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volume 3
february 2001

The first transmissions from the MEBO II


  RNI Memories (5)
by Hans Knot
  In this fifth installment of his RNI Memories Hans Knot takes us back to the very early days of the station. What did the Dutch papers have to say about the first transmissions of Veronica's rival from the MEBO II?
1 This series does not follow the history of RNI on a day to day basis. Just as they come and go, more or less at random, I will recollect my memories of the colourful radio station I remember for myself as the best station of the 1970s. This time my story will take you back to the very early days of the station, telling what I did put down in my diary as well as what was written in the newspapers about the first transmissions from the MEBO II.
Click and listen to a German test transmission from Radio Nordsee by Horst Reiner (1970)
  In February 1970 the transmitters on the MEBO II were put on the air for the very first time. Test transmissions started on short wave, followed by the AM and FM. From those days I recall hearing a series of very long programmes with deejays like Axel, Hannibal, Roger Day, and — a name not to forget — the terrible (sorry!) John Denny. Though the shows were all very long, I did enjoy them very well. Maybe it was the endless playing of the station's theme "Man of Action" that made the programmes seem so long. Just bringing back that tune over and over again was a kind of a brain washing of the listeners, reminding them over and over again that they had found the station to listen to for the next years.
2 Michael Lindsay on board of the MEBO II (1970)

Almost instantly after the first transmissions, as in the next weeks, a lot of small articles on the ship and its station could be found in the Dutch newspapers. In those days the colourful radio ship proved to be an excellent subject for the Dutch journalists. They wrote about Radio Nordsee International as a formidable competitor of Radio Veronica, the only offshore radio station left after both Caroline ships — the MV Mi Amigo and the MV Fredericia — were towed away in March 1968 by the Wijsmuller Company, as the bills weren't paid for the tendering of the radio ships.

On board of the MEBO II the programmes were broadcast with a very strong AM transmitter, which at one time — although only for a few hours — had an output of no less than 105 kW. In the first months this powerful signal transmitted RNI's programmes in the English and German language and spread them all over Western Europe. Never before an offshore radio station came in so very clearly — during day time as well as during night time — in the Northern and Eastern parts of Holland.

3 Very soon after the start of RNI's test transmissions the more conservative newspapers in Holland, alarmed by the powerful signal of the station, started a campaign asking for actions against the new station by the Dutch authorities. They wrote that it now had to stop: no longer could it be tolerated that radio programmes were transmitted from international waters. The fact that RNI only transmitted its programmes in German and English didn't count as an argument. The station was, they said, interfering with the monopoly of the Dutch Broadcasting organisations, which had the only right to beam radio programmes all over the Netherlands.
  The Dutch PTT (GPO) also was very quick to react after the transmissions in the AM band on 186 metres had started. Complaints had been received at their offices that the transmitter interfered on official wavelengths of a broadcasting station in Italy. The short wave transmissions appeared to cause problems as well with certain distress frequencies from the Norwegian Navy. Another kind of interference was mentioned in all kind of newspapers on March 4th, 1970:
  "If Dutch Parliament will not act very soon against the offshore radio station, by signing the Convention of Strasbourg, they risk being too late. If RNI gets a large audience, other organisations also may think that bringing a radio ship into international waters will give them a large public of listeners and with that a lot of profit. Moreover, there's another problem. The new radio station, Radio Nordsee International, causes a lot of interference with the pilot service in Flushing. Contacts between ships on the North Sea and Westerschelde at one hand and the pilot service on the other, at the moment is almost impossible."
4 Angry voiced opinions, addressing and belittling the government to take action against the offshore radio stations. In 1970 it was nothing out of the common in those days. Read the next part of the story:
  Roger Day and Johnny Scott on board of the MEBO II (February 1970)

"Yesterday morning the link up between the pilot service and the ships was completely blocked by the signal of RNI, transmitting with a high-power transmitter on 186 metres on the medium wave band. For a temporary provision the pilot service now works with its spare transmitter from the pilot service in Rotterdam and so they've changed from 187 to 182 metres. This last resource to 182 metres seemed necessary while the link ups couldn't be heard anymore on both ships as well as in the office in Flushing harbour. The transmissions from RNI on 186 metres blew away all other transmissions on the lower side of the AM band."

