Our first feature article about offshore radio was published in a British newspaper back in 1966, and this was followed by many other articles and broadcasts.
In 2000 we began writing and publishing a series of academic articles that chronicled our investigation. But it was not until 2014 that this present phase of the investigation began to unravel the real events that led up to the creation of Radio Caroline on board the mv Fredericia. That is when we also ran into a road block of misinformation.
We collided with obstructionism as soon as we began to doubt the honesty and veracity of Ronan O'Rahilly's involvement. This in turn triggered a serious attempt to find the real story, but that was only further complicated when we read the biography of Charles Orr Stanley.
The book is called 'Radio Man', and it was published under the imprimatur of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. Complications for us began almost immediately we read it, because a mystery that arose from its text, subsequently turned into a cover-up. This book is not covering up the mythology spun by Ronan O'Rahilly, it is covering up something far more complicated. It is a fog that swirls around the life of Charles Orr Stanley, the man built the Pye Group of companies and turned them into a major player within the British electronics industry.
It's methodology is actually quite clever.
By not employing chronological dates, the reader is unsure as to when exactly specific events as described, are supposed to have taken place. By also tweaking certain words describing the creation of Radio Caroline, readers are left with a mire of total contradictions, and that is because they know that what they have read, does not make sense. It clashes with known evidence, and yet this is supposedly a scholarly work by a known journalist and a supporting technical writer.
It was Stanley's grandson who spent nearly one hundred thousand Pounds to create that obfuscated work, and he personally made matters worse by telling us via telephone calls, that his source of his information came from someone with a name that he could not recall. But two years later, we learned that the grandson had personally conducted the interview which forms the basis of that section in his book about the start of Radio Caroline. He conducted a recorded interview and then that sourced interview was then turned into typewritten document.
At about the same time we read 'Radio Man', we came across a very brief notation on a photocopy that also related to the origins of Radio Caroline, except that this one was about the ship itself. It was called the mv Fredericia. Several people referred to those words in the photocopies, but no one seemed to recall who made them, or where they came from.
Among the many, many people we contacted was Dr Adrian M. Peterson in New Zealand. In the several phone and email conversations we had with him from our base in Texas, was one on June 22, 2015 in which we wrote to him about that same bit of information which he also cited in one of his many reports.
"Thank you for your enquiry regarding information about the radio ship Fredericia. It is true, I have written several thousand articles and scripts on many different topics associated with radio history and its backgrounds. However, I did not write the item you are referring to. Unfortunately, the several filing cabinets here containing radio history in alphabetic order do not contain any information about Radio Caroline/Fredericia relevant to your query. A search on the internet reveals several entries for Radio Caroline/Fredericia and one in particular may be helpful from your point of view. Bob Leroi at bobleroi.co.uk/fredericia states that he obtained some of his information from an unknown publication, and he also lists half a dozen people and sources that have been helpful. Maybe if you make contact with Bob Leroy, (sic) this could be helpful to you also. Every success in your hunt for accurate information."
Over the years we have also had a lot of contact with Colin Nichol. He filed many reports dating back to his involvement with fellow Australian Allan James Crawford and the start of Radio Atlanta. Colin had a lot of contact with the few remaining personnel who were alive at the time of our enquiries, and who even pre-dated Colin at 47 Dean Street. That is when Radio Atlanta was kicked into life in 1963, during its second, and successful incarnation as an offshore radio station project. Unfortunately Colin did not know the answer to our question.
At around this time we also had a lot of contact with former Radio Caroline engineer George Saunders. He had seen the reference we were trying to identify because he had one of the photocopies. That page had been given to him by his friend, the now deceased John Aston, and George sent us a copy of the photocopy.
Clearly the information was authentic up until that moment in time. But what about after DFDS decided to sell it - after it had already been retired from active service? Where did that information come from, and how accurate was it?
This text has problems.
We knew from more than one independent source that two new Continental Electronics transmitters which had been made in Dallas, Texas, had been exported to Europe, but we did not know how this could have been achieved in the time frame given, or within the strict export rules that were then in place. Previous shipments by a New York company with links to the people in Dallas and Houston who had interests in building the Swedish offshore station called Radio Nord, had run into problems when they shipped similar C.E. transmitters for installation on board the vessel mv Mi Amigo.
Now with the unexpected assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas during the weeks just past, the FBI and other U.S. Federal authorities were swarming all over Texas and interviewing the people behind the Radio Nord venture. Its ship called Mi Amigo, had come to Texas in March proceeding the November assassination. Now the Mi Amigo was being made ready to secretly slip out of Galveston under the pretext of 'sea trials' in the Gulf of Mexico. But in the final hours of 1963, the Mi Amigo was getting ready to disappear from U.S. waters - for good.
