Caroline first started broadcasting at Easter 1964. I was on
my school holidays and getting a little bored. I had a cassette
recorder and every week I recorded the top 20 chart show from
the BBC Light programme on Sunday afternoon. There was not much
music on the radio those days and so I could play back the programme
over and over again. I listened to some of the Dutch stations
at the time and workers playtime, music while you work and listen
with mother were the highlights of the BBC weekly offering.
Radio Luxembourg was the only pop music station on the air during
the evenings with a strong signal that faded badly. I was tuning
the dial when I found a very strong signal playing pop music.
Suddenly a voice said "This is a test transmission for Radio
Caroline on 199 your all day music station" It was Simon Dee
and Chris Moore. Little did I know how this would change my
life. This was BBC Radio's biggest challenge and the beginning
of a radio revolution for he UK. Soon many other stations joined
them on boats and forts in the North Sea. Radio London, Radio
City, Radio 390, Radio England. Britain Radio. Caroline North
(Irish Sea), Radio 270 and Radio Scotland also arrived. I made
my parents take holidays in Clacton so that I could visit the
ships on boats from Walton on the Naze and I remember leaning
over the side of the old Mi Amigo talking to Tony Blackburn
and Roger Day getting them to play my requests on the Big Line
up programme at 4pm. This fun went on until 1967 when the government
passed a law banning these stations and all but Radio Caroline
14th 1967 the government's bill to silence all the stations
was made law and all the stations closed down except one and
that was Radio Caroline. I was supposed to be working that day
but at 2pm I disappeared into a stack of boxes of light bulbs
for an hour with my transistor radio and earpiece and listened
to the last hour of Radio London. I will never forget that last
hour they closed with "A day in the life" by the Beatles and
Paul Kay said, "Radio London is now closing down". I turned
over to Caroline and heard Johnny Walker say, we welcome all
the new listeners and Caroline continues. Luckily no one seemed
to have missed me all that time and I still had my job. Caroline's
programmes that evening were un-missable and the midnight "We
shall overcome" and Johnny Walker sailing up the Thames story
was legendary and radio at its best. Caroline continued for
some time but found it difficult with money running out. I remember
tuning in one day and there was nothing there and later in the
day I heard the TV newsman say that Radio Caroline's north and
south ships had been towed away to Holland due to unpaid bills
although there has always been some doubt about that.
broadcasts eventually returned from the Mi Amigo and they continued
until the old ship sank in early 1980. Many people thought that
they were gone forever but we know Radio Caroline and they returned
in 1983 on another boat, the Ross Revenge an ex Icelandic trawler.
In the hurricane of 1987 the mast , which was the highest ship
born structure of that time was weakened and it blew down a
week later. But they were soon back on the air when a temporary
structure was erected at sea. Laser 558 joined them and although
up to then the government had taken little interest in them
Laser with its top 40 America style format changed all that.
Caroline was relying on the Dutch programming to provide them
with money to pay the bills but soon the Dutch and British governments
raided the ship and closed it down taking away most of the transmitting
equipment. After a couple of weeks they again returned when
Peter Chicago found enough equipment to get the transmitter
working again. Eventually they went adrift onto the Goodwin
sands and incredibly were towed off by a Dover Harbour tug and
taken to Dover. This was one of the only times a ship has been
rescued from these treacherous sands. This began a remarkable
comeback by Caroline. Because of a restriction order placed
on the ship forbidding it to go to sea much work had to be done
by the northern repair group before they could get the ship
out again and all this work was carried out by volunteers free.
The salvage bill was paid after great support from Dover harbour
board and the Ross Revenge Support group which became the Radio
Caroline Support group. The ship then moved to various locations
around the Kent and Essex coast before settling at Queenborough
on the Isle of Sheppey where I visited the ship and saw the
amount of work that had been carried out by the dedicated team.
The ship was looking much more respectable now. Some money had
been raised with the Radio Caroline support group and R.S.L
broadcasts from the ship and one of these had taken place in
London when the ship proudly sailed up the Thames to Docklands
as in the Johnny Walker story. This nearly proved costly to
Caroline because they only just moved the ship before the devastating
IRA bomb blast that would have damaged the ship. The successful
Docklands RSL raised enough money to pay for the ship to go
into Chatham Dockyard for an inspection on the dent that was
the result of their running aground on the Goodwin Sands.
