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volume 4
april 2001

Dreaming about KING Radio


  The offshore daydreams of Rendie and Dave
by Hans Knot
  April 1973 was a busy month for the offshore stations and their Dutch fans. At the start of that month the Veronica vessel Norderney ran on the beach of Scheveningen. Some weeks later there was a huge demonstration at the Malieveld in the Hague to keep the station on the air. Hans Knot was there to hand out stickers for RNI. Arriving at his destination he met Steve England who introduced him to Rendie and Dave. They said they were planning to start a new offshore radio station, KING Radio, but their plan turned out to be a daydream.
1 Rendie Vassiel (top right) and Dave (below)

Many people loved the offshore radio stations of the sixties and seventies, because these stations were airing and presenting their favourite music. Some of them became ardent fans, who wanted more than just music. They visited the ships, talked with the deejays and collected memorabilia. Some others made the actual step to become actively involved with offshore radio themselves. And again there were some who just dreamed about doing this — sometimes even dreaming aloud. This is the story of Rendie and Dave, two of those dreamers who for some time succeeded in making others really believe in their daydreams about KING Radio.

It all happened a long time ago. Late March this very year, however, I remembered their names again, when I got a phone call from Henk Binnendijk, reporter and editor of the regional radio station Radio Noord in my hometown Groningen. He asked me if I would like to assist him in his programme on April 2nd 2001, exactly 28 years after the Veronica vessel Norderney had ran on the beach of Scheveningen. While making some notes preparing the program, it came into my mind that a lot had happened in that particular month of April 1973. Not only did the Norderney stay on the beach until the early morning of April 18th, there was also a huge demonstration.

The stranding of the Norderney didn't prevent Veronica from being on air. Ronan O'Rahilly — the Radio Caroline director and owner of the MV Mi Amigo, had gently offered his radio ship to the Veronica organisation so that the station could continue its programmes. Veronica used the air time to promote "the campaign for keeping the station on the air," as the Dutch government planned the introduction of an Marine Offences Act to stop the stations to transmit from international waters. The campaign would get its climax on April 18th when a hearing would take place in Dutch Parliament. The campaign was a success, as about 150.000 people were demonstrating that day in The Hague — up till then the biggest demonstration ever in the Netherlands.

2 Advert for Radio 270

In those days I myself did some work for Radio Noordzee, Veronica's competitor. Not only was I working hard on an double album, which would be released by the station in May 1973, but I also did some promotional activities. At the offices at Naarden, where Radio Noordzee had his studio's, they'd asked some friends and me to hand out stickers for RNI to the people at the start of the demonstration route, the Malieveld in The Hague. Preparing myself for the Radio Noord interview, I thought to write down what I did on April 18th 1973, next to the distributing of the RNI stickers to the public. So I wrote down, that I jumped out of my bed that day at 5 o'clock in the morning to leave Groningen for the almost three hour ride to The Hague in the company of some eight other people. About five of the people in our group wanted to support Radio Veronica by being present on the demonstration.

The other three people — Henk Boomsma, Paul Oostland and me — had all been hired by Radio Noordzee to spread thousands of "Hou em in de lucht" stickers and entry forms for the Radio Noordzee Broadcasting Society at the Malieveld, the starting point of the demonstration. However, we wanted to promote our own activities as well and therefore, before heading for the Hague, we had to go to Amsterdam to meet Rob Olthof to collect a full thousand posters for Pirate Radio News, the magazine we ran in those days.

We had arranged to meet Rob at his parents house, at the Willemsparkweg, at a quarter to seven. Just before eight, we finally arrived at Rob's. We had been caught in heavy traffic and had difficulty finding the address. His mother was already standing impatiently, with Rob at her side, at the front of the house. From Amsterdam we went straight to the Hague and drove in the direction of the Malieveld. It happened to be very busy in the city and it took us a lot of time to get there. When we finally arrived, Steve England was already waiting for us. He was then working for Radio Caroline and we would have some social talk and coffee. Steve didn't arrive alone, as his director accompanied him, Ronan O'Rahilly himself, who had flown over from London to take part in the demonstration.

3 The Red Sands Fort, built out of seven towers in 1943 was the base of the original KING Radio in 1965

While we were sipping our coffee, Steve told me that some people had visited the Caroline office in the Van Hoogendorpstraat to talk about their plans to start a new radio station on the High Seas. Steve asked me if I would have some time, later that morning, to meet up those guys as they wanted some promotion for their new radio station. I agreed and Steve told me he would be back within an hour with the people from KING Radio, as they called themselves, using the name of the original KING Radio, that was airing from 25th February till 22nd September 1965 on 236 AM from the Red Sands Fort in the Thames Estuary.

Steve England indeed did return with Rendie Vassiel and a guy called Dave. That's all I know, because he didn't want to give his surname as his father, he said, was a millionaire with a chain of bakery shops all over England. The reason for this meeting, they told me, was that they were looking for publicity within the offshore radio world. They wanted to find out if we had contacts with people who wanted to put some money into a new radio project. Up until then the "new project" had only had some publicity in a German newspaper with the headline "Bald Profit au seinem alten Pott" — "Will they ever succeed in making money out of an old rusty ship?"

As the German newspaper indicated, these guys had their eyes set on the former Radio London ship, the MV Galaxy, which in those days was still lying at the Steendick-channel on the wharf of Howaldswerke Deutschland A.G. in Hamburg. The first thing they told me was that the MV Galaxy had been completely refitted. Swiss backers had instructed Meister and Bollier, the directors of RNI, to refit the ship in 1968. But as they were unable to get the ship out of Hamburg harbour, the vessel now was available at a very cheap price.

