Pirate Radio (Radio London)
I became involved with Pirate Radio in June 1964. I had just returned from a stint with the United States Marines on Paris Island and Camp Le June. A friend of mine, Roy Giles, a sales man for RCA Broadcast called me and ask if I was up to an adventure. I met with him to discuss this opportunity. The told me about the plan hatched up by two Texas Oil Men to build a Pirate Radio station like Radio Caroline off the coast of England in the North Sea. Roy told me we couldn't let any one know that RCA was involved as it is illegal to sell or build a pirate radio station in the United States. My rationalization was that we weren't going to hurt anyone or business here in the US, so why shouldn't I become involved. It sounded like fun and different. I contacted my friend Dick Powers and enlisted him in the project as well. I was told that Art Nobo another friend of mine would be supervising the Transmitter installation. All the more reason to sign on since I respected Art's engineering ability's.
We were told that the ship, a former US Navy mine sweeper had been purchased from the Greek government and was on it's way to New York $85,000. We soon discovered the crew that brought the ship to the US, jumped ship in New York and went back to Greece. They were suppose to have delivered it to Miami. There was good reason they jumped ship. The ship was in awful condition, leaking like a sieve and totally unsafe. They reportedly said they were lucky to have even made it to New York. We had to find a new crew fast to get the ship to Florida so we could start construction of the radio station. A daring crew was found and the sad, decimated vessel limped into Miami. It was taken to Dade Dry Dock. There $250,000 was spent in a few weeks to get it "reasonably: seaworthy.
Roy introduced me to one of the ship's partners, Don Pearson and the Broadcast Engineer who designed the antenna system Bill Carr. There were actually two major partners. Don Pearson and Tom Danaher, They were different as night and day. One flew in, in a private plain the other arrived on a Grayhound bus or train. Don stayed in a Suite at the DuPont Plaza, then an up-scale Miami hotel. Tom and Bill Carr in a modest hotel. We were paid from a Freeport Bahamas Bank account with taxes taken out. They, the partners kept the taxes. We quickly discovered this was going to be a very tight budget project, starting with us. Our checks either bounced or were always short and late. When the ship finally set sail in the middle of the night they left a pile of bills to various suppliers including my friends Electronic Wholesalers.
The ship left Dade Dry Dock and was moored behind the old WFUN AM studios on the MacArthur Causeway The activity was fast and furious. Dick Power and myself were installing all the audio, including turntables, cart machines and a small audio console. Art Nobo and his crew was overseeing the construction of the transmitter room, antenna base and the electrical power system. We worked for several weeks on the studio. During that time the tower was installed. The tower was 175 feet and the ship was 155 feet long. Needless to say it was top heavy and made navigating the ship very difficult specially in rough seas. You could never let the ship roll or it would capsize quickly and several times is almost did. As I said earlier, It is illegal to build a an un-licensed radio station in the United States. We got word from some of our local Broadcast friends that the FCC was preparing to pay us a visit. I don't know if they were simply warning us they were coming or our friends were setting us up. Non-the less the moment the tower was completed we departed for the open seas to international waters off the coast of Fort Lauderdale.
We had to test the entire station prior to heading to the North Sea. The transmitter was connected to a system to check it out that was designed to not let the signal go further than a mile. I was in Fort Lauderdale and heard it loud and clear 30 miles away, yep, we were now real Pirates.. Well, at least the station worked even thought the dummy load didn't preform very well.
The ship sailed for the North Seal. During the crossing it encounter a fierce storm and sustained a great deal of damage and almost didn't make it at all. Fortunately with the Cuban ingenuity of Art Nobo and his mates they made. it. The station broadcast from 23 December 1964 to 14 August 1967.
The Broadcast Transmitter was an RCA Ampliphase 50,000 watt rig. This was generally considered an excellent transmitter. It had great Audio quality and was very reliable on land. At sea, that was a different story. The principal issue with anything electronic at sea is the moisture. The moisture was far more sever than ever anticipated, therefor the station generally never ran more than 17,000 watts at best. Well, at least this was 7,000 watts more than Caroline. Caroline did have (2) Continental 10 KW transmitters that seemed to operate better than our system. Perhaps their antenna system was happier in the salt air than ourrs. That was a moral booster for the on board staff. When the transmitter was delivered it had a box of crystals to facilitate changing frequencies if interference became a problem The station experimented with various frequencies between 1133 and 1137.5 kHz and tended to suffer nighttime heterodyne interference from stations in Zagreb and elsewhere.
in 1964 there was no commercial radio in England. This was a Bonanza in terms of advertising sales for the Pirates. Parliament did a lot of talking about the ships and finally prevented them from being re-fueled by British companies. No problem, the French to the rescue.
