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volume 4
october 2001

Having an audience with Emperor Rosko


  An interview with Michael Pasternak, a.k.a. Emperor Rosko
by Chris Edwards
  Emperor Rosko in London (1996)

Born in Los Angeles, California on 26 December 1942 as Michael Pasternak, the son of Hollywood film producer Joe Pasternak, Emperor Rosko's first experience was ship borne — on an US aircraft carrier. From KCVA aboard the USS "Coral Sea", Rosko moved to France and next to the UK, arriving in 1965. He worked as disk-jockey for Radio Caroline, Radio Luxembourg and, later on, for Radio One. Nowadays Rosko still can be heard on the radio in several parts of the world. For instance, from October 2001 on, he is presenting a programme on Classic Gold, a digital radio station transmitting over Great Britain. In 1996 Chris Edwards met him, while he was in London, and interviewed him about his past and present involvement in the world of rock radio.

1 Chris: How did you get the name Emperor Rosko?
  Rosko: The majority of DJ's have idols on the radio. Most of the time you had more than one and I used to listen to a guy called Roscoe, who used to listen to a guy called Boscoe and the double-syllable name ending in "o" was synonymous with rhythm and rhyme which was a precursor to rap, I also used to listen to several other people like Wolfman, Tom Donahue, etcetera. So I took a little bit of everybody and became Emperor Rosko to distinguish myself from all the others. In a way it's a kind of tribute to those who have gone on ahead of us who are now in the great jukebox in the sky. What happens over the years is that you start to lose what you have nicked and it mutates and forms into your own style and guiding light which is then passed on to someone who is younger who maybe listens to Rosko and somebody else and the whole process happens again.
Rosko "rapping" his text on KRLA Los Angeles (February 4th, 1965)
2 Chris: At the time you sounded very much like Wolfman Jack. It seemed you were very much influenced by him?
  Rosko as Michael Prescott on the USS Carol Sea

Rosko: Well, with Wolfman at one time there was probably a lot more influence than there is now. Then again it depends on the format I'm doing. When I'm in Hot-FM, Tom Donahue predominates. Breeze AM wants to have a shouting, roaring sixties sound and maybe Wolfman will come back a little bit more. It just depends and that personality seems to dominate a little bit more but it still has changed over the years.

3 Chris: How did you get involved with Radio Caroline?
  Rosko: I was in Paris and I was with Eddy Barclay doing all the French radio shows and a guy called Henry Hendroid was on the tour with Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. I think I was introducing the show at the Olympia and we got to talking and the question came up, did I know anything about pirate radio and Caroline? I told I knew it existed and that was it, but it sounded very exciting. So he told me to make him a tape, saying "I'm a friend of Ronan O'Rahilly and I'll take it over and play it for him." Within a week I was on my way to the ship.
4 Chris: What did you think when you saw the ship?
  Rosko: Well, I had done four years in the navy so I wasn't too frightened. It looked like a tugboat! Small! I was used to American ships. Even a destroyer would have made that thing look like a sailboat. Actually going out in the trawler was far more revolting than the ship. Everybody was getting sick except me. But all the problems and the crap disappeared at the thought of crusading for rock 'n' roll in the United Kingdom and freedom of radio.
5 Chris: What was your job on the ship?
  Rosko at Caroline South (1966)

Rosko: My job was to be on air whenever they wanted me on. Sometimes you did two four-hour shifts, depending on who was sick. Sometimes you did one. There were no actual jobs because everybody wanted to do everything. If we had to do a promo everybody pitched in and did it because it was for the good of the ship, etcetera. It was a spirit that you'll never find in today's radio stations.

6 Chris: Who else was there at the time?
  Rosko: Jaded memory. My suspicion is Tony Blackburn, Dave Lee Travis, Mike Ahern, Tom Lodge, Graham Webb and Rick Dane, the Great Dane. He was so good looking and I thought I am going to hang around this guy because he used to attract girls like nobody's business! He'd just walk and all the heads would turn! And I used to say: "By the way, I'm his friend!" As a broadcaster there was nothing.
7 Chris: How did you get on with Ronan, Radio Caroline's boss?
  Rosko: I haven't seen Ronan since I left and I keep making repeated attempts but he's either not around or impossible to find, etcetera. Ronan is one of those characters that you'll never forget. He's a very special guy and he had the insight and the tenacity to stick a transmitter on a boat and gamble a lot of money.
Emperor Rosko on Radio Caroline (1966)
8 Chris: When you were off the ship on land, what were you doing then?
  Rosko at Caroline South (1966)

Rosko: Unprintable! I hung out with Tony Prince and the Great Dane. Most of the DJ's and a lot of the bands stayed in Queensway, off Bayswater Road at a hotel and it was a riot house! But this hotel rocked and rolled twenty hours a day. There was always something going on, always lots of ladies and Tony the Prince was an absolute monster! I was interested in other things as well, but he had only one thing going and none of us could ever get in the room. He was always doing the business and we all shared these big suites. We'd come off the ships and there would always be two or three guys. We stopped sharing a room with him because we couldn't get in it! I remember him doing his impression of Tarzan and hauling naked off the balcony of the hotel! So other than looking after Tony Prince, see London and have a good time, get crazy.

