|| I have to add something in recent discussions about The Rolling Stones :
1. I don’t agree with 11.07.1962 as Stones birthday, because date when Loog Oldham locked Mick & Keith, and moment when they wrote theirs first song is true birth of Stones.
2. Also I’m very frighten with next Stones plans about tour. Without new album, with Ron addiction, Keef’s ‘’keeping experiments with his body’’ and play simulation…….. But The Rolling Stones aways had huge courage…so one who could probably will enjoy.
But for some of us, Stones fans, which lived behind ‘’iron curtain’’ Pirate radio implyed everything. So, accidentaly I find on http://www.offshoreradio.co.uk/ interesting text with Stnes contest. It’s very long, but just take it or live it…..
Tom Lodge was one of the very first offshore disc-jockeys in the UK. He joined Radio Caroline in 1964. He took part in the epic round-Britain broadcast made from the original Caroline ship, the mv.Fredericia; he was on board the mv.Mi Amigo when she lost her anchor and was washed up on the beach; and he was one of the station's most popular broadcasters, presenting the Breakfast Show on both ships. He was there while history was being made and he has very kindly offered to share his memories with us. We will be adding two or three chapters of Tom's story each month.
CHAPTER ONE: Tom meets Ronan and joins Radio Caroline.
It was March 1964. I had dropped into a pub on the Kings Road for a pint. The radio behind the bar tender was blaring some BBC Light Programme music such as Frankie Vaughan or Victor Silvester or maybe even Cliff Richard. I said to the bar tender “That's pretty awful music.”
“So?” said the bar tender, “That's the best we've got.”
A young feller sitting at the bar next to me piped up with an Irish accent “Don't you be worrying. We'll soon be putting out the finest rock 'n' roll and you can say ‘good bye’ to that stuff.”
“How's that?” I asked.
“Oh we've got a ship off the coast and in a few days we'll be on the air.”
“Yeah?” I said with enthusiasm. “Hey, that's great! Do you need any more deejays?”
“Why, are you in radio?”
“I freelance for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. But I'd rather be deejaying, playing rock 'n' roll music.”
“Well that's real dandy. When can you start?”
“Whenever you want.” I said. “Hey, my name's Tom Lodge” I added, putting out my hand to shake.
“Good. I'm Ronan O'Rahilly” he said, taking my hand in a warm grip.
That was how I moved from the CBC to Radio Caroline.
In a few days I was on the air. That first day we went out to the ship, we went in a fishing boat. The seas were a little rough but the sea was already in my bones. The rougher the better.
With us were Chris Moore, Simon Dee and a few others I forget. This was the M.V. Fredericia, a Danish passenger ferry that Ronan had bought and rigged up for radio in the Irish port of Greenore. She was an elegant lady with a large galley where we ate, sorted new record releases, played cards and swapped the latest gossip. But the greatest time was being on the air. At last I could play the music I loved. My favourites at that time were the Rolling Stones' Not Fade Away which shot up to number four, the Hollies' Just One Look and Manfred Mann's hit 5-4-3-2-1. I believe I was on the air for four hours a day but sometimes there was a shortage of deejays and so I would do more. I was enjoying every minute. But the strange thing about radio is you do not know who is listening and how many. It is kind of like I was in my living room playing my favourite records and talking to the wind. But I loved it.
Our schedule on the ship was two weeks on and one week ashore. That was the schedule but it hardly ever worked out that way because most of the time we were short staffed. Not to worry because the two things I loved the most had come together: the sea and the music.
I remember going ashore and visiting Ronan in some crummy little office in London, a place where our supplies could be organised. We were all like kids who had discovered the greatest, never ending, cookie jar.
And then two things happened: Ronan created Caroline House at 6 Chesterfield Gardens in Mayfair and, at about the same time, another ship sailed within three miles of us, dropped anchor and started broadcasting. Everything changed. We had suddenly become grand in Caroline House and, at the same time, we had to deal with competition. And that was a big problem because the advertisers instantly stopped buying ads. They said they would wait to see which had the bigger audience, the new station Radio Atlanta or us, Radio Caroline.