In 1964, following the launch of Radio Caroline and Radio London, Screaming Lord Sutch announced his intention to start his own pirate radio station. On 27 May Radio Sutch began broadcasting on 194 meter - 1542 kHz from the south tower of Shivering Sands. It was a low-powered, low-budget operation. The transmitter, originally taken from a Handley Page Halifax bomber, was powered with a cascade of car batteries, a scaffold pole with a skull-and-crossbones flag served as an antenna. Sutch soon became tired of it, selling the station to his manager Reginald Calvert for a reported £5,000. Calvert bought new equipment and expanded the station into the other towers. One of the original seven towers had been destroyed when a ship collided with it, leaving the northernmost tower isolated. The remaining five were connected by catwalks in an irregular star shape. Calvert's team set about repairing the catwalks and refurbishing the fort's facilities and living quarters. New studios were built, a more powerful transmitter installed, and the station experimented with new antenna configurations and frequencies (1034 and eventually 1003 kHz). Initially antenna wires were strung around the periphery of the towers. Later a vertical mast was erected on the central tower, supported by guy wires on the surrounding towers, and the station adopted the nickname "your tower of power". Although the station's output never exceeded 2 kW, the efficiency of the antenna combined with the fact that it was located over water (an efficient reflector of radio waves) gave it the equivalent coverage of a much more powerful land-based station.
In September 1965, merger talks began between City and Radio Caroline South. A transmitter was delivered to the fort, intended to be used by Caroline when it jumped ship. The merger plans collapsed, and the transmitter was never paid for. Calvert then began discussions with Radio London regarding a merger, in a new venture called UKGM (United Kingdom Good Music). In the early morning of 20 June 1966, a business associate of Calvert, retired Major Oliver Smedley (who claimed ownership of the transmitter), sent a group of men to take possession of Shivering Sands. That evening, Calvert visited Smedley's home and in the ensuing scuffle was shot by Smedley. The police were called and Smedley was charged with murder. Smedley was later acquitted on grounds of self-defence. The killing spurred the Government into legislative action shutting down offshore pirate radio stations, passing the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act. However prior to this legislation, it was established that the fort, being located within British waters, was covered by existing legislation. On 8 February 1967, at midnight the station closed down.
I did not sail with the ship and good thing I didn't. I was just married with our first child Lisa, were were supposed to move to England for 18 months. I also had my obligation to the USMC Reserve for 6 more years and we were about to purchase WMJR 100.7. I stayed in contact with the project over the next few years and watched with envy, the soldiers of fortune I could have been a part of. OH well! At least I was there in the beginning.
There was much more to these pirate stations than the poorly written and produced movie. The real story has far more intrigue, romance, murder, and solid history about broadcasting in the UK. When I am resting sometime I plan to assemble much more information about this interesting time in broadcasting.
Lot's more to come!!!!
Mary Payne wrote to me 11/21/2913
Email address:firstname.lastname@example.org Subject:Fitting out the Radio London studio Message:Hi Bill (Ron), I was interested to read your account of fitting out the Radio London studio. I've sent the link to Ben Toney, Big L's original Texan Programme Director. He says: "My friend Art Nobo was not in charge of putting the equipment and tower in place. Bill Carr who was a consulting engineer was in charge.
You are correct, Bill Car was the Consulting Engineer and designer of the Transmitter plant. However Art Nobo was actually doing most of the grunt work. From time to time he (Art) ask us to pitch in and help.
Art made the crossing of the Atlantic with me. He was a very intelligent young man. A friend of mine in Dallas, Herb Hoff was the one who sold Don the transmitter.
Here again as I said in the article, RCA had to distance themselves from this transaction from a legal standpoint therefore Herb Hoff became the middle man. The Transmitter was sold to Herb who in turn sold it to Don.
The antenna and control room were already on the ship when I came to Miami. I guess that's why Bill (Ron) Crider and I never met." Ben's own memoirs are on our website: http://www.radiolondon.co.uk/rl/bentoney/bookp1.html best wishes, Mary, Radio London