A number of Australian broadcasting professionals came to the UK at the time of the offshore radio boom of the sixties but none stayed as long, nor made as big an impression on the British media, as Ken
Born in Newcastle, New South Wales, Ken joined Sydney radio station 2CH at the age of sixteen as a Grams (Panel) Operator progressing to Record Librarian and finally Programme Director. In April 1962 he left 2CH to go
travelling round the United States and Europe but retained his link with the station by sending back interviews on subjects of interest to Australian listeners. In 1963 he was living in London. Finding there was precious
little radio work in the UK, Ken took a job with the Keith Prowse ticket agency. He also had a second night-time job at Reuters, handling overnight stock reports from New York.
There were two great passions in Ken's life, musicals and watching cricket. One Saturday in May 1963 he went to Lords cricket ground to watch a match but it was a disappointing game and he decided to leave before the close of
play - a decision that was to change his life. He left the ground and headed to the West End where he was lucky to buy a ticket for that day's matinee performance at the Cambridge Theatre of the new hit musical starring Tommy
Steele, Half A Sixpence.
As he was leaving the theatre after the show, Ken bumped into someone he knew, Allan Crawford. Crawford had been the boss of Southern Music in Australia and their paths had crossed frequently when Ken was at 2CH. The two men
went out to dinner. Over a Chinese meal, Allan told Ken of his plans to launch an offshore radio station - Radio Atlanta. By the end of the evening, Evans had been given the job of looking after the music for the new station.
During the following months Crawford put together a team for Radio Atlanta. Many of the staff were fellow Australians such as Tony Withers, Colin Nicol and
Bryan Vaughan. Ken was responsible for selecting and scheduling the music not only for Radio Atlanta but also for some of the early taped shows on the rival Radio Caroline, thanks to a deal
done between the two. After a number of frustrating delays, Radio Atlanta launched in May 1964, just over a month after Caroline. Although the second station had a stronger signal and, many thought, superior programmes,
Caroline had stolen its thunder. Times were very tough and after only a few months on the air, the money was running out. They were forced to do a deal. From 2nd July 1964 Radio Atlanta was no more. Its ship, the mv
Mi Amigo, began broadcasting as Radio Caroline South while the original Caroline vessel steamed round the coast to a new anchorage off the Isle of Man and became Radio Caroline North.
The Caroline team at a reception for singer Barry McGuire. Left to right: Dave Lee Travis, Ken Evans, Barry McGuire, Colin Nicol and Paul Noble.
Photo courtesy of Colin. Click to magnify.
Allan Crawford remained in charge of the south ship and Ken continued to be responsible for the music. One programme that he particularly enjoyed producing was broadcast every afternoon at 2pm. Initially
presented by Simon Dee, Soundtrack featured music from films and shows, a subject close to Ken's heart.
Initially Ken was based on the ship. Keith Skues tells us: “I first met him aboard the Mi Amigo in the summer of 1964. He was responsible for scheduling the music for presenters and running the
record library on board. He was a great help to me in my early days presenting show music on Radio Caroline South. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of his craft and he loved all kinds of music, but especially musicals. On his
week off from the ship he would attend some shows in London.” In March 1965 Ken was appointed Programme Director of Radio Caroline. Keith Skues: “Ken moved back to Caroline House in London. He always had
time for music publishers, record pluggers and even fans. All this was in addition to his fixing interviews, compiling record programmes, arranging, sorting and filing records. He once told me ‘Caroline House was somewhat
extravagant. There were huge chandeliers in the main offices with large mirror panels down a blue-carpeted staircase. The rooms were enormous. When I reported for work every day I felt like a million dollars.’”