Now we had two enemies, the British government and Radio Atlanta. But we had the spirit of enthusiasm and were determined to find a solution.
CHAPTER TWO: The battle with Radio Atlanta.
Anchored three and a half miles off Felixstowe, Suffolk, and with our 168 foot mast, we gained immediate attention from passing ships and people on shore. Yes, we were strange. We were a new mark on the ocean horizon. The tall mast made our ship look unique. I felt it had an appearance of grandeur, it was a visual statement, but more so, it was a huge audio statement. We were definitely here. Our music blasted through the barricades of the British establishment's music censorship. We were about freedom. At this time there was still concern about rock 'n' roll. Rock 'n' roll seemed to encourage a freedom that was unpredictable, from Elvis' undulating hips, to the sexual implications of the beat. Until that Easter Sunday in 1964 when we went on the air, Britain had only thirty minutes of pop music a week from the BBC Light Programme and an evening of crackley music broadcasting from Radio Luxembourg, a radio station that played only a one minute taste of each record. And then, suddenly, because of us, there was rock 'n' roll galore. And not only that, we were a bunch of young guys, full of life, and willing to risk everything on the high seas to share this music. Ronan was only twenty four and some of us were younger. In Westminster and Whitehall there was a lot of head shaking, tut-tutting and finger wagging but the music was our boss, not the British government. Our way was for expression and freedom, for life and fun.
A few weeks after we went on the air our supremacy was challenged. I had just finished an on-air show, with the last number being Good Golly Miss Molly by the Swinging Blue Jeans, when I looked out the porthole and there, close by, large against the horizon, was another ship with a tall mast. Was this another broadcasting ship, I wondered.
I went running up to the bridge. Simon Dee and the captain were looking out to sea with binoculars. “What ship is that?” I asked.
“I'm not sure” said Simon “but they have a very tall mast.”
Looking to the captain, I said, “How about getting them on the radio and finding out who they are? And what they are doing here next to us.”
The captain picked up the radio phone and said “This is M.V. Fredericia of Radio Caroline, the captain speaking. Do you read me?”
From the speaker coming through loud and clear, we heard “Yes, we read you. This is M.V. Mi Amigo of Radio Atlanta.”
I felt a rush in my belly. My mind was rushing through many questions. I thought “What the hell's happening?” Without a second thought I took the microphone from the captain and asked “Who is Radio Atlanta? Where are you from?”
“We're from Australia.”
“Thanks” I said. “OK. Over and out.”
I felt stunned. What was going on? We were meant to be the king. We owned the waves. What was another radio ship doing here? And so close - only three miles away. Something's not right I thought. I turned to the Captain and said “Radio Atlanta from Australia? We'd better get Ronan on the line quickly.”
Simon was staring out at the ship and then, before we could move, the radio came alive. “This is Ronan. Caroline, do you read me?”
I grabbed the radio phone. “Yes! This is Tom. Good you called. We were just about to call you.”
“There is a ship near to you. Can you see it?” asked Ronan.
“Yes” I said. “They say they are M.V. Mi Amigo. Radio Atlanta from Australia. What's going on?”
“Who are these guys” I asked “and why are they anchoring next to us?”
“Well, Tommy baby, we've got competition. Another radio ship is going to start broadcasting in a few days.”
“In a few days!!” I said with exasperation. “In a few days?”
“And they're going to be broadcasting only three miles away from us!”
“Three miles” I shouted “That's going to confuse everyone.” Now I was annoyed.
“It already has confused our potential advertisers.” Ronan replied. “There is a hold on all advertising until they can determine which one of us has the larger audience.”
“For God sakes Ronan. We've been on the air just a few weeks and we've already got competition from Australia? Who is this Radio Atlanta guy anyway?”
“Look, cool it, Tommy baby. It's OK. The man's name is Allan Crawford.”
“Allan Crawford?” I started to remember. “I know. That's the publisher and record company owner from Australia.” I remembered Ronan mentioning his name before about some other ship at Greenore, when he was rigging out Radio Caroline. But I had thought no more about it. “What are you going to do now?” I asked.
“I've called for a meeting with Allan Crawford. But for now, you go on with the show. We've got to keep our listeners in the pink. That's all that matters.”
