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Laser 558 - History (5)

Hopes that Laser 558 would now be able to sustain a more reliable and regular service were dashed once again by violent storms in the North Sea at the beginning of February 1985 which resulted in the Communicator losing one of her masts completely.

Unfortunately Laser 558's success of the previous summer had waned and the station was now in severe financial and technical difficulties. In a desperate attempt to attract potential advertisers in mid-April 1985 the station started to broadcast recordings of commercials which had won the coveted  Cleo Awards (the advertising industry's equivalent of an Oscar). At the conclusion of the commercial a Laser DJ congratulated the advertiser on  their effective use of radio advertising, and then gave MMI's New York telephone number, blatantly suggesting that the company should buy airtime on the offshore station. It is improbable that this ploy achieved any airtime sales, but to the casual listener it gave the impression that Laser 558 was a commercially successful station.

Laser 558 was off the air again for two weeks after the Communicator's front mast collapsed during the afternoon of 23rd April 1985. A completely new aerial mast had to be constructed and erected on board the Communicator enabling Laser 558 programmes to recommence on 7th May 1985.

It was important that Laser 558 was on the air at this time because the station was planning to stage a First Birthday Party at the end of May 1985. Promotions for the event, to be held at the Hippodrome Club in London, were played on the station for a few days after its return to the air, but then were suddenly discontinued. At the instigation of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), police had visited the Hippodrome's owner, Peter Stringfellow, and warned him not to stage the event because by doing so he could be in breach of the Marine etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967. Stringfellow decided after the police visit to cancel the booking and the planned celebration of Laser 558's First Birthday never took place.

Further reports of Richard Branson's connections with Laser 558 appeared in the press on 10th May 1985, when it was stated that Virgin Atlantic Airlines was supplying Laser 558 DJs and crew with free first class tickets to and from America, in return for frequent references to the airline during the station's programmes. Branson, who had at one time  been interested in buying into Radio Caroline and had previously examined ways of taking over Laser 558, claimed that he was not aware of the detail of every Virgin marketing package, but was quoted as saying "If my airline looks after Laser's DJs, and as long as it is not breaking any laws, it sounds an admirable arrangement. Laser has been kind to the airline on the airwaves." Also at about this time British events listing magazine, Time Out was supplying its weekly "Gig Guide" to Laser 558 in return for frequent mentions on the air. A Time Out spokesman was quoted as saying "We are totally sympathetic with the liberation of the airwaves and 100% behind Laser."

Although John Moss and MMI had managed to keep Laser 558 on the air by various contra-deals and limited advertising income, a real financial crisis was revealed in a report in the London Evening Standard in mid-June 1985. This report stated that the station was facing further financial difficulties, had been forced to leave its Madison Avenue offices and had difficulty meeting bills including those of public relations consultant, Jane Norris. The article went on to hint that while £3.5million had already  been spent on launching and operating Laser 558, the continued absence of advertising from American based multi-national companies meant that the station's financial backer, Irish businessman Philip Smyth, was reluctant to invest any more cash.

With the departure of some DJs a number of programming changes took place on Laser 558 towards the end of June 1985, including the introduction of a three hour sponsored American chart show  "Rockin America Top 30 Countdown",  syndicated by Westwood One Radio Network. Further syndicated programmes appeared during July 1985 including "Off the Record", featuring interviews with pop stars and "Dr. Demento",  a programme consisting largely  of comedy records.

More details about a financial crisis facing Laser 558 appeared in the trade magazine Broadcast at the beginning of July 1985. It was  reported that  DJs were having to wait four to six weeks for their pay and a cashflow  crisis had resulted from the station's  temporary closedown in May of that year when the new aerial mast was being constructed. John Moss, President of MMI denied  that the office move from Madison Avenue was due to financial stringency, but did admit that there had been delays in paying some staff, although this situation was said to have been resolved and there were "enough orders on the books" for the station to continue.

Peter Stringfellow promoting Laser’s first Birthday Party, May 1985

Laser 558 1st Birthday Party promo Peter Stringfellow.mp3

First birthday messages from Linda McCartney and the Village People, May 1985

Laser 558 First Birthday messages from Linda McCartney and Village People.mp3

Click on picture to enlarge

Daily Express

5th February 1985

Laser T-Shirt

commercial Laser T shirt 85.mp3

Daily closedown announcement

Laser 558 daily closedown announcement.mp3

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Key Dates Ship and Location Technical Staff Programmes


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