'This is Radio Caroline on 199, your all day music station': 50 years later
Radio Caroline, which revolutionized the world of pop, was the brandchild of Ronan O’Rahilly, who decided to set up a radio station safe from the clutches of the authorities. Ronan’s parents owned the port of Greenore in Co Louth, where the Caroline was converted into a seagoing radio station. The off-licence radio stations had already existed and were transmitting into Denmark and Holland. O’Rahilly just borrowed the idea.
Ronan O’Rahilly decided to name his radio station after the daughter of then recently murdered John F Kennedy. He raised £150,000 and bought a former Danish ferry called MV Frederica. Next step was to hire young DJs, which were to become a gold generation of Radio DJs. Among them are Emperor Rosco, Tony Blackburn, Dave Lee Travis and Jonnie Walker.
On March 28, 1964 the first record played was Can’t Buy Me Love by the Beatles. According to the Gallup Poll, the station had seven millions listeners within three weeks, not including those under 17. Caroline provided a launchpad for acts like The Who and The Yardbirds, who were deemed too unruly by the BBC.
During its glory years 1964-1967 Caroline set the pop agenda, charting new discs weeks before they made the official Top 30 and showcasing new acts. Within months it had audiences in the millions, but in 1967 Parliament banned the pirate stations. Radio Caroline fell victim of its own success when the BBC launched Radio One – an all-pop music channel. The first DJ on air was Tony Balckburn, one of the stars of Radio Caroline.
Radio Caroline continued to broadcast and became a legal satellite, and then internet-based broadcaster, which it remains today.
Radio Caroline will take to the airwaves once more from Liverpool for its 50th anniversary at the end of this month. Celebrating the 50th anniversary was the idea of project manager John Dwyer who worked on the original station in the 1980s as a DJ and news reader. The revived Radio Caroline will play music from 1960s, 70s and 80s for 24 hours a day continuously from March 31 to April 28.
Peter Moore, the present manager of the Radio Caroline:
What is it like to be running a pirate radiostation these days? Are you still anchored at sea?
Not just now, but we still have our pirate ship which is in the British port. But with the progress of technology we can extend our range tremendously because in truth radio Caroline, when it was at sea, could send the signal to the south of England and maybe into the continent a little but now with the internet we can send our signal around the world. So, we are exchanged a regional audience for a global audience.
What would you say about modern day radio stations? I mean if you have what it takes, if you have a studio basically at home, if you have internet access, if you have a website, anyone can pretty much do it, right?
Sure, anyone can have a radio station and that is a good thing in many respects. The reason radio Caroline when on air in 1964 is because there was insufficient radio for Britain and our intention was to have a popular music radio station and certain not a commercial one. The reason we have commercial radio in Britain today is because of radio Caroline.
What would you say radio Caroline’s place right now in modern day UK?
Commercial radio has a function to make money for its shareholder. There is nothing wrong with that at all. But unfortunately it doesn’t provide the best entertainment for our listener. We think the most important thing is the listener, and because we decided some years ago that we didn’t wish to make any money personally, all the staff of radio Caroline met together and decided to work with no wages. So, we have very few overheads. And because we don’t want to target the most popular record of the week, we have a very large playlist of many thousands of records unlike British stations which mostly rotate the same 3-4 hundred records on a continuous basis, on the ground I don’t think anyone listens for more than 15 minutes at a time. So, our view is that our listeners listen for hours at a time.
You said you work for no wages. Do you have day jobs?
Personally I don’t. I don’t need to go to work. I’ve reached an age when I don’t work any longer. So, I can devote all my time to radio Caroline. Some of our staff have day jobs as well, mostly in the radio industry, but other skills such as legal skills and technical skills. Many of our broadcasters started working on radio Caroline, moved on to conventional commercial radio within Britain and abroad, and then decided after a period of many years that they really wanted to come back to radio Caroline and do what they originally enjoyed doing.