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Radio Caroline 1980s - History (2)


The first public hint of what had really been going on behind the scenes was given in the trade paper Marketing Week on 4th June 1982. As well as containing a photograph of the new Radio Caroline ship in Spain the article made claims that $500,000 of backer's money had been lost in trying to re-launch the station.

It turned out, however, that the original American backers were unhappy about not having full control of the radio station. Disagreements had arisen early in 1982 between them and Ronan O'Rahilly over the proposed format of the station. The Americans wanted to broadcast largely pop music to a British and European audience, while Ronan O'Rahilly had very definite views that there was a place in the market for an album based station, providing an alternative to the growing number of Top 40 stations, particularly in Britain's Independent Local Radio (ILR) network.

Problems had also been encountered with the original American backers over funding for the return of Radio Caroline. American businessman Jim Ryan, representing a group of 20 investors in the project, had made an agreement relating to the timing of the funding operation. The backers had been promised an on-air date of November 1981, however, in September 1981 the transmitters were impounded by Dutch Customs authorities.

A breakaway group then proposed taking control of the Ross Revenge, assuring the American consortium that they would be able to finish the conversion work and have the station ready to start transmissions in June 1982.

In the meantime the Ross Revenge itself had been impounded by Spanish harbour authorities and the steering gear had been dismantled. A violent attempt was made to take over the ship in Spain, but this failed.

The Ross Revenge then became the subject of what was to be protracted legal action between the consortium of American backers and Ronan O'Rahilly's group, who themselves were now seeking potential new backers and advertisers, primarily in Canada, to re-launch the station without any further delays. James Ryan was eventually charged and convicted on counts of fraudulent activity in connection with the management of monies associated with the planned re-launch of Radio Caroline.


Legal arguments over the ownership of the Ross Revenge and searching for new sources of finance delayed the re-launch of Radio Caroline considerably during 1982 and early 1983. The claims and counter claims to the radio ship took many months to be heard in the Spanish courts and the Ross Revenge only became available to Ronan O'Rahilly's group again in mid-May 1983 after they had regained legal possession of the vessel.

New financial backers were found by Ronan O'Rahilly, mainly in Canada, and work was able to recommence on completing the fitting out of the Ross Revenge. All work was carried out in great secrecy and it was hoped to have Radio Caroline back on the air by 14th August , the 16th anniversary of the  British Marine etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act coming into effect.  

On 28th July 1983 the first press reports appeared in the Dublin Evening Herald hinting at the imminent return of Radio Caroline. The reports were also carried by a number of Irish land-based pirate radio stations and within a few days the British national press were reporting the story. Official reaction to the news that Radio Caroline was about to reappear off the British coast was predictable and ill considered - the Department of Trade announced that it would consider jamming the station's signal once broadcasts commenced. This unwelcome publicity led to the Caroline organisation deciding that the Ross Revenge must leave port if any threat of official action was to be avoided, so plans were rapidly advanced for the ship to sail.

Four days after leaving Spain the Ross Revenge was sighted off Britain's south coast under tow by the Spanish tug Aznar Jose Luis on 8th August 1983. Twelve hours later the Ross Revenge arrived at a position in the Kentish Knock, where she stayed overnight, moving the next day to an anchorage in the Knock Deep near where the Mi Amigo had sunk three years previously. The most striking feature of the Ross Revenge was its aerial mast towering  300' above deck level, the tallest structure ever built on a ship.

At half past midnight on 9th August 1983 the transmitter was switched on for about 30 minutes with a carrier signal and further carrier signals were transmitted during the following few days in preparation for the commencement of regular broadcasts.

Despite the arrival of a full complement of broadcasting staff there was still one main problem to resolve before regular programming could commence - the on-board studios were not yet fully operational. This was due to the haste in which the Ross Revenge had left Spain and also to a last minute change of plan about the location of the studios which were originally to be in a Portakabin on the deck.

Television news report about the return of Radio Caroline, August 1983

Click on picture to enlarge

Daily Express

15th August 1983

The Guardian

16th August 1983

Aerial view of the Ross Revenge showing the 300’ aerial mast

Test transmissions for the return of Radio Caroline, August 1983

caroline test transmissions 20 Aug 1983.mp3

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The Sun

17th August 1982

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