In 1927 the British government concluded that radio was such a powerful means of mass communication that it needed to be under state control, thus in 1927  they created a monopoly known as British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

The BBC was given government authority to raise revenue by charging a license fee to every home possessing a radio, and charged with the duty to provide programming . The UK population had no say in the type of programming the BBC was delivering.  By 1930 there were five million radio sets in Britain, all unavoidably tuned to the BBC.

Pop music on BBC radio was limited to short presentations of the music on weekends only and with straight laced announcers (no DJs).   Most of the British listeners turned to Radio Luxembourg, (*2) the only cross border broadcaster able to get back on the air after the war.  Radio Luxembourg  could only be heard at night in Britain when propagation was good. Despite the inconvenience the long signal fading periods,  Radio Luxembourg was extremely popular.  

In the 1960s the BBC enjoyed a statutory monopoly on radio in the UK. At that time the BBC broadcast little more than 2 hours per week of recorded popular music, a limit partly determined by the high level of royalties charged by record companies for airplay. From 1964 onwards,  a number of pirate radio stations started broadcasting from ships and coastal forts located around the UK,  but outside the 3 mile limit of British territorial waters. These pirate stations were not subject to British law in respect of both broadcasting rights and royalty payments. Most of them broadcast continuous recorded pop music and they funded themselves with advertising and sponsorship revenues  These stations were subsequently branded as “pirates”.   

Through the ensuing years the BBC and the British government were increasingly hostile toward any competition to their radio monopoly.  Their programming was limited mainly to programs aimed at boosting the morale of the British population.  This situation continued into the fifties when things began to change when the American Rock & Roll era  made it's way into the country.

In 1958 the first  European “pirate”  was Radio Mercur began  broadcasting from international waters. Established by a group of Danish businessmen the station transmitted  from a small ship anchored off Copenhagen, Denmark.

Radio Mercur's success  led to other groups starting similar ventures  including Radio Nord in 1960 anchored off Stockholm, Sweden.  Radio Veronica in 1960 began broadcasting in Dutch from an old light ship anchored off the Dutch coast. 

Caroline beginning

In the early sixties,  Ronan O'Rahilly,  the son of a well known and wealthy Irish family, came to London hoping to become involved in film making. Instead he got into the music scene managing new young artists. He quickly found out nobody would record his artists and nobody would give him air time because of government restrictions.

Radio Caroline & The British "Pirates"
1958-1970  (First Phase)
Radio Caroline DJ Johnnie Walker
O'Rahilly learned about stations the Voice of America was operating from ships at sea.  He gathered as much information on the operation from the U.S. Embassy.   He also visited Radio Nord and Radio Veronica gathering information regarding off-shore operations.

O'Rahilly then set out to fund the project.  While in the Dallas, Texas to buy transmitters he was reading an article in Life magazine and was captivated by a photograph showing president John F. Kennedy's daughter Caroline playing in the Oval Office of the White House and disrupting the serious business of government. This was exactly the image he wanted for his station. The name had to be Radio Caroline.

The original frequency  announced a wavelength of "199" meters (1509 kHz), which rhymed with "Caroline". In reality the station was on 197.3 meters (1520 kHz) at the low end of the medium wave band. The Dutch offshore station Radio Veronica was on 192 metres (1562 kHz) and when Radio Caroline was joined by Radio Atlanta and became Radio Caroline South, it chose 201 metres (1495 kHz).

The original transmitter power of the Caroline was almost 20,000 watts, which was  achieved by linking two 10-kW Continental broadcast transmitters together. Broadcasting hours were initially limited from 6 am to 6 pm daily under the slogan "Your all-day music station", because Radio Luxembourg came on the air in the English language at 6 pm and direct competition was avoided

With finance in place, Ronan purchased an old ferry boat named “Fredericia” which he promptly renamed “MV Caroline”and took it to the east coast port of Greenore, Ireland  for conversion.

Radio studios were built on the upper decks behind the ships bridge.  Power generators were installed in  the hold providing power for two 10 KW medium wave (AM ) broadcast transmitters.  The 165 ft. vertical antenna mast was installed on the deck near the bow of the ship.

Ronan was aware that  an Australian businessman,  Alan Crawford, was working on a similar project to place a broadcast station in International waters off the UK Coast which he was calling Project Atlanta. He was building his studios on a ship called  MV Mi Amigo. 

