eginnings of Offshore radio
Why offshore radio?
The reason is simply to circumvent the often restrictive licensing laws encountered in some countries, principally Europe, but often other countries too. In fact, the USA seems to have played host to the first offshore broadcasts.
A radio station on board a ship; it sounds an odd idea to say the least, especially one wildly rocking far out at sea! That might sound to the layman one of the strangest places on earth to broadcast from. Dangerously high voltages, seawater and ever-seasick disc jockeys all make for quite a potent mixture. So why broadcast radio programmes from a ship?
The reason goes back to the very dawn of broadcasting, in the 1920s. Governments all over the world were anxious to control this new media and they imposed tight rules on who could and who may not broadcast as well as the material that might be discussed on the air. The lightest regulatory touch was that of the FCC in the USA, but even they were quite strict about things like power levels, and programme material.
Government laws however only control what happens on their sovereign territory and in a narrow strip of sea along their coast. That strip of territorial waters was, for many years, three miles. The measure was chosen as it was about the distance a cannonball would travel, at the time when the first international agreements about 'territorial waters' were made, and it's been that way ever since. A few countries claim a wider strip as their own and those claims are generally respected, though not universally accepted.
In recent years UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea) extended territorial waters to twelve miles, with a further area of up to 24 miles to protect some nations' areas of economic interest, a so-called 'contiguous zone'.
The two hundred miles limit brings a lot of countries into conflict and has not been 'tested', i.e. no country has tried to exercise its right to control ships, and especially not to board any for either checks or to impose its domestic laws, on ships so far from its coast.
Almost every Government in Europe kept very tight state control over broadcasting; almost all the private stations that had been tolerated in the 1930s in some countries, were frozen out after WWII. Some entrepreneurs thought the Voice of America ship in the Mediterranean was a good template for setting up stations in Northern Europe and by 1958 the first stations were heard in Scandinavia. They were a success, and Radio Mercur was swiftly followed by Radio Syd, Radio Nord and many others.
Word of this method of getting around the broadcasting legislation, by going offshore, spread to Holland and Belgium and then eventually the UK, with the first radio ship off England being Radio Caroline in 1964. She arrived just in time to help boost the British music explosion, spearheaded by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. In the mid 1960s over a dozen stations were beaming the latest music into the UK from a variety of ships and former defensive forts.
Most of the stations were starved out by new legislation in August 1967 by the Marine Offences Act, which made it an offence to use a British ship for broadcasting in British waters, to supply anything for use in offshore radio. For the first time it became illegal to play a pop record, read the news or preach a sermon on the radio, if it was transmitted by a ship at sea.
Radio Caroline bravely continued, obtaining the ship's supplies from Holland, which had no such laws until 1974. In that year, the Dutch brought in similar legislation and three of the four radio ships moored off its coast, Radio Veronica, Radio Atlantis and Radio North Sea International, all closed down.
Radio Caroline again continued and moved its remaining ship, the MV Mi Amigo, to a convenient anchorage just off the Thames estuary from where the station could be well heard in London, as well as in France, Belgium and Holland.
Two of Radio Caroline's first ships - the Fredericia (above in Ramsey Bay) and the Mi Amigo (below) off Frinton, Essex)
Few seriously complained about Radio Caroline and so little enforcement action was taken against her. Eventually in March 1980 the ship ran aground on a sandbank in the Thames estuary, and was lost. Radio Caroline family promised to return, but few thought the station would ever reappear. But reappear she certainly did; bigger and better than ever.
In the 1980s no less than four radioo ships appeared in the North Sea, with Radio Caroline returning with a huge converted former Icelandic trawler, the MV Ross Revenge.
The well-loved Offshore Radio exhibition continues its UK tour with several dates to commemorate the fity year anniversary of the introduction of the Marine Offences Act. The law made it an offence not to broadcast from ships, but to supply the ships or advertise on them!
The exhibition is run by Chris and Jackie of Pirate Radio Memories of Lincolnshire and their web site has the latest tour info'. Allow at least an hour to peruse the exhibits which include many rare and long-hidden artefacts from the golden years of Offshore Radio.
They are at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway's Sixties weekend on July 14th and 15th, you will find them at Pickering station. (More details at the foot of this page.)
Chris Day's Pirate Gold
can now be heard on RTI-FM
Saturday afternoon from 16.00 - 18.00 UK time
AND Sunday mornings 04.00 - 06.00 UK time
Two solid hours of pure pirate nostalgia with off-air recordings of all the offshore stations, plus, original tunes and interviews with many of the DJs and staff involved.
Join us each week on RTI-FM
(the Station of the Stars)
Pirate Memories was created in 1999 to bring to the publics attention, a film that was originally shot in 1966. The film was taken on the 60’s pirate radio ship 'The Galaxy', and featured daily life on board 'Radio London'.
The film had at some stage, been transferred to a VHS video tape, and was found along with other pirate radio recordings & memorabilia in a suitcase that had been left after its owner emigrated to Australia in the late 80’s. The owner of the film has never been traced. (was it YOU? if so, please contact Chris and Jackie at Pirate Memories)
The Radio London film shows the everyday routine on board the radio ship Galaxy, with tenders arriving and departing, shots of the studio, with DJ’s on air, and exteriors of the ship during the many weather conditions the ship had to endure during its two and a half years at sea between December 1964 and August 1967.
Many copies of the film have been sold around the world, and now Pirate Memories have copies for sale in their shop. You can also see fabulous displays of Pirate Radio recordings and memorabilia, from those halcyon days of offshore radio broadcasting.
Pirate Memories has souvenirs from all of the 60’s offshore pirate stations, Radio Caroline, Radio London, Radio 270, Radio England and dozens more! They also have even more of the 1970’s and 1980’s pirate stations too.
Pirate Memories has also supplied and helped a number of production companies and media students with audio and photographic material for their programmes and degree research and thesis.
NEXT STOP - Pickering Station - 14 & 15th July
for the NYMR Fabulous 60s weekend.
See the Pirate Memories exhibition at the
NYMR fab 60s weekend in Pickering on the 14th and 15th July 2018. Details.
Chris Dannat of Pirate Radio Memories with an original Radio Caroline sales chart showing prices of the 1965 advertising time on the two ships.