No.11: Ray Clark in conversation with Johnny Jason

Ray Clark has interviewed numerous people involved with Radio Caroline for his documentaries and his book, Radio Caroline: The True Story Of The Boat That Rocked (reviewed here). One of them was Johnny Jason.
 
JJ was born in England, grew up in Peru, educated in England and Germany, and had been working in Australia before he joined Radio Caroline in June 1973.
 
The ship had only recently returned to the air after lying derelict for some years. It was in a very poor condition and resources were limited.
 
We are grateful to Ray for sharing the interview with us and to Johnny for his memories of a fascinating period in Caroline's history.


RAY CLARK: How did you become involved with Radio Caroline?

Johnny Jason

Johnny Jason. Photo from ‘Wavelength’ magazine.

JOHNNY JASON: Yes, well that's an interesting one (laughs). It's a long time ago now but I came back from Australia about '73 I think with the start of Capital Radio, which was the start of commercial radio over here, I suppose, and along with millions of others, I applied for that. Didn't get it. I'd got a very strong Australian accent. I hasten to add that that's probably not the reason I didn't get it but all Kenny Everett's friends got in there like Dave Cash and so on. I just happened to know someone called Terry Bate who used to be involved on the sales side of the original Radio Caroline and he said “well there is Caroline still going on the North Sea. Why don't you try that?” but he was very, very certain that I wouldn't last more than a week or so because of the conditions on board. He was wrong. I lasted about two years[1], on and off, but he was right about the conditions (laughs). They were fairly grim. That's how I started really.
 
RC: Johnny, can I ask you about those conditions? Perhaps you can give us a tale or two about conditions on the ship, the state of the ship...
 
JJ: Well I mean the state of the ship when I arrived was really... It really was a rusting old hulk. It was moored off Scheveningen in Holland at the time. We had Radio Veronica near us - about two miles away - and in the other direction, 2 miles away, Radio Northsea International. Obviously great excitement to be on this very famous ship, the Mi Amigo. When I arrived actually my first impression there was meeting this very long-haired guy who turned out to be Dick Palmer, the Captain. He said (gruff voice) “'allo, I'm the Captain” (laughs). He wasn't quite the sort of Captain you were expecting! You must remember that I'd seen nothing like this at all. I mean I'd come from very normal Australian radio which was very zippy Top 40 format and stuff. And I had this Aussie accent. I really wasn't prepared for that sort of thing. Obviously I'd gone through the sixties so I knew all about long-haired hippies. I fact I had long hair myself in those days but to be confronted by this guy in greasy overalls saying “'allo, I'm the Captain”... I thought “crikey, what sort of a set-up is this?” And really all the people on there turned out to be also fairly eccentric (laughs) but very interesting. I must say the actual state of the ship was fairly rusty, the cabins were very very sparse and it was fairly sparse living shall we say, although at the beginning we did have lots of supplies of beer and cigarettes and so on, so we lived pretty well.

Johnny Jason and Dennis King

Johnny (left) with Dennis King of Caroline's ‘Berlin Service’ in the German capital. Photo from ‘Happy Birthday Radio Caroline, 20 Years Old, Easter 1984’, published by Monitor Magazine.

RC: I've heard so many tales. I wish I'd been around then. Playing album music, which Caroline was, what effect do you think it had on the music industry, if any?
 
JJ: Well that's an interesting one. It's difficult really to quantify as far as the industry goes because I think albums have always been there as a seller and yet all the people who are in charge of what we ought to be listening to always used to flog us the singles. I mean your diehard music fans, even in those days, were right into albums and that's why they listened to Caroline. Well that was one of the reasons. The only example I can give you, without wishing to blow my own trumpet, is that around about that time I went to America because my brother works there. I came back with a Doobie Brothers album, The Captain And Me. Now it hadn't been released in England, I believe, at that time. I came out to Caroline and had it in my hot hand and thought “this is amazing. I must play it.” I put it on the air and I'm not saying that I was responsible for launching them in England but they certainly became very big very soon after that. Whether anyone was taking any notice of us playing it on Caroline is another story but it certainly had an effect as far as that record is concerned. It would be difficult for me to tell you as regards the actual industry itself. We didn't really have that much connection with them, apart from a few plug records which we had occasionally. It's difficult to tell you the impact we had as far as the sales are concerned for the record companies but certainly as far as the fans were concerned - and presumably they bought some of the records - they absolutely loved it of course. They loved all the albums because of course the beauty of the times then was we had completely free choice. If you wanted to play... and we did, we went down and said “right we'll have some Pink Floyd tonight. We'll play Dark Side of the Moon” and you put on side 1 track 1 and say “that was so amazing, let's have the other side” and then play the other track through as well (laughs).

click to hear audio click to hear audio Johnny playing the Doobie Brothers on Radio Caroline, 21st May 1974, his first night back on the ship after spending some time in the United States. This clip is taken from a recording available from www.azanorak.com. Our thanks to Ray Robinson. Andy Archer also tells the story about trying to buy Royal Dragoon cigarettes in his 1974 diary (duration 2 minutes 35 seconds)

Caroline visted by an amphibious vehicle

The Caroline crew in August 1974, the day an amphibious vehicle visited the ship. Left to right on deck: Graham Gill, Jaap de Haan (engineer), Captain Ad Meyer just visible through window, Peter van Dijken (crew), Dennis King, Ronan O'Rahilly (station owner), Johnny, Tony Allan, Andy Archer partially obscured by Tony and Jan the cook. Photo kindly provided by Andy.

RC: Can you think of anything humorous or amusing that happened in your time on Caroline?
 
JJ: Well obviously you think of a lot of things... It probably wasn't that funny but we had situations whereby we'd been out there for a long time and, because of adverse weather conditions, we hadn't had supplies for a long time and I remember one particular case when someone sent out... at the end they got fairly desperate and sent out a little aeroplane which dropped off a barrel of tapes because we had taped programmes for some Dutch thing (Radio Mi Amigo) which we were running from the ship. They weren't on board so they sent out tapes which we had to play. So we had to go and retrieve these. We went out to retrieve them in a rubber dinghy with an outboard motor on board. I think it was (engineer) Chicago and someone else. They went out, duly picked up the tapes. Everyone was watching of course, you know - big drama and a bit of interest. Better than just watching seagulls flying about (laughs) and wondering when the next tender is going to turn up to take you home. They went out, picked up the barrel of tapes, came back, put the tapes on board, put the motor on board... and forgot to actually tie up the little inflatable (laughs). In the end they just drifted off - the two of them - with no oars or anything. I mean it was very funny at the time but fairly dangerous. We had to ring up the Essex coastguard and they had to come and winch them out of the sea. You know you could go up to the stern of the ship and watch them with binoculars. There they were sailing blissfully into the distance and unable to do anything about it. They had to be winched up on board and in fact they were winched back down onto the ship. We were so thrilled to see them again obviously, as you can imagine - a big, big drama - we gave the Essex crewmen a big bottle of whisky.


NOTE


1

Actually rather longer than two years. According to Monitor magazine Johnny's first show was on 17th June 1973 and his last was on 6th April 1977. During that time he notched up 1152 hours on air.

Back to Ray's conversation with Alan Turner.


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