The period after the merger was not a particularly happy time. The relationship between the Atlanta team and their new Caroline partners was strained and the pressure increased in December when Radio London launched. This new
American-owned high powered Top 40 station was an immediate success, and a large proportion of Caroline South's audience drifted away. Competition can often be healthy and the arrival of Radio London had a positive effect on
Caroline's programmes: news bulletins were introduced, music formats tightened and broadcasting hours extended. Also in May 1965 the DJs were renamed ‘Good Guys’, an idea, borrowed from 2SM Sydney (who had, in turn, taken it
from New York's WMCA). It is probably fair to say that this was not a great success. Unfortunately all the efforts were in vain. By the end of 1965 Project Atlanta was almost broke. Crawford's company was forced to sell Caroline
South to Ronan O'Rahilly's Planet Productions, the owners of Caroline North. There was a change of management, a wholesale change of staff - and Ken was out of a job. Talking about it in the eighties, he remembered:
“I was offered either to do the news on the northern ship or resign. I said OK, I will resign” (see interview).
However by February 1966 he had a new job, producing EMI-sponsored shows for Radio Luxembourg. Initially he worked with presenter-producer Ray Orchard but, when Ray left to return to his home country of Canada, Ken took
over. At that time the major record companies bought large chunks of Luxembourg's airtime and produced their own programmes to fill them. Ken produced all the EMI shows, fronted by the likes of David Jacobs, Muriel Young, Alan
Freeman, Jimmy Young, Sam Costa and Simon Dee.
Ken Evans at a Radio Luxembourg event. Photo shared on Facebook by Tony Prince. Click to magnify.
In 1968 Radio Luxembourg revamped its programmes. A new team of (mainly ex-pirate) DJs were taken on and the old record company-sponsored shows were scrapped. Ken was appointed to produce programmes for
the new-look Luxembourg. In 1970 he was promoted to Programme Director of the station.
The relaunched Radio Luxembourg was a great success but by 1977 Ken was ready for a change. He left 208 to take up a position as Public Relations Manager with Anchor Records. In January 1979 he was promoted to Managing Director
but, following the closure of the American parent company, ABC Records, Anchor closed down. In May 1979 Ken joined BBC Radio 2 where he produced many of their frontline record programmes including The Jimmy Young
Show, Pete Murray's Open House, You The Night and the Music and, possibly his favourite, The David Jacobs Show.
Ken Evans surrounded by record company pluggers and friends including Kenny Lynch. The initials on the pluggers' sweatshirts stood for the fictictious British Union of Record Pluggers. Photo shared on Facebook by
one of the pluggers, Richard Evans (no relation). Click to magnify.
In those days the BBC had a mandatory retirement age of 60 so, in 1987, Ken had to take his leave of the Corporation. Keith Skues wrote in his book
Pop Went The Pirates: “In 1987 almost every name in the music business turned up to honour him at a party when he retired
from the BBC. The party had been kept a secret from Ken who was stunned when he walked into a large banqueting suite in London's West End to find names representing over 30 years in the business.”
Despite this ‘retirement’, Ken wasn't ready to put his feet up and started work for the middle-of-the-road London commercial station, Melody Radio where he produced a nightly programme of songs from the shows and one of classical
music. Ken didn't forget his pirate roots and in March 2004 attended the Radio Caroline 40th birthday party at the Red Lion pub in London's Mayfair (see picture below). Later that year he moved back to his home city of Sydney to
be closer to his family. He settled into a flat in a retirement complex where he enjoyed entertaining friends and relations.
Sadly, with the passing of the years, his health deteriorated. He underwent surgery for two hip replacements and suffered from eyesight and heart problems.
He had numerous spells in hospital, and had only recently returned home after one of these when, in the early hours of 28th November 2013, he had his final heart attack. He was 86.
As can be seen from the comments below, Ken was a very popular man. He will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him.
A number of correspondents have paid tribute to Ken:
“(His passing) is quite a shock as Jean & I had lunch with him in the dining room at his retirement home earlier this month and he, while quite frail, was in good spirits. We planned to be in touch with him again before Christmas. I first met Ken in 1959 when he employed me as a panel operator at Radio 2CH Sydney. He left for the UK in early 1962 and I followed him in June of that year. In November/December 1963 he persuaded me to join Radio Atlanta in a move that would change my life. He has always been there when it mattered and I am proud to call him a friend.”