1999 the ship was moved to the end of Clacton pier for the summer
and another R.S.L broadcast took place. During this time talks
were taking place with an organisation that were trying to bring
back Radio Luxembourg. The plan was to use the Ross Revenge
as a studio moored in London Docklands and relay the programmes
up to the Astra satellite from the ship until a permanent studio
could be built. This would have brought in lots of money for
Caroline and a rebuild of their studios. From Southend the ship
was moved to a temporary mooring in the River Medway. This proved
a disastrous move for the ship because at Christmas a storm
blew the ship adrift, it just missed another ship and went aground
on mud flats. Tugs from Medway port authority had to be called
out during their Christmas break to tow them into Sheerness
harbour at great expense. Since then the ship has returned to
Queenborough. After all that Radio Luxembourg never returned.
when EKR who were broadcasting from the Maidstone studio's ran
out of money they offered some free airtime to Caroline. Caroline
decided to take up the offer and gradually the hours of transmission
were increased until they were broadcasting seven days a week.
When the analogue closedown took place Caroline decided to go
digital and after a break of a month resumed in splendid digital
quality from Maidstone. Broadcasts were also streamed from the
web by the Dutch supporters on www.radio-caroline.nl.
2004 to celebrate their 40th birthday they moved the ship from
Rochester to the ferry landing stage in Tilbury. They had an
RSL covering much of South Essex and North Kent on Medium Wave
sending the signal over to the Maidstone studio's using an ADSL
link to uplink to Sky, Worldspace (Aug 2002) and the Internet.
Radio Caroline were broadcasting from another studio (John
Brock) in Maidstone,
using an expensive link to get the signal up to London for uplinking
to the Eurobird satellite to Sky Digital EPG 0199 but the audio
signal is in mono. Their signal was also uplinked to the AfriStar
Satellite for Worldspace Radio's, this is a portable radio with
a small satellite dish attached to it that covers most of Europe,
the Middle East and Africa. The Internet stream is now in super
stereo and usually very solid and listeners can tune in all
over the World. They are also heard on DAB occasionally in Italy
and on Saturday and Sunday nights can be heard on FM on the
French and Italian Riviera's.
has all be achieved with thanks to many unpaid volunteers that
have worked tirelessly for the station. Remember, Caroline can
Update by Bob Squirrell
In the 21st century, Radio Caroline now broadcasts by
satellite (no EPG) and the internet and as in the 1990's,
still relies principally on listener donations from the
Caroline Support Group. The station now usually uses onshore
studios in Kent. It still has the Ross Revenge, the ship
which was used in the 1980's. This is being restored by
volunteers and is used for occasional special broadcasts.
Its 50 years since Radio Caroline first started broadcasting
music around the clock and before then radio was very
different to what it is today. To mark this outstanding
achievement the station had a day of celebration at the Corn
Exchange in Rochester, Kent It all started at 10am with
Peter Antony broadcasting live from a studio built within
the complex Hundreds of people began arriving and soon the
main hall was full up with people watching Roger Day
introduce the first panel discussing the 1960s era. Panels
discussing the 1970s and the 1980s took place during the
day with DJs from each decade telling interesting stories
and sharing their memories with the large audience. It was
nice to meet so many current DJs and staff from the station
and legends from the past and it was an event I will never
forget. There was further audio from the party during the
course of the afternoon going out on a separate internet
stream. After a break at 5pm Charlie Dore entertained us and
featured the Pirates of the airwaves song that later became
an anthem for the station. (Listen
Here). The evening finished with the Counterfeit
Beatles that got people dancing until late. Thanks to Andrew
Austin and his team who worked so hard over the last few
months to make it so successful.
After spending ten years at Tilbury the MV
Ross Revenge moved to her new home, moored on the River
Blackwater near Bradwell. Many people have said how magnificent she
looked as she came out of Tilbury docks and moved into the Thames.
For a few minutes the tide caught her (see video 2) and it seemed
that she wanted to go towards London but the tug GPS Avenger soon
had her moving out towards the Estuary and she passed Southend and
headed towards Harwich. After turning round she spent part of the
night with her tug off Clacton and Walton near where she spent many
years back in the mid 1980s. On Friday morning 1st August she
settled down in her new mooring and all was completed by 10:25am.
Well done to all the people that have spent many hours of exhausting
work on the ship in Tilbury and it was a great achievement to get
the ship through all the safety checks so that she could leave
from Norfolk who was once a Caroline Movement member wrote to
remind me that the early founding members of the CM were Geoff
Baldwin, Andy Thompson later known as DJ Andy Johnson, and Brian
Bannister who is now sadly dead. He tells me that he is sure
there were others involved in these early days but the real
credit of the CM goes to Geoff Baldwin. The first editor of
the CM Bulletin was Andy Thompson, John Burch then took over
from him. I am pleased to be able to put the record straight
John, I am planning to do an article on the Caroline Movement
and would be pleased to hear from anyone who has info on the
movement in those days.
What would you do if you met a ghost? I've never
seen one but others seem to meet them quite regularly.
