Ken Evans

Ken Evans in conversation with Colin Nicol

Colin Nicol

Colin Nicol was an early signing to Radio Atlanta and, after a broadcasting career which also included Radios Caroline, England and Luxembourg, the BBC and BFBS, he returned to his native Australia. He still remains fascinated by the history of offshore radio and has kindly provided many items of memorabilia to The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame.
Back in the eighties, he interviewed a number of people who had played major rôles in the birth of offshore broadcasting. His interview with Allan Crawford, the founder of Radio Atlanta, is here, and his conversation with Atlanta's General Manager Richard Harris is here. Other interviews have appeared in Offshore Echo's magazine. His conversation with Caroline South's on-shore contact Bill Scadden can be found on the Offshore Radio Nostalgia website.
This interview with the man who picked the music for both Atlanta and Caroline, Ken Evans, took place on 28th January 1984. Sadly since then Ken has died. There is a tribute to him here. This interview is copyright Colin Nicol and should not be reprinted without his express permission. We are grateful to Colin for sharing it with The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame.

We start with Ken talking about why he left Radio Caroline.
Ken Evans: “The reason I left was because there were far too many staff. I was being paid the princely sum, I remember, of £30 a week and that was considered a little bit too much and there was a woman who had originally been a switchboard operator called Frances van Staden and she was being brought into the gramophone record library to do such things.
There was a certain amount (to do) because there were other programmes (to produce). It wasn't just a DJ station as such. There were a lot of other programmes being made up in London and I was involved in these, but it was suddenly felt that I could be done without. I was offered either to do the news on the northern ship or resign and I think it was about the 24th January 1966. I said OK, I will resign and I suddenly thought to myself ‘my God, I am out of a job.’ I have never been asked to leave in my life and it was rather frightening. Anyway fortunately, within a matter of ten days, I was working at Radio Luxembourg, so there really wasn't too much to worry about after all.

Ken Evans

Ken Evans signing autographs at Battersea Fun Fair. Photo kindly provided by Colin Nicol.

Television occupied most of the time on board the ship. There was also playing Scrabble; cards were frequently used - anything really to relieve the boredom. I think the coming of artists on board the ship and the arrival of the tender with new supplies and newspapers and letters - and of course the boys were gathering fans all over the south-east and the northern part of the country as well; anywhere where the ships could be heard, so suddenly there were new fans and people wanted requests and dedications and names were being put over the air and I think it became probably the most exciting thing there ever was, that 1965 period. That, to me, was the most exciting time.
I will go back to the shooting, the manslaughter that took place between Smedley and Calvert, when Reg Calvert was killed. I think that was the crucial point and from that point onwards the government decided that it was getting out of control and that they had better do something. And that was when they brought in the Marine Offences Act and in August 1967 that was passed. But by then there was something like 12 or 14 offshore stations operating either on ships or forts right around the coast of Britain.
(Webmaster's note: Ken is exaggerating slightly - the maximum number of stations around the UK at any one time was ten.)
It was destined never to be the same again. Where would the Who, the Stones, the Kinks, the Beatles... well that is another story, they had made it really in their own right although they were certainly helped along with all the availability of time on the stations. Although they would have become a success without the offshore stations, they may not have become such an overnight success. It also helped the careers of Cliff Richard and Frank Ifield and all those people who were the top-selling record people of that particular time. And there were new people arriving all the time - would they have got their break (without the offshore stations)? Well I don't really think so.
At Atlanta I was operating a system which I had operated in my past: you always had a great big star as an opening (of a show) and I have always said this, after you have had your big familiar standard come straight in with something that is exciting and maybe a little newer but the tempo is still up, then bring in something new. This is where Allan Crawford wanted his own particular records played, and I used to make the programme saying standard, recent, oldie, instrumental and I can't really remember the combination now but it used to be about six different types of records alternating and then just turning over - just having a variety coming through all the time.
The Caroline system was much different to that. When records were being bought onto Caroline North and South I used to sit, and I used to do this every week, make two huge charts. It might be a case of a record being bought for twelve or fifteen plays a day for one record and I would make a colour scheme and each record had a particular colour and when I had worked out everything the record from this particular company and a record from that particular company or that particular artist and there might be as much as 20 or 30 records being brought in over a particular period, they might be brought on a weeks basis or a two weeks basis or a four weeks basis - though a two weeks basis was the most common and they would receive 12, 14 or maybe 18 plays in each day and I would try and work out so that there wasn't going to be a repeat under about two hours and so a record was going across the whole programme spectrum and of course the ships did close down, the original time time that Caroline closed down was 11 or 12 o'clock and Atlanta closed down at 8 o'clock. They may even had closed dawn at 6 o'clock at one stage when they were really only a daytime operation. Actually I think 8 o'clock was the latest they were on for. It was later that they extended their hours a bit at a time but originally it was a lot earlier either 6 or 8 o'clock. By the later part of 1966 I think they had got onto about 10 o'clock at night and they did eventually go onto midnight. They usually started at about 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning. They certainly didn't begin any earlier than 5 o'clock.
(Webmaster's note: Caroline initially broadcast 6am-6pm. Atlanta was 6am-8pm which Caroline quickly matched. In 1965 Caroline North introduced ‘The Midnight Surf Party’, 12am-2am, and Caroline South continued broadcasting to midnight at weekends. Later, after Ken had left the station, Caroline South went 24 hours a day.) The records were songs that might have a chance of becoming a hit and they were from promoters who knew (the chance of) getting them onto the BBC was next to nothing. They might get one or two plays if they were extremely fortunate - but here was a method by which they could have a record on the air over an 18 hour time span, and that was very attractive and they were sure of getting it on. Here was one of the things. I used to make these graphs up and I used to wonder whether or not they were actually played on the ship.

Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore, left, with Captain Mackay, on the bridge of the mv Fredericia. Photo from ‘Happy Birthday Radio Caroline, 20 years old, Easter 1984’, published by Monitor magazine.

One day Christopher Moore said to me, ‘Ken I want you to go to the Northern ship,’ this was December of 1964, ‘I want you to go up to the ship and I want you to take an inventory of all the records that are up there and then we want you to make the programming identical for the north and south ships.’ Now Col, this was absolutely impossible, they had records up there which the southern ship didn't have and the southern ship had records which the northern ship didn't have. We would have to have scrapped hundreds of records. I remember seeing Buddy Greco's up on the northern ship which were not in existence down in the south, there were Dean Martin LPs because these were, as we remember, the people who were very popular at the time - a lot of the cabaret type of artist - and they were mixed in with the current pops on both ships. I went up to the ship and arrived just before the arrival of the force 12 gale and that was one of the most frightening experiences I have ever had, those four days I spend on board that ship. I do remember that as I was arriving Jimmy Savile was saying goodbye and he was the first (non-Caroline) DJ who had gone out. He wasn't under the employ of the BBC. He certainly was the number two DJ. At the time David Jacobs was number one in the country and Jimmy Savile was number two but Jimmy Savile was the first established DJ to take the gamble and go off to the ship and I remember arriving on the Fredericia as he was departing. That night this incredible force 12 gale whipped itself up and for the next two to three days we were literally strapped to the berths trying to hold on. At one stage I was working at a table when the ship gave a terrific lurch and I got a terrible whack on the upper part of my right thigh. I had the most terrible bruise for quite a while afterwards. But my reason for being there was to make a list of all the records and I had a helper who had been brought in from the Isle of Man. I flew to the Isle of Man and then went out to the ship. There was a company up there who supplied a young assistant and it took about four days with that raging gale to make a list of all the records on board the ship. The dual system that this was supposed to lead to never came about. It was just impossible, they had too much stuff of their own on each ship and they were two very different stations; that was Caroline North and this was Caroline South with Atlanta undertones, if that makes sense. They were very different. They had their own team up north. There was Don Allen, who had very decided country music influences and he was very popular on the northern ship and eventually he was transferred to the southern ship. They thought ‘right as he was becoming so popular in that one field why not spread the popularity and being him down to the south’ so they started to spread all the DJs all over the place. Some of the boys fell out of favour with the powers. (Webmaster's note: We think Ken is mistaken - Don Allen started on the south ship and then went north, not the other way round.)

