Offshore Pirate Radio

 This is from a site I ran in 2001, and I will be adding to this with pictures etc in due course. Please feel free to send your reminicences as well to thank you. All mail goes into spam folder so please title your email “Offshore Pirate Radio” so that I can spot it when I check the spam almost daily.


Memories of the sixties offshore era from the Wireless Waffler – who was a young teenager when it ended. The comments refer to reception in the South East:
1. Reception at night:
Radio London: from about 7pm the station was almost inaudible in outer-London due to a whistling drone from a foreign station.
Radio Caroline South: clear with an occasional deep fade then returning to a clear signal.
Radio Caroline North: clear reception from about 11pm – not audible in daytime hours in the South.
Radio Scotland: inaudible by day, but very powerful and clear reception during the evening and night.
Radio 270: Fair reception by day but not very easy to receive at night.
Radio 390: very clear reception, most powerful pirate, in spite of the claims made by some of the other stations.
Radio 355: Fair but some interference from foreign stations.
Radio City: Fair at night, sometimes difficult to hear
Radio Essex: Audible without an aerial but occasional fade and breakthrough from foreign stations.
Swinging Radio England: Foreign stations interfered with signal at night.
2. Overall reception comments: The sixties were not noted for being an era of hi-fi on the radio. Only the BBC used FM, which was then referred to as VHF (VERY HIGH FREQUENCY) Transistors had made it possible to build portable receivers. There were two types of headphone, one crystal with a horrid tinny sound and moving coil which were better. I had a stethoscope set, the earpiece fitted into a tube arrangement and sounded reasonable. To be honest it was not much fun listening on headphones, much street ‘cred’ could be obtained by walking down the road with the radio blaring on the speaker. Radio Caroline used to regularly play a jingle which said ‘where ever you go take a portable radio’. Radios varied from very small 3 transistor portables with appalling sound quality to larger portable sets. I had a GEC Luxembourg portable with MW and LW and a special band spread for 208. This six transistor was excellent, and was blue with a silver speaker grill. Later on GEC made what must be a very valuable collectors item – the same set with a band spread marked RADIO CAROLINE. Most of the portables were powered by either a PP3 or PP9 battery. In the case of the PP9 this made the set quite heavy but they lasted a very long time. The best way to hear the pirates at their best was on an old valve radio. Yes the very sort that are selling for sixty pounds or more in collectors’ shops now! I wish I realised that these were going to be worth money now – regrettably I go rid of at least two before I left my parents’ home in the mid-seventies. With the valve sets there was a superb speaker mounted in a large cabinet and the advantage of treble and bass controls which could be used to filter out interference and hear the broadcast clearer..

Radio London had echo behind the announcers voices. At the start this was due to the bare steel walls in the ship’s studio, then later it was added electronically
Radio Veronica had a very bouncy sound. The programmes were recorded on land and shipped out on tape. This allowed them to be put through a form of sound processor which gave them sparkle. They also employed a technique used by other stations, which was to tweak the turntable to play a little faster than 33 or 45rpm. The extra speed on the turntable did not make the record sound like Pinky and Perky as it was delicately applied, it gave the music more drive and bounce. They also used the processor to ensure that all of the levels were constant. It was quite usual for other stations to use processors, and these were not as sophisticated as today. If an announcer paused when speaking for long enough the compressor would drag up a whooshing sound of silence in between words! When I visited the Caroline RSL. In docklands recently Tom Lodge [the original Caroline programme controller in the 60s} was allowing the levels on the studio meter to swing right up into the red all the time. He explained that the Optimod processor took care of all that! There was also a risk that if no signal reached the transmitter it would ‘trip – out’.
Radio City’s deejay announcements sounded just like they were coming from a steel fort in the North Sea, and were poorer quality than the larger offshore stations. Radio 390, another fort-based station, had a very sophisticated sound and the announcers sounded very much like those on the BBC.
3. School Rivalry: I was still at school during the pirate boom and it was fashionable to write the name of your favourite station on your pencil case. 
