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volume 5
march 2003

The day I attended the funeral of Don Pierson


  A postscript to Tom Danahers's memories of Don Pierson
by John England
  Some time ago we published an interview with Tom Danaher by François Lhote. Telling about his involvement in the offshore radio stations "Wonderful Radio London", "Swinging Radio England" and "Britain Radio", Danaher made some personal remarks about Don Pierson. John England, another close friend and collaborator of Pierson, was quite upset by it. Commenting on the interview, he here relates his side of the story.
1 Don Pierson

The summer of 1997. In the summer of 1997, between the 18th of July and the 14th of August, a one watt transmitter came on the airwaves from a ship which was anchored a short distance from the Essex coastline and within British territorial waters. The transmitter claimed to be broadcasting the signal of a memorial to "Wonderful Radio London", the 50,000 watts station that had transmitted to much of United Kingdom and Europe from 1964 to 1967 from a location outside of British territorial waters. The original "Big L" as WRL had been known in the 1960s, was the brainchild of Don Pierson of Eastland, a tiny community of less than four thousand people located about 90 miles west of the city of Fort Worth on the scorching hot summer landscape of West Texas.

A few years earlier, a number of recordings had been circulated for sale about Don Pierson and his other offshore stations, "Swinging Radio England" and the "Hallmark of Quality, Britain Radio". Because these recordings depicted Don Pierson in an unfavorable light, and because they featured "remembrances" that never happened, and because I had worked with him and because I had come to know him as a friend who I greatly admired, I had gone out to his home, with my wife, and interviewed him on tape one Sunday afternoon. I used portions of that interview, with the addition of a seagull sound effects record added to prevent its duplication without attribution, to correct and refute the for sale "History of Radio England" tape that was then in circulation by Steve England's jingle company.