  In those days we didn't think about anything except having fun and music. We used to hang out at the Ad Lib Club, the Revolution, the Marquee. All I remember was going back to the ship with a hangover on a Monday morning and cursing the British for liking kippers, because when you've a hangover and someone is eating kippers next to you, it is the most revolting thing. I still shudder at the thought of it. Of course, when we got back to the ship, they would be glad to see us because they were coming off as we were coming on.
9 Chris: You had a mynah bird one time?
  Rosko on board of the Cheeta II (1966)

Rosko: That's true, Alfie. It always struck me that something that would work on radio was to have a parrot. Instead I got a mynah bird; something that would add a bit of spice when you least expect it, which is really a microcosm of what you want, not the whole programme. Which is the opposite of what you are getting on Virgin, which is very stale and monolithic and nothing happens. Whereas if you have a parrot screaming "Rock 'n' Roll" and exciting things when you're doing things, then it adds to the mayhem. I suppose it was a precursor to the Zoo-format. Whereas they have a few more people, I just had a parrot! I had a budget as well, I couldn't afford other things. I never dreamed that I was the first one to do that.

Rosko doing Radio Moscow — a faked radio station on Caroline South (1967)
  I left Tony Prince in charge of my mynah bird for a week or two, because I had to go somewhere and he spent the entire time with an endless loop of tape teaching the bird to swear. The bird ended up saying a few nasty words and he didn't tell me any of this! I just came back, and mynah birds are very astute and it came up with some good "Fuck you's" at the wrong time! Luckily he didn't remember that one too much, because I encouraged "Sounds fine, it's Caroline" and "Rock 'n' Roll", which were his two favourites. Poor Alfie met his demise in France through my own stupidity. I didn't leave the window open enough in the vehicle he was travelling in, and he had a heat stroke. No doubt I shall pay for it one day when my karma is tested.
10 Chris: At one time you pirated some jingles from Radio England while they were testing?
  Rosko: Oh yes! It was all part of the spirit of things. We had got the word that a new ship had sailed in and there were these rich Texans, who had spent tons of money. They had a 50-kW transmitter which would blow everybody out of the water and it was called Radio England. So sure enough they pulled in and you could see them with the binoculars about five miles away and we were all sitting there on the boat, gnashing our teeth and wondering what was going to happen. They started test transmitting and we noticed that when they tested they would be very clever because they were transmitting only their jingles! No music!
  Rosko with Alfie on Caroline South (1966)

So I thought that these were really neat jingles and we had these ropey old things with assorted British soul singers of the period, Julie Driscoll, Madeleine Bell, etcetera, which we paid 50 quid for. They've got these jingles they paid five thousand dollars for and they were slick. The test transmissions kept going so we ran a 15-ips tape recorder and as we were only five minutes away we got perfect quality. We taped all their jingles and then chopped them all up overnight because this all happened basically over 24 hours. We laid beds in there and did voice-overs and put "Radio Caroline" in the middle of them. I think Tony Prince or Mike Ahern went on the air with them next morning and we had them on for the whole day, doing nothing but using their jingles with our "Caroline" in them.

