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1964 to 2015

by Roland Beaney

"This is Radio Caroline on 558"

Radio 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 closed down.

 

On August 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.

 

They 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.

 

In August 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.

 

Later 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.

In August 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.

 

In 2008/09 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.

This has all be achieved with thanks to many unpaid volunteers that have worked tirelessly for the station. Remember, Caroline can be anywhere.

by Roland Beaney

 

Update by Bob Squirrell (2012)

 

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.

50 years anniversary in 2014

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.

Ross Revenge moves to River Blackwater  July/August 2014

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 Tilbury.

Caroline Movement history

A John 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.

The Ross Revenge ghost

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.

Caroline Flashbacks

 

Kiss In The CarOne 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.

 

Another 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!!!

 

Various 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.

The Old Maidstone Studio

The Maidstone 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.


Ross Revenge Fly Over In The 1990's

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 taken.

The 1995 Clacton view was taken from Cessna 175 G-OTOW, which flew from Gamston to Clacton Aerodrome

 

Many thanks to Clive Ironmonger for photos and info..

 

Cessna 150 G-AZLH

Cessna 150 G-AZLH

Ross Revenge Clacton 1995

Ross Revenge at Clacton 1995

Ross Revenge Dover

Ross Revenge at Western Docks Dover 1991

Ross Revenge Dover

Ross Revenge at Western Docks Dover 1991

 

The "Ross Revenge" at sea

 

Regarding 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.

 

The 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 http://www.rossrevenge.co.uk  When you look up at these structures it makes you wonder how they managed to put them up at sea.

  

Ross Revenge at sea

Ross Revenge at sea

 

Mi Amigo

Mi Amigo sonar image

The sonar scans of the Mi Amigo are thanks to the efforts of Radio Caroline presenter John Patrick with the Port of London Authority and they have certainly generated a lot of interest. The sonar image of the Mi Amigo which sank in the Thames Estuary on March 19th 1980.