Radio London was the most popular with Radio Caroline being second with the majority of pupils. I had nearly all of the stations on my pencil case, I rather liked the fort based station Radio City, and I had done a drawing of three or more forts with an aerial. I remember some loyal Caroline fans suffering under the hands of even prouder ‘Big L’ listeners. Nobody could stop a school coach driver from tuning in to their favourite station. One otherwise boring trip to see ‘As You Like It’ was boosted by the driver putting on Radio London very loud in the radio. On another trip back from the swimming baths I could hardly contain my excitement at hearing ‘River Deep and Mountain High’ playing on the coach speakers from the good ship Caroline.
4. Jingles: Yes this was the era of the jingle. Radio Caroline had a series made with a saxophone sounding background. They proudly proclaimed that she was ‘The Sound of the Nation’. This was almost true because the station had two ships, one off Frinton and the other the Isle of Man.
Radio London came on to the scene with superb PAMs jingles proclaiming that they were indeed ‘Wonderful’. They also had some long musical pads which were customised for the station. The most famous which was often used instead of instrumentals like Green Onions by Booker T and the Mgs was Big ‘Lil” This tune was played on an electric organ with the station’s name sung in a sonovox style voice. They also had a song sung by a group of ladies called my hometown ‘London Town’. It is without doubt the quality and quantity of jingles that made Radio London the super pirate it was.
Radio City: Made a few. Reg Calvert’s connections with the pop world, being a manager of pop groups helped. Their jingles were home made and British. Things like ‘Radio City your host on the coast’ and the famous ‘Radio City Your Tower of power rang out from the Shivering sands fort. Radio One used the term ‘Tower of Power’ in their early jingles!
Swinging Radio England and Britain Radio were late starters in the pirate revolution but brought another batch of totally new American jingles to our shores. The deejays had to use names that were recorded for other American stations. What pure luck that Johnnie Walker got his name and superb sonovox promotion! Swinging was a word really in tune with the sixties and the American jingles used by Radio England were quickly re-recorded by all of the other pirates and spliced in to sound like their own.
Britain Radio had the ‘Hallmark Of Quality’ batch of jingles which sounded very sophisticated indeed.
Radio Scotland had a batch of home grown jingles and these were very entertaining indeed.
I cannot remember much about Radio 270, Essex or other station jingles at present. All jingles were in the main played on a Spotmaster Jingle machine, which was 3 inch tape on a continuous cued loop in a cartridge. These have only recently started to be superseded by computer based jingles on floppy disk and other media.
5. Tiger in your tank. Extensive adverts were run for this promotion, I believe it was for Shell petrol. Such were the pitch of the adverts that I was filled with a desire to have one. I trod boldy up to our local petrol station and a nice man gave me one. Mods and car drivers used to tie these onto their bikes and car aerials.
6. Caroline by the Fortunes This was Caroline’s anthem of the sixties. Played whenever the ship came back on the air, and it really did manage to go on and off a lot in its lifetime. I purchased a copy in the Free Radio Rally at Trafalgar Square in 1967, one in the 70s on an EP for a neighbour, and recently on CD!
7. Glare of light on the shore when the sun shone brightly on it at sea.
My grandparents lived at Holland On Sea and on the rare occasions when the sun shone in this neck of the woods the ship could not be seen for the glare. Both the Mi Amigo and Galaxy were visible on the horzon from the shore.
8. Despair of my being away on holiday the day and week that Radio London was silenced on August the 14th 1967. I have since heard tapes of the last hour of broadcast but at the time was well out of earshot. It was not possible to hear the station down in Devon, and I could not persuade my parents to drive back home to listen to a fading radio station.
9. Frinton Flashing yes the very thing that inspired the title of this feature.
In essence this was just a group of lads talking to each other on microphones from the deck then to the audience. It was very absorbing listening and really made Caroline seem special in the evenings. In case you wonder what was happening, the deejays asked people to park and flash their headlights out to sea. They asked to flash so many times for various letters of the alphabet. By the end of along session of flashing you got to know everything about the listeners in cars lining the shore line.
10. Tenders: these were used to convey staff to and from the pirate ships.
On Radio London you could often hear the tender hit the side of the boat when it docked. There was always a mention on all stations about when the tender had arrived. Sometimes this gave me joy because a favourite announcer was returning from shore leave, other times sadness as a presenter left for a break or for good.
