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volume 11
september 2008

The giant of Manx


  Review of:
  • Andy Wint (2008), Manx Giant from the wonderful Isle of Man. The story of Radio Caroline North, 1964-1968. Chesterfield: Chesterfield Publications (ISBN 978-0-9560139-0-3; 116 pages with illustrations)
by Hans Knot
  This year the Isle of Manx celebrates the coming of Radio Caroline North with the exhibition Pirates of the Irish Sea and a book by Andy Wint. Hans Knot here introduces us to the event as well as the publication.

The history of Offshore Radio off the British coast started in March 1964 with the first transmissions of the now world-wide-known Radio Caroline, in May that same year followed by Radio Atlanta. Two companies, two stations, two ships and one harbour, Greenore, where both ships were rebuilt into floating radio stations. One of the reasons for the birth of these stations was the fact that the BBC, the public broadcaster in Britain, was very regulated and had needle time, restricting the amount of recorded music to be aired. So there were less records and a lot of live transmissions.

Therefore, smaller record companies and many new artists who had no chance to explore in the industry were on the look for other outlets. A group of people in Scandinavia and Holland already had made it on the air with an offshore radio station with the aim to break the monopoly of the public radio in their own countries. Following their example, Ronan O'Rahilly and his backers for Radio Caroline and Alan Crawford for Radio Atlanta had their own radio ships rebuilt in which was then the harbour of Ronan's father. No question, of course, which ship went into international waters as the first to transmit: Radio Caroline!

  After a couple of weeks, when both Radio Atlanta and Radio Caroline were on the air, both parties noticed that the commercial interest from potential advertisers was second to none. Talks between the two boards resulted in a merger between the stations with both of them transmitting under the name of Radio Caroline. The MV Mi Amigo, the former home of Radio Atlanta, in the South became Radio Caroline South and the MV Fredericia as the base of Radio Caroline North set off to take a position off the Isle of Man. On July 2nd, 1964, the merger was officially announced to the backers as well as the press in London.
2 Left: As the manager of the Discotheque Club, Ronan O'Rahilly was accused in 1964 of pep pill trafficking (The Times, 10 June 1964) (click on the picture for a larger view)

As many others, I followed the voyage of the MV Fredericia. My radio archive still hosts a recording of several hours long, featuring Tom Lodge, who was assisted by the captain of the ship, Abraham Langeveld, telling the story of the voyage from the South of England to the Isle of Man. It's a wonderful programme, informing the listeners regularly about all of the changing positions of the ship, mentioning many places around the coast of Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Devon and along the Cornish and Welsh coast. On a regular base, the recording comes out of my archive for a re-listening as — in my ears — this was the start of a really marvellous period. Two times Radio Caroline — both South and North — gave many people in the part of Holland where I live, including myself, the opportunity to tune in to both stations. For me Caroline North always had one step in front, as it was more glorious to my ears and also offered more regional music in its programmes than Caroline Sound.

  This year the Isle of Man is host to a splendid exhibition titled Pirates of the Irish Sea and featuring the role of the Radio Caroline North story for the Isle of Man. Next to that, a convention will take place late September, where many former Caroline North deejays, executives and personalities will join in with fans for a weekend of memories and a tribute to such an amazing radio station as Radio Caroline North was in the period July 1964 till early March 1968. This all was the reason for Andy White to write an admirable book, for which he had the help of several people involved as well as some people who followed the station in those days. It not only tells the success story of a radio station attracting millions of listeners, but it also gives an excellent insight with photographs and other illustrations — including promotional material.
3 Right: Captain Bunninga

The book is very accurate. As precise a person as I am, I still found two slight failures, which I have to mention. Page 35 shows a photograph of a captain which has got the name "Baeker." The man's real name, though, is Bunninga. He was one of the two official captains on the Caroline North ship, who both were hired from the Wijsmuller Company in Baarn, Holland. Maybe when a reprint of the book will be made, this mistake can be corrected. Another mistake, which reappears over and over again, concerns the story that Ronan O'Rahilly in his period before Radio Caroline started, would have been the manager of Georgie Fame. In 2005 some intensive research was done resulting in a final denial: O'Rahilly was only a stand-in for the club owner who had Georgie Fame playing a lot in his club and wanted to help him getting his records on the radio. In a 3-CD box, released in 2003 by Polydor in Germany, the real name of Georgies manager during the period from 1963 on is mentioned as being Rick Gunell. That same name appears also on the rare LP Rhytmn and Blues at the Flamingo, released on the Columbia label in 1964 in the USA.

  These few minor mistakes, though, should not keep one from buying and reading this book, which is priced at 15 pounds. More information is available on the exhibitions' website Pirates of the Irish Sea.
  2008 © Soundscapes