“OK Ronan, we'll give them a hell of a fight.”
And in that moment, from a distant speaker, came our radio music, the Beatles with Can't Buy Me Love.
Now there was a new tension in the air. An unknown. A feeling of uncertainty. We had stormed into a wide open field where the desires of much of the population of Great Britain were not being satisfied. Where the thirst for rock 'n' roll, fun and life were waiting for an opportunity to feast. We had come to unleash an endless party of music, fun and, maybe but unspoken, a promise of permissiveness. The contraceptive pill had arrived and there was youthful desire in the air. This was meant to be our party but now, right next door, there was Radio Atlanta. Now what? Ronan had said that the advertisers were delaying until they could find out who had the larger audience. Advertising was our life blood. So in the meantime, would we go broke? These were the questions that surged around in my mind as I returned to the studio.
CHAPTER THREE: The Top Forty Battle.
I was sitting on the stern deck watching an approaching boat. It looked like the tender that, from time to time, would bring us supplies. The sun was shining and the sea was calm. Good, I thought, the boat will bring fan mail. I loved the fan mail, the support, the enthusiasm, but above all the attention from so many young girls. As I watched the boat getting larger, I could hear over our radio speakers, Simon Dee introducing Anyone Who Had A Heart by Cilla Black. Just then Jerry Leighton popped his head out the square porthole behind me and said “Looks like the tender is coming. Maybe there will be some more deejays.”
“Looks like Ronan's on board.” I said.
The tender came along side and Ronan jumped across the moving gap onto our deck. “Okay, you guys” he said “I don't have much time. We have to talk. We'll meet in the studio so that Simon can be with us.”
In the broadcast studio we all crowded around Ronan, wanting to hear the news. “Well it's like this” Ronan began “Allan Crawford and I have made a deal. Radio Atlanta will become Radio Caroline South.”
“Have you bought the ship from Allan Crawford?” I asked.
“Oh, goodness no! He'll still own the ship but we have made a joint venture for selling advertising, otherwise we still run our own ships. This ship will sail up north and become Radio Caroline North and that way we'll cover the whole of the U.K.”
“Where will Caroline North be anchored?” asked Jerry Leighton.
“That's top secret” replied Ronan. “You'll know when you are almost there. If the government was to find out, there could be problems. But that's not the question. The question is, who is staying on this ship to go up north and who is going over to the Mi Amigo for Caroline South?”
Without any hesitation, Simon said “I'll go over to the Mi Amigo.” Jerry Leighton and I decided to stay on our ship and sail up north. I liked this ship and, besides, the thought of sailing around the coast and broadcasting as we went was most appealing.
“Okay” said Ronan “Jerry, you take over Simon's show and Simon you grab your things and come with me over to the Mi Amigo.”
“That quick?” said Simon.
“Yes, this is happening now.”
“Well in that case” said Simon “I'm taking the top forty”.
“No you are not!” I shouted.
“Damn right I am!” he said as he moved towards the box of top forty records.
I dived for the box, grabbed it first and took off out to the deck.
“I need that! shouted Simon.
“There'll be plenty of records already on the other ship.” I shouted back. “This is our life line.”
“Okay, enough of this” said Ronan. “We don't have time for this. We have to go Simon.”
Ronan moved quickly and jumped back onto the tender. I scrambled up high, right onto the top of our ship, clutching the box of top forty. I knew that without these records we would be nothing. Our whole existence was in this small box of 45s, in this little box of vinyl. Simon was still shouting at me as he stood on the tender and sailed away. And then amid the silence with the sound of the waves slushing on the side of the ship, Jerry Leighton and I looked at each other and began to laugh.
We both jumped up and down and said, “Hey, hey, we're going up north.”
CHAPTER FOUR: Sailing Around the British Coast.
July 3rd 1964 was warm and sunny. That day was exhilarating. I had woken and looked out the porthole and there was the coast of Kent and then the White Cliffs of Dover. We were on the move. It was 5.30 a.m. and just in time for me to go on the air. I had no idea where we were sailing to. The only person who knew was our Dutch captain. He had been given sealed orders. The whole concept was exciting. Every moment was an adventure. Now it was time for me to go on the air and play music.
