On 19th November 1964 the former US Navy minesweeper Galaxy dropped anchor within sight of the Shivering Sands Fort (home of Radio City) and started test broadcasts using the call sign Radio London.
The Galaxy had been fitted out as an offshore radio station in Miami, from where she sailed on 22nd October 1964. Radio London was the brainchild of Don Pierson, a Texas businessman who in April 1964 had heard about the launch of Radio Caroline, paid a fact finding visit to Britain to see what offshore radio was all about and returned to the USA to develop his own project.
Radio London's initial investors included:-
Pierson was manager of the project, McIlwan dealt with sales, McGlothlin was responsible for legal and financial arrangements while Dannaher supervised the fitting out of the ship. Gordon McLendon (owner of Dallas station KLIF and ex-
Radio London was run by a highly professional and well organised team and from the outset it threatened to become a serious challenger to Radio Caroline South. The Galaxy boasted a powerful 50Kw transmitter and claimed to have an aerial height of 212’ enabling the station to reach most of southern England and the Midlands.
Additionally, Radio London's programming and advertising sales teams were far better organised than those of its rivals and the station sounded professional and successful from the start. Head of Sales at Radio London was Alan Keen who left Fleetway Publications, where he was Assistant Advertising Manager with Woman's Mirror, to join the new radio station. Another advertising professional, Dennis Maitland also joined the sales department of Radio London from book and newspaper publishers Odhams Press, where he was Advertising Manager for Woman's Weekly and Housewife magazines. He had also previously worked in advertising sales at the Daily Mail.
Because of the contacts Radio London had been able to establish through this experienced sales team the station was able to go on the air with a number of 'blue chip' advertising contracts from day one, adding considerably to the station's instantly professional sound.
Stories of the professionalism and technical superiority of Radio London worried those managing Radio Caroline long before the Galaxy arrived off the British coast. It is now known that during the weeks before Radio London came on the air Ronan O'Rahilly, aware of the new station's superior sales expertise, approached Radio London Managing Director, Philip Birch suggesting a merger of the two advertising sales organisations -
Radio London’s ship first anchored in the Thames Estuary on 19th November 1964, near to Shivering Sands Fort (home of Radio City), however, Ronan O’Rahilly helpfully pointed out to his new rivals that their chosen position was likely to be inside British territorial waters. The Galaxy moved to an anchorage off Walton-
Radio London's format was strictly based on the Top 40 (known on the station as the Fab 40). Initially the American backers had wanted to name the station Radio KLIF (London), the Big K, (after Gordon McLendon's station in Dallas) with tapes of the Dallas programmes being rebroadcast in an undiluted American style to an unsuspecting British audience. However, they eventually settled for a change of name to Radio London (Big L), with a watered down version of the highly Americanised Top 40 format, which it was thought would be more acceptable to British listeners.
This fundamental disagreement over format, although patched up at the time of the station's launch in 1964, was to lead quite soon to Don Pierson and some of the other initial backers withdrawing from the Radio London project to set up their own all-
Radio London sounded far more professional and in touch with listeners’ current musical tastes than any of the other offshore broadcasters and consequently came across as a more listenable station, particularly in comparison to Radio Caroline South, which in the early months of 1965 was suffering from an identity crisis due to a lack of a clearly defined programme format.
In March 1965 a strange incident occurred when a Greek national, Captain Pandelis Tsirbis, arrived at Radio London’s Curzon Street offices claiming that the station had ‘stolen’ his ship and demanding its return. The money for the purchase of the Galaxy was being held in an escrow account in Miami which Tsirbis knew about but Don Pierson hadn't explained to him how that worked. Philip Birch made a call to Miami and Tsirbis was told that he could now collect his money from Radio London's American lawyers. He seemed happy about this and the matter was considered over. However Tsirbis reappeared in 1969 claiming he was still owed money -
On 20th April 1965 the crew of Radio London played a significant part in the rescue of a USAF pilot who was forced to ditch in the North Sea. Flight Lieutenant John Winn was forced to eject from his plane, a F.101 Voodoo Tactical Jet, which had developed engine trouble on the return leg of a practice flight from its base in Laon, France. When he hit the sea Flight Lieutenant Winn injured his back and was temporarily knocked unconscious. The Radio London tender diverted to the scene of the crash and recovered Flight Lieutenant Winn from the sea before making its way to Harwich where an ambulance was waiting to take the injured airman to hospital.
11.00am time check on opening day, 23rd December 1964
Click on picture to enlarge
Flight Lieutenant John Winn
Extracts of some Radio London test transmissions
Radio London’s opening programme, Pete Brady and Paul Kaye, 23rd December 1964
Radio London News reporting the rescue of USAF pilot, John Winn. 20th April 1965
Early news of Radio London’s planned arrival, Daily Telegraph 11th November 1964
21st April 1965
Galaxy at her original anchorage near Shivering Sands Fort
Ship and Location
24th March 1965
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