Pirates take to the air.

I grow up in a time of ‘radio’ listening to the radio, was all about using your imagination, and possibly why many programmes that had been successful on radio, when introduced to the new television, simply fell flat. Much of the comedy broadcast on the BBC radio, would be the Navy Lark, Round the Horn and the Goons. I love all of these. However, when it came to music the BBC was dismal. The music union was strong in the BBC, you had to be a member of the union to get a job, which would mean being able to read music, ruling out much of the popular musicians of the day. What we were exposed to was popular music played and rearranged for the BBC Concert Orchestra.

When still, at school, come evening, (if the weather was playing ball) we would listen to Radio Luxembourg. Sundays: 6.15 Ovaltiney’s Concert Party, we would all sing along “We are the Ovaltiney’s, little girls and boys………. Sponsored by Ovaltine.

Mondays: 7.15 pm The Adventures of Dan Dare, “Pilot of the future” I would sit with an ear pressed up to the radio speaker for the fifteen minutes serial broadcast on Monday and Friday. Noel Johnson, the voice of Dan Dare was hypnotic, (Noel Johnston, was also the voice of Dick Barton (special agent) on BBC radio around the same time.

Around 1960 Radio Luxembourg, started to target more and more a growing teenage market, playing pop music and by 1963, almost all the station’s output was based around the playing of music from discs.

This did not happen in isolation and would have been a direct response to the Pirate Radio Stations.

Amongst the first of these was Radio Caroline (started broadcasting in 1964) and radio London, broadcasting on medium wave from offshore ships and disused sea forts. These stations were not illegal at that time. The UK government later closed the loophole when it brought in the International Waters bill via the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act of 1967, Although Radio Caroline, would continue to broadcast in various forms right up 1999. The new law would hand back control to the BBC, therefore, the Westminster government. (with the government firmly in control of the content, they would say what you should or should not listen too).

The pirate radios had a daily audience of 10 to 15 million listeners, despite this the BBC Light Programme’s audience did not decrease, indicating that the pirate radio had found a new audience or created a new demand. For those ill-served by mainstream and legal radio, pirate radio filled the void, mostly this was in the black and ethnic communities. Many of these stations are still broadcasting today. One that is not, a pirate radio, broadcast from the home of a young lad in Peebles. It was total crap, and possibly why it was listened too. The police were forever going around to his door and telling him to close down. Finally, the threat of legal action persuaded him to stop broadcasting.

In 1965, Tommy Shields purchased the Comet, a decommissioned lightship for £7,000 and added a further £14,000 adapting Comet into a floating radio station. Back then record companies introduced “needle-time” restricting the number of discs that radio the station could broadcast in an average week. The reasoning behind this was they believed (wrongly as it turned out) that if people heard their records played constantly on the airwaves record sales would plummet, the opposite was true, people on hearing the record played on the radio induced them to dash out and buy the record.

Radio Scotland was launched shortly before midnight on Hogmanay 1965 in the estuary of the River Forth, off Dunbar.

Radio Scotland lacked the polished sound of Radio London and Britain Radio, backed by big bucks and expertise from America. Radio Scotland focused on chart music, with a mix of Scottish country dance and easy listening, sounding uniquely “couthy”.

Despite protest, The Marine Offences Act came into effect at midnight on the 14th August 1967, ending Tommy Shields’ dream of Scotland having it own radio station, and just to kick a man and (Scotland) when they are down, the BBC changed the name to Radio Scotland, although its content was produced and vetted as it always had been.

Although short-lived Radio Scotland did help to fast track Scotland into the “Swinging Sixties”.  

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