11. The station charts: Radio London had a Fab 40, which in many respects was ahead of the national charts. They had new tunes quite high up the chart before they were hits. Radio Veronica in Holland had a ‘Tip Parade’ which also was well ahead of the normal hit parade. The Caroline Countdown of Sound also contained quite a few sponsored records, and they also has an American chart at one time. In the sixties Pick of the Pops was only thirty minutes long, the pirates often ran for three hours. The only other chart shows were on Radio Luxembourg and the reception from this at night was not as good as during the day from the British offshore stations.
12. News: It always sounded good on all stations, and only later did we learn that most was copied off the BBC stations. Radio London had a chirpy bleep between each item. Radio London and most others were broadcasting news on the half hour. Radio England and Britain Radio did their news on the hour. When these stations arrived there was a news bulletin every half hour. Paul Kaye was one of the most distinctive newsreaders of the era, unfortunately he is no longer alive and never worked on land news.
13. Adverts: in the last few months before the passing of the Marine Offences Bill were getting rather few and far between. Well at least on Radio Caroline they were! I have just listened to a tape of Tony Prince on Radio Caroline North and noted that the QT quick tan advert was run at least four times in an hour. After Caroline was outlawed they ran a variety of new adverts, some copied directly from television. The idea behind this was to act as a decoy for the real adverts. Caroline also played a great deal of Major Minor records. In my estimation the only good artists on this label were the Dubliners, David McWilliams, the Raymond Lefevre Orchestra and Neville Dickie. What a name for a pianist Dickie!
14. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: I remember this being played on Radio London when it had only just been released. I was not very impressed and it took about a year before I even went out and bought it. I recently listened to a Radio One Programme celebrating twenty years after the Beatles released the album – it is now 30! It sounds excellent in Stereo, according to the programme the best version to have is the mono version as more time went into doing it. The stereo version, which initially sold less copies was mixed in three days after the mono had been completed. Radio London chose ‘A Day In The Life’ to play out when it closed down which links this album conveniently with the days of offshore radio.
15. Music on the Pirates: The sixties was a very good musical period. There were big artists like the Hollies, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Alan Price set, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Animals, Monkees, Kinks, Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Cilla Black, Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mitch and Tich, Loving Spoonful. The list is endless. One thing that is certain is the fact that most artists released a new single every four to six weeks. There were strings of hits, it was almost like following a serial. If there was a new Rolling Stones single then the Beatles and Kinks would quickly reciprocate with one of their newies!
16. Why are there not many tapes of the pirates? For the benefit of younger readers the cassette recorder had not been marketed at the time. There were reel to reel tape recorders of varying quality available. There were two varieties of recorder, two and four track. Two track were the best and they recorded on half of the width of the quarter inch tape. I had a tape deck which was four track. By a canny arrangement of electric switching you could record on a quarter of the head eg back and forth twice. The alignment of these tape heads was critical and many drifted out of adjustment. I did not at the time realise that the pirates were to end and moved from four track tape to two track, and over-dubbed the lot! It was also an era when people tended to record off the radio with a microphone.
There were no radio cassettes so you had to buy special leads and connectors to record from the radio. Fortunately some people have preserved tapes on to cassette from reel to reel. But bearing in mind what I have just mentioned make sure that the person who offers these for sale has got good quality tapes before parting with any money.
I am grateful as ever to Melvyn in Ipswich for sending me in tapes of old programmes to listen to. I was on the verge of writing to him to ask for his offshore memories when I thought I would supplement this issue with some logs form the actual programmes:
End of the DLT show with an introduction for Tony Prince.
DLT ‘This is Radio Caroline North the No1 station across the North. It is 6 o’clock Bulova Watch time’
Next followed fifteen minutes of Tony Prince talking with echo behind his voice. He was explaining why he was leaving Caroline. He wanted to be able to continue with his career and did not want to go to prison when the station was outlawed. Many of the other British djs who were leaving the station were already working abroad. He was going to stay in England with his mum and dad in Oldham.
Finally a Caroline Jingle and time announcement of 6.15.
Tony Prince promo and jingle
Are you sure – Allisons
Radio Caroline Pick to Click introduced by Tony Prince
‘From the Underworld’ by the Herd
Tony Prince saying hello to all of the beautiful people listening to Caroline North!
