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Some Radio Anecdotes

Martin Ransom


I discovered your website today and it plunged me back 30 odd years. A most enjoyable browse. Nothing like such a read to feel much younger. I'm 56. Bi-lingual in English, French. Schooling in London where friends used to call me 'Channel man' because I was constantly on a ferry between the two countries.

Radio Caroline and the other offshore stations heavily influenced my early life. As a teenager I was member of the Johnny Walker and Tony Blackburn's fan clubs. I vividly remember listening to Tony's Friday night "Frinton flashing" show when he talked over the air to listeners in their cars parked on the seafront. Content was often saucy as many of them were lovers together for a warm cuddle.

Because I was half French, I also contacted Emperor Rosko. He had a pre-recorded night programme on Caroline that was taped in Paris and it was in the French Radio Luxembourg studios that I met him. On French Luxembourg he was 'President Rosko'. "Minimum de blabla, maximum de musique" was his catch phrase between the PAMS jingles. Whilst at school I built myself a small transmitter. From my bedroom, Radio Martin International had huge pretensions as I covered only a small half a mile. It was to wake up the neighbours. Another experience was several programmes recorded for the land-based pirate Radio London Underground with its FM transmitter trundled about in a car boot!

Just after A-levels, I passed auditions at 208 and for Radio Antilles which had bilingual disk jockeys. But I resisted the temptation to drop my studies and I went to University. I had several choices but chose Sussex University solely because there was a BBC local radio station in Brighton. In between my Philosophy & French degree courses, I quickly put my foot in at the Beeb. My first cheques were for operating the switchboard on Saturdays and for doing an interview with Ray Davies of the Kinks. I then contributed to the 'Contact' students programme whose producer was Chris Walmsley who never tired listening to Queen. Many other colleagues who passed through Radio Brighton went on to greater heights in broadcasting and newspapers (Kate Addie, Gavin Hewitt, Roy Greenslade, Rod Pounsett...)

It was a fantastic training, the best one could hope for as a buding broadcaster. One could have but respect for the quality and rigour of the venerable organisation. But in my heart, I still preferred a 'new-style' livelier and more natural kind of broadcasting, as was being demonstrated on the offshore stations - and by Kenny Everett - bless him - on BBC Radio 4. I carefully hid these preferences from the BBC station manager. So I was not "tainted" when I left Sussex University and joined Radio Brighton as a freelance journalist.

On that station and in the Brighton area I met and worked with several disk jockeys whose names were already and were to become household names. Foremost amongst them Paul Hollingdale with dozens of stations under his belt from BFBS to the BBC and 208. He was a great mentor for youngsters like me who lacked self-assurance. Working for Paul Hollingdale, I earned money on the side which allowed me to purchase my A77 Revox, my first big purchase. Philip Fothergill was the youngest producer at Radio Brighton, and taught me how to wield a razor blade! I also remember Chris Evans, Mike Fabricant, Mel Bowden, and Stevie Merrick...

I suppose there is prescription on a few of the following anecdotes. In the evenings when the station manager had gone home, our group of friends and new-radio enthusiasts was very active: the latest PAMS jingle demo tapes were duplicated/edited/spliced/reverbed and phased for the Brighton Beeb station... AND for other clandestine outlets. (Phasing, incidentally, was not done electronically, but by recording the output of the same tape on two tape machines running ever so slightly out of sync. Those were pioneering days!)

It was a hive of undercover activity. After hours, machine occupation, and studio use was high. On occasions, whole shows were recorded for dispatch to foreign destinations. Sometimes all the tape recorders in several studios on two floors were occupied in the mass duplication of tapes. I remember recording several shows for the land-based pirate Sun Radio that Chris Evans was running from the Worthing area! But as DJs we were playing with fire, as pseudos didn't distort our all too easily recognisable voices. Mel Bowden (alias Mark Stuart on RNI) was the liveliest of the gang. Saturday night recordings were always followed by a Sussex pub-crawl. Through him and Stevie Merrick who worked a while on Radio Brighton, I was very close to their experiences and memories of offshore radio. In turn, they invited their "pirate" friends to the South coast. Chrispian St John came one weekend to Brighton. Others also such as Brian Anderson and Andy Archer.

I could have headed seawards as my nickname could foresee. But I never lifted anchor and stayed on dry land. An exception: on the occasion of a radio pilgrimage to NOS in Hilversum (where I obtained a 10 inch reel with the original of Orson Wells' War of the Worlds historic broadcast), I did cover the few miles off Scheveningen to see the ships. Mel was there at the time (around 1974-75 ?).

Throughout this period, I amassed a hefty documentation, particularly press cuttings, about the offshore pirates, which I still have in several cardboard boxes. I also have dozens of 10 and 7-inch reels of tapes and "jinglies" as we called them. But I haven't tried them out on my Revox for sometime. In my office, I work under big prints of the Mi-Amigo and the rainbow-coloured Mebo.

In 1972, I joined LBC/IRN staff in London and was producer of the AM morning show (with the delightful Douglas Cameron and Clive Roslin). It was a great three years before I took a golden handshake when times at LBC became bad - but I had maintained close ties with my former "rogue" colleagues.

