Sweet Car­o­line

A pi­rate ra­dio ship an­chored off the Suf­folk coast brought good times to the sea­side town of Felixs­towe in the 1960s. But it was short­lived. Mike Trip­pitt re­calls a revo­lu­tion in broad­cast­ing that re­ver­ber­ates to­day

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

Fifty years ago pi­rate ra­dio brought good for­tune to Felixs­towe – but it was short­lived

“MUM, there’s a pi­rate ship moored off Felixs­towe!” Dilys Calver was sur­prised and in­trigued by her teenage son’s re­mark when he re­turned home from his pa­per round. She wanted to learn more about the ship – a ship that would change the world.

“I went down, walked along the prom, and there was this ship in the back­ground. I didn’t know what it was at first,” re­calls the 89-year-old Felixs­towe res­i­dent. “You could see her mast, but at first it didn’t reg­is­ter. I don’t think any­one was think­ing ra­dio ships. It was just a ship that was there.” Within hours of the ves­sel’s ar­rival, three and a half miles off Felixs­towe on Good Fri­day 1964, word spread that it was a pi­rate ra­dio ship. Her name was Car­o­line.

Back then, the BBC had a mo­nop­oly on ra­dio broad­cast­ing. An Ir­ish mu­sic pro­moter and man­ager, Ro­nan O’Rahilly, re­alised that broad­cast­ing to a new young au­di­ence from a ra­dio ship an­chored in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters off the east coast would be an ef­fec­tive way to pro­mote artists not con­tracted to the two dom­i­nant record la­bels. Backed by Amer­i­can fi­nanciers, O’Rahilly made his ship ready to be­gin trans­mis­sions at the lit­tle-used Ir­ish port of Greenore. Just be­fore Easter, in rough seas, the for­mer Dan­ish ferry MV Fred­eri­cia, re­named MV Car­o­line, set sail from Ire­land un­der the Pana­ma­nian flag with pre­sen­ters Chris Moore and Si­mon Dee on­board.

Although her des­ti­na­tion was kept se­cret, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials mon­i­tored her progress. Aus­tralian-born mu­sic pub­lisher Al­lan Craw­ford was also watch­ing closely. His plans to launch a pi­rate sta­tion, Project At­lanta, had stalled whilst he found in­vestors. His ship MV Mi Amigo would ar­rive off Frin­ton-onSea on April 27, 1964 to be­gin broad­cast­ing the fol­low­ing month as Ra­dio At­lanta. But Car­o­line won the race to be the first UKbased sta­tion to broad­cast from in­ter­na­tional wa­ters. At mid­day on Satur­day April 28, 1964 Si­mon Dee made the an­nounce­ment: “This is Ra­dio Car­o­line on 199, your all-day mu­sic sta­tion.” The sta­tion came alive.

Re­ac­tion was huge. Ad­ver­tis­ers bought air­time through a com­plex ar­range­ment of com­pa­nies based in Lon­don and the sta­tion’s pre­sen­ters be­came celebri­ties, al­most overnight. Dilys Calver was a lis­tener of the BBC’s Light Pro­gramme. She soon found Car­o­line on her ra­dio dial.

“I liked the sta­tion. I liked the mu­sic they played, so stayed there,” she says. “I think it was the fact that the DJs spoke to you, not at you. They were nat­u­ral. They were dif­fer­ent

‘A lot of cul­tural snob­bery came in to play and the BBC ra­tio­nalised its lack of re­sponse by claim­ing this sort of stuff was Amer­i­can and re­ally be­neath the in­ter­ests of a se­ri­ous cul­tural ar­biter like the BBC.”

