Tuesday, 27 February 2018


Very much like Marcel Proust's 'madeleine moment' it was the smell of fresh paint at a friend's house that today brought another personal highlight from the offshore days back to mind... I remembered that there was a time when three Radio Carolines were on the air. At that crucial occasion it so happens that I had to spend a few nights in the spare room. My own bedroom was being repainted, by my dad and myself. In fact the smell of paint permeated much of the house.

Months before the threat of anti-pirate legislation doomed, it was mostly the power of water and winds the wireless buccaneers off Britain's coast had to contend with... So during a massive storm late on January 19th 1966 the MV Mi Amigo, home of Radio Caroline South started drifting and subsequently ran aground on the snow-covered beach at Holland Haven (Frinton-on-Sea). At the crack of dawn radios remained silent as transmissions had ceased when the ship entered British waters. After failed attempts by the tugboat Titan, the Mi Amigo refloated herself at high tide by winding on the repositioned anchor. Upon inspection it proved that the hull was damaged and the vessel was towed to Zaandam in the Netherlands for repairs in dry dock.

In those days -not to be unfaithful- I did my best to regularly tune in to Radio Caroline North off the Isle of Man. But then suddenly Caroline South was back, but from a different ship. Mrs Britt Wadner (1915-1987), the blonde 'Queen of pirate radio', had offered Ronan the use of her Swedish Radio Syd* ship 'Cheetah 2”. The vessel having been driven from its usual anchorage in the Baltic by pack ice.

Much technical wizardry and many dead-airs later the programmes of Caroline South resumed on 199 m from the Cheetah on February 13th 1966, be it at fairly low power. Then on April 5th the Mi Amigo appeared alongside the Swedish vessel after repairs and a refit had been finalized. It was time for the fun to kick off.

The idea was that the Cheetah would relay the programmes on 199 m from the Mi Amigo which was now broadcasting on an announced 259m (253 in fact) with 50 kWatts of power. That did happen, but for a time also separate programmes were aired, resulting in two Caroline Souths, and off course, in the Irish sea, there still was Caroline North. What is more, a lot of on air banter was at times going on between both South ships. Evenings for me in the spare room, my paint-free refuge, were full of laughter during the link-ups between the vessels. I remember listening to Dave Lee Travis and Graham Webb on the Cheetah and Tony Blackburn with Norman St.John on the Mi Amigo. The fun wasn't to last though. On May 1st Britt sailed her radioship to Spain and later on to The Gambia, where she obtained a broadcasting license. And in our neck of the woods Caroline South sounded as loud as Big L. It's an ill wind...

* Syd means South and is pronounced more or less like Sud in French.

More of AJ's radio- and other anecdotes.

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