To ensure reasonable co-operation between the two projects Ronan and Crawford agreed Radio Caroline was to anchor in the Irish sea, broadcasting to Ireland, Scotland and the North of England while Radio Atlanta was to anchor off the  British coast at Essex from where it would cover London and the South East. 

Caroline was anchored three miles off the coast of Felixstowe, a seaside town on the North Sea coast of Suffolk, England.  It's 10,000 watt signal was a mere 80 miles from London and less from Luxembourg.

On Easter Sunday 1964  at 12 noon, Radio Caroline came on the air with the pre-recorded opening announcement “This is Radio Caroline on 199, your all day music station.”  Some of the first programs were recorded on land and taken out to the ship to be played as live.  Caroline was on the air shattering the monopolies of the BBC and Luxembourg and changing radio forever.

A month later, Crawford's “Radio Atlanta” was launched from the ship Mi Amigo,  located in international waters off the coast of Harwich, England. Both stations continued to operate completely independently for several months until merging operations months later.

Caroline then moved to an anchorage off the coast of the Isle of Man and broadcast as Radio Caroline North while the Mi Amigo remained off the coast of Essex broadcasting as Radio Caroline South. The British government classified both operations as  “pirates” though at that time, both were legally operating in international waters.

In 1966 the British Postmaster General, Anthony Wedgwood Benn, introduced a law that proclaimed the so called “pirate” stations illegal.  The law, called the “Marine Offences Act”, became effective on August 14, 1967 but  the two Radio Caroline ships continued to broadcast from international waters.  One of the first problems brought on by the new law was the daily boat that came out of Harwich with food, mail and other supplies couldn’t legally set sail.   Radio Caroline made arrangement to bring in supplied from Holland which could take 24 hours. Often the ship would run short of water.

The Act went after the main source of the station's income... advertisers.... by making it a criminal offense to assist in any way such stations by persons subject to UK laws.  

Station operators thought they could  get around the law if they were staffed, supplied and funded by non-British citizens, but this proved impractical.  Eventually,  unable to pay their bills,  particularly the company providing provisions,  Radio Caroline went off the air in 1968 when two tugs representing the supply company towed the vessels away to satisfy debts.

(Note:   This is only a brief synopsis of the full story of Radio Caroline and the other “pirates” of the era.   If you would like to know the full story there are several good sites on the Internet.   Search for “Radio Caroline” or “pirate radio off UK”. )

MV Ross Revenge was one of the last ships used by Radio Caroline. It was equipped with a 300 foot antenna and a 50,000 watt transmitter.
Station Name
Radio Mercur
89.55 mHz and other frequencies around 88 MHz.
Off the coast of Denmark and Southeast England at times.
The first known radio station in the world to broadcast commercial radio from a vessel in international waters without permission from the authorities in the country that it broadcast to.  On the air Aug. 2, 1958, Off in 1962. Originally known as  DCR (Danmarks Commercielle Radio)

Radio Veronica
557 kHz & 1562 kHz
Off  Scheveningen, Netherlands
Most popular station in the Netherlands. Later called VOO.  Began broadcasting on May 6, 1960.  Went off the air in 1974. Friday June 23 1978, people from the Dutch RCD (Radio Control Office) and police boarded the ship.

CNBC (Commercial Neutral Broadcasting Company)

Off Netherlands.
CNBC, the Commercial Neutral Broadcasting Company also the home of Radio Veronica.

Radio Nord

Baltic Sea off Stockholm
Swedish with American backers namely Gordon McLendon of Dallas, TX.
Radio Caroline
March 27, 1964

(Radio Caroline North)

1520 kHz Later changed to 1169/1187 Mhz. 
Off the coast of Essex, England. Later of Ramsey Bay as Radio Caroline North.
Merged with Radio Atlanta on July 2, 1964 and became Radio Caroline North.  They called themselves Radio Caroline International  (*1) following enactment of the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act by the British government on Aug. 14, 1967.  Went off the air on March 3, 1968.  On the air 12 hours a day from 6 AM to 6 PM to start with.  Later went full time.   Costs to build the station nearly $395,000 to owner Ronan O'Rahilly.  Tower was 168 feet high. Transmitters were two 10 KW Continental's built in Texas.

