Radio Caroline

Radio Caroline is a British radio station founded in 1964 by Ronan O'Rahilly initially to circumvent the record companies' control of popular music broadcasting in the United Kingdom and the BBC's radio broadcasting monopoly.[1] Unlicensed by any government for most of its early life, it was a pirate radio station that never actually became illegal, although after the Marine Offences Act (1967) it became illegal for a British subject to associate with it.

The Radio Caroline name was used to broadcast from international waters, using five different ships of three different owners, from 1964 to 1990, and via satellite from 1998 to 2013. Since 19 August 2000, Radio Caroline has also broadcast 24 hours a day via the internet and by the occasional restricted service licence. Currently they also broadcast on DAB radio in certain areas of the UK: these services are part of the Ofcom small-scale DAB+ trials. Caroline can be heard on DAB+ in Aldershot, Birmingham, Brighton, Glasgow, Norwich, London,[2] Portsmouth and Woking.

In May 2017 Ofcom awarded the station an AM community licence to broadcast to Suffolk and north Essex;[3] full-time AM (medium wave) broadcasting, via a previously redundant BBC World Service transmitter mast at Orford Ness, commenced on 22 December 2017.[4]

Radio Caroline broadcasts music from the 1960s to contemporary, with an emphasis on album-oriented rock (AOR) and "new" music from "carefully selected albums". On 1 January 2016, a second channel was launched called Caroline Flashback, playing pop music from the late 1950s to the early 1980s.


Broadcast areaUnited Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, parts of continental Europe
Slogan"Radio Caroline on 199 your all day music station" (1960s)

"Love, Peace and Good Music" (1970s)

"Europes Best Music on Europe's Best Music Station" (Caroline 558)
FormatVarious: broadly according to era and frequency: 1960s : mainstream pop.

1970s : Album format

1980s: (i) 963 kHz : unformatted free-choice album format, with news.

(ii)576 kHz: continuation of above, with slightly more singles played. News service at peak hours.

(iii)558 kHz: strict pop and oldies mainstream format (no presenter music choice) with strict adherance to format clocks. DJs could choose ordering of oldies – all current pop hits in strict rotation. News at peak hours: 7, 8, 9 am, 1 pm; 5, 6, 7 pm, with headlines at 6:30 am, 7:30 am and 8:30 am.

footnotes: Caroline 'Overdrive' continued the album format during night-time once the mainstream pop service was re-established on 576, 585 and then 558 khz. Firstly on 963 kHz, then from 1988 – August 1989 on 819kHz.
PowerRadio Caroline North = 10kW (later 20kW). Radio Caroline South = 10kW (later 50 kW).

Caroline 319 = from 8kW to 25kW

Caroline 558 = approx. 5-6kW
OwnerPlanet Sales Ltd


The MV Mi Amigo, c. 1974, which had been used as the home of Radio Caroline South from 1964–1967

Radio Caroline was begun by Irish musician manager and businessman Ronan O'Rahilly. O'Rahilly failed to obtain airplay on Radio Luxembourg for Georgie Fame's records because it was committed to sponsored programmes promoting major record labels; EMI, Decca, Pye and Philips.

Encouraged by Scandinavian and Dutch pirates, 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, owned by O'Rahilly's father. At the same time, Allan Crawford's Project Atlanta was equipping the MV Mi Amigo at Greenore, where the two competed to be the first on air.[5]

Financial backing for the venture came from six investors, including John Sheffield, chairman of Norcross, Carl "Jimmy" Ross of Ross Foods, Jocelyn Stevens of Queen magazine, with which Radio Caroline shared its first office.[6] O'Rahilly named the station after Caroline Kennedy, daughter of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.[7] On a fund-raising trip to the US, O'Rahilly reportedly saw a Life magazine photograph of Kennedy and his children in the Oval Office that served as the inspiration for the name "Caroline Radio". In an extant photo, Caroline Kennedy and her brother, John F. Kennedy Jr., are apparently dancing in the Oval Office as their father looks on, an activity which O'Rahilly reportedly interpreted as a playful disruption of government.[8][9]

First transmissions

The Fredericia was renamed MV Caroline and anchored off Felixstowe, where it began test transmissions on Friday, 27 March 1964. On Saturday, 28 March, it began regular broadcasting at noon on 197.3 metres/1520 kHz (announced as 199 metres) with the opening conducted by Simon Dee.[10] The first programme, which was pre-recorded, was hosted by Chris Moore. Radio Caroline's first musical theme was Jimmy McGriff's "Round Midnight", a jazz standard co-composed by Thelonious Monk. In March 1964, The Fortunes recorded Caroline, which became the station's theme. Round Midnight was confined to close down on Radio Caroline North after The World Tomorrow. The station's slogan was Your all-day music station, and it initially broadcast from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.