[to the BBC] and that’s what at­tracted a lot of peo­ple to them.” By the sum­mer, tourism in the town, driven by Car­o­line’s pres­ence, was boom­ing. Car­o­line’s young fan base flocked to Felixs­towe to see the ship an­chored off­shore. Some lo­cal fish­er­men used their boats to take vis­i­tors on trips out to the pi­rate ship. The Car­o­line Snack and Cof­fee Bar opened on the junc­tion of Langer Road and Beach Sta­tion Road. The fol­low­ing year Car­o­line DJ Tony Black­burn trav­elled to Felixs­towe to open The Saint Cof­fee Bar in Man­ning Road.

The pi­rates’ ar­rival and suc­cess caught the BBC nap­ping. Broad­cast his­to­rian An­drew Crisell, Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor of Me­dia at Sun­der­land Univer­sity, says that it had failed to iden­tify the new teenage mar­ket.

“I don’t think they had any con­cep­tion of what young peo­ple wanted from ra­dio and they were taken com­pletely by sur­prise,” he says. “Of course, a lot of cul­tural snob­bery came in to play and the BBC ra­tio­nalised its lack of re­sponse by claim­ing this sort of stuff was Amer­i­can and re­ally be­neath the in­ter­ests of a se­ri­ous cul­tural ar­biter like the BBC.”

Ra­dio Car­o­line and Ra­dio At­lanta aimed at the same au­di­ence and courted the same ad­ver­tis­ers. They needed rev­enue to sur­vive, but could not com­pete with each other. On July 2 1964 O‘Rahilly and Craw­ford is­sued state­ments an­nounc­ing that their or­gan­i­sa­tions would merge. MV Mi Amigo would broad­cast as Ra­dio Car­o­line South from the Es­sex Coast and MV Car­o­line would sail to the Isle of Man to broad­cast as Ra­dio Car­o­line North.

Two days later, at 12.30pm, Bri­tain’s first ra­dio ship started her en­gines, raised her an­chor and sailed off from Felixs­towe head­ing for the Ir­ish Sea. She con­tin­ued to broad­cast on her jour­ney. The DJs an­nounced her po­si­tion reg­u­larly and were heart­ened by fans ashore flash­ing their car lights to wish them God­speed.

Soon MV Galaxy, the home of Ra­dio Lon­don, joined the Mi Amigo off Frin­ton. By 1967, nine pi­rate ra­dio sta­tions oper­ated off the east coast, ei­ther from ships an­chored in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters, or from for­mer World War II forts. Bri­tain rocked to the sound of pi­rate ra­dio. The sta­tions played pop­u­lar mu­sic all day long and em­braced the spirit and cul­tural revo­lu­tion of the six­ties. Ra­dio Car­o­line had an es­ti­mated 10 to 15 mil­lion lis­ten­ers.

In June 1966, at the height of off­shore ra­dio’s pop­u­lar­ity, the sta­tions’ sup­ply and ten­der­ing ser­vices were moved to Felixs­towe from Har­wich. The ten­ders Off­shore I and Off­shore II, took DJs, sup­plies and vis­i­tors from the dock basin out to the ships. The Dutch ves­sels were oper­ated from the Felixs­towe of­fice of the Har­court Ship­ping Com­pany Lim­ited.

But the end came in the sum­mer of 1967. Harold Wil­son’s Labour gov­ern­ment had long-op­posed the pi­rates. Post­mas­ter Gen­eral Tony Benn led an un­pop­u­lar cam­paign against them. Par­lia­ment passed The Marine etc. Broad­cast­ing (Of­fences) Act 1967.

The sta­tions were out­lawed on 14th Au­gust 1967. Whilst Ra­dio Car­o­line con­tin­ued to broad­cast, leav­ing its DJs, its staff and its sup­pli­ers at risk of pros­e­cu­tion, the re­main­ing sta­tions closed. A ten­der ar­rived at Felixs­towe re­turn­ing the last Ra­dio Lon­don DJs and crew to dry land. They were greeted as he­roes by fans await­ing them at the quay­side. Those fans, and those fear­ful of the con­se­quences of con­tin­u­ing to lis­ten to Car­o­line, pon­dered what the fu­ture held.