I've spent a lot of time on board the Ross and heard
stories that make what little I have left of my
hair stand on end. I recently asked a couple of
my ship mates to tell me of their encounters with
the ships ghost. Lee Shuttlewood and Peter Woods
told me of several encounters with Harry (the ships
ghost) over the past few years. Stories of footsteps
coming up stairs and noises in the engine room when
there was no one there. Shadows being cast into
the mess room, towels moving as if by the draft
of someone passing by them. Someone stomping around
on the back deck when there was no one there. Finger
taps on shoulders, dogs barking. Fangs a lot to
both Lee and Peter for their stories of ghostly
happenings on board the Ross Revenge.
of the famous DJs on Radio Caroline in the 60's was Johnny Walker.
He became very popular with his 9 - 12pm shows which included
a "Kiss in the car" segment where couples could snuggle up in
their cars at 11pm to the sound of "When A Man Loves A Woman"
by Percy Sledge. This song became a Caroline anthem and the
"Kiss in the car" stickers became sought after. Johnny now works
for the BBC on Radio 2.
show that became popular was the Frinton "Flashing" Hundreds
of motorists would park their cars on the seafront at Frinton
and Walton on the Naze and flash their headlights out to sea
where the ship was at anchor 3 and a half miles out. The DJs
would stand on the deck asking questions and the motorists would
flash their headlights with two flashes for no and one for yes.
Apparently it was an incredible sight to see all the cars flashing
their headlights on command. It must be remembered that the
guys on the ship were very cut off and had no phones except
for emergencies so this was a way of contacting the listeners
for them. I suppose this was the first interactive service another
first for Caroline!!!
boats were taking visitors out to the ships from the Essex coast.
The DJs looked forward to these visits as life could become
very boring on board because some of them stayed out there for
several weeks at a time. The ships could be seen from the shore
and many people particularly those on holiday during the summer
would go out to see them. The staff on the ship would leap about
on board when they saw a boat approaching and shout out greetings.
If you were very lucky and the sea was calm the boat would go
up very close but contact with the ship was forbidden and you
could not go on board without going through customs.
studio was the broadcasting "home" of Radio Caroline between
1999 and 2007. European Klassic Rock were the original occupiers
of the studio but when they ran out of money Radio Caroline
was offered the facility. A few hours at the weekend at first
but eventually it became 24 hours. At the time the studio was
also the home of several TV channels and an Eastern European
TV service and they had their own satellite uplink facility.
This was a big advantage as Caroline used this uplink to get
their programmes up to the Astra Satellite direct from the studio.
This kept the costs down and provided the listeners with excellent
quality audio. After the Studios closed down their Satellite
uplink Caroline had to find another way to get their programmes
up to London and they had to get a high quality telephone line
from BT. This proved to be very costly. I was surprised that
Caroline continued to broadcast from Maidstone for so long.
It was prestigious facility with three offices converted to
studios, security was good and it had a big car park and a restaurant.
Unfortunately the restaurant was only open for a few hours during
the day and not weekends and the car park got very full at times.
Many TV programmes are made in the studios including Tricia
but it was rare to be able to rub shoulders with famous people.
With modern streaming technology it is possible to set up a
studio anywhere and costs can be kept down. I wish Caroline
good luck with its new studio.
The Dover photos were taken in December 1991
from the Cessna 150 G-AZLH on a 5 hour round
trip, with a re-fuel at Shipdam on return and
then back into Skegness with a layer of fog
starting to establish! Before leaving Skeggy
frost had to be swept from the aircraft. It
was so cold that it froze the camera battery
and it would only fire a shot every couple of
minutes and only two photos were able to be
The 1995 Clacton view was taken from Cessna
175 G-OTOW, which flew from Gamston to Clacton
Many thanks to Clive Ironmonger for photos and
Cessna 150 G-AZLH
Ross Revenge at Clacton 1995
Ross Revenge at Western Docks Dover 1991
Ross Revenge at Western Docks Dover 1991
the two pictures below, The one on the left shows the Ross Revenge
with its original aerial mast before the great storm in October
1987 from which it survived. The hurricane took place on 16th
October, 1987. The mast fell down on 25th November, 1987. This
was due to the ship being side on to the waves and rolling at
40-45 degree angles. They couldn't turn the ship into the waves
as one of the motors for turning the rudder was off the ship
being repaired. The stays had become slack because of the hurricane
and the ship was waiting for riggers to go out and tighten them
up and also replace the broken egg insulators.
other photo was believed to have been taken in 1993 in Bradwell.
The ship looks like it is facing Maldon as the tide is going
out. Also there is a river bank on the right hand side of the
picture. More details about the Ross Revenge on
When you look up at these structures it makes you wonder how
they managed to put them up at sea.