Radio Caroline announced a wavelength of 199 metres, rhyming with the name, but was actually broadcasting on 197.3 metres (1520 kHz). Stations in the UK announced the wavelength in metres, and radios at that time were tuned using an analogue dial. The absence of precise digital readouts allowed for some leeway between the precise transmission frequency and the channel announced on the air. The Dutch offshore station Radio Veronica was on 192 metres (1562 kHz) and Radio Atlanta broadcast on 201 (1493 kHz).

Radio Caroline's transmission output was almost 20 kW, achieved by linking two 10 kW Continental Electronics transmitters. Broadcasting hours were 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to avoid competition from Radio Luxembourg. After its close-down, the station returned at 8 p.m. and continued until after midnight. This was to avoid competition with popular television programmes. Most of Radio Caroline's pop music programmes were targeted at housewives, and some later programming was aimed at children. Without serious competition, Radio Caroline gained a regular daytime audience of some 10 million.

Merger with Radio Atlanta

Emperor Rosko
Emperor Rosko

On 2 July 1964, Radio Atlanta and Radio Caroline's companies, Project Atlanta and Planet Productions., announced the stations were to merge, with Crawford and O'Rahilly as joint managing directors. Radio Atlanta closed at 8 p.m. that day. It was renamed Radio Caroline South and MV Mi Amigo remained off Frinton-on-Sea while MV Caroline broadcast as Radio Caroline North. MV Caroline sailed from Felixstowe to the Isle of Man, broadcasting as she went. The only broadcast staff on board were Tom Lodge and Jerry Leighton. MV Caroline arrived at her new anchorage on the southern tip of the Bahama Bank, Ramsey Bay, on 6 July 1964,[11] at a position formerly occupied by the Bahama Bank Lightship. The two stations were able to cover most of the British Isles. Later, some programmes were pre-recorded on land and broadcast simultaneously from both ships.

In October 1965, O'Rahilly bought Crawford's interest in the MV Mi Amigo and engaged Tom Lodge from Radio Caroline North to make programme changes and regain the audience from Radio London. Lodge hired new DJs and introduced free-form programming which, by August 1966, had succeeded, creating an audience of 23 million.[citation needed]

When the US-backed Radio London arrived off the coast of England, there was an unsuccessful attempt to merge its sales operation with that of Caroline before Radio London started transmissions.[citation needed]. The new station introduced British audiences to slick American-style top 40 radio with electronic jingles produced by Dallas-based PAMS – and was an immediate success.[citation needed]

Broadcasting personnel

Radio Caroline's first programme, on 28 March 1964, was presented by Chris Moore.[12] Presenters Tony Blackburn, Roger Gale, Mike Allen, Ray Teret, Roger Day, Simon Dee, Tony Prince, Spangles Muldoon, Keith Skues, Johnnie Walker, Robbie Dale, Dave Lee Travis, Tommy Vance, Tom Edwards, Paul Noble, Bob Stewart and Andy Archer became well known. Some DJs from the USA and Commonwealth countries, such as Graham Webb, Emperor Rosko, Steve Young, Keith Hampshire, Colin Nicol and Norman St John, were also heard. DJ Jack Spector, of the WMCA "Good Guys" in New York, regularly recorded for Radio Caroline. Syndicated shows from the US and recorded religious programmes were also broadcast. BBC Radio 2 newsreader Colin Berry and Classic FM's Nick Bailey started their careers reading the news on Radio Caroline South.

Tom Lodge was a radio disc jockey for Radio Caroline from 1964 until his death in 2012

In mid-September 1965, the crew and DJs on MV Mi Amigo were joined for the weekend by 1960s pop singer Sylvan Whittingham, who visited the ship to promote her single "We Don't Belong". Whittingham was unable to leave on the tender when a storm arose. The only singer to stay overnight, she helped present programmes, make jingles, and close the station at night.[13]

Mi Amigo runs aground

On 20 January 1966, the MV Mi Amigo lost its anchor in a storm, drifted and ran aground on the beach at Frinton-on-Sea. The crew and broadcasting staff were rescued unharmed, but the ship's hull was damaged and repairs were carried out at Zaandam, Netherlands. Between 31 January and 1 May, Radio Caroline South broadcast from the vessel Cheeta II, owned by Britt Wadner of Swedish offshore station Radio Syd, which was off the air because of pack ice in the Baltic Sea.[5] The Cheeta II was equipped for FM broadcasting, so it was fitted with the 10 kW transmitter from the Mi Amigo, feeding a makeshift antenna. The resulting signal was low-powered, but ensured that Caroline South's advertising revenue would continue.

