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Radio Caroline 1980s - History (5)

Maurice Ricketts presented the following technical reasons why, in the opinion of the DTI, the offshore broadcasters should be closed, saying they were only interested in the medium wave activities of the stations:-  

(a) Laser's frequency - 558kHz - had been allocated to BBC Radio Essex and  963kHz - used by Radio Monique during the day  and Radio Caroline at night - was allocated to university and college campus stations.

(b) the offshore stations could generate harmonic frequencies if their transmitters  malfunctioned, causing interference to broadcasters using adjacent channels.

 (c) there was a possible generation of what are known as inter-modulation products  between the frequencies. (This was illustrated by the following  example: - 963kHz -576kHz =387kHz, creating a potential source of interference to North Sea Oil rigs  using 386kHz and Heathrow Airport beacons using 389.5kHz.

(d) the offshore station's transmissions may cause overloading to radios used by  yachtsmen in the Thames Estuary who relied on direction finding signals from  the Sunk Light Vessel on 312.6kHz. This overloading could occur because of the mixing of Radio Caroline's 963kHz broadcasts with the two megawatt BBC World Service transmissions at Orford Ness using 648kHz.

(e) transmissions from the offshore stations  could cause interference to North Sea oil and gas platforms using  direction finding  beacons on 553.5kHz and 569.5kHz.

However, despite all these theoretical technical scenarios the only specific example of interference which could be quoted by the DTI was one which occurred on 20th September 1985. The 500kHz frequency had been blocked in an area extending from the Humber to the Isle of Wight , but Mr. Anderson admitted he was not sure which station had caused this, although he suspected it was Radio Caroline who were using a temporary aerial at the time.

The DTI representatives then stressed the importance of all broadcasters being accountable and under their control so that if any interference occurred the situation could be rectified or the offending station closed. It was  also claimed that the continued presence of the offshore radio stations could result in delays for the opening of a new BBC local station in Chelmsford (Radio Essex) because it had been allocated 558kHz, the frequency used by Laser.

A similar 'Roadshow' meeting was held in Chelmsford, Essex a few days later. During both meetings it was reported that  14 boats from Kent, Essex and Suffolk had been sighted and identified while supplying the radio ships and their details had been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It was also revealed that the decision to charter the Dioptric Surveyor had been made, not by Civil Servants, but at Ministerial level and that the widely reported cost of the surveillance operation had been exaggerated and was in the region of £25,000 a month, not £50,000 as frequently quoted in the press.

Despite all these claims and statements at the 'Roadshow’ conferences the DTI had singularly failed to produce any firm evidence that interference was being caused by the offshore radio stations. Unsurprisingly, far from supporting the DTI's stance against offshore radio, which had been the object of the exercise, most press reports following the conferences were generally sceptical of the Government's approach and highly critical of the surveillance operation's cost  and lack of direct results.

In a change of emphasis on 29th October 1985 the Foreign Office announced that, if requested by the DTI, they would approach the Panamanian Government and try to persuade it to withdraw official registration of  the two radio ships. Without the protection of that, or another country's flag and registration documents  the ships would be in breach of international maritime law and liable to boarding by the British authorities. However, the Panamanian Government had already instructed its Bureau of Shipping in London not to discuss any  questions relating to the two radio ships with the British authorities.

An indication that 'Euroseige' was set to continue throughout the rough winter weather in the North Sea came on 1st November 1985 when the Dioptric Surveyor was replaced by a larger surveillance vessel, the 443 ton Gardline Tracker.

The surveillance operation had its first ‘ success’ at the beginning of November when the Laser 558 vessel Communicator was brought into Harwich after the station had decided to go off air. (See full story at Laser 558).

After escorting the Laser 558 ship into Harwich, on 6th November 1985 the Gardline Tracker returned to sea and once again took up position near the Ross Revenge. From here the DTI mounted a number of surveillance and chase operations on pleasure boats carrying Radio Caroline fans out to see the Ross Revenge. But, on 13th December 1985, the DTI suddenly announced that "surveillance of the pirate radio stations in the North Sea is to end." Minister for Industry and Information Technology, Mr. Geoffrey Pattice stated:- " We have achieved our objective which is to find out who was supplying the ships. The fact that Radio Laser 558 has ceased broadcasting is an added bonus and I hope that Radio Caroline will follow their example."  

After Laser 558 had closed Radio Caroline re-tuned its 10Kw transmitter from  576kHz to 558kHz - Laser's former frequency. This was not only an attempt to prevent the BBC local station in Essex claiming 558kHz (which it had been allocated), but also an apparent move by Radio Caroline to attract  Laser's former audience.

A format change for Radio Caroline took place on 15th November 1985 when classics from the 60s and 70s, as well as more Top 40 material, began to be featured in programmes at the expense of reggae, rock music and album tracks. The only album tracks now heard were 'featured' ones with the introduction of promotions for one particular album during each programme. After a few days this attempt to imitate Laser 558's format was relaxed and more of the traditional Caroline style of rock  music again began to be  included in programming. However, the Jamming 963 service was discontinued altogether and from 16th November continuous Country and Western music was played between the religious tapes during the evening until the link up of both transmitters at 9.00pm. Some shortwave tests were also conducted during November 1985 in anticipation of the introduction of a ‘World Service’.

On 4th November 1985 a Honduran registered fishing boat, Windy, which was used to tender the Ross Revenge, broke down after a rope fouled its propeller. The boat called  for assistance and was towed into Harwich by Walton-on-the-Naze lifeboat where she was searched and the crew of four were interviewed by police. The boat owner was later prosecuted under the Marine etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act for supplying the Ross Revenge.


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The Guardian

8th November 1985

Caroline 558 ID

558 ID 2.mp3


commercial - Lotto 649  2.mp3

East Anglian Daily Times

19th December 1985