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Radio Caroline 1980s - History (13)

The return to 558kHz had caused a further rift within the Caroline organisation. Many had expected the station to return on a different frequency (possibly 576kHz) and some staff even refused to return to the Ross Revenge until such a change took place. From the listener's point of view reception on 558kHz was not possible in many areas due to Spectrum Radio's transmissions, but Caroline management felt that there was a principle at stake and they did not want the offshore station to be effectively driven off its frequency by the authorities.

Radio Caroline remained silent for nearly three weeks before returning to the air on 4th October 1990, this time on 819kHz, with intermittent carrier signals and test transmissions containing station identity announcements. In the end the deciding factor to change frequencies had been the need to return to the air the "Viewpoint" sponsored religious programmes, now the station's only source of revenue. A full service of Radio Caroline programmes started at 6.15am on 6th October 1990 and continued for ten days, but there were a number of early closedowns and by 16th October transmissions were ending at 6.00pm each evening for technical work to be carried out to try and improve signal strength. The news service was suspended altogether on 20th October because of the shortage of staff and resources on board the Ross Revenge.

These severe difficulties in supplying the Ross Revenge meant that towards late October and early November 1990 Radio Caroline started to experience more frequent periods off the air. Even when broadcasts did recommence there was an increased use of continuous music due to problems in staffing the station and fuel shortages to power the generators.

Neil Gates presented his programme on 4th November 1990, after "Viewpoint" had finished and the station closed as usual just after 1.00am on 5th November 1990. Although no one knew it at the time that was to be the final programme broadcast by Radio Caroline from its offshore base in international waters.

A severe shortage of fuel on board the Ross Revenge meant that literally every available drop was needed to keep the generator functioning just to provide lighting on board the ship - none could be spared to run the transmitter or other broadcasting equipment.

The Broadcasting Bill received the Royal Assent on 1st November 1990 and (despite some attempts to introduce amendments by some members of the House of Lords) its provisions, including the infamous Clause 159 amendment to the Marine etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act, came into effect on 1st January 1991.

With Radio Caroline now off the air and the supply of fuel dangerously low the Ross Revenge suffered a major power failure at the end of November 1990 which left the vessel without the facility to illuminate navigation lights at night - a strict requirement under international maritime regulations. There were no cooking or heating facilities on the ship either and, with the main generator having failed, a small deck-mounted petrol engine had to be brought into use. This was to provide navigational lights as well as some limited  internal lighting and power because the Trinity House authorities had  warned the crew of the  Ross Revenge that the vessel must be lit at night.

However, on 10th December 1990 the petrol generator was damaged during a Force 10 storm and barrels of petrol stored on deck to fuel the generator were washed overboard, so once again the Ross Revenge was left without any source of lighting or power. Faced with this desperate situation the crew called Radio Caroline's landbased organisers who alerted Dover Coastguard to the Ross Revenge's plight. The Coastguards made contact with the radio ship on the emergency channel and were informed by the crew that the Ross Revenge had only three hours of fuel supply left. At 11.00pm the Air Sea Rescue Service sent a Sea King helicopter to the Ross Revenge and by 11.45pm it had succeeded in rescuing the three crew members from the radio ship. They were flown to RAF Manston in Kent and briefly questioned by police before being allowed home.

Meanwhile, with the radio ship abandoned and having no navigation lights a DTI vessel came alongside and shone its searchlights on the Ross Revenge to make it visible to passing shipping. The following morning, 11th December 1990, a Trinity House vessel visited the Ross Revenge and her crew boarded the un-manned radio ship to check its condition.

With their radio ship abandoned on the high seas and the danger increasing by the hour that she would be seized by the authorities, Radio Caroline's land-based staff made strenuous efforts to reclaim the Ross Revenge. A tender was chartered  on 11th December 1990, but after two hours of attempting to transfer people aboard the radio ship it was forced to abandon the operation due to the  mountainous seas and the effects of exposure being experienced by the exhausted crew.

Click on picture to enlarge

Caroline 558 daily closedown announcement

558 daily closing announcement.mp3

Daily closedown announcement by Neil Gates on 5th November 1990.

(This was to be the last broadcast from international waters)

Final closedown from Caroline 5.11.90.mp3

News reports of the Ross Revenge being abandoned

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