Radio Atlanta
May 9, 1964. Later became Radio Caroline South.
1493 kHz and
1187 kHz
Off the coast of Isle of Man
Merged  with Radio Caroline on July 2, 1964 and renamed Radio Caroline South. Power 30 kw on 1187 kHz.   In 1965 Radio Caroline North bought out Radio Caroline South (Radio Atlanta) and merged operations.

Radio Noordzee

Off the coast of the Netherlands. Broadcast from the Dutch island R E M. an artificial construction resembling an early offshore oil platform.
Dutch.   The station was short lived and was forcibly closed by an air and sea attack by the Dutch Armed Forces.

Radio London
December 23, 1964
1133 - 1137 kHz 
Off the coast of Frinton-on-Sea, Essex,  England
AKA The Big L and Wonderful Radio London.  50 KW.  150 ft tower. Began broadcasting from a former US minesweeper renamed MV Galaxy anchored off Southeast England. This station was the most successful UK offshore commercial radio between late 1964 and August of 1967

Radio Invicta
June 3, 1964,
985 kHz
Red Sands Fort,  a sandbar which was the location of a massive complex of towers in the Thames Estuary off Southeast England.
Later known as Radio 390 and KING Radio on 1289 kHz.  Abandoned Red Sear fort used as transmitting site. Radio 390 took over KING radio and operated on 773 kHz with 10 kw. 

Radio Sutch
May 27, 1964
1542 kHz & 1034 kHz .
Shivering Sands sandbar off SE England of the Essex coast. which had also been a WW II British Army Fort left unstaffed after the War.
Built on an old wartime fort off the Essex coast. Radio Sutch did not last and soon gave way to Radio City which called itself "The tower of power" due to the height of its antenna. This station was financed in part under a joint venture with investors in the original Radio Atlanta project. Radio Sutch was conceived by Screaming Lord Sutch and was the first of the sea fort based pirate radio stations.

Radio City

Shivering Sands sandbar off SE England coast which had also been a WW II British Army Fort left unstaffed after the War.
Originally Radio Sutch.  Called themselves the "Tower of Power". Original owner Reginald Calvert was shot to death in 1966.  Went off the air on Feb. 8, 1967. 
Radio Essex

Off the coast of Essex, England.Broadcasting  from a WWII British Royal Navy barge which towed to and sunk upon Knock John sandbar.
Radio Essex discovered that its location was within British territorial waters and following a court summons the station attempted to reinvent itself in 1966 as BBMS - Britain's Better Music Station. This low-power station mainly covered parts of the counties of Essex, Kent and East Anglia.

Radio Scotland
December 31, 1965
1241 kHz
Off the Dunbar on the eastern Scottish coast. Later moved off Troon on the west coast of Scotland
Known at Radio Scotland and Ireland

Radio 270
June 4,1965
1115 kHz - 55 kw
Off Scarborough, North. Yorkshire, England.
Broadcasting to Northern  England.  Radio 270  served Yorkshire and the North East of England from 1966 to 1967. It broadcast from a converted Dutch lugger called Ocean 7 positioned in international waters off Scarborough, North Yorkshire.  Operated from June 1966 to 1967.

Radio 390
773 kHz
Former British Army Maunsell towers located off southeastern England on the Red Sands sandbar.
250 Ft. vertical tower. 10 KW transmitter. Radio 390 took over KING radio who went off the air.  Radio 390 was unique in that it had a good quality signal and transmitted a wide variety of programs from easy music to serials, children's programs, business programs, religious programs, plus news and weather bulletins. Went off the air on July 28, 1967.

1320 kHz
North Sea off Essex, England.
Swinging Radio England. Replaced by Radio 355 and Radio 227.  50 KW . 160 ft tower.  This station was also created and financed by Don Pierson and his business associates from Texas

Britain Radio
May 1966
1322 kHz
North Sea off Essex, England
On the same ship at sea of SRE. Launced by American Don Pierson former mayor of Eastland, TX.  210 ft. tower shared with Radio England.

