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volume 3
march 2001

RNI in the British newspapers


  RNI Memories (10)
by Hans Knot
  After Meister and Bollier invited the Dutch press at the shipyard "De Groot en Van Vliet" in Slikkerveer near Rotterdam, the Dutch newspapers didn't stop to debate the political implications of Veronica's coming competitor. A few months later, in the early days of February 1970, the British press waked up to the news, that RNI would start broadcasting in the English and German language. The national and local newspapers took great pains to inform their readers. Journalists even were flown to Holland to visit the MEBO II. Combining several newspapers reports from those days, Hans Knot here makes a reconstruction of how the British press reacted on the new, forthcoming offshore station.
1 After hearing of a new offshore station that soon would start broadcasting from the MEBO II, the Dutch press was quick to react, warning the authorities for this violation of the monopoly of the Dutch broadcasting organisations. The opinions of the British press just went in the opposite direction. Many newspapers welcomed the new offshore station. One of them for instance wrote:

"Pirate Radio is back in Britain, almost two years to the day Radio Caroline was taken off the air by Dutch shipping agency Wijsmuller. And if the enthusiasm and the cost of launching, the latest sea pirate is anything to go by, it must stay. Radio Northsea International will start full programming, next Saturday, with its first advertisers, including the World Wildlife Fund, whose president is Prince Philip. The advert was booked through the organisation's offices in Zurich. Next to that also a free commercial for UNICEF will be played with regular intervals."

2 The British papers did not ignore the problems of the Dutch authorities. The article continues:

"The station, anchored off the Dutch coast, will pump out 20 hours of non-stop programmes, aimed on Western Europe and Britain and it will be presented from the radio ship MEBO II by English and German deejays. Risking a fine of 400 Pounds and two years in jail the British deejays are on board the luxury green, yellow and red painted ship, anchored five miles off the Scheveningen coast, a seaside resort near The Hague. The radio ship and the tender are both registered in Panama and already Britain and Norway are putting pressure on both the Panamanian and Dutch authorities to stop the broadcasts."

  "The Dutch government, who ignored Radio Veronica for the last ten years, finds itself in a very difficult position for if it takes action against the new pirate it would also have to take action against Radio Veronica. A move which would lose the delicately balanced coalition government a lot of votes in the next elections, which will be held in Holland in March 1971. It seems, by now, that no party will risk any 'sink the pirates moves' until after the elections."
3 The reputation of the Swiss owners certainly did concern the British press, but their interest most of all focussed on the new deejays who would be presenting the programmes:
  Arnold Layne

"Behind the new radio station are two wealthy and very shrewd Swiss people, Erwin Meister owner of a telecommunication firm, and Edwin Bollier who owns an exclusive night-club. So far the project has cost well over 500.000 Pounds, but both a confidant of success. So after almost two years of silence a new offshore radio station is scheduled to begin broadcasting to Britain on 186-metre medium wave. And the line-up of disc jockeys is headed by Roger 'Twiggy' Day, former Radio England, Radio Caroline and Luxembourg staff man. He is 24 years of age and will be their programme director. He moved from his home in Surbiton in the middle of January to join the coloured ship. With him are Andy Archer (24), in real life known as Andrew Dawson from Kings Lynn. Also Alan West from Morden (22) and Johnny Scott (24) from Edinburgh can be heard on the air. Completing the radio staff is 24 years old Carl Mitchell, son of an American newspaper publisher."

