Tribute to Alan Keen

Alan Keen

Alan Keen during his time with Radio Luxembourg. Photo shared on Facebook by Tony Prince.

In 1964 Alan Keen was working for the Daily Mirror Group, selling advertising space in its newspapers and magazines. It had been his job for the previous sixteen years - twelve of them with the Mirror - and before that he had been involved with parliamentary reporting and spent time in the RAF.
 
One day he got back to his office to be told that a man he didn't know called Philip Birch, who worked for the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, had been trying to get in touch with him. Alan called Philip back and they agreed to meet - but not at the agency. They had a secret rendezvous at the Hilton Hotel on London's Park Lane. Birch told him he was about to leave JWT to launch an offshore radio station. Radio Caroline and a couple of smaller operations already existed but Birch told him this one was going to be bigger and better than any of them. And he offered Alan a job as a sales executive. He took a while to think about it, discussed it with his wife and, despite her reservations, decided that it might be fun. In August 1964 Alan joined Radlon Sales Ltd., the sales arm of the new station, which was to be called Radio London. At that time there was just Managing Director Philip Birch and secretary Margaret Greville in the office with him but they were soon joined by Dennis Maitland, Roger Seddon, Eddie Blackwell, Godfrey Morrow and Desmond Brown.
 
They were an experienced sales team with plenty of industry connections and, despite Radio London still being some months away from commencing broadcasts, they were able to pre-sell some £100,000 of airtime before it launched. The first advert was for the News of the World newspaper.
 
Radio London was an almost instant success. The tightly formatted programmes, the slick disc-jockeys, the American jingles and the strong signal meant that it very quickly became the most popular offshore station in the country. And behind the scenes it was probably the most efficiently run and professional operation too. On 1st January 1966 Alan was made a director of Radlon Sales.
 
In March that year Ben Toney, Radio London's launch Programme Director (see tribute here) left the station. It might have been assumed that Tony Windsor, the senior disc-jockey, would replace him but instead Alan was appointed - as well as continuing in his role as Sales Director. It wasn't quite as odd a career move as it first appeared. Alan was a music fan - especially of jazz. He played the piano himself and, when Ed Stewart and Paul Kaye were on shore leave, the three of them would gather together to play - Alan on piano, Paul on guitar and Ed on bass. Alan's appointment turned out to be an inspired decision.
 
Alan didn't make any major alterations to Ben Toney's established programming - why change a winning formula? - but he did tighten up the music policy and clamped down on any DJs deviating from the format. As Programme Director he was now responsible for appointing new disc jockeys and, like Toney before him, selected some of the finest broadcasters this country had ever heard.
 
Most listeners would not have been familiar with his name but on 1st April 1967 they might have heard his telephone number being mentioned on air in a memorable April Fools' Day broadcast (see here).

click to hear audio click to hear audio Keith Skues reading the 10.30 news bulletin on the morning of 1st April 1967 (duration 2 minutes 31 seconds)

The Slough telephone number, if anyone chose to enquire about the zebra, was Alan's. (In the interview below he mistakenly refers to the stray animal as an elephant.)
 
On 14th August 1967 the Marine Offences Act became law, making it illegal for British subjects to operate or work for an offshore station. Radio London closed down at 3pm that day but, a few hours earlier, Alan was the guest on Pete Drummond's Coffee Break feature.

click to hear audio click to hear audio Alan Keen guesting on Pete Drummond's Coffee Break on Radio London on the morning of 14th August 1967. Unfortunately there is breakthrough from Radio Caroline South audible in the background. Recording courtesy of Azanorak. Our thanks to Ray Robinson (duration 10 minutes 44 seconds)

At 3pm that afternoon Radio London closed down. An emotional time for the listeners, it was also traumatic for the people who worked for the station. Alan was the last member of the Big L staff to leave the mv Galaxy that day before going ashore on the tender.
 
Following Radio London's closure, we believe Alan went into music publishing but on 1st August 1970 he returned to broadcasting when he joined the English service of Radio Luxembourg as General Manager, later becoming its Managing Director.
 
Radio Luxembourg had been beaming its signal to the UK from central Europe since before the Second World War and had a large loyal audience but its schedule was dominated by the advertisers. The station had already started cutting back on the sponsored programmes. Alan was determined to continue this process and make as much of the output live from the Grand Duchy as possible. With a team of excellent DJs, many of them ex-pirates, it was a golden era for Radio Luxembourg. Alan was to stay for ten years before returning to newspaper advertising in 1980, this time with The Guardian.
 
In 2015 Tony Prince, formerly of Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg, made a video series on the History of the DJ for his DMC organisation. One episode included an extended interview with his old boss.

Alan Keen played a major part in UK broadcasting from 1964 to 1980 as a senior figure at two of the country's finest music radio stations. He died in April 2019, aged 91.

With information from Pop Went The Pirates (Lambs' Meadow Publications), Radio Luxembourg - The Station Of The Stars (Comet) and The Wonderful Radio London Story (East Anglian Productions).
 
There is another tribute to Alan on the Radio London website.


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