A few days later some of the newspapers brought the news that RNI's directors may have decided to do something on the problem, at least to prevent getting a bad name in publicity. The newspapers stated:

  "Last weekend, as a very slick red herring, Radio Nordsee International, has transmitted two free commercials, which has not been paid for by the organizations in question. One of those was for the World Nature Life Fund with Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands as the chairman, and the second one for the UNESCO."
5 That the media didn't keep a close eye on the developments within the station became clear at that stage. When Meister and Bollier invited the press on the MEBO II — with the ship still in Slikkerveer harbour (December 1969) — they already had announced that next to selling airtime to people interested there would be free commercials, from time to time, for charitable organisations, like the World Life Fund, Oxfam and UNESCO Children Fund.
  Carl Mitchell in Studio 1 on the MEBO II (1970)

Only a few weeks after the first messages of the interferences the Swiss directors, Meister and Bollier, decided to anchor the MEBO II off the Clacton coast. They thought, then and there, that the station would get more profit when the transmissions were off the British coast. Also after this decision the newspapers didn't prove to be well informed. In their daily columns the 'Haarlems Dagblad' — a local newspaper from Haarlem city — for instance announced that the MEBO II had left the Dutch coast and at that moment was anchored off the Belgian Coast:

"It can not be told yet if the pilot service in Flushing still has interference with the RNI AM-transmitter on 186 metres. The MEBO II, which is now anchored off the Belgian Coast near Cadzand, didn't restart programming yet."

  It seemed that the pilot service in Flushing still used the old spare transmitter in Rotterdam for they first wanted to know if, after restart of programming, RNI should still interfere on their own channel. A spokesman of the pilot service, Mr. J. Heyse, stated: "If RNI doesn't interfere anymore, we will go back to our own wavelength."
Carl Mitchell reports about the MEBO II moving off the English coast
6 In the meantime the MEBO II was already off the British coast and after arriving there on March 24th, at 9 o'clock in the morning. The very same day the British GPO Minister was complaining to the Prime Minister that action should be taken against the new radio station due to the fact the station committed a breach of the Marine Offences Act of 1967. The medium wave transmitter from RNI caused severe interference to the Walton on the Naze coast guards, who used 183 metres to stay in contact with the lightships and the Trinity House vessels. Rumours were spread that they had to increase their power tenfold to stay in contact. Therefore on March 27th, RNI's medium wave transmitter went off the air, although the short wave transmitter stayed on the air at 6210 kHz. On the 10th of April RNI was back on a new frequency of 1587 kHz. 190 metres.
  The British government was quick to react. A few days later, on April 15th, 1970, the first jamming transmitter was put on the air, starting the so-called "jamming period" for RNI. I do remember it very well: the first jamming could be heard right in the middle of the record "Spirit In The Sky" by Norman Greenbaum. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications started jamming the medium wave transmitter with a 800 c/s tone from a naval radio station at Rochester. In the newspapers it was stated that it was done on request of Italian and Norway radio stations.
7 Mark Wesley and fans at the demonstration in Hydepark (1970)

RNI changed frequency after frequency but the jamming transmitter always kept following its tracks. When RNI was on 244 metres, the 10 kW Navy transmitter was even interfering with the programming of BBC's Radio One, the national pop station, in parts of Essex and Kent. As a result the transmitter plant in Rochester was visited by a group of Free Radio Fans. The same group also protested in a demonstration from Hyde Park to 10 Downing Street. From that point on RNI for me really was a "Spirit In The Sky" and my radio wasn't switched off from the RNI frequencies before the station closed down for the very first time in September 1970.

  The sound fragments on this page are copyrighted. They are 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