“My first encounter with Ken was to prove the major turning point in my life. He arrived at a trendy bar in Mayfair in late September 1963 where I worked with my then girlfriend, to interview her as an
‘Australian working in London’ for a series he was doing for his former radio station in Sydney. In the course of the introductions, he discovered I had been in radio in Perth and that we had briefly met in Sydney in connection
with a radio convention a couple of years earlier. From that came a message shortly afterwards to meet with Allan Crawford who was setting up Radio Atlanta, and my big break in UK broadcasting began. We have remained firm and close
friends all those 50 years and two months and his loss is as close as that of family. He was such a good-hearted man, that all who met him, immediately became a friend and entrusted him with confidences. I will miss him greatly;
knowing he was there was always reassuring and a support. True friends never die, but we do have to part.”
“Ken Evans was respected by everyone in the music business. I first met him aboard the Mi Amigo in the summer of 1964. He was a great help to me in my early days presenting show music on Radio Caroline South.
Ken was a very helpful and polite gentle-man. After leaving Caroline he worked for Radio Luxembourg. After seven years with the station he joined Radio 2 as a producer where he teamed up with his friend and colleague, the late
David Jacobs. Every so often we would meet up socially, normally at the BBC in Portland Place. It is rewarding to see good people succeed in the radio business and I have never met one person who had a bad word to say against Ken
Evans. We were sad when Ken decided to return to his native Australia but he went with our good wishes. He kept in touch whilst living at his home near Sydney. He always remembered to send me greetings on my birthday and also at Christmas. Ken will be missed by many friends and colleagues in the music business, not just in the UK but around the world. RIP Ken.”
“Very sad to hear of Ken Evans passing. He ‘head-hunted’ me from 2CH in late '57 to be a part of 2UE Top 40 which started in March 1958. I met up with him again in London when he was working for Radio Luxemberg
in '66 while I was at Caroline. A true gentleman.”
“So sorry to hear of Ken's death. I worked with him on Caroline, of course, and had brief contact with him at Melody FM, where he was programming the content. Ken was a very pleasant fellow, although I did feel
that the Good Guys idea, while maybe successful in Oz and the USA, was not right for Britain in those days. His passing is a reminder that we're all getting on.”
“I worked with Ken on Radio Caroline in 1964 and have kept in touch ever since. He has been a great friend and we last met up only a few years ago in Sydney. Ken and I hit it off as soon as we met having so
much in common having both worked in commercial radio - me at 1ZB Auckland. A very sad time for all of us.”
Ken Evans (centre) with Tom Edwards (right) and a friend of Tom's at the Radio Caroline 40th birthday party, March 2004.
“Ken was a lovely, gentle man.”
Errol Bruce (via Facebook)
“RIP Ken, another sad loss from the fabulous past.”
Norman St.John (via Facebook)
“Ken was my boss at Radio Luxembourg for many happy years. When he left to work for the BBC (Jimmy Young Show etc.) I took his place as PD. This was the time I stood on the shoulders of a giant. If you
had to name one person who was more loved than Ken, you'd find it very difficult. His warmth, charm and exuberance was on a level of its own. Many artists and DJs alike owe their success to him. My wife and I took him to America to
meet Elvis, the only major celebrity he had then yet to meet. A massive film and music buff, Ken took Christine and I to spend the afternoon with Mae West. I had hoped to travel to Australia to interview him for ‘The History of the
DJ’ because no one played a bigger part in that story. I learn now never to put off what you can do today and will always regret not having one last laugh with my great friend. God bless you Ken. Say hi! to Elvis.”
Tony Prince (via Facebook)
With grateful thanks to Colin Nicol, Keith Skues, Bryan Vaughan and Keith Martin for their assistance.
There is an interview with Ken Evans, carried out by Colin Nicol, here.
Obituary in The Guardian.