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Laser 558  - History (4)

Despite Laser 558's runaway success with listeners  the station, through Roy Lindau and MMI in New York, had failed to sell any commercial airtime during its first three months on air. Without such revenue  it was estimated at that time to be  costing  the station's backers £15,000 a week to keep Laser 558 on the air.

The significant audience pulling power of Laser 558, its impact on other pop music stations and the continued absence of commercials fuelled the mystery of who was actually behind the station and where the seemingly endless supplies of money were coming from.

In late August 1984 reports in the London Evening Standard linked  a BBC journalist with Laser 558, hinting that he acted as co-ordinator for the station in Britain and subsequently Scotland Yard, together  with DTI officials were asked to look into the matter. For the first time, too, speculation began to appear in the press about who the financial backers of the whole Laser project really were. All the station's  publicity material had referred to money coming from US backers, but the press had now uncovered information about the involvement of Irish businessman Philip Smyth in launching the project. In response to these reports the BBC journalist  said he had simply been researching the station's activities for the BBC2 "In Business" programme and admitted that he had met Laser 558's 'Marketing Chief' Roy Lindau on a number of occasions.

The Evening Standard, however, pursued its investigations vigorously, believing it had uncovered something of the mystery behind the successful offshore station. A further report appeared on 30th August 1984 naming Philip Smyth, owner of the Sachs Hotel in Dublin as the key backer behind Laser 558.  

Philip Smyth's connection with Laser had only come to light when the Communicator's  American Station Engineer, David Irvine had been arrested in April 1984 whilst constructing the new telescopic aerial. Police found a letter from Smyth amongst Irvine's possessions.

Commercials eventually  started to be aired on Laser 558 from 1st October 1984. At about the same time a listeners club - the Communicator Club - was also launched as was a weekly Lucky Numbers Competition. DJs broadcast Communicator Club membership numbers during their programmes and the holders of those numbers were asked to write to the station's New York address giving the date and time they had heard the announcement. Each winner received an album as their prize.

An audience survey carried out during October 1984 by MRIB and published at the beginning of December 1984 showed Laser 558 having an audience of five million listeners in the UK - 11% of people over the age of 15, while regional breakdowns revealed an audience reach of 23% in East Anglia and 14% in London. Unfortunately shortly before the results of this survey were published and after a very successful four months of broadcasting Laser 558 started to experience technical problems culminating in the station being  off the air for  two days in November after the aerial mast  had been damaged. This was the first tangible sign that all was not well within the Laser organisation, with persistent rumours starting to circulate about its financial security, but the real problems for the station started to manifest themselves early in 1985.


Further generator and fuel shortage problems affected Laser 558 during December 1984 and early January 1985 resulting in various periods off the air. Heavy snow lying on the aerial also forced a four day closure in mid-January 1985 while the crew rigged a temporary array enabling the station to resume broadcasts on low power.

These frequent breakdowns and prolonged periods off the air - coupled with a continuing lack of real advertising revenue and consequent shortages of supplies and equipment - indicated that all was not well with the Laser organisation. Confirmation of the seriousness of the situation came in an article in the trade paper, Broadcast on 18th January 1985 when it was revealed that Eurad SA had offered the Communicator for sale. A number of parties interested in acquiring the radio ship were said to have approached Philip Smyth in Ireland, including Richard Branson of Virgin (who 18 months previously had sought to 'buy in' to the re-launch of Radio Caroline; Chris Carey (ex-Caroline/RNI/Luxembourg DJ and now owner of the highly successful Irish landbased pirate Radio Nova) and a group described as being based in East Anglia and said to include a number of ex-offshore radio broadcasters.

The same day as the Broadcast article appeared Roy Lindau resigned as President of MMI, the New York marketing and airtime sales agency which represented Laser 558. He was succeeded by Vice-President John Moss who immediately issued a denial that the station was up for sale, but confirmed that some discussions had taken place with Branson and Carey.

Some new American  DJs were engaged by the station during February 1985 (including three girls, Chris Carson, Liz West and Erin Kelly, who became known collectively as the 'Laserettes'. There was even a story circulating at this time about the introduction of a second Laser service, playing AOR music, to compete more directly with Radio Caroline's style of programming.

TV News report about the popularity of Laser 558

August 1984

Click on picture to enlarge

Evening Standard

21st August 1984

The Sun

5th October 1984

Daily Mail

27th August 1984


18th January 1985

USA Today

8th January 1985

Top Tracks

commercial Top tracks.mp3

Daily opening announcement

Laser 558 daily opening announcement.mp3

The ‘Laserettes’ - Liz West, Erin Kelly, Chris Carson

Photo: Offshore Echos Magazine/Dave Chappell

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