It's funny how some dates seem to acquire a special significance. For offshore radio supporters, August 31 has special meaning, not once but twice! In 1967 it was the date that the Marine (&c) Broadcasting Offences Act (MOA) came into effect on the Isle of Man – more than two weeks later than was the case in the rest of the UK.
The Isle of Man parliament – the Tynwald – had argued that this piece of unwelcome legislation(designed to put out of existence stations like Radio Caroline North, moored off Ramsay Bay and which the Manx people had taken to its hearts) could not and should not apply to them. This was not least because the station was tendered from there and the DJs were happy to talk enthusiastically about the island, helping to boost its image, trade and economy. It developed into a major constitutional clash between London and Douglas. In the end, just to show who's boss, the UK government ordered an Order in Council to be signed by Her Majesty – a device of direct executive power, bypassing both parliaments.
So, after then, Caroline North had to be tendered in the Irish Republic – which Ireland was happy to accommodate. And there's another little-known story there about how the Republic gleefully used the continuance of the station, and their role in its survival, for cocking a snook at Westminster!
Then, a bit spookily, on the same date seven years later - 40 years ago to the day from posting this Blog - the Dutch equivalent of the MOA came into effect. The other Dutch-targeted stations Radio Veronica and Radio Northsea (Nordsee) International both stopped broadcasting. About 48 hours before, Caroline (now just from one ship) sailed back to England, off a new anchorage in Knock Deep – some 12 miles off the Essex coastline, out of sight of the authorities – having figured that, as it was now illegal for citizens of either the UK or Netherlands to supply, advertise on, promote or work for the station, it may as well sail back to be closer to its main target audience. For the second time in its extraordinary history it was alone. For me, as a 17-year-old, listening in the English midlands, it was a big deal.
So, although Caroline North never reappeared after being towed away in March 1968, this seems like a reasonably good day to post some more interviews linked to the station. Below is a link to a compilation of three interviews – the first two are taken from the show done on the Radio Caroline North Restricted Service Licence (RSL) on the final Saturday of the 28-day tribute station from Liverpool in April this year. The first interview, with former Caroline North DJ Mike Aherne, was evidently done by Steve England some thirty years ago, for an intended documentary. Mike was a great guy and, in 1994, on the thirtieth anniversary of the start of Caroline North, I hired him to do two special broadcasts on Radio City Gold in Liverpool, where I was then Programme Controller.
I took him out for lunch (natch!) and fired him up to bring back loads of anecdotes in the shows. Unfortunately, by this time Mike was working on Capital Gold in London and had really got into the 'six in a row' format, which he himself had started on his own initiative when the doing the Late Show. The Programme Director – the legendary Richard Park – had been delighted with this approach and instructed all the other DJs to do the same! Conversely, I wanted Mike to play less music (which of course we could play ourselves quite adequately, thank you!) and talk MORE! After I heard the first show I tactfully asked him to make more with the anecdotes! "Sorry, Richard", he said. "I've got out of the habit of talking!"
Incidentally, in another coincidence, Aherne had attended the same primary school in Liverpool as had Maurice Cole (later somewhat better known as Kenny Everett): indeed, young master Cole had once thrown a half brick at Aherne, causing a serious head wound! In the early '90s both were working at Capital Gold. Anyhow, that's the first interview.
The second interview is with Tony Prince who did a three hour show for the RSL station on Easter Sunday, live from the Planet Lightship – I was his warm-up man. This was also in Steve England's show. You can hear the whole show, including the generator failure and 'white noise' right here. Steve is one of the great guys in radio: aside from a period on various offshore stations, he had one of the best commercial production houses in the country. He was also the UK agent for radio station identification company JAM. I'd already commissioned a package from Dallas when I was at the BBC, but in early '93, when I was in the equivalent position there, at City Gold we commissioned a re-sing of a jingle package called 'Do It Again', created for legendary New York City 'oldies' station WCBS-FM. You can hear the promo tape for the package here.
