Been meaning to post some of this audio for the #ds106radio community for awhile now, but it was Grant’s post last week on Lorenzo Milam’s Sex and Broadcasting, a how-to guide to radical, community based non-commercial radio from the early 60’s that finally got me off my butt and digging through my old radio collections to find this – a handful of pirate radio airchecks from classic British offshore radio stations of the 60’s and 70’s.
This first clip is from Radio London, dated 1965. In it you can hear some of the most well know pirate radio jingles – the “wonderful Radio London” jingles made famous by The Who on The Who Sells Out.
Up until I heard these clips in the mid-90’s, I had always thought that the pirate stations in the UK in the 60’s were a response to the reluctance of the BBC to play rock and roll – they were an an outlet for youth culture to have a voice after being shut out by the mainstream BBC. While that might be true to a certain extent, when I listened to these clips, I was surprised to hear advertising. Lots of advertising. Companies were looking for ways to reach an audience, there was no commercial broadcasting to speak of in Britain, so entrepreneurs set up these floating money factories off shore to pump adverts into the UK, piggybacking on the latest Beatles & Stones cuts.
Yeah, it bummed me out a bit, too, when I made that connection. I had a romantic’s view of the pirate stations; that somehow they were fueling the youth rock and roll subculture of the mid-60’s when, in fact, it was just the man out for a buck.
Anyway, you can hear the hucksterism in full flight in this second clip from 1965, this time from Radio Caroline. In this clip you can hear some of the ad’s that ran on the station, plus an announcer pushing the benefits of advertising on Radio Caroline.
This last couple of segments are my favorite because there is some serious drama here. These clips are from Radio North Sea and their infamous ship the Mebo II. The clips are from 1970 & 71 when Radio North Sea was undergoing some ownership issues. As you’ll hear in this first clip, things start off bad with the British government jamming their signal from the get go, and the Radio North Sea musical response to then UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
Then, things get heated when a tug pulls alongside the ship and a partner who has been shut out of the radio operations tries to board the ship.
This last clip is one of the most compelling pieces of radio I have ever heard as Radio North Sea International and the Mebo II are attacked. A bomb thrown onto the Mebo II by a passing speedboat prompts these panicked moments. The bizarre juxtaposition of the panic-stricken announcer calling out mayday mayday over the top of an ever-looping bed of optimistically happy 60’s music is nothing short of eerie to hear, and utterly compelling to hear. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to hear this live.
Pirate radio for the #ds106radio crew by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.