Advert for QT quick tan product with sung promo.
Music Pad with laughter – Bob Stewart
Tony Prince with quick promo for holidays on the Isle of Man
Letter read by Tony for Joyce in Stockport for her friend Jackie wishing her a happy birthday
‘Lingering on’ by Peter Lord on Major Minor (promotional paid for song – bad and like a poor impersonation of Julio Iglesias!!)
Time check by Tony 26 past 6pm
Advert for Caroline 6 transistor radio, with two bands (am and lw) costing £6 10 but to Radio Caroline listeners only £4. Did anyone buy one of these – if so do you still have it and the leaflet that came with it? Address to send for was simply Transistors BCM London WC1
Tony Prince mentions that DLT and Mike Knight (Djs) are in the studio – they do not speak on air though
DLT doing a silly voice
Jingle sung by lady ‘We’re going to get uptight, come on …….. etc@
James Brown ‘Outa-sight’
Promo regarding Isle of Man in dispute with Whitehall over dictatorial attitude of Labour Government enforcing the Marine Offences Bill on the Island. Radio Caroline salutes their stand against the UK government
Tony Prince plays a tune for all of the British deejays on Radio Caroline who will leave after the 14th when the station is outlawed
Jingle – remember this Golden Classic
Jinmy Jones – Good Timin’
Overall Tony Prince was a very competent broadcaster. I heard his first ever show on Radio Caroline South and admired him for his total energy. Caroline North was audible in the evenings in the South. They moved some of the North deejays down in the early stages of Caroline to boost listening figures. Tom Lodge was one of the most influential jocks from the North, he became chief announcer in the South. He showed his affection for Caroline in the 90s by returning to the London RSL and putting out some fabulous shows.
Unidentified music
Radio England Banner line news jingle
Jerry Smethwick with news, jingle with bleeps, trade figures, bleeps, British seamens’ strike, bleeps, Johnson on Vietnam, bleeps, Saigon in S. Vietnam, bleeps, Jingle about Radio England news Weather prediction jingle.
Jerry Smethwick says that you are only minutes away from the Larry Dean Show
Paperback Writer – Beatles
Boss Jocks on Radio England jingle Larry Dean
Radio England jingle
Larry Dean with into, switching on echo at times
(NB Radio London used to use echo on the announcers voices all the time. Radio England boss jocks used to switch the echo on for certain words and dramatic effect. I had forgotten this until I listened to the tape. Overall the station had great energy and enthusiasm and no advertisements that I could hear. No wonder they went bankrupt so soon!)
Billy Joe Royal – You are my heart’s desire
Larry Dean says Boss Jock pick no 45 on the Boss 50
Swinging Radio England Jingle
Larry Dean introduces the next tune as a hit bound sound.
Says that Ron O’Quinn is on from 2-6 that afternoon
Baby You are my everything (tune not sure of artist/s)
Larry Dean gives time check 27 minutes past 1
Mentions that Roger Day is on the radio from 6 -10
Introduces Animals with ‘Don’t bring me down’ ‘Boss 12 Sound’
Gary Lewis and the Playboys with a song from 1965
Larry Dean says solid gold 1965 with echo
Mentions Ron is on the radio from 2-6pm
Roger Day from 6-10
Bryan Tylney Show from 10 -12.
Jingle ‘In Sound’
Yesterday Jingle
Wild Thing by the Troggs (Larry makes suggestion that Ron 0’Quinn is Wild!)
Larry Dean says goodbye to listeners and says ‘have a ball’
Positive charge jingle
Larry Dean says stand by for Ron O’Quinn with echo
Sorrow – Merseybeats
Ron O’Quinn gives time at 3 minutes past 2
He says that Radio England is the home of the boss jocks
Plays a sound effect ‘wowee’
Hollies – Bus Stop
Station ID
Jingle – you are on the go go – the fun spot
Time check 7 minutes after 2
Crispian St Peter – Pied Piper with a ‘Goodness’ effect played over it
Ron O’Quinn continues with the show and dropping in effects during records
He also says if you are on Frinton Beach how in the world are you.
