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Radio Essex - History

During 1964 Roy Bates an Essex fisherman and businessman decided to investigate the possibility of starting his owRoy and Joan Batesn radio station after witnessing the early success of Radio Caroline and the initiative of Screaming 'Lord' Sutch in making use of the abandoned Thames Estuary wartime forts to launch Radio Sutch.

Bates, who knew the waters of the Estuary well, spent some months in late 1964 and early 1965 visiting the various forts, of which there were then six. The former Army forts at Red Sands and Shivering Sands were both already being used by offshore radio operators, but he selected an ex-Navy fort at Knock John to be the base for his planned station.

Having identified the Fort he wanted to use for his station, to be known as Radio Essex, Roy Bates set about raising finance, acquiring equipment and finding broadcasting and engineering staff. These arrangements took a few months to complete and during the summer of 1965 when Bates was finally ready to start installing the broadcasting equipment he returned to Knock John with colleagues Mark West and Richard Palmer to discover that Reg Calvert of Radio City - who had also identified Knock John as a suitable base for his proposed second outlet - had already  landed some of his own equipment and staff on the Fort.

The Radio Essex men asserted their 'right' to use Knock John and the violent struggle which ensued between the two rival groups resulted in the Radio City staff being forcibly evicted from the Fort. After this Reg Calvert abandoned plans to launch a second station based at Knock John.

Having disposed of the rival personnel Bates and his group set about restoring two of the wartime generators to provide power for the Fort and also constructed rudimentary studios in one of the old storerooms.Radio Essex QSL card

Test transmissions from Radio Essex started on 27th October 1965 and regular programmes, consisting of middle of the road music during the day and Top 40 at night, began officially on 7th November 1965.

Radio Essex transmitted on a very low power and its primary coverage area was the county of Essex. It claimed to be mainland Britain's first local radio station, announcing itself as "The Voice of Essex" and to this end concentrated on securing advertising mainly from local companies and businesses.

Initially the hours of transmission were from 7.00am to 9.00pm, but Radio Essex later became Britain's first 24 hour a day radio station, with night-time transmissions attracting a small, but regular audience.

The Bill to outlaw offshRadio Essex advertising rate cardore broadcasting stations - the Marine etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Bill was introduced into the House of Commons on 27th July 1966 and received its formal First Reading. The initial reactions from the offshore stations to the Bill were defiant, containing general expressions of determination to fight its introduction and continue broadcasting. Radio Essex owner Roy Bates said he would live abroad to escape the provisions of the planned legislation.

Radio Essex  however, did not have to wait for the introduction of legislation proposed in the Marine etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Bill before action was taken against it.

On 29th September 1966 Roy Bates  was served with a summons to be heard at Rochford Magistrates Court alleging the illegal use of a transmitter at Knock John Fort, contravening the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1949.

Mr. Bates then announced that he had taken over another fort at Tongue Sands, 9 miles off Margate, and would use this as a broadcasting base for a new station - to be known either as Radio Albatross or Radio Kent. Then on 6th October 1966, before the case had been heard in court,  he changed the name and format of his existing station, Radio Essex to BBMS (Britain's Better Music Station)

When the case was heard Roy Bates (who represented himself in Court)  argued that his station was outside the jurisdiction of the Court because it was located more than 3 nautical miles from the Essex coast. However, John Newey, appearing for the prosecution used the same arguments he had successfully presented the previous week against Radio 390 - that the Thames Estuary was a bay under the provisions of the Geneva Convention and thus (in this case) the West Barrow sandbank gave a low tide elevation which brought the Knock John Fort inside territorial waters. The Post Office engineers gave evidence of monitoring Radio Essex transmissions on 16th August 1966 in three locations - Herne Bay in Kent, Shoeburyness in Essex and Morden Point on the Isle of Sheppey. Another Post Office official confirmed that an application had been made by Roy Bates for a licence to broadcast but, as with Radio 390 this had been refused.

The magistrates found that the Knock John Fort was within British territorial waters and imposed a fine of £100, but refused a Post Office request for confiscation of the transmission equipment and payment of costs.

Roy Bates immediately lodged an appeal against his conviction, but his station - now known as BBMS - remained on the air.

Back to Radio Essex


Roy and Joan Bates

Radio Essex Advertising Rate Card


Click on picture to enlarge

The Times

1st December 1966

Radio Essex station ID

R Essex ID announcement and time check.mp3

Statement by station owner, Roy Bates about the case for commercial radio

Radio Essex Roy Bates anti MOA message.mp3

Radio Essex name and wavelength painted on Knock John Fort.

Photo: Andy Cadier