ship as a safety line. We drifted off on the tide and were soon quite a distance away from the Mi Amigo, and enjoying the warmth of the sun and perhaps the radiation of the ships too — there were at that time us pumping out RF on 773 and 1187 kHz, Radio Veronica with about 20 kiloWatts on 557 kiloHertz about a mile away, and "a bit further along the street" was the MEBO II, pumping out its 80 kiloWatts on 1367kHz, and a fair bit on other channels too. Peter told me to pay out all the line so we would drift a bit further. Being slightly wet behind the ears, I took him at his word and paid out all the line, including the last few inches which were tied to the end of the boat. Peter didn't think anyone could be so stupid, but there is always one and here he was, in a small open boat with him and now drifting a lot faster on the tide away from the Mi Amigo, now we were no longer dragging a mile and a half of rope astern! We hastily began padding frantically back, but the tide was quite rapid — the guys on the ship couldn't understand why we were now waving. I tried semaphore for help — but they didn't twig for quite some time.
  Right: The Caroline logo with the icecream girl

Eventually Dick and Jimmy on the ship realised we were in trouble, reeled the line in and repaid it out, this time floating on an empty canister towards us. We were busily trying to row our way back and making no headway at all. After about an hour of drama, which included us both ending up in the water when I managed to lose our only oar, we got back to the ship and as a penance I had to single-handedly crank up the lifeboat back into position on the davits — it took me almost ninety minutes. I was a good boy after that — until one day I popped across to the Radio Veronica ship — they always seemed to have more beer than we did and their newsman Arend Langenberg and Chief Engineer José van Groningen always made us more than welcome. Dick Palmer had to sack me after that episode. I think he sacked me a few times, or confined me to painting duties, all good disciplinarian stuff I suppose for those who had served in a public school, which life on the Mi Amigo was very much alike! My misery was usually short-lived as a few hours later there would be a tender and either Chris or Kate would unsack me as we were short of deejays.

  One of the nicest surprises was one morning when I was summoned out onto deck to see a visiting boat — the Dolfijn from Scheveningen I think it was, with a lady out on deck yelling something or other. It was a pen-friend, Lesley Reas, who had come all the way over from Harlow in Essex and chartered her own boat — and it cost about two weeks wages for a trip out there in those days — and just all to say how well I was doing and please play her a record. I was really touched by that, it was a lovely thing to do — a plane trip to Holland, taxi to Scheveningen and then out on a boat — the sheer dedication of Caroline listeners is something that I don't think any other radio station enjoys. All power to them, their efforts are really appreciated. For a time we had not one or two but really four services running — the four seasons of Caroline. On 389 metres we had the English language Top-40 hit music station, while over on 259 they had easy-listening by day in Dutch until about 6:00 pm. We would then have about three hours of classical music until around 9:00 pm when Norman Barrington and Dick Palmer would take over and slowly change it from classical, via stuff like ELO, to progressive, which continued until around 6:00 am when the Dutch language Radio Caroline easy-listening format would take over again.
5 Left: Dennis King at the Van Hoogendorp Studio

A strong team and weak equipment. When one looks back at the line-ups, we had a very strong team — Roger Day (when the tapes showed up!), Andy Archer, Spangles Maldoon, Robin Adcroft, Peter Chicago, Steve England, Norman Barrington, Dick Palmer, Dave West and Johnny Jason. Oh, and that Yorkshire guy with a Beatle fringe masquerading as Paul Alexander! Andy had become PD of the Dutch easy-listening service and also recruited a strong team including Joop Verhoof, and two ace readers — Henk Meeuwis and Leo de Later, who we lost to Radio Veronica, and more recently a star TV-performer with RTL in Holland. The Mi Amigo still had a lot of equipment missing at the time and it was a credit to Peter Chicago and Robin Adcroft that they got two services operating at the time. The main 259-studio had the big Gates mixer and the cart machines. It was used for the main revenue earner, the Dutch daytime easy-listening station, and in the evenings by the Caroline rock music or progressive "album" station. The 389 studio next door was the large old wrap around desk, rather like a counter from a fish and chip shop, with a very basic homemade mixer that looked like it had been purloined from a nightclub. We had simply two Garrard SP25 turntables that cost about twenty pounds each and an old Grundig open reel tape recorder on the floor for commercials and the occasional jingle. The microphone was excellent however, an AKG D202 — or rather it was excellent until it failed on me at 7:30 one morning. I dare not wake Chicago, his sleep was sacrosanct, and so I set to disassembling the microphone. I got it working again, but couldn't get it back together; I think I was fired for that too!

  We did our programmes perched on what Andy Archer called a splendid antique dining chair, which I think is what it was. It looked very out of place, and in a rough sea you couldn't stay on it for very long. The station's record library was also rather thin — we had a superb new Caroline Countdown 40 dreamed up in London by one of Chris's old friends, Mike Lindsay, who was managing Purple Records at EMI. The first week we only had 13 of the 40 records listed. The early mornings were good times to be on the ship, watching the sun rise over Holland and eating a superb real Irish breakfast cooked by one of O'Rahilly's pals, Jimmy Hoolihan, who was a tireless worker and always willing to help. Jimmy looked fearsome, as he was really tall — if he wasn't seven feet tall he was at least six feet twelve inches! — but was one of the kindest and most helpful people you could wish to meet. Peter Chicago too is, of course, a big guy, but also one of the biggest hearts too — I'm proud to call him my friend, and others to from this golden era — such as Robin Adcroft.
  Right: Ronan O'Rahilly and Paul Rusling (1987)

On one trip home, I was talking to an old friend in Hull about the station and he asked if we needed an experienced seaman. I called Chris in the office and we certainly could — bring a welder too was his instruction. No need for that, as Mike Hydrophoor as he became known due to his accomplishment with that particular piece of kit in the engine room, could do both. We soon had quite a contingent of engineers on the boat, being joined by Bob Noakes and others, and things improved rather rapidly, until suddenly on evening the tender came alongside and I stood in for Steve England while he helped do something else. Kate was in the studio with Andy Archer and we were talking about some great new plan, when suddenly during a link the light flickered, the turntable slurred and I flipped — "that bloo*** **** generator again" I said, and thought: "Oh no, I swore on the air." Fortunately for me, the transmitter had tripped out seconds before my expletives. But the generator had finally died and the only way to get back on the air was for a deal for some new ones that involved giving up our coveted 389-transmitter to the new Belgian station, Radio Atlantis. That's why when Radio Atlantis debuted its jingles, it said it was on 385, although it was actually broadcasting on 259 as the 50-kiloWatt transmitter could not be made to work on the lower frequency at full power. The Caroline International service was finished however as the team dispersed to ILR, Luxembourg and all points west.

  For me it was a wonderful induction to the wacky world of watery wireless. It was one of the best times of my life. I made some fantastic friends and still think of those days with fondness and affection. Maybe one day ...
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