Meanwhile, during those same transitory hours from 1963 into 1964, the mv Fredericia was embarking on its own strange series of paper rituals in Holland, during which it would suddenly switch owners - twice, and that was after it had been sitting idle for months in Denmark. When it did go through that paper shuffle of titles, those two new C.E. transmitters had found their way from Dallas, Texas on board the mv Fredericia while it was in Rotterdam.
We came to learn that the original destination of the Fredericia was a well known shipyard on the Isle of Wight, but the destination was changed at the last moment. The initial destination made sense because the firm doing the rigging was also based in the Isle of Wight. A corresponding piece of the puzzle was held by the presence of two retired BBC radio engineers who had taken employment with the Pye Group of companies.
They were no mere novices, because the senior of the two had been with the BBC for his entire career and had risen to the top of his specialized field: transmitter engineering. His companion was equally skilled, and his background reached back into the murky days of World War II when Churchill controlled a highly secret army of propaganda technicians. Now these two were working for the Pye Group of companies and since 1959, their new 'careers' involved them with all of the main threads of offshore radio broadcasting. This included the ventures known as CNBC and GBOK.
The problems with those ventures were many. The technical side of the CNBC venture was not controlled from the UK and it was under-financed. GBOK was supposedly well financed, but it was not. It was run by a crook. Initially the brainchild of GBOK was a man named John Thompson who formed an under-capitalized British company called Voice of Slough Ltd.
But Thompson had one ace up his sleeve. He had managed to secure a large advertising contract from the London advertising agency known as Aldridge Brothers, and they handled the British advertising interests of Herbert W. Armstrong who desperately wanted to commence daily sponsored radio broadcasts that would cover the United Kingdom, seven days a week. Armstrong was on Luxembourg and Monte Carlo in several languages, but he could not get clearance for his programs on a daily basis, and both stations were too far way from their audience to have a real impact.
So John Thompson turned to a man named Arnold Swanson who held himself out to be a millionaire, but who in fact was a con artist living off wife's inheritance. She was the daughter of a deceased Canadian shipping line owner, but Thompson's contract from Aldridge was enough to get Swanson's attention, and Thompson was not doing due diligence by investigating Swanson's veracity.
So Thompson merged his interests with those of his new partner. Thompson had only acquired a tiny boat that was unsuitable for the job, but Swanson got hold of an old lightship which had seen service off Ireland. Swanson had the vessel towed to Sheerness where it literally tied-up alongside a Pye warehouse adjoining the waterfront.
But this eagerness to get on with starting a station overlooked the legal complexities. It was also too open and too public and the press were covering the story in detail. So the UK GPO waited for the right moment and then pounced behind the scenes, and this caused Swanson's entire scheme to fall apart. Thompson then split from Swanson and said he would go it alone, while Swanson's wife had enough and pulled the financial plug.
Swanson and his wife left England, sold their expensive house and a short time later Arnold Swanson was trying to buy a cruise ship to operate off the coast of the Hawaiian islands. That project also failed and shortly afterwards his wife divorced him after her private investigator caught him in bed with two underage girls. That resulted in his ex-wife telling the world that Arnold was really an out-of-work vacuum cleaner salesman that she had married, and the press in turn noted that Arnold was now heading for prison.
Meanwhile, the two ex-BBC radio engineers who were in the employment of the Pye Group of companies, then began advising Allan James Crawford and his Project Atlanta Limited, which was in turn tied to another company called CBC (Plays) Limited which had a contract to lease the former Radio Nord ship called Mi Amigo. The CBC theme related to the plan set in motion by Charles Orr Stanley of Pye when he built and and operated a 'package' local radio station in 1960 at two exhibitions. It was called 'Radio Cambridge', and it was the 'sister' of another local radio station company called 'Radio Yorkshire'. But only 'Radio Cambridge' was built and went on the air as a 'pirate' in violation of the 'Electric Lighting Act' of 1882; Section 35.
Stanley got away with his challenge to Pilkington because CBC Radio Cambridge was built as a temporary demonstration station. It was designed as an off-the-shelf 'package' - just like Manx Radio which followed on from Radio Manx. Pye did not want to run radio stations, it wanted to make and sell 'package' local radio stations and 'packaged' local television stations all for a turn-key fixed price. Continental Electronics also got in on the act and this was the concept they sold to Don Pierson for his offshore Radio England and Britain Radio.
But because CBC Radio Cambridge was an exhibition station, it had to be more than just a building and equipment, it had to be capable of broadcasting, and so it did. The year was 1960 and CBC Radio Cambridge fed its signal into the power supply of the exhibition grounds. The electric wiring then acted as the antenna. Later, Herbert W. Armstrong did the same thing in 1963 on the grounds of his Ambassador College which was situated between Watford and St Albans in Hertfordshire. That is when he put his student station called 'Radio Ambassador' on the air.
