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volume 12
april 2009

Monitoring the Voice of Peace: 1975


  Remembering the Voice of Peace (8)
by Hans Knot
  Not much was heard about the Voice of Peace during 1974. Some months into 1975, however, the station again gave sign of life. From that moment on, it was monitored by the folks of the Monitor Magazine, the Pirate Radio News and Freewave Media Magazine in Britain and the Netherlands. Hans Knot recapitulates their first findings, starting with the MV Peace moored in Marseille, being readied for her first try at the Suez Canal.
1 Right: The MV Peace on a clear summer day

Leaving Marseille. During 1974, while the ship was moored in Marseille, not much was heard about the MV Peace nor about the radio station it was hosting, the Voice of Peace. By January 1975 the whole crew had left the ship. To acquire funds, Abie Nathan had sold his complete collection of paintings and had gone on hunger strike — which he had to quit because of ending up in coma. Some money came in, though, and in May 1975 Bob Noakes was hired to look after the transmitters and other equipment as well as to present programmes. By the end of that month the ship again left for the Mediterranean. From that moment on, the station was monitored in countries as far away as Britain and the Netherlands, by so-called DX-ers — short wave radio enthusiasts, always avidly monitoring the airwaves — who were trying to track down the movements of the Peace Ship. The results were reported in magazines like the Monitor Magazine, published in Benfleets, and the Pirate Radio News and later on the Freewave Media Magazine, edited in the city of Groningen. By other means, they also kept in touch with Bob Noakes.

  Although rumours abounded, the first definite news that came through was when on May 19th 1975, Bob Noakes told the people of the Pirate Radio News by phone that he was leaving the very next day to join the Voice of Peace. At that time the ship was in dry-dock in Marseille, being repainted for a journey down to the Levant broadcasting en route when abeam of Italy. Noakes believed that some funds had been provided by the Vatican — the Peace organization now apparently had sufficient financial backing for an operation lasting three months. When Noakes arrived at the ship on May 21st, he found engineer Bill Benson already aboard, and before long they were joined by Capital's Keith Ashton. A card from Bob, posted in Marseille on May 27th, informed the readers of the Pirate Radio News that: "We're setting-off tomorrow morning, definitely for the Middle East. Conditions on board are excellent and atmosphere is great."
  The ship's destination, by now, was also known. When the radio ship left the harbour of Marseille on May 28th, it was with the intention of joining the first convoy to sail through the Suez Canal when it was reopened on June 5th. Abie Nathan had applied for permission to do this, and to broadcast all the way in an effort to reawaken interest in his message. At that time, however, no reply had yet been received. The plan was to sail down the Suez canal, to turn around at the South end and next to sail right back to anchor off Israel and resume normal broadcasting.
2 Left: Roland C. Pearson

Signals on the air. In those days Roland C. "Buster" Pearson, the founding editor of Monitor Magazine, was heavy into monitoring and wrote in his magazine: "We kept an ear to 195 metres (1540 kHz) and did hear a heterodyne [a mixing of two radio waves], caused by the proximity (1538 kHz) of the 700 kW station at Mainflingen, West Germany, on more than one occasion. Firstly it came in on June 3rd from 23:35 BST/CET, and secondly the signal was audible at 21:30 on the following day. This proved that the Voice of Peace was indeed broadcasting, even though no actual programmes were resolved."