At the end of 1975, I left Britain for France (for the reason, cherchez la femme!) and I have since been living in the South-west, first working as a radio journalist for 20 years on a French regional commercial station. I gradually specialised in space and aeronautical matters. For the last 8 years, I have been a freelance communications consultant working for the space agencies and industry (writing, web, film work... but no longer any radio although I still have my first AKG microphone!). I often go to Holland where the European Space Agency has a technical and research centre near Noordwijk on the coast. Many evenings I walk along the beach and gaze out to sea. There's a platform in the distance (TV Nordzee?) but no ships with tall masts. Ah, the memories. These days when I put a home CD in my car radio with old jingles and compilations of hits from the 60s-70's, my two children smile: "There's pop going back in time (on the sound of the nation)". Yes, that period was a profoundly formative period of my life.

How many like me were put on the rails towards future careers by these offshore broadcasters? Frinton flashing was true communication. I'm still in that business. I may have moved on now with my head in the stars with satellites and astronomy, but a few jingles and photographs propel me back to my "first love": pirate radio, music and freedom of expression - with a dash of roguery. Thanks Norman, for bringing it all back to me again.

Martin Ransom

Martin Ransom <martin.ransom@free.fr>
France - Tuesday, October 12, 2004 at 13:15:30 (CEST)



Tony Magon


When I was in the UK, mainly around Portsmouth in late 1971 to early 1972, there was a tune which I think got up to about number 5 on the UK hit parade in November 1971. It is/was called "Tap turns on the Water" by a group called CCS. It was originally released on the RAK label (run by the late Micky Most) This recording was never released in Australia or New Zealand. I have been told that it has been re-released on CD or tape called British Top Hits of the 70s or similar. I would like to get a dub of it if possible, or maybe you can steer me in the right direction on where to get a copy of the CD or tape re-released. Also all the stations I heard from UK in New Zealand I have written confirmation. Also is there a web site on the internet which gives a lot of background into the Marine Offences Act put thru the UK parliament 30 years ago. Some of the statements put around at the time by the UK government were an obsolute disgrace. For instance - The Pirate stations were causing interference to emergency services. From my memory of this statement, they never exactly stated which emergency service, which frequencies were being interfered with, nor ever produced taped evidence. As you probably know we did have a pirate radio station in NZ, called Radio Hauraki in Auckland which operated on 1480 kHz from 1966 to 1971, and it certainly was a far smaller vessel that Caroline or the others. It was a small coaster, the transmitter only ran about 2kw, which was built from scratch. It was originally on old Navy transmitter, but the only thing was was left as original was the cabinet and chassis. A friend of mine told me that they first flashed up the transmitter in one of the inner suburbs of Auckland on a dummy load, and wiped out all the the TV reception around the area. They then managed to load the transmitter into a van, and took it to the land based studios. Access to the studios was by a back entrance, up some very narrow stairs and thru a door, then a few yards to the lift. They got the transmitter into the lift and up to the studios a couple of floors above. They kept the transmitter in their landbased studios/offices, until the ship the MV Tiri was fitted out. Station members stayed in the offices 24 hours a day to guard the transmitter, because they feared that the NZ Post Office, as it was known at the time would come with police to execute a search warrant and confiscate the transmitter. The NZPO and the police never arrived. The lift which was used to get the transmitter up to the studios/offices never sounded the same. It used to graunch and groan in normal operation..... Very little of the programming was done at sea. 95 percent of it was done in the shorebase studios a week or two weeks in advance, then the tapes were flown out by a float plane to the ship. If the weather was calm the plane would land, if the weather was rough the waterproof cannisters contaning the tapes would be dropped by parachute. In one particular instance someone decided to include a tin of paint in with the tapes. When the cannister hit the water, the paint tin lid flew off, and you can imagine the state of the tapes...... unusable. The local programming that was done was the news and the weather, and occasionally during the summer some of the DJs would go out and run live, but the ship was quite small. They were anchored in the Hauraki Gulf which gave them a bit of shelter Hi Norman Thanks very much for the dub of Man of Action. One of the statements about Radio Hauraki was not correct. The distance of the sea triangle was in fact 3 miles instead of 12 miles as I stated.... Sorry about that.. The URL for the history of Radio Hauraki is http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~michaelp/99fm/history.html
If you have not already read it, it gives a brief history of Hauraki in the pirate days. I have a 30 min or so tape called The History of Radio Hauraki, which I could dub for you and post it, or if you like I could put it on realaudio, but it would probably be a very big file. I am now employed for Telstra (Telecom Australia) as a Telecomms Technician, but first started off in the Royal NZ Navy as a Radio Operator, after 8 and a half years I became a NZ Coastal Maritime R/O until 1989, when I was made redundant, then came over to Sydney Australia, and worked here in Sydney as an R/O for the Australian Coastal Radio Service, when the Maritime side of things started winding down, I then transferred into the phone exchange side of things and have now just about completed my Advanced Telecommunications Certificate. I have also held an Amateur Radio Certificate for a number of years, so electronics is no mystery to me. Regards Tony Magon