This station was years ahead of its time and the energy and drive of the American deejays was not recognised. The appearance of Laser 558 and Hot Hits in the 80s proved that the American style of presentation really worked in the UK.
David Bowie – Laughing Gnome
Chuck Blair with time check 17 after 7 on the Breakfast Show
You’re hearing things jingle
Chuck Blair reads out and advert for a sale of Danish Furniture
Prices for items in sale quoted as guineas (one pound one shilling!)
Time check 19 after 7 and a dedication to Tony Sool (?) M Ballard
Pat Nichols, Sue Maclean etc.
Rascals – Girl LikeYou
No 5 in the fab forty – time check 21 past 7. Chuck Blair says that it is only 8 minutes to the latest news with Paul Kaye, with the same bulletin he presented at 6.30
More Dedications
Advert for Castrol oil, pre-recorded with FX and actors
Dedications Miss J Frasier, Jackie Symonds in South Croydon, Victor Barlow
Rolling Stones – As Tears Go By
Chuck Blair with time check 26 and a half past 7 on Monday August 14th 1967
He mentions that Paul Kay looks tired as he has been up all night.
Advert read out by Chuck for Computer Programming course, suggests light heartedly that it would be a good opening for Paul after the station closes
Kenny Everett promotion for Big L, speaking as a posh lady, mentions her husband Basil, and the fact that they all love Radio London. (Sounds a little like Cupid!)
Monkees – Last Train to Clarksville
Wonderful Radio London news around the clock jingle
Monday May 14th Paul Kaye Reporting. SW France, bleep, news, Drunken Driver, bleep, news, Motoring, bleep, news, Finally Broadcasting, bleep, a sad day for Radio London because today August the 14th sees the closure of this particular station, finally the weather, bleep, damp dull weather with heavy rain in places is predicted for most districts today. It will be rather cool with strong winds reaching gale force in some areas, tomorrows weather is expected to be changeable, next news on Radio London in brief at 8 oclock, this has been Paul Kaye reporting
Sticks and Stones music (artist not known)
25 minutes to 8 time check Chuck Blair says that this is his last breakfast show on Radio London.
Dedications to Mrs Newland, Mr Walters, Miss Pamela ? To groups New Formula, Mirage and John and Johns Children.
Nashville Cats – Loving Spoonful
Chuck Blair says that you are listening to the Mike Lennox, Tony Blackburn, Kenny Everret and Chuck Blair breafast show
Tommy Vance them with advert for Where to Go in London read over it by Chuck (cost 1 shilling and 84 pages long)
Chuck Blair says it is 60 degrees fareheit and the seas are rough
Dumaurier Superking cigarette advert with sung jingle (spelling?)
19 before 8pm
Chuck Blair dedicates the next tune to all the waiters on the BR train which will take all of ‘us’ going back to London later on today – viva the Orange juice.
Love is All You Need – Beatles.
Tony James and Shondells – Hanky Panky
Time check by TW 16 and a half minutes to 12
Revived 45 time – Beatles – You are going to lose that girl
TW next for the tune that is no 8 in the terrific 10 of the Fab 40
Gene Pitney – Nobody Needs Your Love.
Wonderful Radio London keeps them coming jingle
Promotion for next Sunday July 16th Big L Party Night at Hastings Pier Ballroom.
TW with his distinctive catchprase ‘H E L L O’
Let’s Go Go – Summertime 66 jingle
Announces Kenny Everett’s climber of the week
Summer in the City – Loving Spoonful
Radio London win a Lotus Elan competion presented by Paul Kaye in commercial, consolation prizes £160 cine camera etc etc.
Time from TW, 6 to 12pm
Ed Stewart’s Climber – Syndicate of Sound – Little Girl
TW with more announcements
Berries with Midnight Merry
TW finally ends show by saying that Double D is playing with his equipment but comments that he is too professional to be put off by this.
Both presenters laugh at this.
TW say goodbye see your round like a record (yes all the jocks in the 60s signed off with something – I used to used the expression tread lightly and speak politely when I did record shows for fun!)
TW then ends his show with his theme tune Waltzing Matilda
Top of the hour and the furious paced voice of Dave Dennis the Double D takes over .


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: