| home   authors | new | about | newsfeed | print |  
volume 3
february 2001

A visit to the MEBO II


  RNI Memories (1)
by Hans Knot
  The offshore radio station Radio Nordsee International (RNI) started broadcasting in January 1970, transmitting German and English language programmes from its ship, the MEBO II. In September 1970 the transmissions came to an end. After some months, however, the station came back on the air in February 1971 and stayed there till the end of August 1974, now with Dutch and English programmes. Radio Noordzee and Radio Northsea International were the names of the station during that period. In those years Hans Knot followed the events around RNI on a regular base. He kept a lot of diaries, which we will publish here as a series: RNI Memories. This first episode describes a visit to the station's ship, the MEBO II, on the North Sea on February 21st, 1971.
Click on the button and listen to some RNI jingles while reading this essay

During the past 32 years I have been writing on the history of radio with a special interest in offshore radio, or radio from international waters. The offshore radio stations made their programmes without governmental influence and without the strict rules which at that time were current within the public and commercial radio industry in Europe. So these stations could adapt their broadcasts to the changing preferences of the public in a more flexible way. They were innovative in their choice of music and their style of presentation. In this respect they often lead the way for their listeners. Moreover, a strong feeling of romance and adventure was clinging to the life on board of the ships. With a lively interest in these matters I followed the events around RNI in the seventies on a regular base and wrote them down in my diaries. The next fragment describes my first visit to the station's ship MEBO II on Sunday, February 21st, 1971.

2 Sunday, February 21st, 1971: It's two in the afternoon, when officials from Dutch Customs make their last check on our passports. The reason why? Well, we're going into international waters with the MEBO II as our destination, the radio ship which houses the English service of Radio Northsea International and very soon — from March on — will also house Radio Noordzee, its Dutch equivalent. The tender, which we're using is the Elisabeth 4, a fishing trawler from Scheveningen, hired by the owners of the Dutch Service, Strengholt BV from Naarden. One of the Swiss owners of the MEBO II, Mr. Meister, phoned us the previous day and invited us on this publicity trip for the station.
  Pieter Damave

Those lines open the account in my diary about the trip to the MEBO II. Meister was on the trip along with his business partner Bollier. In those days they ran a telecommunication company in Zurich, Switzerland. Other people on the ship were Willem van Kooten (alias Joost den Draayer), Jan van Veen, John de Mol senior (director of the Dutch service), John de Mol junior, who later became a technician on Radio Noordzee, and nowadays is the biggest TV producer in Europe, and of course about ten journalists who were invited to promote the station in their newspapers or magazines. That was also the reason for my presence, as I was the editor of the offshore radio magazine "Pirate Radio News" at that time. Let's go on with the story in the diary:

3 Our visit is not the only reason for the trip. New records, programme tapes and music trade magazines have to be taken out, as well as milk, bread, beer and other small things. But above all the reason is that the two Dutch deejays, Jan van Veen en Joost den Draayer, will be co-hosting an hour this afternoon with the international staff on the MEBO II to promote their forthcoming Dutch service on the ship. It's freezing cold as we start the trip and everyone is well dressed in winter coats. Although it is very cold during the first fifteen minutes, the atmosphere is very good and we begin to forget the freezing weather. Also the sea is not too calm but that's one thing I myself never have had problems with.
  Others are getting really green and seasick during the 45 minute long trip to the MEBO II. Joost is the merrymaker during the trip. He left Veronica three years earlier after trouble with their directors and now he is going to work for Radio Noordzee. And not only that. He still has a job on legal radio in Hilversum, where he presents the weekly Top 30 on VPRO Hilversum 3. So from early March on we can expect Joost to present the 12-14 slot of Radio Noordzee on weekdays, while every Friday he can be heard at the same time on VPRO Hilversum 3. The first programme will be on tape and the VPRO one will be presented live.
4 Erwin Meister en Edwin Bollier, the station's owners

Of course I had seen many photographs of the MEBO II in the British and Dutch newspapers in 1970, but had never visited the radio ship before. It was beautiful to see the ship with all its colours, appearing on the horizon after some 35 minutes. It really was something special. No other station, after the closedown of Swinging Radio England and Radio London, had attracted me so much as RNI whith its programmes from 1970. An almost tragic year, 1970, when the ship was nearly hijacked and taken away by the Veronica organisation. RNI sounded to me like a very professional radio station, which in my opinion, was due to the very good balance of qualities in the presentation team.

Directly after we went on board the MEBO II, Jan van Veen said some words about the massive ship: "As we look at the black radio ship on the other side of the MEBO II," pointing at the Norderney, Veronica's vessel, "we see our one is really big; it makes that one look like a rowing boat." He added that it was only a joke, so the journalists would not write bad things about his former bosses, for Van Veen also left Veronica after a quarrel with the Verweij Brothers, one of them being his father-in-law.

5 When everybody was on the MEBO II, a tour started. First we went to the large studio. Never before I had seen such a big studio on a radio ship. Crispian St. John, Alan West, Tony Allan, Dave Rodgers and Steve Merike were introduced as members of the international staff. Steve was the only one I had met before, once on a occasion in early 1968 at the Singel in Amsterdam, where Caroline had her office then. The atmosphere in the big "production" studio made it clear to me that this team really fitted together. Meister insisted to take the guests around the ship personally. He then took us to the heart of the ship, where he proudly showed us the transmitter room: "For us the most beautiful investment we've ever made." And, pointing at the big wall with transmitters: "We've paid more than one million guilders for those and you can imagine that we were very angry when we were bought out last September by the Veronica organisation. Now that we own the ship again, we shall recover the invested money more than once. I know for sure that we will be a big success this time and part of this success is the reason for our visit: 'our beloved Dutch friends,' who will present from next week on a piece of the daily programming."
6 Hans Knot promoting RNI and his record on the history of offshore radio in Scheveningen, May, 4th 1973

After visiting other areas of the ship, like the engine and generator room, I followed Joost to the deck of the ship to talk about the plans for the Dutch service: "We will be bringing the hits from today, yesterday and tomorrow, relaxing music, not too heavy and progressive. We will try to serve a wide audience. Especially the group who have passed their teens and are now in their twenties. That's the group of interest to our advertisers." Although the Dutch service wasn't on the air yet, Den Draayer was sure that Radio Noordzee 220 would become a big hit: "Of course it's very difficult to sell a station to an advertiser when it isn't on air. But our people at the sales department have had talks with several companies and things really look good for the future. In no time, you can count on that, there will be more hours of Dutch programming, our own news service, live programming and many more surprises." After a drink in the studio, everybody went back to the Elisabeth 4. Meister shouting with hands cupped to his face: "I forgot, within a few weeks, I promise you guys, we will be on the air 24 hours a day on shortwave, medium wave and FM!"

  We enjoyed the trip back to Scheveningen harbour, for my first steps on this beautiful ship were an experience never to be forgotten, as it was in the years afterwards, when I was lucky enough to visit the MEBO II again on a few occasions. RNI closed down on August 31st, 1974, when the Dutch MOA (Marine Offences Act) came in effect. The same act ended things like the dual presentations Willem van Kooten — who left the station on March 1st, 1972 — was doing on RNI and VPRO radio. In the middle of the seventies most offshore radio stations closed down, but they lived on in the memory of their listeners. And, looking back on all those stations which were on the air during the 1970s, I can only say that, in my ears, RNI was always number One.
  The sound fragment on this page is copyrighted. It is used here according to the rules of fair use and academic quoting. Take a look at the index of RNI Memories for other installments of this series.
  2001 © Soundscapes