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Radio Caroline - History (2)

There have been various stories about the origin of the name “Caroline” for Ronan O’Rahilly’s new offshore radio station and indeed how the station came about in the first place.

Offshore radio legend says that O’Rahilly chose the name after seeing a picture on a magazine cover of Caroline Kennedy, the young daughter of President John F Kennedy, playing in the Oval Office at the White House.

However, there are other theories about the origin of the name. One is that it was chosen for Caroline Maudling (daughter of Reginald Maudling - a prominent British Government Minister at the time), who Ronan knew amongst his circle of friends in London.

The most likely - and now generally accepted theory - is that the name was chosen by Jocelyn Stevens, whose involvement in the early planing stages of the offshore station was hugely influential. His Queen magazine Editor, Beatrix Miller, had devised a profile of the target reader as ‘’a twenty something, non intellectual who had left school at 16, and was a ‘good time’ girl called Caroline’. Jocelyn Stevens believed that the same profile should be the target audience for the new offshore radio station, so the name Caroline was chosen.

It has largely been accepted for many years that the station itself came about because Ronan O'Rahilly was working, without much  success, to try and promote one of his artists, Georgie Fame, on the established radio stations - Radio Luxembourg and the BBC Light Programme. It has become an offshore radio legend that after a fruitless meeting with senior executives of Radio Luxembourg in London O'Rahilly concluded that the only way to secure airtime for artists who were not  signed up by the major record companies, was to start  his own radio station.

Having explored and rejected for various reasons the possibility of hiring the transmitters of a foreign based broadcaster to launch his own radio station the idea of offshore radio appealed to him as a possible solution.

The true background situation, however, is far more complex than this story tells and involves a huge interweaving web of people, campaigners and organisations. (See Almost There ! in the Why Go Offshore? Gallery on the Ground Floor  and the history of Radio Atlanta for more details of the background activities leading to the arrival of Radio Caroline.).

Rigging of the aerial mast on the MV Caroline (and also later on the Mi Amigo) was carried out  in Greenore by Spencer Rigging, a company based in the Isle of Wight which specialised in rigging masts for sailing yachts. This company was recommended to Ronan O’Rahilly by Captain de Jong of Wijsmullers who he had met on his visit to the USA in 1963. MV Caroline in Greenore

Although the Greenore port's workforce kept silent about the nature of the ship's conversion it was not long before the town's residents noticed the huge aerial mast growing to its 165' height and the local newspaper sent a reporter to investigate the mystery ship.

With natural Irish charm the O'Rahilly family circulated a story that the ship was a marine research vessel and needed the tall mast to help it search for deep sea sponges! Satisfied that he had obtained an explanation for the unusual work being carried out on the ship the reporter left Greenore and his paper printed the story.

So convincingly was this cover story put across that there was little further speculation about the true nature of the activity surrounding Caroline or of her future role. The later arrival of Allan Crawford's Mi Amigo consequently raised few enquiries from local residents or the media, although once Radio Caroline had actually come on the air interest in the Mi Amigo at Greenore became more intense.

Eventually conversion and installation work was completed on the MV Caroline and she set sail from Greenore on 23rd March 1964. It was then that Allan Crawford fully realised the Caroline station was not destined to serve the north of England, Scotland and Ireland as he had initially been led to believe by Ronan O’Rahily, but instead it was to snatch his own lucrative target area of London and the south east.

Caroline anchored briefly off the Isle of Man to ride out a storm before sailing south through the Irish Sea, giving her destination as Spain. However, on Wednesday 25th March 1964, when the vessel reached Lands End and changed course entering the English Channel, coastguards all along the south coast of England began to take even greater interest in her, repeatedly asking the Captain for his destination. Captain Baeker, in command of the vessel at the time, would only reply that he was sailing under sealed orders from the owners and refused to reveal any destination.  

The authorities were so concerned by the mystery ship that for a short while Caroline was shadowed by a Royal Navy destroyer from Plymouth as she sailed through the Channel. By the evening of 27th March 1964 (which also happened to be Good Friday) Caroline had reached her destination and she dropped anchor three and a half miles off Harwich on the Essex coast.

It has been widely accepted that the first test transmissions took place at about 11.55pm that evening with a taped programme from DJ John Junkin, the first record played being Jimmy McGriff's "Around Midnight", although some reports suggest that tests were aired earlier that evening.

The test brMV Caroline off Essex 1964oadcasts continued the following morning, and at 12 noon on Easter Saturday, 28th March 1964, Radio Caroline officially started broadcasting. The opening announcement was made by Simon Dee and the first programme (which was pre-recorded on tape) was a rudimentary Top 20 show, introduced by Chris Moore, with the first record being  "Not Fade Away" by the Rolling Stones .

Those on board the MV Caroline were uncertain about official reaction to the new station. Initially it was far from clear how the authorities would respond and the biggest concern to the Radio Caroline staff was that the ship would be forcibly boarded and seized whilst at sea.  For the first few weeks there was a nervous atmosphere amongst the crew and DJs, who lived with the constant fear that at any time they could be arrested, taken back to land and prosecuted for illegal broadcasting.

Following its official opening Radio Caroline received enormous publicity in the press and on television news bulletins and word quickly spread about the new all-day music station. Regular transmissions initially took place between 6.00am and 6.00pm and audience figures grew rapidly.

Within four days of the Easter Saturday opening thousands of letters were received at the station's  shipping agent's address in Harwich.  By 9th April press reports indicated that in the station's first 10 days on the air over 20,000 letters had been received from enthusiastic listeners.

The station was not popular with everybody however. After Radio Caroline had been on the air for just two days complaints were received about the station causing interference to communications with lightships and the lifeboat service. These complains were largely unfounded and unsubstantiated. The General Post Office (GPO) also withdrew ship-to-shore links with the MV Caroline, except for emergency situations. Consideration was also given by the British authorities to jamming the broadcasts from Radio Caroline, but this option was not pursued.

The GPO asked the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) on 1st April 1964 to help stop the unauthorised broadcasts. Two days later the ITU replied that it would request Panama, under whose flag the radio ship was registered, to investigate the situation.

Hostile reaction in the House of Commons to the start of Radio Caroline's broadcasts came almost immediately in March 1964, when the Postmaster General, Reginald Bevins, promised "action soon" to deal with this and any other offshore radio station. Initial questions had been raised about Radio Caroline because of fears its signal would affect the emergency services' transmissions. Some other MPs, however, spoke of more sinister matters including the dangers of subversive propaganda or publicity for obscene material being broadcast by the offshore station.

On 7th April 1964 the Panamanian authorities were reported to have withdrawn the ship's official registration following an official request from the British government. On the same day the MV Caroline sailed a mile up the coast to a new anchorage off Felixstowe, further away from the main shipping lanes.

Radio Caroline opening on  28th March 1964

Radio Caroline 1964 - Opening Easter 1964.mp3

MV Caroline shortly after anchoring off the Essex coast

Early Radio Caroline station ID, 1964

Radio Caroline 1964 - ID announcement1.mp3 News Stand

Click on picture to enlarge

The Times

30th March 1964

The Times

2nd April 1964

The Times

2nd April 1964

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MV Caroline with its claimed Panama registration status clearly visible.

MV Caroline being fitted out in Greenore

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