  "Mitchell worked during 1967/'68 on Radio Caroline International after which he went to Groningen in the Netherlands as a club deejay in the local 'Berenkuil'. The transmissions are expected to start at 5 p.m. on Friday and the broadcasts will reach England and it's possible that RNI will pick up a better spot on the medium wave for English transmissions later this month. The deejays will have a fairly free choice of the discs they play. The station has been broadcasting test transmissions regularly in German in the FM band for three weeks now and has included a few English announcements but no direct transmissions. It's likely Roger Day will have an own show late afternoon or in the evening."
4 As they would be violating the Marine Offences Act, the participation of British deejays, proved to be of special interest for the British press. Especially the appointment of Roger Day as senior announcer evoked some long comments on his career:
  Roger Day and Johnny Scott

"Radio Nordsee, as it is known in Europe, will broadcast in English from 5.00 p.m. until 1.00 a.m. each day. Other English and American deejays will join the station although no names are given free yet. Originally Nordsee intended to employ only American announcers for the station, avoiding problems with the British Government's Marine Offences (Broadcasting) Act. The appointment of Roger Day as senior announcer, however, seems to suggest a switch in policy. Roger Day began his career in broadcasting with Radio England, one of the two pop pirate stations operating from the MV Laissez Faire in 1966. He joined Radio Caroline in November, the same year, where he worked along with Robbie Dale, Johnny Walker, Ross Brown and Carl Mitchell on the MV Mi Amigo, after Radio Caroline's broadcasts were made illegal by the Act."

  Roger Day

"When Radio Caroline closed in March 1968 Roger Day applied successfully for a job with the English service of Radio Luxembourg and joined the '208 team' compering the midnight programme. Last Monday he went out to the ship, although he was earlier heard on a loop-test-tape. The ship, MEBO II, is carrying 30 days of supply of food and water 'in case of emergencies'. The station is taking these precautions in order to fight any opposition from the Dutch government. The British Government stated that the GPO would take no action in Britain against Radio Nordsee. If you want to write to the deejays you have to send the letter to: Radio Nordsee International, MEBO Ltd., Alblies­Riederstrasse 315, CH 8047, Zurich in Switzerland."

5 Roger Kent in Studio 2 on the MEBO II (1974)

Within a month after the first transmissions, as we saw in the earlier installments of this series of memories, the Swiss owners decided that the MEBO II should leave the Dutch coast in favour for a position off the Clacton on Sea shoreline. As they didn't succeed in attracting advertisers in Holland and Germany, they hoped that the British Isles would offer better prospects for making profits. On March 23rd, late in the evening, the radio ship arrived at its new destination, after being on the air during the trip to England. On the way deejays Carl Mitchell and Alan West reported the listeners about the trip. Again the newspapers were interested in the station and some journalists headed their way to the ship, officially passing the Customs at a local harbour. Let's follow one of those reports:

  "They inquired whether we were taking cigarettes or alcohol with us. They read up the Marine Offences Act, which seemed frightening so we didn't listen. And eventually they signed papers and we were free to go. It's three hours and around 20 miles from Brightlingsea to Radio North Sea International. The sea was rough and our 40 feet, 20 ton, trawler was tossed around like the proverbial cork. I'm not a good sailor and I felt far from good. Going along the deeper water known locally as the Swin, we sighted her after about two hours. There's no mistaking her for she's decorated like a piece of art nouveau, the hull covered in red, green and yellow panels, and is dominated by her high mast rising into the North Sea horizon."
6 The boarding proved to be a risky adventure for the daring journalist:
  Graham Gill, Robb Eden and Brian McKenzie on the tender back to Scheveningen (1973)

"We drew towards her, the swell tossing us ten feet, up and then crashing us down again. The pirates were out on deck and I yelled at them. 'Have you got proof?' they shouted, and I produced a Press Card. Then came the most frightened part as we tried to draw alongside. We were inches away when the stern of MEBO II swung around. I was standing on the starboard deck of our trawler and suddenly there was a great crash. I was crushed against the ship's wheelhouse as we hit the MEBO. Our side railings collapsed, the iron fence at the stern broke up as the swell buffeted us against MEBO's hull. We tried again and this time we got a rope to he and came alongside again. I realised I'd have to jump."

