Friday, 20 April 2018
34. PREPARING FOR THE MEBO ADVENTURE
In 1969, with my favourite (offshore) stations gone, my radio listening was at a low ebb. Professionally I was getting used to office life at the ferry company in Zeebrugge and the occasional trip to Camden Crescent in Dover, where the shipping company's HQ was situated. I remember one of my UK colleagues once made me don a hair cap and subsequently showed me around the large temperature controlled computer room in another part of town. It was the first time I came face to face with such a device. It was a big bulky beast that ingested large stacks of punch cards. Apart from subsequently disgorging reams of invoices it did very little else.
It was also the year that John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged a “bed-in” for peace during their honeymoon in Amsterdam. To the delight of children in 1969 the bouncy Space Hopper hit the shelves. On Belgium's independence day (just a coincidence), to the amazement of grown-ups and youngsters alike, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went and proved once and for all that the moon was not made of green cheese. Music fans especially remember 1969 as the year in which the legendary Woodstock Festival took place.
In the meantime I didn't have an inkling that in an office in the Albisriederstrasse* in Zürich two young Swiss gentlemen were preparing my happiest adventure in radio. Erwin Meister and Edwin Bollier knew each other from school and after graduating they went into business together. To begin with they purchased a car-radio patent. Later, in 1968, they made good installing a communications network for the International Red Cross between Europe and Eastern Nigeria. This was to fascilitate the aid operation during the war of secession in Biafra in the late 60's. The technology made the largest humanitarian airlift possible since the Berlin blockade in 1948. It is estimated that the relief effort by all the agencies involved saved the lives of 2 million Biafrans. However it may also have prolonged the conflict. Then after a few other lucrative business deals, with money in the bank, the Swiss duo set out to realise a long held dream, to equip an offshore radio station for the German and British market.
Mebo Telecommunications AG, owned by the Züricher businessmen, acquired a Norwegian coastguard ship the Bjarkoy and renamed it Mebo. As the vessel proved too small to serve as a radioship it was demoted to the role of occasional supply tender, a purpose for which she really was too big. As base for the marine broadcaster a larger craft was sought and found, the 630 tons former freighter MV Silvretta, which was duly assigned the name Mebo 2.
To the best of my recollection it wasn't until early january 1970 that I heard the news that a new offshore station was being fitted out in the port of Rotterdam. There both vessels were also psychedelically painted in a multitude of colours, an image which at the time was humorously described as “an explosion in a paint factory”. With hindsight this word picture would prove to be an ominous one...