Q – Anchor-chain-breaking storms seemed to affect the ships a lot more in the later years compared with the earlier. What changed?

A – Great question!  Perhaps ‘Global Warming’ or other natural climatic changes have actually increased the average ferocity of storms over time?  Here’s another idea: When Caroline began, it was only 3.5miles offshore from Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, a relatively ‘flat’ area of land and sea, and at anchorages near sandbanks offering some shielding from waves, currents and northeast winds.  But when British territorial waters were increased, if the ships wanted to stay in that area they’d have to move further away from the protective banks, but also their target audience in London. So they moved nearer to the Thames Estuary, where shallower turbulent waters between Essex and Kent land masses were actually rougher, and also amidst many treacherous sand banks.

Q – How did they present live record-playing programs while being tossed around during storms?

A – It’s true they had a hard time. CD’s and digital recordings just didn’t exist in those days. While they had ‘carts’ (tape loop cartridges) to play jingles and commercials, they played rotating vinyl records for music and the deck stylus needle would slip off the disk as they played when the ship rocked badly. They sometimes weighed down the tone arm with (large) British pennies.  When bad conditions prevailed they had to revert to ‘The Storm Tapes’ – pre-recorded music programs.

Q – How did the DJs get back to England after the ‘MOA’ outlawed the pirates? Or did they never return?

A – It depended on opportunities. Some would stay on the ship for long periods. Sometimes they’d travel back with a supply tender to its European port then make their way back to England through normal routes (most DJs used false names on air).  But many probably made their way ‘illegally’ traveling on whatever supply boats came out from British harbors or seaside towns.

Q – What is the status of Caroline’s last ship Ross Revenge?

A- Technically the ship is still subject to a Department of Trade and Industry detention order, with movements restricted to the Thames area. The steering gear was damaged on the Goodwin Sands and much of her machinery is in poor condition. She is currently classified as a "hulk" so exempt from many regulations for a de-commissioned trawler, but also regarded un-seaworthy so must be towed to locations. The support group is still restoring it to working order.

Q – I’m visiting England. Are there any museums or still-existing pirate ships to be seen?

A – Not sure about museums.  Nearly all pirate radio ships were left to rot, or scrapped, mostly in European ports.  Radio Caroline’s last ship, Ross Revenge, is a still-functioning station, not transmitting but generating programs for internet distribution, and (as of start of 2016) anchored in the River Blackwater, Essex, 50mls east of London, at approx GPS co-ordinates 51.729630, 0.809626.  Since Autumn 2016, Caroline has finally been able to offer boat trips out to visit the ship – see their website http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/#home.html for more details.   The river is about 1ml wide here; you might get a view from the south side at Sea View Promenade, St. Lawrence, Southminster, Essex, at 51.720329, 0.817675. 

Q – Are there any movies showing what Pirate Radio life was like?

A – There are various documentary videos available through the Caroline organization (www.radiocaroline.co.uk) and many on YouTube. If you want a ‘feature movie’ that gives a general impression of the genre, look out for “Pirate Radio” (2009) (aka “The Boat That Rocked” in Britain). It’s fictional, set on a fictional radio ship and silly in places (crowds of girls didn’t really go on board and stay the night!) but loosely based on life on the pirate ships.  Get the DVD for some great ‘deleted scenes’ too.

Q – What about the World War II forts – did radio stations survive on those?

A – There was a number of UK coast-defense “Maunsell” forts, most near the Essex coast and Thames estuary.
(See Map at bottom of Pirate Radio Essex DJ Page) They were usually either a single 2-legged platform (by the Navy) or clusters of 4-legged towers linked together by catwalks (Army).  Few were left outside territorial limits when those were increased in 1987.  Some have been fully or partly destroyed deliberately to prevent occupation; most are anyway now so old and rusting as to be unsafe to occupy.  There is one that was intended to be a radio station in 1967 but then declared the Principality Of Sealand as an independent nation, despite standing within UK’s extended waters, so its legality is questionable.

British Pirate Radio
By David Reid