  "Forgetting the angry sea beneath me, I lunged at the rope ladder. Helpful hands pulled me up, and I was there. The first person to step aboard Radio North Sea International since she moved to her off England position. Two of the disc-jockeys were there to meet me: Carl Mitchell, aged 23, from New York, bearded, suede-jacketed and confident, and Alan West, aged 22, from Morden, only about 5 ft 6 and much more diffident. They took me below deck into their lounge, more like an ICI boardroom than the cabin of a 690-ton pirate ship. There are three English speaking deejays on board. Alan does four hours a day, Carl does five and Mark Wesley, 22, from Thundersley Essex does five. There is one German-speaking deejay. Three others are on shore and will be back next week. There are two engineers to look after the radio equipment and a Dutch crew of eight."
7 Not only the looks of the deejays, but also the luxurious accommodations clearly impressed the journalist, who included a remarkable interpretation of how the ship got his name:
  Mark Wesley in Studio 1 on the MEBO II (1970)

"MEBO II (named after the Marine etc. Broadcasting Offences Act) is luxurious in the extreme. More like a posh hotel than a coastal shipping vessel. Each deejay has his single cabin, rather like a bed sit in a modern block of flats. Chefs provide the crew with steaks, chicken and Dutch food meals. They have supplies on board in deep freezes, which would last 30 days. The atmosphere on board is in complete contrast with the furore being created by Radio North Sea, here on the British mainland. They are utterly unconcerned about the law. They don't think it matters. 'We are just doing a job, a job we enjoy, and no one can stop us. We are in international waters', said Carl. I mentioned the talk about the Navy coming out to stop them. 'They couldn't do it,' said Carl, 'we're in international waters. But if they come we'll invite them on board and give them a beer. How can a little ship like ours prepare for the might of the British Navy?'"

8 The journalist confronted the deejays with the official complaint by the GPO that RNI's medium wave transmitter interfered on the 183 metres, the official distress wavelength of the Walton on the Naze coastguard:
  Steven Ladd 1970

"The deejays are remarkably uninformed, or claim to be, about their organisation. The adverts arrive with the records, they say, and all they do is read them out. 'It's better not to know too much, we are paid excellent wages. This is the best-paid situation in the history of pirate radio' said Carl. He worked for Radio Caroline when she was transmitting. Alan was with Radio London, Radio 390 and Radio 270. The only criticism they take seriously is that of interfering with the coastguards. 'We don't want it to be said that we are risking the life of anybody, but what I can't understand is how shifting our position 100 miles makes any difference. Why wasn't the complaint made before? They accept that they are outlaws but they don't consider themselves pirates."

9 Reading back the British newspapers reports on the new radio station, you can not miss the pleasure and fun, mixed with some amazement, they were experiencing at the sight of the new station. Of course the press was aware of the problems. Soon afterwards these problems would aggravate. The MEBO's medium wave transmitter caused severe interference to the Walton on the Naze coastguards who used their transmitter to stay in contact with the lightships and Trinity House vessels. The coastguards even had to raise their power to hold the contacts. After hearing the complaints day after day, Mr Stonehouse, the Postmaster General, announced that action would be taken if RNI wouldn't leave the 186 metres medium wave. RNI closed down the AM transmitter at 1.25 PM on March 27th 1970, but broadcast continued on 6210 kHz, until April 1st. On the 10th of April the station returned on 190 metres (1578 kHz). It was on the 15th of April that a strong medium wave transmitter, from a naval station in Rochester Kent, was transmitting a jamming tone to interfere the AM transmissions from the MEBO II. From that point on RNI was in the headlines almost every day.
10 Robin Banks in Studio 2 on the MEBO II (1974)

The government stated that the jamming transmitter was put on the air after requests from Italy and Norway. Through several frequency changes the jamming transmitter went along to RNI's new wavelengths, to try to closedown the station forever. Even a demonstration at the Navy transmitter plant couldn't stop the jamming. In June, when elections took place in Great Britain, RNI changed her name into Radio Caroline to give support to the Conservatives as RNI's directors thought that a Conservative administration would stop the jamming. For almost a full four months the battle went on and finally RNI switched off its transmitters and headed back to the Dutch coast at the end of July.

  Take a look at the index of RNI Memories for other installments of this series.
  2001 © Soundscapes