  June 5th was the big day for the reopening of the Suez Canal. Some of the ships that had been trapped in the Great Bitter Lake during the Six Day War already had been removed. The passage was free and the first convoy was ready to move off at 8:30 BST/CET from Port Said. Unfortunately Nathan did not receive permission to join the convoy and the MV Peace was prevented from doing so. However President Sadat from Egypt obviously held some of Nathan's principles in mind, for in his speech he said of the Suez Canal that he was "reopening it to international navigation and making it as it was always meant to be; a tributary of peace and a channel to prosperity and co-operation among men."
  After this failure to join the convoy, it became quiet around the Voice of Peace. Buster Pearson reported about his attempts at tuning in: "We did not hear the Voice of Peace again until June 25th, when a heterodyne was noted at 21.40 BST/CET. This time we could detect a programme in progress — and the signal was travelling over 2,200 miles to reach us! The following night we listened again, to find a heterodyne audible from 20:30. CET. Programming was coming in quite clearly by 21:30, at which time we heard Keith [Ashton] announce that they had twenty-nine and a half hours left to broadcast. At the time we did not realise the full significance of that remark; Tony Allan told us that "broadcasting marathons" were not unusual on the station, and we assumed that the Voice of Peace was involved in one of these. The next night, June 27th, it was Bob [Noakes] whom we heard from 21:00 BST/CET. Midnight passed, and at 1:00 "Man of Action" was played. Then it was at 3:00 that the station closed down. We have not picked them up since."
3 Right: Transmitter on the MV Peace (1975)

French vibrations. For the outside world it seemed that by then things were over for the Voice of Peace once and for all. Dutch television carried the news that the Voice of Peace was gone for good. A report in a Dutch newspaper headlined "Abie Nathan Gives Up the Peace Ship Project" and informed its readers that on the afternoon of Saturday, June 28th, the MV Peace had sailed into the harbour of Haifa, where Nathan had stated that he intended either to sell the ship, and have schools built in Jerusalem and Nazareth where Jewish and Arab children could be taught together, or, for the same purpose, to start a commercial radio station. At the same time, however, Nathan declared that he would never accept advertising and claimed: "The only financial base I want to work from is the support of people of all races all over the world." Well, in the end he didn't sell the ship and went on with it for years, though through the years he kept saying that he wanted to stop the project.

  By the time of these messages, the small world of Dutch DX-ers received a more optimistic note from Bob Noakes. The engineer wrote from Israel: "Since we couldn't get into Suez, although we waited twenty days anchored in the bay of Port Said, we've come here to Haifa where we'll raise funds in the next few weeks, if possible, to take the ship out again. Everything here's fine." But Noakes wasn't planning to hang around too long and decided to leave the Peace Ship, once it had arrived the harbour of Haifa. A plane was caught to Schiphol airport on the way home to Amsterdam. Soon after that a letter, written by Noakes earlier on, reached the editorial desks of the Pirate Radio News. The letter included some interesting details about the first transmissions of when the Voice of Peace sailed from Marseille, France. This is what Noakes wrote:
  "We left Marseille on Wednesday, 28th May, and got the transmitters warmed up as soon as we'd left the harbour. By about 12:30 we were on with the "Give Peace A Chance" loop, and at 13:00 we played a special recorded farewell-and-thanks programme which Abie had made in harbour. When that ended at about 13:48, Abie came on and introduced all the crew — every mare on board was a signed crew member, I was an AB — reading our names from the crew roll and saying what we'd done in the past and where we came from. At about 13:55 I took a programme until 16:00 and then Keith until 18:00 when we played the tape again. After that Abie did a bit of a chat and we closed at about 19:30. Our programmes at this time were strange because we had to play French top-forty music about which we knew nothing. We had planned to broadcast through the night but the engines of the ship were vibrating the transmitter parts and "vibrating" our programmes also! To reduce this we reduced speed, but the Captain, an Englishman called Len Clements, reckoned that at that speed we could not reach Port Said on time (by 5th June). So we only broadcast for a few hours the next day, and then stayed off until we were about 48 hours from Port Said."
  Keith Ashton left at the same time as Bob Noakes and flew to London. He, however, returned three weeks later to be on the ship when it resumed broadcasting. The first news of the station's return to the airwaves was heard via the BBC's "World Radio Club" programme, which was in those days transmitted weekly between 0:15 and 0:30 BST/CET, on 275.7 metres (1088 kHz). In their August 7th edition mention was made of the fact that their Receiving Station at Caversham had noted the return of the Voice of Peace and that it had been heard broadcasting on 1540 kHz at 20:00 GMT, but no date was given. Buster Pearson phoned Caversham the following day for further details, and they were most helpfully supplied with the information requested, namely the date they had first heard these broadcasts was August 1st.
4 Left: Studio on the MV Peace

