Remembering Radio Caroline, Again

About a year ago I wrote about my memories of Radio Caroline, the first of the UK’s “pirate” radio stations from the 1960s.  I just heard that Ronan O’Rahilly — the original pirate — has died.  In his honour and memory, I am re-running my article.

 

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It is 55 years ago today since Radio Caroline, the first of the British pirate radio stations began broadcasting.  It was an event and a summer I remember well.

In the previous 18 months, the British music scene had exploded, first based on the incredible success of the Beatles but then quickly followed by dozens of groups from all over the country. Unfortunately, the staid old BBC held a monopoly of British radio and so many of us listened to this new music on Radio Luxemburg which broadcast in the evenings. However, the playlists of Radio Luxemburg and BBC TV’s weekly Top of the Pops were more or less controlled by the major record labels and didn’t cover the full spectrum of pop music then available.

Ronan O’Rahilly, an Irish entrepreneur, decided to broaden the choice. He purchased an old ship, refitted it with high powered radio equipment, and parked it just outside British territorial waters. On 28th March 1964, Radio Caroline began broadcasting with a Rolling Stones song, and pirate radio — pirates because they were unlicensed — almost immediately changed the entire British cultural scene.

For the next few years, everyone I knew listened to the pirates (a number of other radio ships had joined in the fun) and no matter the laws the government tried to impose, their popularity continued to increase. By 1967, even the BBC had been completely revamped, with BBC Radio One becoming simply a copy of the pirates.

That was, indeed, the Summer of Love.

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