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Early Offshore Days (2)

The first true offshore commercial broadcaster

It took some years before technical developments were sufficiently advanced for any further attempt to be made to launch a radio station from on board a ship. When it did happen the development came about in an unlikely location.

Offshore radio is usually thought of in the context of providing an alternative to established state monopoly broaCity of Panamadcasting systems, but the world's first true commercial offshore station was, surprisingly, located off the west coast of the USA during the early 1930s.  The station - RKXR - was located on one of the ‘gambling ships’, City of Panama, anchored off the California coast and broadcast programmes and commercials during the summer of 1933.

A full history of this station can be found in the America Gallery.

Other early offshore broadcasting ventures

Although a number of other ship-borne radio stations were established in various parts of the world following the demise of RKXR these were mainly for propaganda and military broadcasts, or communications within fishing fleets and their programmes were not commercially  funded.

Propaganda station against Hitler

A propaganda offshore raFaithful Frienddio station operated between January and April 1938 from a small ship  - Faithful Friend - sailing along the European coast between France and The Netherlands. The station - Sender der Deutsche Freiheitspartei (Broadcaster of the German Freedom Party) - had been secretly equipped in Britain with technical help from British and  Dutch radio technicians.

The Faithful Friend was a British fishing trawler, registered in Lowestoft, Suffolk and had been used from 1915 to 1919, by the British Navy to lay nets for the defence of ports during the First World War.The main person behind the station was Carl Spiecker, who had headed a special unit of the German government for the Carl Spieckerfight against National Socialism, but after the Nazis seized power in January 1933, he was dismissed for "political unreliability." Spiecker fled abroad and while exiled in France, together with other liberal-conservative politicians,  founded the "Deutsche Freiheitspartei" (DFP) (German Freedom Party),

From his exile in Paris Spiecker published a series of "Freedom Letters", then turned his attention to the use of radio to further the aims of the DPP. In great secrecy (with help from British and Dutch technicians) the Faithful Friend was acquired and fitted with radio equipment.

Although he was  the organisational and editorial director of the radio station, Carl Spiecker was not himself on board the Faithful Friend - he supplied instructions and briefings from his base in Paris.  The on board editors and broadcasters were, firstly Jakob Altmaier, and shortly afterwards Ernst Langendorf.

Jakob AJakob Altmaierltmaier came from a Jewish family in Flörsheim, Hesse and was seriously wounded as a front-line soldier in World War I. In the following years he worked as a journalist for social democratic and left-liberal newspapers at home and abroad, including Weltbühne, the most important weekly of the Weimar Republic. In April 1933 he went into exile and lived mostly in Paris, but also in the Balkans.

Ernst Langendorf came from Rottweil im Taunus and was the son of an architect. He had already worked in the 1920s as a reporter for the Social DemocErnst Langendorfratic newspaper Volksstimme (Frankfurt) and later at the SPD newspaper Hamburger Echo until the paper was banned by the National Socialists. He also emigrated to France in April 1933 and changed his first name to Ernest.

As well as the broadcasters there were two radio technicians from the Dutch broadcaster VARA (one of them was D.J. Fruin, the chief engineer of VARA.) on board  Faithful Friend who took it in turns to  maintain the technical equipment.

The station broadcast on a short wave frequency of 7842 kHz  (38.26m) with a transmitter power of less than 5 Kw.  Its target audience was listeners in Holland and inside Germany itself, where it was hoped to stimulate an anti-Nazi movement.

Broadcasts normally took place from 7.30 to 8.00pm  and from 10.00 to 10.30pm and, if weather conditions allowed, the programmes were repeated several times a night. However, broadcasts sometimes didn't take place in the event of stormy weather when the ship was unable to leave port.

Programmes were intended to provide an uncensored and objective source of news and commentary on events taking place at the time in Nazi Germany. They consisted of world news, but with an emphasis on German stories, followed by political commentary and an international press review, as well as calls for resistance against the Hitler regime. The aim was to educate the German population about the "true nature of the Nazi Group" and its war intentions.

Broadcasts continued for about three months from January to early April 1938, when conditions in Paris made it more difficult for Spiecker to continue operating. His contact at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris advised him to disappear from French national waters as far away as possible until the situation became clearer.

The crew of the Faithful Friend accepted Carl Spiecker's recommendation and sailed from the French port of Cherbourg to the Dutch city of IJmuiden on 12th April. 1938 Two days later the Faithful Friend left the Dutch port, the radio equipment was removed and  placed in a warehouse in Boulogne-sur-Mer, and the ship sailed back to England. The station never returned to the air.

City of Panama

Faithful Friend                             

 Photo: Martin van der Ven / Stefan Appelius Archive

Carl Spiecker

Photo: Martin van der Ven

Jakob Altmaier

Photo: Martin van der Ven

Ernst Langendorf

Photo: Martin van der Ven

Daily Mail 14th April 1938

Daily Mail 15th April 1938

Thanks to Martin van der Ven for information and material about Sender der Deutsche Freiheitsparte

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State Monopolies and International Agreements

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Why Go Offshore?

Early Offshore Days  (3)

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Broadcasting Magazine

15th July  1933