Radio Caroline, radio nordsee international, radio Atlantis were just three of the stations I can remember listening to. You have to remember that commercial radio in the UK didn’t really start properly until the late 70’s’.
I had better start off with some background as if your American or Canadian most of what I am saying won’t make much sense.
It is hard today to understand why British pirate offshore radio started in the spring of 1964. The new youth culture for the newly named teenagers that had started with the Rock and Roll of the late fifties had developed in clubs, bars, magazines, in cinema and on record but was not reflected at all in British broadcasting.
With very few exceptions pop music was still regarded by the middle-aged management of the broadcasting industry as a novelty. I bit like yo-yos or hula-hoops.
To some extent Independent Television had increased its teen coverage with ABC’s “Oh Boy” and Rediffision’s “Ready Steady Go” , but the BBC was stuck in a time warp with only “Juke Box Jury” on television, and “Saturday Club”, “Easy Beat” and “Pick of the Pops” on the Light Programme.
The BBC had shown “The Six Five Special” tv series in the fifties, but this had stopped broadcasting in a short time. BBC Radio of the day was playing about seven hours a week of popular, new release music by the early sixties, and filling in the rest of the time with oldies, film music, and BBC orchestras doing cover versions of current hits.
This may seem odd to us today, but popular music was considered by some older people to be something that should be rationed and contained – seen even as a weekly treat, and never allowed to “get out of hand” in case it might incite youth to immorality.
‘youth concerns’ were kept in cultural isolation from the mainstream of culture. The Trojan horse to breach the walls of this cultural apartheid was Radio Luxembourg. For eight hours each night, up until the small hours of the morning, this “foreign radio station with an office in London” beamed pop music into the country. Since 1933, the government had opposed this practice, but were unable to stop it.
The fact that the station was only on the air in the evenings limited its reach, but audience figures reached several millions per evening in the fifties and early sixties.
Into this restricted 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.
Teenagers and, housewives, took to listening to the stations at once. They offered programming unknown in U.K. radio up to that point – continuous and up to date pop music, original records, and no cover versions. Disc jockeys who didn’t sound like “announcers” and an enthusiasm and verve not generally found on the BBC.
Each disc jockey stayed at the microphone for two hours at a time. This was sensational in a country used to the fifteen and thirty minute ‘slots’ on Radio Luxembourg, and the daily hour of new records on the BBC Light Program. Even the commercials seemed entertaining!
Out of respect for Radio Luxembourg the commercial radio pioneer, the bigger offshore stations closed each evening around 8 or 9 pm, Caroline returning with further programmes at midnight. This also gave the disc jockeys a chance to relax and watch television, recharge their mental batteries and plan the following day’s shows.
Taking their cue from ITV , most of the stations had regular “startup themes” and idents, and after a largely ‘jingle free’ first year, the stations began to import U.S. jingles from early 1965. RadioLondon made particular impact with their use of modified PAMS jingles, as used by station WABC New York – at that time the most successful commercial radio station in the world.
The cultural impact of offshore radio on the youth of Britain in the sixties can hardly be overstated. It formed a rallying point for a growing cultural revolution, and by 1966 had joined Mary Quant, the Beatles and Carnaby Street among the leading icons of the post war generation.
Anyway there I was listening to Radio Caroline, which at the time was being jammed by the British government, which by the way made us want to hear it all the more.
And the jamming got so bad I couldn’t listen any more. Thinking that there might be some other pirates around, I started tuning around the radio dial.
I stumbled on Radio Jackie
Radio Jackie is South West London’s original pirate radio station. The first broadcast was in March 1969 from a studio in Sutton and lasted for just 30 minutes! Within a short while Radio Jackie was on air every Sunday giving a growing band of listeners their first taste of truly local radio. On the 7th March 1972 a cassette recording of Radio Jackie was played in Parliament during the committee stage of the Sound Broadcasting Bill, as an example of what local radio could be like.
New London wide radio stations were licensed in the early seventies Radio Jackie stayed true to the ideal of local radio based in South West London.
