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Radio Caroline 1970’s - History

1970

Listeners tuning in to Radio North Sea International’s (RNI) transmissions on 13th June 1970 were surprised to hear the station using the call sign Radio Caroline International. The owners of RNI had come to an agreement with Caroline’s founder, Ronan O'Rahilly, that they would mount an intensive anti-Labour Party campaign in the days immediately before the British General Election. The use of Radio Caroline's name would, it was thought, have more impact with listeners.

Key marginal constituencies in London and the south east of England were targeted while a continuous stream of anti-Labour propaganda was broadcast by the station in the run up to election day. A campaign bus, with Free Radio slogans and photographs of 'Chairman Wilson' toured London promoting the station and denouncing the fact that the Labour Government had authorised the jamming of its transmissions.

An important link in rallying supporters during this campaign was the Free Radio Association (FRA), which was still operated by Geoffrey Pearl from Rayleigh in Essex. The FRA provided facilities in  the form of telephone numbers and addresses through which listeners could contact the station in response to on air appeals for help distributing campaign leaflets, stickers etc.

On 16th June 1970, just two days before the General Election, Prime Minister Harold Wilson personally authorised the use of the most powerful transmitter in Europe - a one megawatt facility kept for use in a national emergency - to jam RNI/Radio Caroline’s signal.

Against all opinion poll predictions the Labour Party lost the General Election on 18th June 1970, with many marginal seats in London and the south east being gained by the Conservative Party. Although almost impossible to quantify it is virtually certain, and now generally accepted  by political historians, that the campaign mounted by RNI/Caroline  during the run up to election day had a significant impact on the result of the 1970 General Election, particularly in those in London and south east marginal constituencies.

The day after the Election RNI dropped the Radio Caroline call sign - its objective of putting the Labour Party out of power had been achieved, but its hope that the incoming Conservative Government would immediately stop the jamming did not materialise.

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1972

On May 29th 1972 the two former Radio Caroline vessels, Mi Amigo and Caroline, which had lain rusting and vandalised in  harbour for over four and a half years, were finally put up for sale at public auction by Wijsmullers.

MV Caroline, home to the original Radio Caroline and later to Radio Caroline North, was sold for scrap while the former Radio Nord, Radio Atlanta and Radio Caroline South ship, Mi Amigo, was sold to the Hofman Shipping Agency, acting on behalf of unnamed clients and it was assumed that she too would be scrapped.

However, an announcement was made shortly after the auction that the 'unnamed clients' were in fact the Dutch Free Radio Organisation, led by Gerard van Dam who said he planned to use the Mi Amigo as an offshore radio museum, restoring the vandalised studios to their former condition and creating accommodation for visitors wishing to stay on board the ship. The former radio ship was towed to  Zaandam where, throughout the summer of 1972, volunteers cleaned, painted and restored the vessel, removing evidence of years of neglect and vandalism.

During the time that this 'restoration' work was being carried out Radio Caroline's founder, Ronan O'Rahilly held a series of meetings with Gerard van Dam and managed to convince the Free Radio Organisation that the future of the ship was not as a museum piece, but as a living radio station - he wanted to re-launch Radio Caroline.

Naturally this plan was undertaken in absolute secrecy with the authorities still being led to believe that the vessel was to be converted into a floating radio museum. At the beginning of September 1972 the Mi Amigo quietly left  Zaandam and was towed down the canal system towards the North Sea. Authorities at IJmuiden were told that the 'floating museum' was heading for England where there was a greater interest in offshore radio.

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RNI announcing the name change to Radio Caroline, June 1970

RNI - announcing name change to Caroline.mp3

Campaign song ‘Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Wilson’

RNI - Who do you think you are kidding Mr Wilson.mp3

One of the Caroline buses, June 1970


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‘Chairman Wilson’ poster

Publicity leaflet for the ‘Pirate Museum’ on board Mi Amigo

Click to enlarge