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Laser 558 - History


As the return of Radio Caroline stole the headlines in August 1983 another offshore radio project was secretly being put together in Britain, Ireland and the USA.

This project had its origins in February 1983, when it had seemed uncertain that Radio Caroline would be able to return in the foreseeable future. John Kenning, who had been involved in and witnessed the growth and success of the Irish landbased pirate stations, claimed to have access to sufficient financial backing to launch an offshore radio station. He initially wanted to base his station off the Irish coast inside territorial waters on the basis that the Irish Government, having tolerated the increasing number of landbased stations were unlikely to hinder the launch of one from an offshore base, but in case they did the vessel could quickly be moved to international waters.

John Kenning made contact with ex-Radio Caroline DJ and engineer Paul Rusling and together they visited New York where they spoke to media salesman Roy Lindau of Music Media Radio. Lindau had previously been involved with the early plans to re-launch Radio Caroline in 1981, but until persuaded otherwise by Kenning and Rusling he at first wanted nothing to do with another British offshore radio project.

Nothing much happened for a while after these exploratory talks and in the intervening weeks John Kenning became increasingly involved with a London landbased pirate station, Radio Sovereign, which he operated with former offshore DJ Crispian St John (later Jay Jackson on Radio Caroline). Paul Rusling, who had made tentative enquiries about the availability of a suitable ship and transmitting equipment, also withdrew from the project at this time because he had serious doubts that the claimed financial resources really existed.

Meanwhile, in New York the initially sceptical Roy Lindau was still pursuing the idea of launching another offshore radio station off the coast of Britain. He joined forces with Paul Hodge (who had also been involved in the early attempts to bring back Radio Caroline in 1981/82) and together they persuaded the mysterious financial backer (Irish businessman Philip Smyth) that they could sell enough commercial airtime to international advertisers for an offshore radio station to become a viable proposition. Paul Rusling was also persuaded to re-join the project on the assurance that financial backing did really exist.

At this stage the American team planned to launch twin stations from a ship off the British coast - Radio Star, playing pop music with hits by established artists and Radio Waves, with a gold hits format. The Radio Star name was later changed to Laser because it was felt that that projected a more up to date and dynamic image.

On 27th August 1983, just a week after Radio Caroline's return to the air an ex-trawler Gardline Seeker slipped out of Lowestoft, Suffolk and headed across the Atlantic towards Florida. By the time the vessel arrived at the Tractor Marine Shipyard in Port Everglade,  she had been renamed MV Communicator and re-registered in Panama. The Communicator, which was owned by a company known as Deka Overseas, was dry docked for three weeks while work was carried out on her hull, after which she was moved to a remote part of the shipyard to be fitted out as a radio ship.

Paul Rusling supervised the installation of the transmitting and studio equipment on board the Communicator, but he was unable to convince the Americans that the twin stations should broadcast from a tower aerial installed on the ship. Instead they wanted, and insisted on using, a helium balloon system which had been successfully used in broadcasting Voice of America programmes in the Mediterranean and off Florida. Another unusual feature of the station's technical organisation was that all music was to be re-recorded from discs onto cartridges before being played on air. This was the system conventionally used for commercials and jingles, but had the advantage of being able to continue in use during stormy weather at sea when it was impossible to use conventional discs.

While the Communicator was being fitted out in Florida the backers of the second station (Radio Waves) withdrew their support and that part of the project folded. However, despite everything  on board the ship having been designed to accommodate a twin operation, it was decided to amend the design and continue fitting out the vessel for the proposed Laser part of the project.

After fitting out works had been completed the Communicator left Florida on 17th November 1983 and sailed for Ireland. A full team of American DJs sailed across the Atlantic with the Communicator, but one of the American management team, Paul Hodge, withdrew from the project before the radio ship reached Europe. About this time too there were a number of other staff disputes and resignations causing the project to almost founder before it had properly begun.

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