Community events and charity fund raising were a key part of the station’s output. Sutton Eye Hospital, Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children in Carshalton and the Royal Marsden Hospital were all beneficiaries of Radio Jackie on-air fundraising efforts. For the first time local businesses were able to advertise on the radio to a relevant audience in a cost-effective way.
However the subsequent misfortunes of another local station have turned out to be an opportunity for Radio Jackie to prove the 1996 license decision wrong. Thames 107.8 was put up for sale in February 2003 and the original management team behind Radio Jackie re-formed to purchase the loss-making company!
Since the purchase of Thames in March 2003 the station’s output has been completely revamped to include live local presentation around the clock and the inclusion of local news every hour. In July the station moved to new studios in Tolworth. On Sunday 19th October 2003 the station re-launched as Radio Jackie – the Sound of South West London.
Now back in the 70s there were no lavish studios or grand offices as I was about to find out.
I heard a DJ called Tony bond say if you want to meet us, come down the pub….. So I did.. And after several visits to the king’s arms, outside the lion gates of bushy park in Hampton court. I convinced them to let me got on site.
Being on site was quite an experience.
Car batteries, cassette recorders long strands of wires slung from trees and home made medium wave valve transmitters were in use.
A small group of weirdo’s in a field, looking very suspicious, it’s hardly surprising that farmers called the police and so did locals too.
So the police arrived, every one scrambled around and some got arrested and some didn’t. We all had been educated in the law. Which was very obscure at the time, it you were clearly breaking a law by transmitting without a licence, but it at that time, it wasn’t actually a criminal offence. The then home office had to take out a private prosecution. The police were not very good at keeping the evidence, as the law didn’t allow them to actually seize the equipment.Needless to say this kind of thing went on over several years while the law caught up, as land based pirate radio stations popped up all over the place.
After a lot of this and after I had been arrested and locked up in several local police stations for hours at a time, I was awarded my first radio show. Good morning south-west London was the very first thing I said on the radio.
A couple of winters later about six weekends in a row, I got arrested and locked in a cell. To be honest, this was not exciting and defiantly not the way I wanted to spend my Sundays.
So I abandoned my radio spree and took up working at the local filling station to earn some money. Pumping gas.
You know, no one from Jackie ever contacted me to ask where I was, or why I had not turned up on site, they never have.
Years passed and somehow I never got the radio bug out of my system.
One or two people from other stations called me and asked me if I wanted to get involved in radio projects.
LWR ( London weekend radio) with Tim Westwood
And I ventured unto some hospital radio stations
Dulwich Hospital Radio
In 2003 I got an email out of the blue
One of the dj’s from the old radio Jackie contacted me and asked to meet for a chat After a bit of banter, I was inducted into a show on the spot
While I was there I may as well fill in for someone who had not turned up. They told me they couldn’t afford to pay anyone and so I did it for free.
Several years went by and on a regular Sunday show, I asked to take one show off so I could take a short holiday.
They said, you show may not be here when you get back, I had to take one show off, so, took a chance, and sure enough, the following Sunday, they had replaced me, talking to the program controller, he told me, you not really Local anyway, so that was the end of that, you cant argue with someone like that.I wasn’t really enjoying it at that point anyway. They say if you broadcast for long enough you will be paid, for all of these years, I was only paid for a short while while Radio jackie was commercial just before it was closed down , for not having a license.
In the meantime, I worked on Soul city Radio and Time FM getting paid £55 per show, no expenses.
One day the program controller was replaced and I had no more shows.
I moved recently to Margate, and applied to Academy fm , its a tiny community radio station, based in a school locally, I did three shows and its not for me, volunteering that is, Ive done enough for free, I resent not being paid and so when the Programe controller came into the studio to complain ( they all do, its their job) that my levels were bad, I used that as an excuse to leave.
So Maybe that’s it.. it could be the last time Im on the radio.. but Ive said that before. Who Knows what will happen next.
Life never stops surprising me.
If your interested in Paying me to broadcast.. you know what to do
Some of this is original text, some is paraphrased, some is copied and pasted.. which is which? you decide !