The Mi Amigo returned to its Frinton-on-Sea anchorage with a redesigned antenna and a new 50 kW transmitter and attempted to resume broadcasting on 18 April, nominally on 259 metres to enable the same jingles as Radio Caroline North on 1169 kHz to be used, but actually 252 metres. The transmitter was initially too powerful for the antenna insulators. On 27 April, the Mi Amigo was fully operational.

Radio Caroline South's 259 metres signal was now near those of Radio London on 266m (1133 kHz) and the BBC's Light Programme on 247m (1214 kHz). Radio Caroline North subsequently moved to 257m (1169 kHz) but also called it 259.

Radio City affair

In October 1965, negotiations began for Radio Caroline to take over Radio City, which broadcast from Shivering Sands Army Fort, a Second World War marine fort off the Kent[5] coast. One of Radio Caroline's directors, Major Oliver Smedley, formerly of Radio Atlanta, entered a partnership with Radio City's owner, pop group manager Reginald Calvert and installed a more powerful transmitter on the fort. However, according to Gerry Bishop's book Offshore Radio this transmitter was antiquated and failed to work. Smedley later withdrew from the deal.[14]

On 20 June 1966, Smedley boarded the Shivering Sands Fort with 10 workmen to repossess a transmitter that he had supplied, but had not been paid for. The next day, Calvert visited Smedley's home in Saffron Walden, Essex, to demand the departure of the raiders and the return of vital transmitter parts. During a violent struggle, Calvert was shot dead. Smedley's men occupied the fort until 22 June.[5]

Smedley was charged with Calvert's murder on 18 July, but this was reduced to a charge of manslaughter. Smedley's trial opened on 11 October at Chemlsford Assizes, where the jury acquitted him.[5]


Radio Caroline International
Broadcast areaSouthern England, western Europe, Northern England, Ireland and Scotland
Frequencywavelengths announced as "259" metres
First air date15 August 1967 following passage of the Marine Offences Act
Formatpopular music and news
Power50 kW
OwnerLegal status unclear due to a need to conceal actual legal ownership.

In 1967, the UK Government enacted the Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967, outlawing advertising on or supplying an unlicensed offshore radio station from the UK. In an earlier House of Commons debate (in June 1966), the government had claimed that the pirate ships were a danger because of radio frequency interference to emergency shipping channels, and to overseas radio stations and the pirates were paying no royalties to artists, composers or record companies. Furthermore, it was stated that the pirates' use of wavelengths also broke international agreements.[15] The Manx parliament, the Tynwald, attempted to exclude the North ship from the legislation, appealing to the European Court on the legality of the act being applied to the Isle of Man. Two (Radio 270 and Radio London) of the remaining four UK based offshore stations closed, but the two Caroline ships continued with their supply operation moved to the Netherlands, which did not outlaw unlicensed ship based broadcasting until 1974.

When Marine &c. Broadcasting Offences Act become law on 14 August 1967, Radio Caroline was renamed Radio Caroline International. Six weeks later, the BBC introduced its new national pop station Radio 1, modelled largely on the successful offshore station Radio London, and employed many of the ex-pirate DJs. The BBC Light, Third, and Home programmes became Radios 2, 3 and 4 respectively.[16]

On 3 March 1968, the radio ships Mi Amigo and Caroline, 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 Wijsmuller Transport[5]

Because of the rise of land based pirate stations after the MOA became law - Usually stations run from bedrooms or outdoor sheds with small wattage transmitters - At least two stations broadcast using the Caroline name, one based in Dublin. These broadcasts took place between 1970 and 1973.[17]

Other Languages
bosanski: Radio Caroline
čeština: Radio Caroline
español: Radio Caroline
français: Radio Caroline
hrvatski: Radio Caroline
italiano: Radio Caroline
Nederlands: Radio Caroline
русский: Radio Caroline