The CBC theme runs from 1959 into the first half of the Nineteen Sixties when CNBC, or the Commercial Neutral Broadcasting Company came on the air. Linking all of these interests was the ship mv Mi Amigo. But there were also several entrepreneurs at work, and they were not all into electronics, or religious broadcasting, or even music.
The biggest driving force trying to get British local broadcasting underway was the British printing and publishing industry. A sidebar group was involved with the first murmurings of the North Sea oil and gas industry, and all of these interests came together with the birth of Radio Caroline.
So what of Ronan O'Rahilly's father?
Contrary to the popular mythology O'Rahilly senior was not an Irish rebel. He was in fact a very level-headed businessman born in England and married to an American. He was a manufacturer and he had over-extended himself buying property at Greenore. He did not own the Port of Greenore, as such. That was controlled when reopened, by Irish Customs. O'Rahilly Senior's goal was to commence his own export shipping line to England so that he could ship his roofing products. He also wanted to restart the ferry service from Greenore which had been terminated at the beginning of the Nineteen Fifties. That was his plan that he coupled with his cheap purchase of the Greenore hotel.
So who was Iseult?
One of Ronan's sisters.
But no sooner had the Fredericia been bought to become the Irish ferry mv Iseult, than the financial roof fell in on O'Rahilly senior.
Then luck moved in.
The mv Fredericia became part of the interests that were actually funding Project Atlanta Limited, and they bought the ship, not strictly for broadcasting purposes, but to test the laws governing the North Sea (this was for the oil and gas interests.) They also wanted to push the UK government into retracting the Pilkington Report which denied Pye the right to sell 'packaged' radio stations, and in doing so it denied licenses to local newspapers. They wanted to operate local radio stations. That was mainly a demand by local publishers backed by the British printing industry.
It was a rather crafty scheme by the man who pulled together a variety of independent printers into one British printing company, which provided the 'secret' means to put Radio Caroline on the air. That raises the question of why the name 'Caroline'? For that explanation we have to turn to fashion editor Beatrix Miller.
Jocelyn Stevens had hired Beatrix Miller away from Vogue to help him remake 'Queen' magazine, which had never been owned by Sir Edward Hulton. Jocelyn Stevens inherited money and used it to buy the magazine from another publisher. Beatrix Miller dreamed-up 'Caroline' as the image of the intended new reader. But Jocelyn got carried away with his vision and decided that he would create a 'Radio Caroline' as the daytime sound to be listened to by his housewife readers. Beatrix wasn't having any of it and so she just up and quit on the very day that Planet Productions Limited was registered in Ireland as the Radio Caroline advertising sales company. That was long after the Fredericia had been bought and outfitted. So it was eventually left to Ted Allbuery to try out the idea on Radio 390 with his own version called 'Eve, the woman's magazine of the air'.
O'Rahilly Senior, unlike his gadfly son, was a successful businessperson who knew when to back off and bide his time. This is why he made money from the two offshore ships by outfitting them with rigging at Greenore. When the Dundalk firm doing the work discovered that the Fredericia was not going to be a ferry, the workers downed tools and it took O'Rahilly Senior working behind the scenes with a local Catholic priest to get them back on the job.
Paul Alexander Rusling has so screwed up the entire history of offshore broadcasting as to make it necessary to reeducate his unfortunate buyers who were swindled into buying his load of misinformation!
What you have read here today is only a tiny amount of the material we are working with. If you go back to archive editions of this Blog you will find a lot of detailed information about Ronan O'Rahilly's father, and Ronan O'Rahilly. But we are having to slowly pick apart the nonsense fed to the anoraks by Rusling. He of course has come on the heels of Ray Clark, and both have been assisted by Ian Cowper Ross.
Then there is Mike Leonard who followed-up the rear with a ludicrously ethereal offshore radio museum, and of course many others who have also delved into this game of publishing misinformation in offshore radio books.
So what do with think of Offshore Echos Magazine? Well, its editors have gone where others have not, and they have engaged in genuine research. They are not investigative reporters, just reporters, but what they have been able to make available is material that has in many instances remained hidden from view until they revealed it. Yes, there is a certain amount of rubbish in there as well, but at least it reflects the current mindset of readers, who, sad to say, would not subscribe to OEM if it was an academic publication.
The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame is actually an amazing creation because it is a virtual encyclopedia of just about everything concerning this subject, and the fact that it is free to use and yet managed with little staff, is quite incredible. Well done!
So now you know where we stand with the anorak world at large. We like open minds; we like to be challenged (and where we are wrong we will make corrections), and we like suggestions pointing us towards questions we have not as yet thought of.
Now, its back to the job of filing all of our documentation, so tomorrow's Blog may be a little bit shorter!