The admiral comes aboard.

One of Radio Caroline South's most popular disc-jockeys, Robbie Dale, joined the station in April 1966 while it was temporarily based on the mv Cheeta II. He went on to enjoy a long career with the station. He was there when the Mi Amigo returned from being repaired, he appointed himself ‘Admiral’ of his very own ‘Beat Fleet’, stayed on through the passing of the Marine Offences Act becoming joint Programme Controller and Senior DJ, and worked for Caroline until the very end of the era - when the ships were towed away in March 1968. On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of him joining this legendary station, The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame asked Robbie to cast his mind back to those first few weeks aboard:


Robbie Dale
Signed publicity shot, courtesy of Raoul Verolleman.

Robbie Dale
 
At Caroline's fortieth birthday party.


“MV Cheeta II. Yes I remember her. In comparison with the Mi Amigo, the Cheeta II was a much larger and more comfortable vessel, a retired passenger ferryboat. Somewhat tired looking on the outside but nothing that a coat of paint would not put to right. Inside she was nicely fitted out with wide stairways, mahogany and brass bannister rails, a big galley and dining room and the studio was on the upper deck with a panoramic view. Yes, altogether more spacious than ‘The Lady’.
 
 
For me, the new boy on board, she was just great. The beginning of a new adventure. I remember thinking that the mast looked a bit out of proportion with the rest of her. That is until I saw the new rig on the Mi Amigo. I awoke one morning. She had just arrived. The Wijsmuller tug and the tender Offshore Two were busy getting her on a good station, positioned inside the two Frinton sand banks to give the ship some protection from the north-east wind and waves. It took some time before they started to put down the anchors which were carried out to the right spot by the Offshore and dropped overboard using the winch hoist. Finally the Dutch seaman in charge seemed to be happy with the anchorage. This time there were two heavy five ton devices with a massive split chain, twice the length of the one before, to ensure the very smart, impressively rigged and re-fitted mv Mi Amigo would never again drag her anchor and run aground.
 
Meanwhile the other jocks, newsmen and engineers were getting ready to move back to the Mi Amigo, leaving the Cheeta II. She had served as temporary home to Caroline on 199, keeping alive the Caroline name against overwhelming competition from the very slick and powerful ‘Wonderful Big L’

Robbie Dale
Photo from ‘Beatwave’magazine.

Robbie Dale
 
At Caroline's fortieth birthday party.
Robbie Dale
In the studio. Photo from ‘Radio Caroline Picture Souvenir Book’, published by MRP Books.

It was only a few weeks earlier that (press officer) Frances van Staden and (producer) Gerry Duncan had helped me get hired. Frances arranged the audition. Gerry recorded the tape and sent it up to (Managing Director) Ronan O'Rahilly's front office on the first floor of 6 Chesterfield Gardens. Ronan had the final say. Some time later he said he had seen in me someone who had a sense of responsibility. Well it was first put to the test when being the last one to join the team aboard MV Cheeta II, Graham Webb nominated me to be the last person on air aboard the old ferryboat. Left behind with a box of singles and instructions to direct Caroline's listeners to the new frequency 259 metres on the medium wave.
 
‘Radio Caroline on 199 is closing down soon. All the DJs have moved across to the new Mi Amigo and can now be heard on 259 with a much better signal. Rosko, Tom Lodge, Tony Blackburn, Norman St.John, Tony Prince and Graham, together with the ships' crew are now about half a mile west of the mv Cheeta II and much closer to Frinton-on-Sea’.
 
 
Now on my lonesome, letting the listeners know what was going on and repeating ‘Re-tune your radio to Caroline on 259’ was the mission. I stayed at this for the whole of that day and night.

Robbie Dale
 
The admiral in full regalia. Photo from ‘Radio News’.

click to hear audio click to hear audio The start of a Robbie Dale show on Radio Caroline South. Audio kindly provided by Alan Hardy (duration 1 minute 11 seconds)
Robbie Dale
 
Photo from ‘Beatwave’ magazine.


Thankfully the tender finally came to pick up one crew member and me to take us over to the Mi Amigo. The sad looking abandoned MV Cheeta II was then unceremoniously towed away to Holland.
 
The Mi Amigo had undergone a complete refit. Still the staff who had spent time on the Cheeta missed the roominess she had to offer. It was said many times if the best of the two ships could only be brought together, it would be better than the Caroline North ship, considered to be the most comfortable in the entire offshore ‘Beat Fleet’. However everyone was knocked out with the new studios, its equipment, the 50 kilowatt transmitter, new generators, new mast, aerial rig with its giant loading coils and insulating pots to deal with the enormous power output. At last Caroline South had been given the tools to give Radio London a run for its money. And on the outside the brilliant new paint job and a shiny ‘Radio Caroline’ with large blue bell painted on both sides of ‘The Lady’.”

Robbie Dale
 
1967 studio shot from ‘Caroline Into The Eighties’, published by Seagull Press
click to hear audio click to hear audio Robbie, early in his radio career, on The Caroline Club Requests Show. The recording, issued by RBL, is from Martin Lynch's collection and has been kindly donated by Lynne Sims (duration 2 minutes 27 seconds)

 
Robbie Dale
Photo courtesy of Hans Knot.
Robbie Dale and Johnnie Walker
Robbie and Johnnie Walker outside the Amsterdam office in 1967. Photo taken by Lex Hendriks and supplied by Robbie Dale.
click to hear audio click to hear audio Robbie advertising The Beat Fleet and ending a show in March 1967 (duration 1 minute 39 seconds)
 
 
Beat Fleet letter
Letter sent to people enquiring about joining Robbie's ‘Beat Fleet’. Click to enlarge.

Many thanks to Robbie for sharing his memories with us.
 
There is more on the return of the Mi Amigo here.
 
There are more photos of Robbie on Caroline, taken during the summer of 1966, here.


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