The 219 ft ship was bought and towed to Spain to be fitted out as a radio station, with transmitters sought out by Chicago in Dallas, and a triangular-cross-section steel lattice transmitter mast with a record height of 300ft - taller than the ship was long! 200tons of concrete in the bottom of the ship acted as ballast for stability.
In 1982 former Caroline DJ Johnny Walker, famous for his “Caroline continues” speech aboard the station when it defied the 1967 British Marine Offences Act outlawing the pirates, waited in vain to return to the station as Program Controller. After waiting a year, he took up a position with legitimate land-based Radio West in Bristol. (This law-breaking ‘Pirate’ DJ was later made an MBE, ‘Member of the Order of the British Empire’ for services to broadcasting, in 2006).
In 1983 ‘Caroline Communications’ acquired full legal ownership of Ross Revenge, which was towed to the Thames estuary east of London, England in August, with Peter Chicago working on the equipment along the way. It made test transmissions and Radio Caroline broadcasts on 963kHz. It had one 50kW and two 5 kW RCA transmitters. Caroline was back! The first DJ heard was Tom Anderson, the last DJ to be heard from the sinking Mi Amigo.
Britain was again without Radio Caroline when the MV Mi Amigo sank in a force 10 storm in 1980. In 1981, it was Peter Chicago to the rescue again: he and colleagues learned about the ship Ross Revenge in a West Scotland breakers yard. The German-built former trawler, now redundant from the 1970’s ‘Cod Wars’, was an ideally capable North Sea vessel.
Officially Caroline was managed from North American offices, but in practice the ship was serviced from France and England. Ross Revenge suffered ‘the usual’ bouts of lost anchors and driftings owing to storms. In August 1985, when the Ross Revenge also had another pirate radio neighbor, Laser 558 on MV Communicator, the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry chartered the vessel Dioptric Surveyor to anchor 150yrds away to observe movements of the ships. It left three months later due to storms. The exercise cost the British tax-payers $250,000.
In June 1987 Britain introduced the Territorial Sea Act, which increased British territorial waters from three to twelve miles. To escape legal entrapment at its Knock Deep location, Ross Revenge had to move south beyond the limit to a far less-sheltered anchorage, due east of Margate in Kent and halfway between England and France, at South Falls Head. Later in that year, Ross Revenge's record-height mast amazingly survived while Britain was savaged by a rare hurricane storm in October (famously discounted by a well-known TV weatherman at the time), which killed 19 people. But a month later the mast succumbed to another storm, crashing down during the night (incredible video https://youtu.be/HVgm703J1LM?t=984 ) thankfully missing the superstructure. Remains, hanging over the side by some guy wires, had to be cut away in the morning. Thereafter, Caroline had to continue with an inferior twin-mast T-antenna, a ‘horizontal wire’ aerial suspended from two smaller masts at each end of the ship.
It meant only one transmitter could be used, meaning a loss of income from another station also being broadcast from the ship, Radio Monique. Without the tall mast to counterbalance the ship, its heavy ballast made it rock badly in storms.
In August 1989 a Dutch police tug carried out a raid on the ship with 30 armed officials from Holland, Britain, France and Belgium, removing parts and records, smashing broadcasting equipment and the aerial. Simultaneous raids also took place on land-based offices in various European countries. Dutch authorities claimed the radio ship was interfering with legal frequencies and maritime emergency services, the latter referring to its short wave 6215kHz, of which Caroline had been previously advised by officials and fans alike. The raiders withdrew the next day when journalists boarded the ship to witness the total stripping of equipment.
Official protests were made by Caroline, claiming true piracy, but the authorities counterclaimed that the ship’s Panamanian registration had lapsed many years ago so they had no legal protection from any country, and repeated their own charges against the station. Seized parts were returned to the station, years later. The staff and DJs still managed to make repairs and got Caroline back on air only a few weeks later: engineer Peter Chicago had hidden some essential parts from the raiders, and retuned a short-wave transmitter to return on 558kHz AM medium wave, initially on low power, but gradually improving.
