The History of UK Pirate Radio


By Petch, Eagle in the Morning

Unlike here in America in the 1960’s there was no top 40 radio stations in the UK, The BBC played 45 minutes of top 40 songs a day, yes a day, It’s hard to imagine growing up and having no radio station to hear the hits. Now we do not even give it a second thought we listen to the radio or our ipods or streaming music services. But in 1964 all that changed, Radio Caroline was created by Irish musician manager and businessman ’.

In February 1964 O’Rahilly obtained the 702-ton former Danish passenger ferry, Fredericia, which was converted into a radio ship at the Irish port of Greenore. By the end of March 1964 the Fredericia was renamed MV Caroline and anchored off the east coast of the UK where it began test transmissions, And on Easter weekend 1964 it all began. The first words were by a young DJ Simon Dee who said: “This is Radio Caroline on 199, your all-day music station”. Next came the Rolling Stones’ “Not Fade Away”, dedicated to Ronan. The radio revolution had begun.

It initially broadcast from 6am-6pm, seven days a week which at the time was unheard of and within weeks it had an audience of over 10 Million. The station despite an absence of any kind of launch advertising or promotion became famous solely through newspaper coverage and word-of-mouth. For the first few months they were the only Top 40 Station in the country, But by the end of the year all that totally changed.

In December of 1964 an American owned station rolled into town an anchored itself close to Radio Caroline a few miles of the coast of the UK. That station was Radio London it’s backers were Texan businessmen who had been impressed by the success of Radio Caroline. The businessmen well aware of the huge success of local radio station KLIF. And they felt it was time to introduce American Top 40-style radio to the UK, their aim was to model the station output on that of KLIF.

The History of UK pirate Radio

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When the station opened officially on December 23rd 1964, Canadian DJ Pete Brady kicked off the very first broadcast with the following words: “Radio London is now on the air with its regular broadcasting schedule. This station will bring to Britain the very latest from Radio London’s top 40, along with up-to-date coverage of the news and weather. Radio London promises you the very best in modern radio”.

At it’s peak Radio London had a daily audience of 20 million, The only people who were not happy was the British government who passed a law call the Marine Offences Bill which made it illegal for anyone to work and advertise on these stations, So on August 14th 1967 the airwaves went Silent. Apart from Radio Caroline who vowed to fight and stay on the air, which it did until 3rd of March 1968, when the ship were boarded and seized before the day’s broadcasting began. They were towed to Amsterdam by a salvage company to secure unpaid bills for servicing by the Dutch tender company who brought supplies to the ship.

Radio Caroline stayed silent till the mid 70’s when it reappeared much to the anger of the British Government, The station remained on the air till just after midnight on 20th of March 1980, the ship foundered in a storm after losing its anchor and began drifting. It began taking in water and the crew were rescued by lifeboat. Within a few hours Radio Caroline had sank the ships 160-foot mast remained erect for six years.

In 2009 a comedy movie was made loosely based on real events of these ships in the 1960’s, The Boat That Rocked. If you have not seen it check it out as it is very entertaining and gives us a little insight to life on those ships and stars the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. And to think all this was done to bring music to people.It truly is a wonderful thing, Music makes us smile, Makes us cry and most important creates memories.