The lyrics needed a bit of work: no, they did! For a start, the eagle-eyed will have spotted that 'Li-ver-pool' has one more syllable than does 'New York'. There were other things, too. So, I sat at my manual typewriter with that demo tape on a cassette and stop-started-rewound it and re-wrote some of the 'lyrics' – yes, I was a lyric writer! My happiness was complete when I went to fill-up the car and the petrol station attendant had the station on and was singing along (indeed, we were "the station you sing along to"), and it was all I could do to stop myself saying: "I wrote that!"
Steve was in Dallas for the actual session – unfortunately was in Liverpool and myself and the MD were sort of advising the session over an open phone line. One of the things I changed in the lyrics was 'oldies' – which had a bad connotation in Britain. But the Dallas singers – brilliant (and I mean this) BRILLIANT though they were - had trouble pronouncing 'Gold'. They got me to sing the word down the transatlantic phone line. They listened carefully (of course the music track is the same; they are, effectively, singing acapella), with a sort of metronome clicking to count them in. Oh, these people are GOOOOD! Due to the tight turnaround needed and the time difference, the session was in the small hours of the morning UK time! I didn't bother going home to sleep, but slept on a couch in my office, my ears still ringing with the delights just created and the excitement at the prospect of playing them to the programmes' staff when they were complete.
When the package arrived – including a news jingle, created by Steve's team based on the package's musical motif, which I sort of 'da-de-da'd down the phone to them to explain the bit I wanted – I and the team were absolutely knocked out. It was a brilliant job – and I got to have my (radio) name sung by the famous JAM Dallas singers! All we needed was a voice-over for the new jingle, which was done by Andrew Brittain, who I knew from Red Rose Radio days and was by then one of the main narrators for Granada's superb current affairs programme World In Action(stylistically unusual in having no on-screen reporter) who intoned at the top of every hour (to my script!): "Across the north-west and north Wales on 1548AM, THIS is Radio City Gold". (Poetry, innit?!!).
The whole thing had a really special significances to me. Liverpool and New York had a tremendously important historic and cultural resonance. The Atlantic sea crossing had been vital – much of Britain's vital supplies during the dark days of World War II (despite the best efforts of the IRA in New York ports and the German U-boats on the high seas) had come via that route; The Beatles probably wouldn't have been the phenomena that they were without the 'Cunard boys' bringing back those hard-to-get soul tracks from Manhattan, which ended up in markets and stores frequented by John and Paul. WCBS-FM had the biggest audience of any music station in North America at that time, and now Liverpool's very own 'oldies' station, which I was programming, had the same jingles!
Barely a decade and a half before I'd just been a radio anorak in Manhattan, devouring the stations and (almost hyperventilating!) visiting them. No doubt they were somewhat bemused by this 'Limey'. To me, despite it then being an extraordinarily violent place (averaging at least one murder a day) it felt like home. You could be whatever you wanted to be. You could obsess whatever you wanted to be obsessed by. Nobody pointed the finger or mocked. More than that – to bring it back to Caroline North – in 1965 the Caroline organisation opened up an office on Broadway, New York. Both the Caroline stations took a special Show from one of the city's most famous and innovative DJs, Jack Spector. When the UK government tried to force Caroline off the air, it was New York and its advertising agencies that came to the rescue. 1940/1968/1974. In the words of the famous David |Low cartoon (at the top of this post) of the first of those dates: "Very well then, alone".
When I was at Radio City I needed to do a really good, slick, promotion tape for advertising agencies. Steve provided a studio, an engineer and all the help I needed for the job, and wouldn't charge anything. When I (ahem!) left Radio City, Steve put the word out on my behalf that I was available and within days I had been offered another, equivalent, job in radio. I didn't take it – having decided to get into lecturing – but I did get some freelance work from it, when I really needed the money! There are some truly nice people in the radio biz, and Steve is one of the nicest.
The final interview is with Mike Wright, one of the engineers on the original Radio Caroline North, from 1966-68. This is taken from one of Howard Copitch's podcasts and recorded on the Lightship on the final day of broadcasting. You can hear the whole of the podcast – including some recorded in the studio whilst I was on air - right here. Thanks, Howard, in advance, for giving permission for using this!
Hope you enjoy.