In 1990 Margaret Thatcher’s government brought in the controversial British Broadcasting Act, which had wide-sweeping powers that greatly affected TV and Radio on mainland Britain; details being beyond the scope of this article. It also overhauled the original ‘Marine Offences Act” of 1967 by extending British jurisdiction from 12 to 200 miles. In cases of unlicensed offshore marine broadcasting, when the broadcasts could be received on the mainland, the law now decreed that the ship can be boarded, seized and impounded and the crew arrested, even if the ship was within international waters. The enforcement was unprecedented. An opposing official pointed out that you could have Radio Caroline out on the high seas, innocently broadcasting pop music, alongside some Liberian ship packed with illegal drugs. The Secretary Of State could authorize a boarding to totally dismantle Caroline, while being able to do nothing to the drugs ship.
In “The Real Story of Radio Caroline” Steve McGann wrote: “Whether Caroline was right to maintain her defiance for so many years is irrelevant. Her story illustrates how uniquely dangerous government regards an independent voice transmitted over unrestricted airwaves, and to what ends it will go to silence it."
In June 1990, a ‘legal’ local land-based station Spectrum Radio in London was assigned 558kHz, the same frequency Caroline used, and interference ensued. Caroline apologized, but continued. Spectrum was given a 2nd alternative frequency. Eventually Caroline moved from 558 kHz to 819kHz.
In November 1990 Caroline went off the air, lacking fuel and supplies, and eventually in more storm conditions and without power the crew had to be air-lifted off for safety reasons, leaving the ship totally unmanned. This could have given the authorities an opportunity to seize and impound the ship, but they didn’t act. Peter Chicago managed to get back on board to prevent any salvage claim, but it could never get back on air; the threat of the authorities using armed forces to close them down was too great. Theoretically such a raid could spark a huge ‘international incident’ between Britain and the ship’s country of registration, but in fact it was most likely that Ross Revenge’s registration had lapsed or been withdrawn in past years, leaving them with no protection.
November 1991, Ross Revenge had a small caretaker crew of six on board when more storms caused another loss of anchor. They were in bed and, as usual, unaware - the distant crack of a submerged anchor chain breaking being no more significant than all the other creaks and bangs of a ship being tossed around in a storm - until there was a huge lurch as the ship ran aground on the notorious Goodwin Sands, east of Kent, after drifting 15 miles south.
The crew was airlifted by RAF helicopter, just in time, after Ramsgate lifeboat was unable to rescue them after suffering problems running aground themselves. 2 days later after several failed attempts, a tug pulled the ship off, and towed it into Dover docks. Since they had been off-air for so long owing to lack of funds, there was no point trying to fight the authorities and keep the ship outside territorial waters any longer.
Radio Caroline was never to broadcast ‘pirate-like’ from the open seas again.
In the following years Ross Revenge was moved around from dock, to pier, to river, etc., while being maintained by a group of Caroline Support Group enthusiasts. It was hard to find a permanent home at minimal cost, lacking funds.
Very rarely, Caroline was allowed to make AM medium wave broadcasts for special occasions, but only on a temporary license and at very low power – a mere one watt – probably a snide gibe from the radio-controlling authorities in return for Caroline’s years of disregarding their rules. Today, Caroline does continue - thanks to the Internet. It now has several channels, including ‘Live’ (on UK time), plus East Coast and West Coast USA (each time-delayed to align with local US region time). Programs are mostly generated in studios on land in Kent. There is also a ‘259 Gold’ channel just playing ‘typical Caroline music’ without presenter announcements.
As for the Ross Revenge: At the time of writing (end of 2015) the ship is at anchor on the River Blackwater to the east of Maldon in Essex, east of London. They have occasional boat trips for ‘anoraks’ to see the ship (anoraks being weatherproof jackets, most often worn by Pirate Radio fans when on trips to visit ships at sea, hence the term). But it’s not possible to go onboard.