Radio England
June 18, 1966
1320 kHz
Anchored 3 and half miles off the coast of Frinton on Sea in Essex, England
On the air June 18, 1966  210 Ft. tower shared with British Radio. Changed to Radio Dolfijn on 4th November 1966 all Dutch. In March of 1967 changed to Radio 229 and English programming.
Radio Nordsee
January, 1970.
1578 kHz
Off the Netherlands
RNI broadcasted in AM and FM  50 KW AM.  Dutch programs with German and English programming.
Radio Delmare

Off the Netherlands
Was originally  Radio Nordzee International. Dutch. On Friday June 23 1978, people from the Dutch RCD (Radio Control Office) and police boarded the ship and shut it down.

(*) Not all the "pirate" stations were profitable, and in the early days, several smaller stations came and went - but the Big Six (Caroline South, Caroline North, Radio London, Radio 390, Radio Scotland and Radio 270) all made money for their backers.

(*1)   According to WordiQ  ( the two ship stations of Radio Caroline International eventually ran out of money in early 1968 and a salvage company towed them away for unpaid bills. But when a new and very powerful offshore radio station aboard the MV Mebo II anchored off the coast of Southeast England in time for the British General Election, it suddenly switched its name from Radio Northsea International - (RNI), to - Radio Caroline and began to lobby for the introduction of licensed commercial radio in the United Kingdom. As a result of this development the British Government resorted to Jamming the station with a succession of increasingly powerful transmitters on the same frequency. After the election Radio Caroline fell silent once more and the radio ship moved back to Holland where it became Radio Northsea International once again.

In 1983 Radio Caroline returned to the airwaves from a larger ship called the MV Ross Revenge which had been previously used by Ross Fisheries as a fishing vessel in the Cod Wars with Iceland. The radio ship anchored off Southeast England and became home to: Radio Caroline in English with part time services known as Caroline Overdrive playing album music programs and Caroline Viewpoint airing sponsored religious programs. Also on board was a Dutch service on another AM frequency, which was managed under contract to Dutch organizations and known variously as: Radio Monique, Radio 558 and Radio 819. 1989, Dutch authorities with British assistance, raided the MV Ross Revenge and shut down all transmissions.


(*2)   the 1960s in the UK, the term "Pirate Radio"  referred to not only a perceived theft of the state-run airwaves by the unlicensed broadcasters but also the risk-taking nature of offshore radio stations that actually operated on anchored ships or marine platforms. A good example of this kind of activity was Radio Luxembourg located in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The English language evening broadcasts from Radio Luxembourg were intentionally beamed toward the British Isles by Luxembourg licensed transmitters, while the intended audience in the United Kingdom originally listened to their radio sets by permission of a Wireless License issued by the British General Post Office (GPO).

However, under terms of that Wireless License, it was an offense under the Wireless Telegraphy Act to listen to unauthorized broadcasts, which possibly included those transmitted by Radio Luxembourg. Therefore as far as the British authorities were concerned, Radio Luxembourg was a "pirate radio station" and British listeners to the station were breaking the law (although as the term 'unauthorized' was never properly defined it was somewhat of a legal grey area). This did not stop British newspapers from printing program schedules for the station, or a British weekly magazine aimed at teenage girls, "Fab 208" from promoting the deejays and their lifestyle (Radio Luxembourg's wavelength was 208 metres).

Radio Luxembourg was later joined by two other well known pirate stations received in the UK in violation of UK licensing, Radio Caroline and Radio London, both of which broadcast from vessels anchored outside of territorial limits and were therefore legitimate but unauthorized in much the same way as Luxembourg. Indeed, all three stations even had registered offices based in mainland UK.  (Courtesy of Wikipedia) .


Misc Quotes:

³ "When the seas were rough however, this proved to be somewhat of a problem, which I would guess was also true on some of the other pirate ships. We often had to weigh down the pick-up arms on the turntables, just to keep the needle from lifting out of the grooves of the records when the ship was rocking back and forth. To do this, we often used some of those monstrously large English (old) pennies, sometimes stacking up two or three of them at a time. It didn't always work however and sometimes the needle would literally fly off the records, which of course tended to mess up the songs that were playing at the time. (Courtesy of The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame)

³ "We had a teleprinter which was supposed to bring us the news from the wire services. Sadly, affected by our transmitters, it generated only gobbledygook most of time. So it was back to the old tried and tested method of nicking the news from the Beeb."  (BBC) (Courtesy of The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame)