In the studio, I hit the button on the cartridge tape player and out came Rinky Dink by the Johnny Howard Band, my theme tune. “Good morning to you” I said on the air “This is Tom Lodge with a beautiful Caroline morning and some music for you to march around the breakfast table to, while we sail around the coast of England. Here's a great sound from the Animals with their new release The House of the Rising Sun.
Alan Price's organ sang across the airwaves followed by the voice of Eric Burdon. “There is a house in New Orleans...”
We were off and sailing. It was a Saturday, a ‘let's go to the seaside day’. A day when there would be thousands of people all along the English coast, an opportunity to connect with a whole new audience as they sunbathed and swam, and we played the most popular music.
After I had been on the air for two hours, Jerry Leighton came down and took over. We were the only deejays on board so we had agreed to do two hours on the air and two hours off. I went out on deck to stretch. I could see we were approaching Beachy Head and I wanted to get a closer look. On the bridge I scanned the shoreline with a pair of binoculars. “Oh my God!” I shouted. For there on Beachy Head were crowds of people. I mean it was covered with people. Something was happening on shore. People had come to see us sail by. I went rushing down to the studio.
“Jerry!” I said “There are thousands of people watching us sail by!” I scrambled back up the ladders to the bridge, grabbed a mirror and began flashing the sun onto the shore. This was more than I had ever dreamed of.
When it was my turn to go back on the air, I said “Those of you girls on the beach listening to Radio Caroline, take your mirror out of your purse and reflect the sun at us, reflect it onto Radio Caroline so that we can see you. You can't miss us, we're the ship with the big, big mast.”
Suddenly it happened. The coastline lit up with flashing lights. The whole coastline was sparkling. This went on all day, all along the coast. We kept reminding our listeners that we were the ship with the big, big mast. And as the sun gently moved down into the west, people began flashing car headlights. We flashed lights back and spoke to them on the air and played hits like Lulu's Shout, The Mojos' Everything's Alright and the number one hit of the day You're My World by Cilla Black.
That evening our captain, Captain Hangerfelt, came into the studio. We put him on the air and with his strong Dutch accent, he dissolved the mystery of our destination. He announced that we were heading for the Isle of Man and were going to drop anchor in Ramsey Bay.
The next morning we were off the north coast of Cornwall and Devon. Again it was a clear, blue, gentle, welcoming sea. It had been dark when we rounded Land's End but now with the sun again we were ready to draw attention to ourselves. On the air I said “It's Sunday morning and I sure miss breakfast in bed and reading the Sunday papers. But in the meantime here's a movin' Chuck Berry song, No Particular Place To Go.
Then within twenty minutes of those words “...reading the Sunday papers” a speed boat rushed out from the coast, came alongside Caroline, and threw a bundle of newspapers onto our deck. The immediate response was exciting. In all my years in radio I had never experienced such a close connection with the audience.
As we sailed round Wales, a calm settled over us. The coast was no longer responding with lights or boats or mirrors. This coastline was sparsely populated. In my on-air radio talk, I dropped in three or four Welsh words that my mother had taught me. Many years later I met a Welsh farmer who had been listening and enjoyed my badly pronounced Welsh. Our ship moved smoothly through the water. There was a fullness in the air, a relaxation, a contentment. It felt good.
“This is a mellow time” I said. “And here is some music to support this calm feeling. It's the B-side of the record. It should have been the A-side. I'm dedicating it to all the listeners who can receive us across the mountains of Wales. Here's the Four Seasons and Silence is Golden. The night came down and the music we were playing felt all pervasive. It was like the dark was enclosing the sounds and making them more intense.
The next day we arrived at the Isle of Man. “Hello Isle of Man” I said on the air. “This is Tom Lodge. If you're listening to Radio Caroline, we'd like you to use your mirrors to reflect the sun onto our ship, so we can see you! Or if you don't have a mirror handy, flash your car head lights.”
Nothing happened. We tried everything. Nothing happened. No response. “Hey, Jerry” I said “What's going on? Nobody's responding.”
