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Laser 558 - History (2)

The Communicator eventually docked in New Ross, County Wexford on 8th December 1983,  to have some work undertaken on her anchoring system, but her presence attracted unwelcome enquiries from news reporters forcing her to put to sea again for a few days until the interest had died down. The vessel quietly slipped back into the Irish port late on 16th December and, with a temporary wire aerial slung between her masts, a test transmission was carried out in New Ross Harbour during the early hours of 17th December 1983.

Finally, in the early hours of 20th December 1983, the Communicator left New Ross and sailed towards the Thames Estuary where she arrived and dropped anchor off Margate, two days later. Almost immediately the Communicator  had to ride out a violent storm and was forced to run her main engines for some hours just to maintain a stationary position at this 'sheltered' anchorage

After five days at anchor during the Christmas holiday period the Communicator sailed northwards on 29th December 1983 eventually anchoring in a new position, in international waters, two and a half miles south of Radio  Caroline's vessel. The project's backers had been forced to move the radio ship  hurriedly because of fears that the British authorities, whose interest had been aroused by press reports and through the (illegal) interception of radio communications between the Communicator and land- based staff,  were about to mount a raid on the vessel.


The first test transmission from the Communicator was planned to take place on 19th January 1984 using, as the American management had always insisted, an aerial held aloft by a helium balloon tethered to the ship. The helium balloon was inflated and launched at the stern of the ship with the aerial wire running up the nylon tethering rope, ending just 12' (3.66m) short of the balloon itself. Unfortunately, when the powerful transmitter was switched on high voltages at the end of the aerial wire melted through the nylon rope and the balloon floated away towards Europe, reportedly ending up tangled around a church steeple in Belgium.

A second attempt was made two days later with the reserve balloon, raised to a height of 350 feet (106.7m). This time test transmissions were successfully broadcast and reception reports were later received from Britain, France, Germany and Ireland. This new offshore  station, using the call sign Laser 730, transmitted on a frequency of 729kHz (411m) with a power at that time  of just 5Kw.

Apart from one 45 minute break test transmissions of continuous Beatles music took place throughout 21st January 1984 and into the early hours of the next day until the second helium balloon broke from its tethering rope and floated away, this time reportedly ending up on a roundabout in Colchester.

An examination of the tethering rope later showed that it had been gradually cut through by the action of the Force 9 gales which had caused the rope to tighten and rub against a metal securing hook. When the tethering rope eventually snapped the balloon floated away freely, allowing the aerial wire to fall into the sea and putting the station off the air once again.

The station's American operators conceded that they could not continue using this aerial system to broadcast. Although the theory was sound and balloon aerials had worked successfully in the Mediterranean and off the Florida coast such a system was clearly unsuitable for the severe weather conditions experienced in the North Sea.

Following the failure of the helium balloon aerial system the station's backer, Philip Smyth, refused to put any more money into the scheme. Roy Lindau was left in charge of the project, but with no more capital available he closed the New York office and told the crew of the Communicator to "salvage what they could." This almost led to the skeleton crew taking the vessel into port to sell what fuel remained on board and raise enough money to pay their fares home. However, Paul Rusling was not to be defeated and he instigated a plan, as he had originally recommended, to construct a more conventional aerial system on the radio ship.

A new temporary 'T' aerial, consisting of six strands of wire strung between the Communicator's front and aft masts, was completed by mid-February 1984. Weak test signals were transmitted intermittently for about two hours on 12th February and shortly before 1.00pm on 14th February 1984 test transmissions started once again.

These test transmissions continued for five days until the late afternoon of 19th February 1984 when it was decided to cease broadcasts and erect an improved aerial system on board the Communicator.  Throughout the test transmissions only one mention was made of the station's call sign - Laser 730. Listeners were informed by DJs Blake Williams and Johnny Lewis that the station would return in about 10-14 days time, but not necessarily on 729kHz, and advised them to "tune around the same area of the medium wave band."

Laser 730 closedown and ‘keep tuning around’ announcement

Laser 730 - goodbye and keep tuning around announcement.mp3

Click on picture to enlarge


27th January 1984

The Communicator with a helium balloon aerial during early test transmissions

East Anglian Daily Times

29th December 1983

East Anglian Daily Times

23rd December 1983

East Anglian Daily Times

24th January 1984

East Anglian Daily Times

2nd February 1984

Laser 730 test announcements and requests for reception reports

Laser 730 test announcement 1.mp3 Laser 730 request for reception reports.mp3

Laser 730 test transmission 19th February 1984

Laser 730 tests 19.02.84.mp3

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