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Radio Atlanta - History (3)

In November 1963 Allan Crawford had sufficient funding in place and, together with Oliver Smedley and technical adviser A N Thomas (an ex BBC engineer who had also been an advisor to the Voice of Slough and GBOK projects and was later to become involved with the launch of Radio Caroline) he visited Texas and  finally managed to negotiate a deal with Bob Thompson for the lease of the Mi Amigo.

By December 1963 the Mi Amigo had finally been acquired by Project Atlanta from  the former Radio Nord consortium. Luckily that consortium's  plans to strip all radio equipment from the vessel and fit her out as a luxury cruiser  had not been completed,  so with the transfer of ownership finalised, the Mi Amigo set sail from Galveston on 28th December 1963, heading once again towards the British coast.

The Mi Amigo arrived in Las Palmas just over one month later, on 30th January 1964, after encountering heavy Atlantic storms during which she nearly sank. On 5th February 1964 the vessel entered El Ferrol in Spain for repairs, ballasting and strengthening of her hull. These works were completed within 10 days and the ship sailed once again calling at Corunna between 28th February and 3rd March 1964, while Crawford desperately made arrangements to try and find a quiet port in which the Mi Amigo could be fitted with a new aerial mast for her continuing role as a floating radio station.

By early 1964 Ronan O’Rahilly had made known that he had plans to launch his own offshore radio station. Crawford and O'Rahilly agreed that both of them could cooperate and launch two offshore radio stations - one to serve the south east of England (operated by Crawford) and the other to serve northern England and Ireland (operated by O'Rahilly). However, O'Rahilly maintained a hidden agenda - he planned to launch his station first and steal the lucrative London and south east England market from Crawford's Project Atlanta.

With the Project Atlanta ship Mi Amigo still  in El Ferrol, Spain undergoing strengthening repairs Allan Crawford did not have a port to which he could take the vessel to fit her with a new aerial mast so he presented a proposal to Ronan O'Rahilly. If he could persuade his father to allow the Mi Amigo  to be fitted out at Greenore (alongside the Radio Caroline ship, Fredericia) then Crawford would allow O'Rahilly to use his London studios to pre-record programmes and also provide technical 'experts' to assist with the fitting out of the Fredericia.

The deal was agreeMi Amigo in Greenored and the Mi Amigo arrived in Greenore in mid-March 1964. With both radio ships  now being fitted out in the same port, which was owned by the family of Ronan O’Rahilly who planned to launch Radio Caroline, it was not surprising to hear stories of delaying tactics being employed against the rival station - Atlanta.

An ex BBC and Marconi engineer, Alfred  N Thomas, was in charge of Radio Atlanta’s transmission arrangements and he recruited another  former BBC and Marconi aerial specialist, John H Gilman,  who designed an aerial arrangement for the Mi Amigo, to replace the complicated one used by Radio Nord. Another Marconi engineer, George Saunders, was also involved in the engineering work for Radio Atlanta.

At one stage the Project Atlanta crew were ordered to anchor the Mi Amigo outside Greenore harbour for a few days, which meant no work was done on the ship whilst Caroline received the undivided attention of the workforce. Also, throughout those few days at anchor in Dundalk Bay the Mi Amigo had to ride out a severe storm during which she very nearly ran aground.

In retaliation for these delaying tactics the Atlanta organisation recommended to Radio Caroline some technicians, who it turned out were totally inexperienced. Their inept installation of equipment on the MV Caroline later resulted in severe interference being caused to television broadcasts over a large part of Ireland during a half hour test transmission made from the ship while she was still in port.

A' boarding party' was subsequently sent by Radio Caroline to the Mi Amigo resulting in the disappearance of two Spotmaster tape machines from the Atlanta ship. Needless to say these useful items of equipment subsequently reappeared aboard the MV Caroline.

The result of these tactics was that the MV Caroline was completed and able to sail for her anchorage by the end of March 1964, leaving the Mi Amigo in Greenore, with much work still to be done to make her ready to broadcast. Also Radio Caroline ‘stole’ the southern anchorage which Allan Crawford had planned to use for Radio Atlanta and was able to start broadcasting to the lucrative London and south east England area.

Work was eventually completed on the Mi Amigo by the middle of April 1964 and the ship sailed through the Irish Sea, keeping outside territorial waters, but as she approached Lands End on 21st April 1964 the 168' mast began swaying dangerously. Part of the rigging had become loose and the swaying action seriously affected the ship's steering. There was nothing else the Captain could do but enter British territorial waters to find a calm anchorage off Falmouth while the damage was repaired. However, during that morning a Force 8 gale blew up along the English Channel and the Mi Amigo was forced to enter Falmouth harbour.  

Mi Amigo in Greenore, awaiting fitting out for Radio Atlanta, 1964

Click on picture to enlarge

News Stand

Daily Telegraph

2nd April 1964

The Times

1st April 1964

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