Rosko on Radio Nova Ireland (November 1st, 1984)
  I understand that the Radio England office went berserk in London and they went charging over to Caroline House with a platoon of lawyers waving writs shouting "You can't do this" and Ronan said: "We're pirates!!" He then sent a note out to the ship asking us to desist from using them. We had a good time with them, Ronan wrote, and it was time to turn it loose. But for forty-eight hours they must have been sick over at the other station, must have been ill. It was great, a lovely coup!
11 Chris: You also used to play some of Major Minor's plug records ...
  Rosko: Well, I never really knew Phil Solomon's, right off the bat. I heard he was a villain from Ireland and he bought 30 or 40 per cent of the operation and being a smart businessman he realised that if he was making records, he had a ship to play them on, he could sell records, etcetera. So he thought, if he would send out them out with the tender, every week there would be a stack of Phil Solomon's specials! Load of crap! I was probably the rebel and I really didn't care as I could go back to Paris if it really didn't work out. I listened to all of these records and I thought that if we played this we were going to lose audience. If we lose audience we're wasting our time, so I threw them right out of the window.
Rosko presents on Radio One (1984)
  And every week they came, I listened and I threw them away! Phil, of course, was going berserk, asking why his records weren't being played! Each week we would give an excuse, like we didn't see them, or they were warped by the sun, etcetera, etcetera. By the end of the third week it was Rosko who threw them out of the porthole. So Phil told me I was fired. I could go to London to say goodbye to all the girls in the office and go over to Ronan to tell him that I was fired and leaving. But Ronan asked what I was talking about and I told him that Phil Solomons had fired me. He told me that I was hired again and said me to get back to the boat. That happened two or three times and Phil was absolutely mad about it. But after a while we actually did become friends. After that I didn't throw the records all out, only selected copies. In the end Phil even hired me to produce records on Major Minor and I never had any hits either.
12 Chris: Why did you finally leave Radio Caroline?
  Rosko: Ronan O'Rahilly did a deal with French Radio Luxembourg in Paris which was a long-wave multimillion watt station. The head of one of the big newspaper magazine dynasties in France bought a controlling share in French Radio Luxembourg and they wondered how to make it work because it was the least popular of the three big stations. They came up with the idea of starting off with having a pirate radio within the station because on Europe No. 1, "Salut Les Copains" was the number one show for the last hundred years for kids. So they decided that they would have a pirate radio show and they made changes all over the station. But the big change was "How do we make a pirate radio station if we 't have any pirates." So they got in touch with Caroline and asked them if they could do something.
  Rosko and Sandie Shaw (1966/'67)

Ronan being, I'm sure, the clever person that he is, did some massive financial deal. I heard later on that we were being rented out for quite a bit of money and I was paid much more than I was making on Caroline. Ronan asked me whether I would like to represent them in Paris? So I went and checked in with the station and we talked strategies and they told me that they wanted to do this show, which was fine by me. When I asked where, they said here, but there was no studio. I told them that we played our own records on pirate radio along with doing the production, the American way. It had never been done before in France and this was mind-boggling to them, but in the end they did agree.

13 Chris: How did it work out?
  Rosko: I told them that I would design the studio and they said: "What do you mean? Tapes, cartridges? What are you talking about?" So I explained what they were and they went out and bought cartridge machines and put the studio together. In the meantime, we asked: "What are you going to do for jingles?" They said: " What are jingles?" It was just one thing after another. So we got a famous French singing group that was currently unemployed and contacted PAMS jingles in Texas. We went to Dallas after picking the ones we liked and had them done again in French, which took about a week, and flew back to Paris. By then the studio was ready and all the engineers in France were going to go on strike, because I was going to sit in the studio and play records! We made the press again and in the end we paid this bloke to sit in the studio with a newspaper!
One of the Radio Luxembourg France jingles
  At the French Radio Luxembourg Studio in Paris (1967)

So we started pirate radio and it was called "Minimax" — minimum blah-blah, maximum music — and we made all the press. For twelve months they made appointments to come and photograph and talk about it and in that time we became the number one kid's programme. In those days "playing a record first" was very important, whereas nowadays you wouldn't know the difference unless its Chris Evans screaming "I didn't get Celine Dion as an exclusive!" But back then it was quite important, especially if you were dealing with the Beatles or the Stones, because people were much more into it. And there were a lot less stations so those that existed were a lot more important.

Rosko on Virgin Radio (August 20th, 1993)
  Now we knew that our colleagues of "Salut Les Copains" were after this Rolling Stones record and we had our spies at work. It was on tape and they would listen to it first and we managed to filch it and grab hold of it. In the centre of the song we inserted a political message from the Emperor Rosko and then let them steal it. So they thought that they had it first and they played it and it went out live and we could hear them shouting: "Yeah, another first for Salut Les Copains!" And suddenly up popped: "This is Le President Rosko. Viva Minimax!" and did a big number on it and then the Stones started up again! I understand they went apoplectic and spittle was flying everywhere. But that was the kind of fun things that you did in radio in the old days, like setting the newsreader's papers on fire to see if he could retain his cool.
14 Chris: From there you went to Radio One. How did that come about?
  Rosko doing a photo session for Paris Match(1967)

Rosko: Boo, hiss, boo! Derek Chinnery from the BBC came over to see me to ask whether I wanted to be on the new BBC pop station to which I agreed. So I did a pilot for them and they liked it and we started sending them taped shows. If you remember the first show on Midday Spin when I was going "Oooby-dooby-dooby" and "Rock and Roll" etcetera and we went up to die news and all the Press quoted the newsreader for that show in a very British accent: "And now the news in English" which just broke me up too, I must confess! I stayed in France until the revolution in 1968, when I disagreed with policy and told them to get stuffed, and came over to live in England and joined Radio One live.