Jerry was just as mystified. “I don't know.” he said.
“Something must be wrong” I said. “Maybe we're not welcome here.”
CHAPTER FIVE: The Isle of Man's response.
This was strange. We were being loved by millions of people in England. All along the coast we had been cheered and welcomed with mirrors and car headlights and now that we had arrived at our destination, the island off which we were planning to spend a long time, now there was no response. To be not welcomed by the Isle of Man would be most awkward. This was our new home and we needed their support for this battle against the British establishment to work. Today it may not seem so important but the music we were playing, the opening into the music world for new groups and artists, the possibilities for new record labels to emerge was a David-and-Goliath battle. We needed the support of the people of the Isle of Man.
Then coming out from the coast, I saw a small boat. Not a fishing boat or any other boat that we were used to, but a canoe. A canoe with two figures rhythmically paddling in our direction. We watched with interest. They slowly drew nearer. We could see that the two figures were two men, two men paddling as if they could go like that forever.
The canoe came along side Radio Caroline. One of the men handed up an envelope to Jerry who was leaning on the railing. And as he handed Jerry the note he said “My wife wouldn't rest until I brought you this.”
They paused briefly and then straight away, without another word, canoed back to shore.
I had put a long piece of music on and came down to see what this message was and how we were being received.
Jerry opened the letter. From the fold in the page he took out a piece of heather. And then out loud he read the note. “Welcome to the Isle of Man.” That's all it said. Then suddenly Jerry laughed with relief. “Oh! That's amazing!” he said. “Yes! Now we are really welcomed by the people of the Isle of Man. This is it! These people have said yes.”
We both waved to the receding men in their canoe and shouted “Thanks a lot guys.” The two men waved back and returned to paddling.
Yes, the Isle of Man had welcomed us, but at the same time things were heating up back in London. The headlines in one newspaper read “PLAN TO SEIZE PIRATE RADIO.” And later, after the autumn election, when Anthony Wedgewood Benn, became the Postmaster General, the man in charge of the ministry that controlled radio, he went on television and said “The pirates are a menace and I don't believe, at all, that the public wouldn't support action to enforce the law. The pirate radio ships have no future at all. I'm quite convinced of that” And on and on, how we were a menace to shipping and breaking the law. But the truth was we were not breaking any laws. We were beyond the three mile limit, outside of the jurisdiction of Great Britain. We were away from all shipping lanes and in international waters and therefore under no country's laws. And even though we were named a ‘pirate’ the fact is we were simply an off-shore radio broadcasting ship.
In fact the British government recognized us as being outside of their jurisdiction. They treated us as foreigners. When we came ashore we had to go through customs with our passports. And then later, when Edward Short took over the post of Postmaster General from Wedgewood Benn, he announced on TV “I promise legislation that will put all pirate stations off the air.”
It was a funny game. It was a battle. But the music was flourishing. We were pushing in every direction. We accepted no limit to play and fun, and with our twenty four hours of rock 'n' roll there was no end to the party. At the same time there was continual resistance from the establishment with their desire to be in total control and with their determination to shut us down. But we had the audience. We had the growing support of an enthusiastic population, a support that was growing by the millions. Yes, our energy was high.
Soon our on-air radio crew expanded to include Alan ‘Neddy’ Turner, who had been our studio technician as we sailed north, Tony Jay, Big Jim ‘Murph the Surf’ Murphy and then, many a listener's favourite, the young fellow from Liverpool, Mike Ahern. Mike and I became close friends. We had a similar feel about radio. Radio is organic. It needs to flow with the moment. The announcer needs to be in tune with what's happening now, feel the music he is playing. Listen to the relationship between the music, his voice, and any other sounds he introduces. He is creating an audio collage. An audio collage which touches the feelings of the listener. He is always, and only, speaking to one person even though he may have a million listeners. Radio is an intimate medium, unlike books or television. The voice is close and can touch you deeply if the deejay is speaking directly from his/her feelings. When radio is working, a listener will feel that the deejay is talking directly to them. This is what we were doing on Radio Caroline North. This was the power of our programming.
