|It was the 1960's. The era of the London Scene,
Flower-Power, cultural revolution, alternative lifestyles, the age of
the hippy, the mini-skirt, Carnaby Street fashions, the Mersey Beat,
and the emergence of offshore radio.
Don Pierson had been involved with the setting up of Radio London, which was undoubtedly the most "commercially" sucessful offshore station in the UK.
Following disagreements in the boardroom, Pierson left Radio London to set up his own radio station. He was joined by William Vick, who had also withdrawn his backing from the Radio London project.
Early in 1966, a ship became available in Panama. That ship, the "Olga Patricia" was subsequently leased by the newly formed Pierson - Vick partnership.
The Olga Patricia began life as the USS Deal (AG-131/AKL-2) and was constructed for the U.S. Army as U.S. Army FS-263, shortly before the end of World War II. She was later acquired by the U.S. Navy in 1947. She was configured as a transport and cargo ship, classed by the Navy as a Camano-class cargo ship, and operated with the U.S. Pacific Fleet, from post-World War II, and on through to the end of the Korean War. She was crewed by U.S. Coast Guard personnel, 42 officers and enlisted.
She was built in 1944 for the U.S. Army by the Wheeler Shipbuilding Corporation, of Whitestone, Long Island, New York. She measured aproximately 177 feet (54m) long, with a beam of 33 feet (10m), and a draft of 10 feet, (3m). The Deal weighed some 562 tons. Her twin 6 cylinder 500hp GM-Cleveland engines could deliver a speed of 12 knots.
USS Deal - AKL2 - Seen in Sasebo harbor, Japan 1954 (Photo Leslie W. Wright)
After WW2, in the early fifties, she had been used to carry the bodies of GI's killed in Korea, back to the U.S.A. The Deal was de-commissioned in 1955, and subsequently sold in December 1961. The ship was re-named "Olga Patricia".
Accurate information concerning the ships ownership, whereabouts and activities in the late fifties and early sixties is difficult to find, but there have been suggestions that the ship had been chartered by companies linked to the C.I.A., and involved in covert operations during the Cuban missile crisis. Interestingly, the ship's captain at one time was said to be a Cuban ex-pat, one Julio C. Alonzo. By 1963, the ship had spent some time dry-docked in Galveston, before arriving in Biscayne, Miami.
After her use as an offshore radio station, there followed allegations of "secret" use in the Caribbean, under the name of Akuarius II. By 1974, the ship had been sold and converted to a Menhaden fishing vessel, and was named the Earl J. Conrad Junior. The ship was finally scrapped after 67 years of service, in 2011.
But back to 1966. At the start of that year she moved from
the Panama Canal Zone, back to Miami, where work began at the Dodge
Island facility of the Dade Drydock Coporation, located at Biscayne Bay, to transform the Olga Patricia into a floating radio station.
Here she was fitted out, surrounded by a security sceen that would have done credit to the F.B.I.
Visitors were told that the ship was being fitted out for oceanographic research, but one of the men working on the ship told a reporter that he was a DJ, and had a contract promising him £28 a week, with free food and board.
The studios on board were fitted out with record players, Collins mixers, microphones, tape recorders, cartridge machines, and a curiously futuristic device called a Carousel, which could hold up to 24 tape cartridges, and play them at random, or sequentially.
The two studios were said to have cost in excess of £30,000 each.
|A press conference held in London, on 20th April 1966
revealed that two radio stations were to begin broadcasting from the
ship on 30th April, the ship however had yet to reach its anchorage.
Advertising was to be handled by Radio-Vision Broadcasts (International), part of the massive Pearl & Dean organisation. While Pearl & Dean dominated the cinema screen advertising market, it's newly formed subsidiary was to meet with little success in generating the much needed advertising revenue for the two stations.
Test transmissions were heard on 3rd May 1966, although it is thought that the ship was still en-route to the Essex coast when the first transmissions were made.
|Both the studios, and the 50 kiloWatt Continental Electronics AM transmitters were housed in two separate prefabricated units, which were lowered into the holds of the MV Olga Patricia. The station shared the studio facilities, and transmitters with a sister station, playing easy listening music.|
The ship became known as the "Laissez Faire"
The stations were Britain Radio, and Swinging Radio England
|Initial spasmodic test broadcasts were made on 1320kHz,
(227 meters) and 845 kHz (355 meters), with an announced power of 55kW.
Trouble was experienced with equipment, including a large transformer
in the transmitter that failed. Yet, by June 1966 Radio England had
received over 300 letters regarding the tests.
A replacement transformer arrived from Dallas, and the damaged transmitter was repaired. Following complaints of interference from an Italian station, the two shipborne stations swapped frequencies, and on 19th June, Swinging Radio England began regular broadcasts on 227meters. The first piece of music to be heard from the ship was, on the instruction of the station owners, "The Yellow Rose Of Texas".
|To celebrate ashore, a lavish party costing in excess of £4000, was held at the London Hilton Hotel. More than 600 guests were said to have attended, and more than a thousand bottles of champagne were believed to have been consumed !|
|By April 1966 an agreement had been reached with the
Performing Right Society (PRS), whereby the station would undertake to
pay music copyright royalties, based on a percentage of advertising
revenue. However, with little or no income generated from advertising,
it is doubtful that any payments were ever actually made.