  I had also worked with Don Pierson and a number of other individuals in the early 1980s to return a full-power WRL to the airwaves from another ship off the coast of England. That part of the venture did not succeed, but the marketing and promotion side went ahead with regular domestic broadcasts under the name of the "Wonderful Radio London Top 40 Show" from Mexico's 250,000 watts XERF and Don Pierson's own station in Eastland, and others in a small network. To accomplish this, British contacts were made to enable programs to be created in the UK and flown to the USA for transmission. When the venture to return WRL as "Wonderful Radio London International" failed to materialize, the British contacts took documents that I had personally entrusted to them for their own interest, and later entered into an arrangement first with Howard Rose, then Keith Skues, and finally Ray Anderson, so that these items found their way into print under the bylines of other people. My recorded interview excerpts — the full interview has never been released to date — then appeared in a companion CD set that was also offered for sale. The upshot of this activity was Ray Anderson's restricted station license for his 1 watt station in the summer of 1997.
2 A tragic event. One year prior to all of this, a number of tragic events had taken place, and for the purpose of this short story the key event took place late on Friday into Saturday, March 30, 1996, when Don Pierson, age 70, died in Eastland, Texas after a long illness. His son invited me to attend the funeral and to stand and a say a few words in memory of his father. I was not the only person to speak. I heard several people who I had never heard of stand and recall the most wonderful things about the life of Don Pierson, and it was clear that many people loved him and that many people would miss him. I stood to speak. I recalled Don as a friend; a kind, quiet and inspiring human being. He was eccentric, yes, but he was an innovator and I recalled how he had changed the sound and style of British broadcasting during the 1960s. I recalled how awful the radio was for British teens before his idea of broadcasting arrived aboard ship from the USA. I loved "Wonderful Radio London", but I was thrilled by the sound of "Swinging Radio England", and "Britain Radio" was better than any music service that the BBC had ever offered.
  I was the only person to memorialize Pierson's broadcasting life and the radio revolution that he had performed in Europe. I spoke for perhaps five or more minutes and then I sat down. I then attended the short grave side service, and returned to his home with all of the others in attendance. Among them was Tom Danaher, who I had met in his home and spoken with many times about my attempt to restart WRL with Don's help. Danaher is listed as the co-founder of WRL in the 1960s, and a very involved party in Don Pierson's two other offshore stations. But Tom did not say a word at the funeral. Not a single word. I spoke to him in Person's home and I shook his hand. Tom was there to mourn the passing of his partner and my friend, Don Pierson.
  When I heard that Ray Anderson had been to see Tom Danaher and that he planned to put his 1 watt station on air, I tried my best to persuade Pierson's son not to go, and in fact we argued in his parking lot over it. But he had another agenda and he thought visiting this 1 watt station would be just a fun side trip. Meanwhile my own partner in Chelmsford was up to his neck in trouble with the DTI over our own attempts to get the DTI to close down the absurd squatters on Rough Tower who claimed to be a foreign country where a ship that we had bought was supposedly registered. My British partner subsequently found himself in hospital as a result of a terrible road accident in which he was hit by a car going in excess of 70 miles per hour. A number of very bad things happened to us in 1997 and we have not yet been able to recover from them, and in the case of my partner's physical harm, he never will.
3 Straightening the facts. When it came time during the summer of 1997 for Tom Danaher to recall his association with Don Pierson, he did so in an interview with Francois Lhote, and Danaher concluded his remarks about Pierson with these words: "How do you like that for a friend!" Now, just one year earlier Danaher had been at Pierson's funeral, and just one year later he was bad mouthing him in the worst possible way and taking all of the credit for all of Pierson's ingenuity in creating three major offshore radio stations — because without Don Pierson, "Wonderful Radio London", "Swinging Radio England" and "Britain Radio" would never have come on the air. Just one year after the death of Don Pierson you would think that all of this had been the work of Tom Danaher and that Don Pierson was merely a user and abuser of friendships. That was not what I heard at Don's funeral, and everyone else who spoke related tales of generosity and kindness that were totally unrelated to the world of broadcasting.
  Danaher related incident after incident to Lhote in which you would think that he himself was a saint and Don Pierson a demon. But the facts don't back up that interpretation. How do I know? Because years before Don Pierson died he gave to me all of his records about all of his broadcasting activities. These records were so complete that I even ended up with finding a letter that I had written to him from Birmingham, England in 1967 when I was an accredited British journalist doing research on an article about his stations.
  Danaher also mentioned to Lhote an unpaid bill at the Hilton Hotel, but I have documents to show who was really responsible for that, and it was neither Danaher nor Pierson but a British Public Relations firm. The same goes for the dismal lack of advertising on "Swinging Radio England": that was due to a manager signing an exclusive contract with a British cinema advertising firm whose salesmen sat in the office and never made a call. How do I know this? Because I have the documents to prove it, and they were not documents written years after the fact, but documents contemporary with the events. Danaher then mentions a massive Texas lawsuit over the failed venture, and I have read that lawsuit many times and I have taken many notes from it. No court in Texas ever held Pierson liable for the failure of the actions taken by friends of Danaher. At least, no court records that I have ever seen to date, and I have seen the major suit that Danaher referred to.
4 A good friend and a good man. So I just want to add a postscript to Tom Danaher's memories as retold to Francois Lhote, in that they are similar to the memories of Johnny Walker who told Steve England about the day that this allegedly loud mouthed Texan brought his "Mama" on board the SRE ship. That was one of the reasons that I had later interviewed Don Pierson on tape, because his mother had died when he was barely a teenager, and that was years before he ever dreamed of creating SRE!
  I remember Don Pierson as I once recalled his memory when he was still alive for an article that appeared in Offshore Echos: he was a quiet and friendly man. He was a good friend, and a good man. He was the kind of man that I felt honored to be able to stand up at his funeral service and tell the gathered mourners that he was the kind of human being that makes this world a better place to live. At that hour and in that church when I spoke Tom Danaher was silent. Danaher also passed up his opportunity to speak in memory of Pierson. But he was there. I saw him and I met him and shook hands with him and spoke to him. When I arrived at Pierson's home and shook Danaher's hand in private, he made no attempt to correct me about what I had said in public regarding the life and times of Don Pierson. Don Pierson was a human being that I was honored to have made a part of my life. I hold that same thought and that same memory today.
  2003 © Soundscapes