One day I got a message that I was to go ashore and be the M.C. for a Rolling Stones concert in Douglas, the capital of the island nation. I was extremely excited. I loved the Stones and this would give me a chance to spend some time with them.
CHAPTER SIX: The Rolling Stones Concert.
If I climbed the mast and looked down, our ship seemed too small to support me. And swinging up there was the nearest feeling to flying. But that day I had no time to fly. I had to get ready for the tender which was coming to take me ashore. I had a gig. A gig I had been looking forward to. The Rolling Stones concert.
As I climbed down from the mast, Mike Ahern was on the air introducing a song I liked playing too, Do Wha Diddy Diddy by Manfred Mann. There was a kinship among all of us on the ship, we were a ‘band of brothers’. And again ‘we few, we happy few’ and going ashore we took that spirit with us. That spirit came through the music, the on-air speaking and the way we interacted and played on board the ship.
After getting ready for my shore visit, I came on deck dressed in flashy Carnaby Street style clothes. It felt good to wear colour and style, to express the feelings of the music and the fun.
When the tender dropped me at the dock, I rushed to get a taxi. As soon as I got in the taxi, the driver said “Hey, I recognize you. You're Tom Lodge, the deejay. I'm a great fan of Radio Caroline. I really like what you guys are doing for rock 'n' roll. All me mates listen to you all the time, between fares, in the taxis. We're great fans.”
“That's great” I said. “We sure are happy to be here off the Isle of Man. Everyone here is so welcoming.”
When I went to pay the taxi driver he said “Hey! Could you autograph the money, Tom?”
“Sure.” Wow, that's fun, I thought.
I rushed through the stage door of the concert hall and was welcomed by Mick, Keith, Brian, Bill, Charlie and a few roadies. Brian came forward and together we went over the routine. Mick was pacing and checking with each person making sure all was understood. He was sipping a whiskey and Coke.
Keith suddenly said “Hey, there's something wrong with the equipment. I guess we're going to be late going on stage.”
“We're still working on it” said one of the roadies.
“How long will it take?” asked Bill.
“Half an hour, I think.”
From the audience, could be heard clapping and “We want the Stones! We want the Stones!”
Brian smiled and said “The audience is getting rather impatient.”
Mick said to one of the roadies “Do your best.”
I peeped out through the stage curtain. The audience looked restless. They were shouting and clapping, saying “When is the show starting? We want the Stones!”
Keith said “We've got to do something quick.”
“Okay” I said “I'll try and calm them down.”
Charlie laughed. “I wouldn't go out there if I were you. They'll kill you!”
“Don't worry” I said “I'm a pirate!” Everyone laughed.
I picked up a bunch of incense that was lying on a table back stage. And waving it, I said “I'll take my chances.” I then lit the whole bunch of sticks, making them into a torch. Then, holding the torch high like the Statue of Liberty, I walked out and across the stage. Within a few seconds the audience settled into a silence of anticipation. Watching the audience, I waved the torch until the flame was blown out leaving a column of smoke rising from the incense. The audience waited. Carefully holding their attention, I passed out, one by one, the sticks of incense to those near the stage. The mood had changed. The audience was calm. We were connecting.
I went to the microphone and said calmly and seriously “Is Anthony Wedgewood Benn in the audience? Because if he is, come up here Anthony! So we can all pelt you with some good fresh tomatoes!” The audience roared with laughter.
From the corner of my eye I could see Bill Wyman signaling to me that it was okay to start. “Okay!” I boomed across the hall. “At last you can all go wild! Hold your breath. For the one and only, the greatest group of all time, the Rolling Stones!!!”
The Rolling Stones burst on stage. The crowd went wild. The music came on with a bang as they played Under My Thumb. The girls were screaming. The guys were jumping up and down. The music was solid, powerful, beating deep into the bodies as Mick's voice opened up the minds and hearts of a new generation. Here was the kernel of the freedom. We were working hand in hand. We were out at sea, on the air waves, and the bands were in the concert halls. This was the battering ram of freedom.
Caroline's relationship with the Rolling Stones went through a sticky patch in 1966, as this cutting from Disc & Music Echo shows. Click to magnify. Tom says that he totally ignored the directive from Phil Solomon and kept playing the Stones!
