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Radio Caroline 1980s - History (11)

After successfully completing a month back on the air Radio Caroline tried to introduce as many regular features as possible during November 1989 to give the impression that everything had returned to normal. The sponsored religious programmes, lifeblood financially for Radio Caroline, returned under the umbrella title "Viewpoint" on 1st November 1989 and transmission hours were extended to 24hours a day from 14th November 1989, together with the re-introduction of a regular news and weather service.

From this attempt at apparently normal programming, the average listener could be forgiven for assuming that the station had got over its 'difficulties' following the August raid, but behind the scenes Radio Caroline's landbased support organisation had virtually collapsed. Nobody, except a small group of the most dedicated of workers, wanted to be associated with the station in the weeks after the raid and the supply of programme material - new records and tapes - almost completely dried up. Even those dedicated few who continued working to keep the station on the air came under surveillance by the authorities and their private and business telephones were being tapped. For this reason much of the organisational communication at that time was undertaken  from a variety of public telephone boxes and in public houses.

On board the Ross Revenge work was undertaken to thwart any further boarding attempts - the transmitter hold was sealed from the main deck area with access being restricted to a route via the engine room bulkhead. The outer doors were also fitted with security locks, making it more difficult for any raiders to gain direct access to the broadcasting studios.

Meanwhile, the station's solicitors, Richards Butler, had written to the DTI on behalf of their clients asking for an explanation of its involvement in the raid on the Ross Revenge in August 1989 and pointing out the illegality of this action under international law.

Broadcasting equipment at this time - most of it items which had been hidden from the raiders - was basic and DJs improvised as best they could to keep the station on the air. The station also had difficulty in obtaining regular supplies of fresh food and basic necessities such as cleaning materials, toiletries and clean bedding although these problems were eventually overcome by support from listeners' groups and local boatmen prepared to make clandestine trips to the Ross Revenge in defiance of the authorities.

Despite all these practical difficulties Radio Caroline managed to continue transmissions with a remarkable degree of reliability throughout December 1989, even mounting special programmes over the Christmas and the New Year holiday period. Following the loss of the record library in the August raid Radio Caroline had to adapt its format once again to AOR, relying less and less on the Top 40 material which it was virtually impossible for the station to obtain on a regular basis.


Since the station had returned at the beginning of October 1989 its transmissions had been on very low power, less than 1Kw, achieving a signal range of less than 100 miles from the Ross Revenge. However, when transmissions resumed on 9th January 1990, after a three day silence for engineering work, there was a significant increase in power to 4Kw, giving the station a much improved signal range of about 300 miles. This increase had been a critical factor in trying to persuade the evangelistic organisations to continue buying airtime on the station - its only source of income at that time.

For some time, and particularly since the August 1989 raid, there had been a divergence of views amongst those involved with Radio Caroline about the station's future - should it remain at sea despite all the practical difficulties and constant harassment from the authorities, or should some alternative legal land-based arrangement be explored?

The signs of a real rift in the organisation behind Radio Caroline began to appear in public for the first time in January 1990. A group of former staff announced plans to bring Radio Caroline ashore and operate it as a satellite radio station, however, Radio Caroline's owners, and Ronan O'Rahilly in particular, refused to have anything to do with this project emphatically stating that the station would remain at sea where it had legally operated for nearly 26 years.

Severe weather in the North Sea during the first three months of 1990 caused a number of breaks in transmission for Radio Caroline, but generally the station managed to maintain a reasonably regular programme schedule and the increased signal strength in January was successful in attracting additional sponsored religious programmes into the "Viewpoint" service during February 1990.

Frustration with the difficulties of operating Radio Caroline in the months after the August 1989 raid spilled over on to the airwaves in March 1990 when some DJs started making comments about the station's management, or apparent lack of it. The station's land-based supporters were in fact working very hard to keep the whole organisation together and the station on the air, but isolated out on the Ross Revenge for weeks at a time the DJ's perception of the situation was somewhat different.

Spectrum Radio in North London, which had been officially allocated the 558kHz frequency used by Radio Caroline eventually started test transmissions on 19th May 1990 from a temporary transmitter at Lots Road Power Station in Chelsea. A statement was broadcast by Radio Caroline to explain to listeners the possible cause of interference to its signal.

On 29th May 1990 Spectrum 558 announced that its planned opening on 1st June had been postponed and that it was taking legal action against the IBA for breach of contract and loss of advertising revenue. Spectrum were angry at being used by the IBA as part of their operation to close Radio Caroline. Two days later the IBA agreed to allocate Spectrum an additional frequency and in return, Spectrum agreed to drop the breach of contract action, but pursued its claim for compensation in respect of the money which had been spent in publicity and promoting the 558kHz frequency.

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