The next ten years are history and I started the first mobile discotheque. Dave Lee Travis, even though I'd never seen him operate it, showed me this contraption with turntables on it and he told me that he took this out and did parties. Don't forget Caroline did do Night Outs, but I would call that a primitive outside broadcast rather than a mobile disco. They were great nights and the crowds were fanatics. They would have all the local pop groups that they would blackmail into appearing if we played their record. The DJ's would come out to introduce them and everybody would get drunk and get laid which was just immoral, nobody should have that much fun!

  So when Dave showed me this and I thought that if Caroline can do this, why can't a DJ do this on his own ... so much money coming in! In Paris, I started a mobile disco which was probably the first very active mobile, but I have to give Dave credit. I don't know if he was doing it as much, but I was really doing it. When I came to England I brought it back with me and started doing the Rosko International Roadshow which between that and all the BBC shows was a pretty interesting time until 1976 when I went to the States.
15 Chris: About that time you wrote your DJ book?
  Rosko: I left the legacy and ran.
16 Chris: You also did quite a few records as well?
  Rosko with Ann Nightingale at the BBC Radio One Show (1970)

Rosko: Al Capone, Grabbit the Rabbit, The Customs Men, I was always a frustrated pop star, but I never had a voice to sing and I can't carry a tune. I worked with Lee Holliday and guys like Mick Jones of Foreigner and famous bass players who were all on the sessions. Then there were other records like the Rosko Shows on Atlantic, which will probably be reissued soon on CD soon. They lost the masters and they asked me to do them all again so they should be out soon. Also there was the "Sound of the Sixties" with Tight Fit and that was the only record I took a payment on rather than a royalty.

17 Chris: What have you been doing since then?
  Rosko: In 1976 I went to the States, then I came back and did the BBC for three or four years in the summer. Then I started doing World DJ tours going out to exotic countries, a terrible life! In the meantime I was sending out taped shows to Luxembourg and assorted FM stations as they came to be in the UK and that continued until the start of Virgin Radio when I came over for the launch. So I left all the FM stations and went on to the big AM. I also did some movies in Hollywood, "World War III" with Rock Hudson — I was his CIA man — "The Jazz Singer" with Neil Diamond, I was the comedian in white on stage, Slade in "Flame", all these bit parts of course because I have no memory and I also did a lot of pop TV in France.
Rosko on European Klassik Rock (1997)
  Nowadays times are a bit tough. The Rosko Roadshow is alive and well in California and goes around and does things. Also I do voice-overs and commercials which all DJ's do, but I do less than most and I choose to live a stress free life so I don't go out and hustle and I don't get nearly the work I should get. I make a concerted effort when I come to the UK to try and grab as much as I can. In some years you can get lucky and you do a minimum of hustle and get the maximum results and other times like last year I had all kind of great things happen, then all the radio stations bought and sold each other and that was a lousy year. I've come over to repair the damage and hopefully we're back in action.
18 Chris: Are these programmes on tape?
  Rosko: Everything's live! When you listen you think it's live, so it's live! If you live near the main arteries of the country and you can hear Classic Gold, then you can hear the Emperor Rosko on weekends, so we stay active.
19 Chris: What's your most memorable moment?
  Rosko in his studio in Los Angeles (1985)

Rosko: I think there are different kinds of memories. Profound memories will always be Radio Caroline because it was the heart and soul, and the birth of so much of what is today. In this country there is a certain spirit, and we've been working on a movie script forever and ever to tell the story, as have many others. So whoever gets the backing first, is going to make the first movie. I just hope I'm alive to do the cameo part so in terms of spirit, terrific. In terms of professional gratification, ten years at Radio One left a lot of memories, so that would be quite meaningful. Great Britain is one of my favourite countries. Between France, England and the United States I would be hard put to choose. I don't mind, I can live in any of them at any time at the drop of a hat for the right situation. There are memorable things, but those are probably the most memorable. You were asking about moments, but moments don't exist. It's just blocks of time really.

Emperor Rosko presenting his first programme on Classic Gold Digital at 12.00 (October 6th, 2001)
  The sound fragments on this page are copyrighted. They are used here according to the rules of fair use and academic quoting. Photo's: 1996 © Offshore Echo's Magazine, Freewave Magazine.
  1996 © Chris Edwards / 2001 © Soundscapes