³ " Into this stifled arena came the “pirate” radio stations of the sixties. Although often referred to in the press as “illegal”, this was in fact journalistic laziness. Many of the stations would have been “illegal” if they had drifted another half mile landwards, coming under British law. They had been carefully planned, and were set up to be cunningly and carefully placed three and a half miles offshore where, outside the legal “three mile limit” of U.K. sovereignty they could safely ignore all national legal constraints. (Courtesy of Radio Musications  (

³  (About Radio Caroloine)  "The RF combiner that allowed both of the 10KW transmitters to be run together to hopefully produce 20,000 watts of power. The transmitter room was on deck level, more or less below the studio where the two Continental Electronics transmitters stood side by side along with an audio compressor/limiter. The transmitters each contained a series of safety features which would cause them to shut down in the event of a problem. In very rough weather it was not uncommon for them to switch off, seldom both together, but the engineer would have to be on hand to push the reset button. I am not sure if this was due to the transmitters being tilted and tossed around or the effects of the waves breaking over the aerial upsetting the antenna tuning. The antenna was a folded dipole with a multiple wire forming one end and the steel mast as the other. The loading coils were in a purpose built cupboard in the ships lounge with heavy duty coaxial cable leading to the transmitters."  (Courtesy of
Rock-it Radio's Tribute to Pirate Offshore Radio.  )

³ "But the end of Caroline was because of unpaid bills and NOT Government legislation remembers Don Allen. "It happened on a Saturday evening. We went off the air at ten o'clock and we watched a bit of television -- and about two o'clock Sunday morning, we were all set to go to bed when we heard this 'thump' on the side of of the ship. We all thought what could that be? Men from a tug had come across and had taken over the ship. They had pirated it. They said they had their orders to cut the anchor chain and late Sunday afternoon we were towed away."  (Courtesy of  Rock-it Radio's Tribute to Pirate Offshore Radio.  )

³  "Not all the offshore stations were profitable, and in the early days, several smaller stations came and went - but the Big Six (Caroline South, Caroline North, Radio London, Radio 390, Radio Scotland and Radio 270) all made money for their backers. The shorter lived Radio England and Britain Radio, while not profitable, considerably added weight to the politics flowing from the cultural demand that was created."  (Courtesy of Radio Musications  (

³  The peak of the so-called "pirate radio" stations was only three years -- from 1964 until 1967 -- but in that time the freewheeling broadcasts, many staffed by Americans, brought a party atmosphere and a pop music variety to the UK  that had never experienced such a sound.

³  The British Government eventually forced the "pirate" broadcasters off the air in 1967.   They quickly  put a replacement for the pirates  on the air calling it "BBC Radio 1" . And it was based firmly on the program format created by the "pirates". It even employed mostly ex-pirate DJ's and used the same jingles.

³  A flotilla of nine ships and disused marine towers in the Thames estuary soon jumped on the floating bandwagon, and by 1968 boasted 10 to 15 million daily listeners. The Government had been monitoring the development of the industry closely. They decided it could not continue. Radio ships paid no taxes, no royalties on the records they played and their signals could be a hazard to shipping.   (Courtesy of

Other examples of broadcasting from International waters include:

  1. The Coast Guard Cutter,  USCGC Courier, which both originated and relayed broadcasts of the Voice of America from an anchorage at the island of Rhodes, Greece to Soviet bloc countries.
  2. Balloons have been flown above Key West, Florida to support the TV transmissions of TV Martí, which are directed at Cuba.
  3. Military broadcasting aircraft have been flown over Vietnam, Iraq and many other nations by the United States Air Force.
  4. The European Union financially supported a radio station broadcasting news and information into the former Yugoslavia from a ship anchored in international water.
British "Pirate" Radio Stations & Others 
First Phase 1958 -1978

Johnnie Walker made his name in the 60's with the pirate ship Radio Caroline. His night-time show was essential listening for 86% of the night-time audience, which increased to over 20 million Europe-wide on the night of 14 August 1967, as Walker and 'Caroline' continued in defiance of Government legislation which silenced all the others.
Radio London DJ complaining about the ship's tenders rocking the boat.
Radio Caroline jingle.
Radio Caroline DJ Johnnie Walker