CHAPTER SEVEN: The Hurricane
Next morning I felt as if I had been steam rolled. I took a taxi from my hotel to the pier in Ramsey to catch the tender back to the ship. What a night that had been. The concert was a party but the after-concert was a bigger party. A smorgasbord of delightful girls, a feast of sensual surprises and a feeling that nothing would ever stop this fun from rolling on. But that morning the sky was dark, a wind was blowing and beating with squalls of rain. I staggered out to the tender and the skipper, in yellow rain wear, was waving to me. “Come quick!”
I ran the best I could. “What's happening?” I asked.
“There's a storm coming” he answered. “The report is it's a hurricane. Quick!”
I jumped onto the tender and immediately we headed out to sea. The wind was peeling off the tops of the water, throwing it into our faces. The waves were beginning to build. Our little boat pushed on, bouncing on the waves, out to Caroline. Alongside the ship I shouted “goodbye” to the skipper and jumped across the swirling heaving mass of water to the deck of Caroline. Mike Ahern was there to greet me. “It's good you made it” he said. “We're battening down the hatches. We're in for a storm.”
After dumping my things in my cabin, I headed up to the bridge to see what was happening. Captain Hangerfelt pulled me close. “There's a hurricane warning. We have to pull up anchor and start the engines.”
“How bad is it?” I asked.
“We have to head into the wind. Our tall mast could cause us to capsize if we become broadside to the oncoming waves.”
“What can I do?” I asked.
“Everything must be secured. Any loose objects will be thrown around and broken. Nothing can be left loose.”
The ship was hit by a wave. A book and a mug were thrown off the bench and went crashing into the bulkhead.
“That is something else!” I shouted. “These sure are big waves coming in. I'm going to check out the studio.”
Holding onto the rail, I pulled myself along the deck to reach the door of the cabin. A wave crashed over the ship. Just in time I made it through the door. In the broadcast studio, Mike was taping pennies to the turntable pickup heads to keep them in the groove. Even though the ship was rolling, this extra weight seemed to work.
“It's good you're here” said Mike. “It's been a long morning. I need a break.”
I sat down at the microphone and as the record ended I said “That was She's Not There by the Zombies”. The microphone was suspended from the ceiling so that it would not pick up the vibrations of the ship's engines. But, because of that, the microphone was swinging back and forth with the rolling of the ship. So, as I spoke, I too had to follow the mic back and forth. But I loved it! I was having fun. “Hey ” I continued on the air “we are having some storm here. We are trying to keep the needle in the groove but bear with us if the rolling ship sends the needle crashing across the record. Just send us good thoughts and we'll keep sending you good music.”
The next record started. There was the sound of an organ playing and over the music I said “Here's the song that made Ronan launch Radio Caroline. It's Georgie Fame and Yeh Yeh”
The music moved, the needle stayed in the groove and the ship rocked and rolled.
Within half an hour the storm was full on, with waves crashing over the ship. Whenever a wave hit the ship's bow, the bow would plunge deep down into the wave, lifting the stern out of the water, freeing the propellers from the sea's resistance and sending the engines racing with a roar. Each wave was a wall of water. And before each wall was a deep trough into which we fell. This was the rollercoaster ride extraordinaire! The waves would crash right over the bridge. This 763-ton ship was thrown up and down like a toy, even though we had 300 tons of concrete in the hold as ballast. The captain was holding us steady into the waves. If we got knocked sideways, because of our 168 foot mast, we would have capsized. But straight into the wind we went, straight into the waves and still we stayed afloat.
The storm lasted all day and all night. When the rolling of the ship was too much to keep the needle in the groove, we switched to playing tapes. But the music kept going and we took turns being on the air. When it was my break I went down to my cabin to try and get some sleep. This was difficult. I jammed myself in the bunk but I was rolled and tossed. Eventually, exhausted, I fell asleep. I know I fell into a deep sleep because, when I awoke, I had no idea where I was. The storm was over. The sun was shining through the port-hole. I looked out. The sun was sparkling on the water and the ocean was gently rolling. I looked around my cabin. It was in a big mess. Time to clean up. As I was tidying up, Mike came down and said “Hey, Tom, there's a whole pile of new releases that we haven't looked through yet. Have we got some time to do that now?”