On 19th July 1966, it was announced that both stations had applied to Edward Short, the then Postmaster General, for broadcasting licenses. Needless to say, none were issued.
Like Wonderful Radio London, its jingles were made by PAMS in Dallas, as part of "The Jet Set" series 27 originally made for WABC, New York. The concept of rapid fire "Bannerline News" at 15 minutes past the hour was borrowed from radio station WFUN in Miami. The on-air staff became known as "Boss Jocks", although SRE's offshore version only slightly resembled the style of radio station KHJ in California, which had originated the name.
On 4th September 1966, the Olga Patricia dragged her mooring a mile or so towards Harwich. The Walton lifeboat attended to make sure all on board were safe.
History was made on 29th September 1966, when Mr M McLaren, the Ratepayers candidate in the Harwich Town Council by-election bought time on the stations to publicise his campaign. Whether or not the broadcasts made any difference will never be known, but he won his seat by 260 votes.
|At a press conference held by William Vick on the 13th October, 1966 Vick revealed that in future, Dutch language programmes would be broadcast from the ship. On the 1st November 1966, it was announced that Swinging Radio England would close.|
|On 4th November 1966, Radio England was replaced by Radio
Dolfijn, a Dutch station which hired airtime on the transmitters,
broadcasting from 6.00am until midnight. Popularly referred to as
"Fipper Radio", Dolfijn met with a reasonable response from listeners
Conditions aboard at Christmas 1966 were far from pleasant. Violent storms prevented the tender from visiting the ship at her anchorage. On the third attempt, the fully loaded tender was able to get alongside, and people and provisions were finally transferred.
Early in 1967 the station began broadcasting a Top 40 format in the evenings. This proved very successful. Radio 227 took over and followed the Top 40 format throughout the day.
On 22nd February 1967, in heavy weather, disaster struck when the ship sustained severe damage to the broadcast mast. Initially it was intended to effect repairs at sea, but this proved to be too difficult, and so the ship was taken to a harbour in Zaandam, (NL) where the necessary repair work could be carried out.
|Former Radio 390 boss Ted Allbeury (left) had, by
now, re-branded Britain Radio into Radio 355. His company, Carstead
Advertising meanwhile had opened an office in Amsterdam.
Pier-Vick Ltd were declared backrupt on the 14th March 1967. The offices at 32 Curzon Street in London were vacated.
The organisation was said to have lost more than a million pounds.
|On 3rd July the ship put out an SOS call to the coastguard.
A Dutch crew member had gone berserk, assaulted the captain, and was
threatening to kill someone.
Explaining that due to engine troubles, he was unable to put into port, Captain Colin Lakenhurst told the coastguard:
"I have told all my crew to lock themselves in their cabins for the night. The man is working himself up into a frenzy again."
"Unless I have some assistance from the shore we shall have a murder on board."
Ashore, much official "buck-passing" ensued, with Clacton police referring the matter to the Royal Navy, the navy referring it to the M.O.D. who, in turn, decided to take no action. DJs and crew spent an un-easy night locked in their cabins. The following day a tender arrived with a strong crew on board. Two crewmen were taken off the radioship, paid-off and given tickets back to Holland.
|On 16th July 1967 popular singer Jose Feliciano visited the
ship, and made an historic live concert broadcast, hosted by Dutch DJ
Tom Collins. The show was broadcast over both stations.
On the 21st July 1967, the Dutch DJs on board were told that Radio 227 would close at 6.00pm that night, and that their services would no longer be needed after 1.00pm as the remaining five hours were already pre-recorded.
Radio 227 closed later that day. Sister station Radio 355 remained on the air until 6th August, 1967. Given that the British Governments' "Marine etc Broadcasting Offences" Act was to become law the following week, there seemed little point in extending the ships' lease by another year for the sake of just a few more days broadcasting.
First Programme Schedule - Swinging Radio England - 1966
06.00 - Ron O'Quinn Show
10.00 - Larry Dean Show
14.00 - Jerry Smethwick Show
18.00 - Roger Day Show
20.00 - Rick Randall Show
02.00 - Graham Gill Show
All Broadcast Personel
|John Ross Barnard
Boom Boom Brannigan
In S.R.E.'s case, some three and a half years on, this approach has resulted in over 70 hours of pre-recorded shows now being broadcast every week, and aproximately sixteen hours of "live" shows being streamed from various locations around the U.K., and beyond. Both stations, exist on an entirely "not-for-profit" basis, with all expenses being met personally by those involved.
This article, is offered in good faith and, errors and omissions excepted , and is intended to be accurate as far as possible.
The article is offered free of charge, in the spirit of "free and fair use", for educational and informational purposes only.
It was collated from information already in the public domain, for example; to be found in articles on websites such as Wikipedia.
Additional information was found in the book "Offshore Radio", (ISBN 0 904603 00 8) written by Gerry Bishop,
and from related articles found on various other websites, including:
Photo credits: Martin Stevens, Derek Burroughs, Ron O'Quinn, Grey Pierson, Ron Vick,