The many closedowns of Radio Caroline

Apr 9, 2010

I’ve just unearthed an old cassette tape with an off-air recording of Radio Caroline from 1985 featuring a fascinating documentary entitled “A tribute to Roland C. Pearson”. On the other side of the tape were other odd recordings, a couple of which I’ve placed here. Co-incidentally I’ve also been reading this book entitled “Shiprocked”. And as the feature film “The Boat that Rocked” is currently showing on TV it seems appropriate to post the following. As usual, if you’re looking for a history lesson try Wikipedia etc. This is merely a few paragraphs on a page of my scrapbook containing a brief overview about one of the numerous things that once upon a time I used to find interesting……

The first phase of Radio Caroline began Easter 1964. Within months the station was incredibly popular and broadcasting from two ships to ensure coverage of the whole UK. Like all the other Offshore Commercial Radio Stations of the mid 1960s Radio Caroline fell foul of the Marine Offences Act, quickly lost DJs and advertising revenue and struggled on until finishing in early March 1968.

Radio Caroline Phase Two began in late 1972 with the Mi-Amigo back in the North Sea. A far more low-key operation this time. An initial Top 40 format was soon replaced by a Hippy/Loving Awareness/Album Station/Freeform anti-format. When the old, badly maintained ship finally sank in 1980 I assumed the era of Pirate Radio was over.

Radio Caroline Phase Three began with a blaze of publicity in 1983. A new, bigger, better ship, the Ross Revenge, had been sourced.

Here is an audio only extract from a news report on UK TVs Channel 4 News in 1983 just before broadcasting re-commenced with Ronan sounding optimistic.

The impetus of the 1983 re-launch slowly petered away. Ronan’s much-promised advertising never really materialised. Technical problems were numerous with most of the enormous 300 foot mast eventually collapsing and never really being successfully repaired. On August 19th 1989 Radio Caroline was raided by UK/ Dutch authorities and much broadcasting equipment was smashed up or removed.

Here is an audio clip from August 19th 1989 during the boarding and forced closedown of Radio Caroline.

Over the next six weeks the studios and transmitters were cobbled back together by Peter Chicago and broadcasts re-commenced on low power on 1st October 1989.

Here is a lo-fi audio clip of Radio Caroline from October 9th 1989. Peter Chicago is closing down for the night at the rather early time of 6pm. The time and the fact that Chicago (who preferred engineering) was having to present a show is evidence that the station was still struggling back into operation after the troubles with the DTI and the Dutch authorities in August (They had been off air between August 19th and October 1st 1989).

The Radio Station never really recovered from the subsequent loss of Dutch daytime programming which had paid for food, fuel and tenders and had supported the English broadcasts. Despite the best efforts of a small, dedicated band of enthusiasts the station finally faded from the airwaves in November 1990 when the fuel, money and willing staff finally became too depleted.

I’ve just finished reading this interesting book. Its a first-hand account of this third phase of Radio Caroline by Steve Conway who spent a lot of time on board the Ross Revenge in the second half of the 1980s and was there until the bitter end in 1991.

 A visit to this detailed site will provide you with a timeline of the major events happening to Radio Caroline in the late 1980s showing how often they were on/off air. And there’s loads more info all over the Interweb. Even YouTube has some fascinating video.

In the 1990s onwards another phase of Radio Caroline began utilising local limited-period broadcasting licences and via Satellite (Sky Radio Channel 0199) and the Internet (

3 Responses to “The many closedowns of Radio Caroline”

  1. Dave Roberts Says:

    Good feature with some nice clips. “Shiprocked” is a great read and so is Nigel Hariss’s “Ships in Troubled Waters” which is also an essential read if you want to find out what the people on board the Caroline ships went through to give us an alternative radio voice over the past decades. And just as important Caroline still continues today , on a shoestring ,with unpaid staff ….. no change there then!

  2. Yeah I always found the whole “behind the scenes” stuff much more interesting than their bland musical output. Do you know if Peter Chicago ever wrote a book? His version of events would be interesting/accurate !!

  3. Dave Roberts Says:

    I agree that Caroline’s output was dire from time to time ( the pop stuff in the 80’s for instance )although I loved the hippy era in the 70’s especially the post Geronimo Seagull stuff! A book of reminiscences from Peter( Chicago )Murtha would be a real treat but alas he hasn’t put pen to paper , so to speak! Johnny Lewis’s story from both the engineering and broadcasting sides of the story would also be welcome too. Currently Dave ( aka Glen ) Richards is writing his book about the behind the scenes activities in supplying and running the Ross Revenge with an emphasis on the humour! His book is due out in October 2010 and promises to be quite different to the recent books from Steve and Nigel.

    Reading the “behind the scenes” books certainly adds to my enjoyment and appreciation of Caroline. It sounded like bl**dy hard work!

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