An appeal for pounds. "Sweden calling DX'ers," was a programme on Radio Sweden that, since 1948, every Tuesday evening brought information about shortwave radio on 254.7 metres (1178 kHz). On August 12th 1975, the programme reported that the Peace Ship had left Haifa port with fuel for five months on board: "The Voice of Peace resumed broadcasting on the first of August, and can now be heard daily from 3:00 until 23:00 hrs. GMT on MW 1540 kHz. The station now also carries commercials." Yet another reference was made to the station in the same programme a week later. Bob Noakes confirmed that adverts were now being broadcast: "Abie has managed to get some commercials and has taken the ship out again. It left on Friday, August 1st. He asked Keith and me to return and even sent us tickets, but I couldn't afford to go."

  After hearing the BBC report, Buster Pearson and the Monitor team immediately tuned to 1540kHz in their home in Benfleet (Essex), but no signals were received. However, twenty hours later, to the accompaniment of the familiar heterodyne, they found programming in English in progress. At 20:25 BST/CET, "Sweet Caroline" was played, and between 20:30 and 20:35, they heard Nathan make an appeal for 50,000 British Pounds to keep the project alive. At 21:30 they enjoyed a programme of "Arab and Western" music introduced in Arabic, and then the station ceased transmissions at 0:03, signing-off with the goodnight song — "It's Time To Say Goodnight" — that at one time had been used by Luxembourg for the same purpose. All time-checks were two hours ahead of BST/CST.
  From that day on it was possible, at least with good equipment and antennas, to listen to the station every night, until September 16th when the absence of even a heterodyne indicated that either the station was off the air, or the ship had moved out of reception range. Maybe the latter was the case, as there had been a report on ITV News three days previously which, giving the project a considerable amount of publicity, mentioning that the Peace Ship was about to make a second attempt to sail through the Egyptian waterway, this time laden with flowers.
5 Right: Transmitter on the MV Peace

Bringing flowers. That same day, September 13th 1975, the Nieuwsblad van het Noorden in Groningen, brought the news that several hundreds of people were happily donating flowers to Nathan to take with him along the Suez Canal. Nathan told a reporter: "I want to show that Israelis want to meet Egyptians with flowers, not with guns." But the Peace Ship was again not allowed to traverse the canal, and so returned to its anchorage off the coast of Israel. The transmissions were again audible in England from September 20th on, when Buster Pearson logged a weak signal at 23.14 BST/CET; since mid-October it was receivable from as early as 17:30 BST. He discovered that the ship was then broadcasting twenty-four hours a day. The programmes were in several languages, including Arab, French and Hebrew, but most were heard in English.

  One of the broadcasters on board in October 1975 was Simon Ward, who previously worked as Traffic Manager for Radio Forth. He went out in September as a replacement for the Australian Frans de Wolfe, who had joined the Voice of Peace before it left Marseille. De Wolfe used to work on the P&0 liner "Oriana" as a floating DJ, and he had mentioned to his friend Keith Ashton that he would like to join the Peace Ship for awhile. Ashton in turn told this to Robb Eden, who was one of Nathan's representatives in England, and Eden got him the job. On the ship in the autumn of 1975 also Bill Benson was a regular. He had stayed with the ship right along, although he still did not do any broadcasting on the station. He was fully employed on the engineering side; he fitted a capacity hat to the top of the mast which considerably improved the station's signal as the aerial could be loaded more efficiently from that moment on.
  In the United Kingdom, reception was better between 20:00 and 22:30 BST/CET, when the transmitter at Mainflingen on 1538 kHz, which was the cause of the heterodyne and most of the interference, realigned its antenna system to broadcast to Poland, Czechoslovakia Yugoslavia, Romania and Hungary, and so produced its weakest signal in the direction of Western Europe. The mailing address for the station in 1975 was P.O. Box 4309, Tel Aviv, Israel.
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