Radio Caroline & The British "Pirates"

Editorial assistance from Dave Reid

1958-1970  (First Phase)
Radio Caroline DJ Johnnie Walker
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.
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
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 the 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.

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 its way into the country.

Meanwhile in 1958 the first European “pirate” was Radio Mercur, 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 European 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.

Pop music on BBC radio was limited to short presentations of the music on weekends only and with straight laced announcers (no DJs). Many pop-music-seeking 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 of long periods of signal fading, Radio Luxembourg was extremely popular.

In the 1960s the BBC initially 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 from outside the 3 mile limit of British territorial waters at that time. 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”. The most famous and longest-lasting was Radio Caroline.

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 – two major record companies had almost a monopoly over artists and radio airtime.

O'Rahilly learned that stations like the Voice of America were 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 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.

With finance in place, Ronan purchased an old ferryboat named “Fredericia” which he promptly renamed “MV Caroline” and took it to his father’s east coast port in 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 Continental 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 also to place a broadcast station in International waters off the UK Coast, which he was calling Project Atlanta. He was building his studios on the MV Mi Amigo, a ship with a history of having already been used by previous Swedish offshore stations, and which Crawford had refitted in Galveston, Texas. However, since the radio conversion work for both ships was undertaken at Ronan’s father’s dock at Greenore, Caroline had priority.

MV Caroline was anchored three miles off the coast of Felixstowe, a seaside town north-east of London on the North Sea coast of Suffolk, England.

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. Simon Dee was the first live DJ to be heard.

Caroline was on the air, shattering the monopolies of the BBC and Luxembourg, and changing radio forever. Its 10,000watt signal was from a mere 80 miles from London and thus stronger than Luxembourg. Broadcasting hours were initially limited from 6am to 6pm daily under the slogan "Your all-day music station" to avoid competition from Radio Luxembourg which came on the air in English at 6 pm.

The original frequency announced a wavelength of "199" meters (1509 kHz), rhyming 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).

A month later, Crawford's “Radio Atlanta” was launched from the ship Mi Amigo, also anchored in international waters off the coast of Harwich, England and only half a mile from Caroline. Both stations continued to operate completely independently, though often serviced by the same tender boat from Harwich. Stories of supplies, records and ‘jingles’ being stolen from one party by the other abounded.

Several months later the two stations merged. MV Caroline, being more seaworthy than the Mi Amigo, then moved to an anchorage in the Irish Sea off the coast of the Isle of Man to broadcast to Ireland, Scotland and the North of England as Radio Caroline North. Radio Atlanta on MV Mi Amigo became Radio Caroline South and remained at anchor off the Essex coast to cover London and the South East. It chose 201metres (1495 kHz) frequency but still announced itself as “199meters”.

The British government classified both operations as “pirates” even though 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, alleging ‘danger to shipping’ by the ‘unauthorized use of frequencies’ by the pirates and subsequent radio interference, as one of several reasons.

The “MOA” - “Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act”, became law on August 14, 1967. While the Act could not legally stop the broadcasting itself from international waters, it went after the main source of the station's income... advertisers.... by making it a criminal offense to supply or assist in any way such stations by persons subject to UK laws.

Several other pirate stations that had appeared around the country’s coast by this time – some on ships, others on ex-war forts – complied with the new law and closed down, but the two Radio Caroline ships continued to broadcast. One of the first problems brought on by the new law was that the supply tender boat that formerly came out of Harwich with food, mail and other supplies, could no longer legally supply the station. Radio Caroline made arrangement to bring in supplies from Holland, which could take 24 hours. Often the ship would run short of water. In reality, Caroline South was often illegally supplied by ‘locals’ sailing in small boats from the nearest ports, although only when good weather allowed, meaning it often suffered shortages during bad and winter weather. DJ’s could be ‘stranded’ on the ship without relief for weeks.

Station operators thought they could get around the law if they were staffed, supplied and funded by non-British citizens, but this proved impractical. Their funds began drying up through lack of British advertising.

It is ironic that it was not The Law that brought an end to Radio Caroline in 1968, but simple Commercialism. Unable to pay their bills, particularly the company providing provisions, Radio Caroline went off the air when two Dutch tugs representing the supply company appeared unexpectedly at both ships, cut their anchor chains, and towed the vessels away to a Dutch port to satisfy debts. Ended by true Piracy?!

But - this was not to be the end of Radio Caroline!

(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”. )