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Radio England - History

A lavish press conference in London on 20th April 1966 announced the launch of yet another offshore radio project - the most ambitious so far, with two separate stations based on the same ship.

The new project planned to start broadcasts from off the Essex coast by the end of April, but in fact test transmissions for the two new stations - Radio England and Britain Radio - did not take place until 3rd May 1966.

Although based on the same Radio England Britain Radio stickership the twin stations were to be radically different from eachother and from any other offshore or landbased stations then on the air. Radio England, which planned to compete in the market area already covered by Radios Caroline, London and City, was to be a brash, all-American Top 40 format station, while Britain Radio was to present easy listening music aimed at the same audience as Radio 390.

Behind this ambitious project were some of the original backers of Radio London - Don Pierson, Tom Danaher and Bill Vick. They had broken away from Radio London early in 1965 after fundamental boardroom differences over that station's programming style and format. Money was to be no object!           

A management company was formed for the new project - Pier Vick Ltd - Bill Vick became Managing Director of the company, with Don Pierson acting as Project Overseer and another American, Jack Curtis fulfilled the dual role of Project Co-ordinator and also General Manager of the easy listening station, Britain Radio. Cinema advertising agents Pearl and Dean also held an interest in the twin station venture as well as being responsible, through a subsidiary company - Radiovision Broadcasts International -  for the sale of airtime. Howver, the company failed to proactively sell airtime which quickly led to financial problems for both Radio England and Britain Radio.

At the beginning of 1966 the project’s ship Olga Patricia (later re-named Laissez Faire) was taken from the Panama Canal Zone to Biscayne Bay, Miami where she was fitted out for her new role in great secrecy. Installation of equipment on the radio ship was carried out by Continental Electronics from Dallas and completed by March 1966.

However, shortly after the ship sailed from Miami the aerial mast collapsed and there then followed a series of delays and a display of gross inefficiency in dealing with problem. The Olga Patricia spent two weeks in Lisbon then Continental Electronics suggested that the ship should sail to her proposed anchorage off the British coast and the work would be carried out at sea. The vessel sailed for her anchorage off Harwich and lay silently at anchor while Continental Electronics arranged to bring equipment from Dallas and from West Germany to rebuild the aerial system.

Test broadcasts eventually started from the ship on 3rd May. To begin with Radio England broadcast on 355m (845kHz) although the potential transmitter power of 55Kw was not achieved due to technical problems. For most of May 1966 test broadcasts continued sporadically with regular interruptions and breakdowns while the equipment was adjusted and modified.

On 3rd June 1966 the Italian Government complained that the transmissions from Radio England were interfering with its Roma 2 station and as a result Radio England swapped frequencies with its sister station, Britain Radio, while transmitter power was reduced significantly during the evenings. The Italian Government also complained to Panama about interference from the two stations on board the Laissez Faire. As a result the Laissez Faire's registration was withdrawn and the vessel remained a stateless ship for two months until she was re-registered in Honduras.

Regular programmes from Radio England eventually started on 16th June 1966 on a wavelength of 225m (announced as 227m) (133kHz).

Programming on Radio England (or Swinging Radio England as it was more usually known) was something entirely new to British audiences. It was undiluted and unashamedly American in style with fast talking DJs, known as "Boss Jocks", making much use of technical gimmicks such as echo and reverberation units, as well as an automated Carousel unit - the first to be used in Europe.

This unit, similar in principle to a juke box, but working with tape cartridges instead of discs, could be used to provide either non-stop music automatically (as Radio England did at weekends with its "Golden Oldies" programme or Britain Radio did on its overnight service) or be incorporated into DJ controlled programmes. The equipment also stored commercials and station identification jingles on cartridges and had the ability, in response to a cue tone, to activate programmes recorded on reel to reel tapes. When each piece of music on the reel to reel tape ended another cue tone activated the Carousel unit to insert further commercials or jingles automatically.  (See I WAS THERE in the Interactive Zone on the right)

Before coming over to England to launch their twin offshore station project in the spring of 1966 Vick, Pierson and Curtis hired a number of DJs from American Top 40 stations, mainly in Georgia. To supplement this nucleus of American broadcasting staff they also recruited some English DJs and deliberately engaged staff who had little or no previous radio experience in the hope that the US DJs would be able to influence them in the style of presentation required on the stations.,The adoption of this policy was later to lead to a serious conflict between the two groups, helping to undermine the success of the whole project and in particular, Radio England.

Radio England testing on 355m, May 1966

R England - testing on 355m May 1966.mp3

Click on picture to enlarge

Don Pierson

The automated Carousel unit

The Times

21st May 1966

The Times

7th June 1966

The Guardian

21st April 1966

Solid Gold Sunday promo

R England Solid Gold Sunday promo.mp3

Joint Radio England/Britain Radio test transmission on 355m, June 1966

Joint BR and SRE tests on 355 - trailer for start of SRE.mp3


Key Dates

Ship and Location




Key Dates Ship and Location Technical Staff Programmes


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Where       next ?

These are the only tape machines I have seen that could play in both directions. Certainly a heavily mechanised machine to achieve constant unattended programming. The rotation of the carousel cartridge player was far from quiet and could be used on demand (remote control) or in sequence with the three tape machines. A spool of male vocals, female vocals and instrumentals was normal, each track being back-announced before the next machine kicks in. These tape machines were also used to play the religious programmes usually on 7" reels, while the auto programming system were on  10" spools, using remote buttons mounted above the Collins mixing desk.

Great memories.

Tom Dannaher

Bill Vick

Treasure Chest

Treasure Chest

Daily Mail

3rd June 1966

Miami News

1st April 1966

Courtesy Mike Barraclough

Back to Britain Gallery


Back to Radio England

Radio England