“Sure” I said and went up to the lounge.
CHAPTER EIGHT: Breaking the Who.
As I went up on deck, there was Jerry throwing some of our old discarded records into the ocean. They would fly like a frisbee. Every week we would receive hundreds of LPs and 45s. Only a few were worth playing. It use to amaze me how much poor music was released. If we were lucky, five percent would be good. We enjoyed this sport of seeing them fly across the waves. Sometimes we could make them skim like pebbles.
“Here, let me have some” I said as I took a pile of 45s. And then looking at the label, I said “Hey, you can't throw this one away.”
“Which one is that?” asked Jerry.
“This is that new group called the Who” I replied.
“Let me see. Oh that's trash.”
“No Jerry, I like this one.” I read the label. “I Can't Explain. Yeah. I want to play this on my next show.”
“Be my guest. Everyone else thinks it's trash. I mean it's just a bunch of noise.”
“Good noise!” I said. “It's got great energy. It's got that ‘let-it-all-hang-out’ feeling. I'm tired of all this ‘nicey-nicey’ music. I guess I'm a rebel at heart.” (By April of 1965 I Can't Explain reached number 8 in the charts.)
We flipped a few more records into the sea then I said “Okay, Jerry. Mike wants us to look through a pile of new releases. He's up in the lounge.”
In the lounge, on the table, were piles of records. I took one and played it on the turntable. We all listened to a bit of it.
“Good one!” Neddy said. Everyone agreed. That one went in the ‘Yes’ pile.
I played another record.
“Naw!” was the general response. That one went in ‘No’ pile.
And so it went on, with most records going into the ‘No’ pile, a few into the ‘Yes’ pile and some into the ‘Maybe’ pile. We also had our own favourites pile, our personal choices. This ritual was carried out whenever new records came on board.
It was the beginning of 1965 when Tired Of Waiting For You by the Kinks, The Last Time by the Rolling Stones, Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood by the Animals and It's Not Unusual by Tom Jones all arrived on board. With these we were all unanimous: these should go in the ‘Yes’ pile. If it hadn't been for the offshore radio stations, many of these records and many of these artists would never have been heard. Jay Thomas, on Ed Sullivan's Rock 'n' Roll Classics said “In 1965 the release of his (Tom Jones) first single It's Not Unusual was considered too hot for BBC radio. So a pirate radio station called Radio Caroline broke the song in Britain.”
Later that summer another Who record appeared and again there was a “No!” from everyone.
“I like it” I said.
“How could you like that?” asked Mike.
“It's just a lot of noise” said someone else.
“Anyway Anyhow Anywhere” said Neddy, reading the label. “No way, not now, not here. Huh! And they're call The Who. Weird name.”
“Okay, you guys, I like it. I'm going to play it on my morning show.”
“Cheers!” said someone. “How about another beer?” said someone else and then one of the guys ran down to the shower room and came back and started spraying us with shaving foam. We ran out onto the deck and the chase was on. Someone climbed the mast and someone else grabbed a rope and swung down from an upper deck. And when the night came, we walked around the deck holding a fluorescent tube high in the air and, because of the strong radio power coming off our mast, the tube would light up. We were the Jedi warriors before they had been invented.
A few weeks later, I had just returned from my week's leave on shore. Mike greeted me from the tender. I said “Guess what Mike? I just heard. The Who's song Anyway Anyhow Anywhere has reached number twelve. Great eh?”
“No accounting for bad taste, you know.” We laughed. And as we walked into the lounge, I caught up with the gossip on board and told Mike of my exploits ashore. How we now had eight million listeners and Caroline House was a buzz and how some man from the government had tried to issue a writ to Radio Caroline and was told that there was no such thing, because we were run by four different companies registered in different parts of the world and none of them was called Radio Caroline. We laughed. Sat in the lounge and had a beer.
Next: Wigan Pier Oil Well, Moving to Caroline South and Ship Wrecked.