“The pi­rates were closed down and all their au­di­ence, which was a size­able per­cent­age of the to­tal lis­ten­er­ship, was just given to the BBC on a plate. It wasn’t ex­actly the op­er­a­tions of the free-mar­ket econ­omy,” says An­drew Crisell. But he be­lieves “the pi­rates did rad­i­cally al­ter the

course of ra­dio” and left a last­ing legacy.

Not only did the ban­ning of pi­rate ra­dio lead to the cre­ation of Ra­dio One, (pi­rates Ed Ste­wart, John Peel, Tony Black­burn and oth­ers joined the BBC), it also has­tened the ar­rival of In­de­pen­dent Lo­cal Ra­dio. Ed­ward Heath’s 1970 Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment, broke the BBC’s mo­nop­oly when the first le­gal, in­de­pen­dent sta­tion LBC be­gan trans­mis­sions in Oc­to­ber 1973.

Ra­dio Car­o­line con­tin­ues to this day, broad­cast­ing le­gally both daily on the In­ter­net from stu­dios in Kent and monthly from the ra­dio ship MV Ross Re­venge now an­chored on the River Back­wa­ter in Es­sex. On May 19 Of­com awarded Car­o­line a li­cence to broad­cast on the AM medium wave­band to an au­di­ence in Suf­folk and North Es­sex.

KEEP­ING THE SPIRIT ALIVE

THE pi­rate ra­dio hey­day con­tin­ues to at­tract in­ter­est, es­pe­cially along the east coast. In 2014, Felixs­towe res­i­dents Brian Ni­chols and Charles Wright formed Felixs­towe and Off­shore Ra­dio Group, with the aim of cel­e­brat­ing Felixs­towe’s part in the pi­rate ra­dio story.

Brian says most as­so­ciate Car­o­line with the Es­sex coast be­cause that’s where they were for the vast ma­jor­ity of the time.

“And that was partly why I wanted to do what I did, be­cause this was a part of the town’s his­tory that I felt was in dan­ger of be­ing for­got­ten.”

Brian and Charles ran an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Felixs­towe So­ci­ety’s Her­itage Week­end that year and the idea of a stone be­ing laid to com­mem­o­rate the town’s link to Ra­dio Car­o­line’s first broad­cast was born. Pro­moted with the help of lo­cal coun­cil­lors, and fi­nan­cially sup­ported by the East Of Eng­land Co-op, a stone will be laid in Wolsey Gar­dens, Felixs­towe on Septem­ber 9 this year.

Look­ing ahead, Brian says: “We will carry on do­ing talks for as long as we get re­quests and we’ll carry on tak­ing part in Her­itage Week­ends to keep the name, and what was go­ing on, alive. With the stone in the ground, we will have a per­ma­nent memo­rial.” Brian is de­lighted that Ra­dio Car­o­line’s ap­pli­ca­tion for a new li­cence was suc­cess­ful.

“How ap­pro­pri­ate it is, 50 years af­ter they were out­lawed, that Car­o­line can le­git­i­mately broad­cast on medium wave to lis­ten­ers along the east coast and be­yond.”

Many ex-pi­rates, their orig­i­nal au­di­ence and a new gen­er­a­tion of fans will agree with that.

to you, not at you. that the DJs spoke think it was the fact [to the BBC] and They were dif­fer­ent They were nat­u­ral. a lot of peo­ple to them.” that’s what at­tracted

cel­e­brat­ing Ra­dio Dilys Calver at an ex­hi­bi­tion orig­i­nal t-shirt Above: Dilys is next to her Car­o­line in Felixs­towe. from the 1960s. on the River Black­wa­ter. MV Ross Re­venge Above right: the ship in 1983 Car­o­line first used Ra­dio

The Mi Amigo, home of Ra­dio Car­o­line sank in a storm in March 1980

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