4 "Der alte Pott" in Hamburg harbour

What both men didn't know was, that I just had made a trip to Hamburg a few months earlier to see what condition the Galaxy was in. I had observed no new equipment, no new transmitters, no cleaned up mess room and cabins. The ship was a total heap of rubbish. However, I didn't tell them I had been in Hamburg myself. I said we first had to do our job of handing out all our RNI stickers and PRN posters. Later that afternoon, we promised, Paul Oostland and I would make time for a longer conversation.

Of course, after their stories about the "refurbished Galaxy," we hadn't taken them too seriously, but we were interested to find out what more the two dreamers had to tell us. Around that time numerous rumours were circulating of projects, which would start from the international waters and each new one sounded still more fantastic than the last one. We had read a lot of nonsense in the newspapers in the summer of 1972 about the MV Mi Amigo, one of the ships which were impounded from the Caroline organisation, becoming a gambling ship. We were wary that these two were trying to get free publicity for a nonsensical story too.

That afternoon we met again and the first thing they told us that a very expensive office had opened in one of the main streets of The Hague. When I asked for the address they wouldn't tell me, for it was meant to be secret. They also said that a complete crew had been hired to take the ship to her new anchorage, off the Dutch coast. Directly after that they told us that it was uncertain that the MV Galaxy could leave Hamburg harbour, as the ship was still chained up. They had therefore taken an option on another ship, which was in Hull. Vassiel: "You can count on us that one of those two ships will be off the Dutch coast at the end of the month and we will start broadcasting as KING Radio at the beginning of May. We don't have to use a tug as both ships can make the trip under their own power."

5 The Oceaan 7 off Scarborough

It seemed if Vassiel was the spokesman for them both, as Dave didn't say a word other than asking us for another drink. About Dave, Vassiel told us: "He's the only son of a very rich man who had made his money from a range of bakeries in England. His father has put 75,000 Dutch guilders (in those days around 20,000 Pounds) into the project. I can't tell you if I work for him or as an agent for other backers." This last statement rang some bells with us, but we decided to let the two continue their daydreaming.

Then again a well-known name showed up in his story. Vassiel once again: "Without Ronan O'Rahilly's help we couldn't succeed. As we said, the Galaxy is in a very good condition, as well as the other ship in Hull. Ronan has given us the option to use this ship after he couldn't use it as a replacement for the MV Mi Amigo in 1968." If they meant the ship that Ronan planned to use in 1968, they were talking about the former Radio 270 ship — The Oceaan 7, which was for sale after that station closed down. The Caroline organisation had planned to come back from this ship at Easter 1968, but due to the fact that one disc jockey, reputedly Andy Archer, talked too much about the plans to refit the Oceaan 7, the plan had been dropped. Afterwards the ship was sold for scrap and didn't exist anymore by 1973.

Vassiel and Dave also suggested they knew something about some problems within the Caroline organisation: "We have had talks with the company who produced the new mast for the MV Mi Amigo, which is still at the factory as the Caroline organisation couldn't pay the bill." Again a near miss. In early April, Radio Veronica had been stranded on the beach and had hired airtime on the MV Mi Amigo. Part of the deal between Radio Veronica and Radio Caroline was that Veronica would put money into rebuilding the studios and buying the transmitter mast. Just a few days after our meeting with Vassiel and Dave the new mast had been taken out on the tender to the MV Mi Amigo to be built on the ship.

6 The Oceaan 7 for sale

In the meantime, we decided to get something to eat, while we continued to listen to Vassiel: "We want to win over the clients of Radio Veronica, RNI and Radio Caroline as our prices will be very low, around fifty percent lower than the lowest price on Radio Caroline. We shall transmit on 266 metres while Radio Caroline will stay on 259 metres. Of course this will give a little interference, but we think both Radio Caroline and KING Radio will not have any problems. A ten-second commercial will cost 700 guilders and will be played thirty times."

Trying to get more information, we changed the subject back to the problems with the harbour authorities in Hamburg and asked, if they did know the names of the real owners of the MV Galaxy. Vassiel replied: "We don't know who the owners are, although we heard a Greek consortium is behind the ship. This is the reason we want to be on the safe side. The ship will not come into our ownership before we're in international waters, off the German coast."

We asked if they had considered hiring a crew from the Redwijs (Wijsmuller) company, as Radio London and other stations had done in the sixties. In their reply they again came up with a wonderfully nonsensical story. "Captain Bunninga, the former Radio London captain," Vassiel said, "tried to return the ship to international waters as a radio ship. He succeeded in getting a good crew and a deejay team with all famous names. Money wasn't a problem and his station planned to go off the German coast with German languages programmes as Radio Paroli (Radio Word). As West Germany had signed the Strasbourg convention, he couldn't get the ship out in time, so Bunninga dropped the whole idea."

7 Studio leftovers from the Galaxy (photo: Jelle Boonstra)

Vassiel also stated that the ship wouldn't be anchored off Scheveningen, as they'd been threatened several times and were afraid of the competition. "We will be anchored off IJmuiden and will not cause any problems." Looking back in my offshore files, diaries and the May 1973 edition of Pirate Radio News, I found that I nearly mentioned a thing in the magazine about those two weird gentlemen. Of course, in the weeks afterwards, a lot of newspapers covered the crazy stories, so a lot of anoraks believed that once again a radio station would start.

Only once we saw Vassiel and Dave again, just a few weeks later. On May 11th 1973, around 400 people, on five different fishing trawlers, went on a trip to the radio ships of the Dutch coast. Dave and Vassiel were there, enjoying the trip and behaving like every other anorak in those days. One way or another I was not really surprised when I noticed that Dave spoke Dutch very well and even had a typical "Haags" (Hague) accent. They had good reasons to feel well. I guess both fans must have had a good time acting out their daydreams and living out their fantasies of running a real offshore radio station, if only for a short period of time.

  2001 © Soundscapes