Jon Sydney, Ken Evans and Don Allen

The Caroline Good Guys meeting the fans at Battersea Fun Fair. Left to right, Jon Sydney, Ken Evans and a startled Don Allen. Photo kindly provided by Colin Nicol.

I remember Jon Sydney arriving. Jon was an Australian who was a very Australian DJ. He had never done DJ-ing in his life but they needed staff and Jon came into the scene. I think he was more of a singing actor but he got a job on board the ship but he fell foul of the new programme director Christopher Moore after Simon Dee left and he was only on the air out there for about six weeks. Others did stay really a long time. Tony Blackburn was with Caroline from August 1964 to I think the latter part of 1965 when he left to go to Radio London. Radio London wanted to change his name and and call him Caesar (webmaster's note: actually they wanted to call him Mark Roman) but he very wisely hung out and decided no, that he was now known as Tony Blackburn and he stayed as Tony Blackburn. Tony Withers, who had been broadcasting for Atlanta and for Caroline in the early stages had many reasons for leaving in the end but health reasons were the main ones that made him leave. He managed to get a job though on London and he became very popular on London until the same health reasons forced him to leave Radio London but he became quite a personality. He had quite a distinctive voice which you will remember Col, it was a very deep resonant voice, which Tony Blackburn was to adopt as well during his career. Radio London insisted at one stage that they were not going to take second hand DJs, so they made Tony Withers change his name to Tony Windsor. You were able to keep the same voice and personality on the station but you had to change your name.”
The music policy Ken had to follow was decided initially by (Managing Director) Allan Crawford at Atlanta then under the direction of Simon Dee and then Chris Moore at Caroline. He says:
“Simon Dee's musical feeling was out-and-out pop. I remember the first Christmas coming up at Caroline and Christopher Moore said ‘let's make it a black Christmas’. At the time I was absolutely horrified at the idea - ‘a black Christmas, what do you mean Chris?’ He didn't want to have the conventional sort of Christmas. He wanted to go all-out and have this black Christmas. Actually what he was saying then was ‘OK, we are part of a new scheme of things let's be part of it.’ I think I was a little resistant, I was a little bit too much of the old format school. Maybe Col, reflecting - looking back - maybe the Ronan O'Rahilly school of thinking was right because this was a new thing. They were out to capture the youth. They were not going for the long-established listener who had been fed on Family Favourites types of programmes for all these years. What the Ronan O'Rahilly crew were out to do was to establish a new type of pop programming which was going to take over and become part of the youth of the country and probably they were very right, on reflection. At the time they didn't know how to achieve what they were trying to do - it was all very raw, it was full of people coming and going. I mentioned the Duggans who brought with them this wild scheme which was tried on the air and there were always people rushing in and out of the building. We also had a promotions man in the building who didn't seem to do a lot really, he just seemed to sit around reading the newspaper (in fact there were a lot of people doing just that all the time) and suddenly he darted up the stairs and he was into the attic of the building, got onto the roof and he was being chased by the police. He was wanted for some reason or other and the police were after him. I remember we all stood there in absolute amazement as the police went racing up the stairs to get hold of this man. What he had actually done I don't really know, I don't think anyone ever really knew. But there were some strange people. There were people who you didn't really know. Most of the time I was in my own quarter, so I suppose I didn't really get to have the contact with the people, but most of the time you didn't get to know them terribly well as they all seemed to come and go.

Roger Gale

Roger Gale. Photo courtesy of

We mentioned in the early piece Richard Harris. When the merger between Atlanta and Caroline came about, Richard Harris left and decided to return to Muzak from where he had originally come. Lesley Parrish left, George Harris had left and of course there were other lovely people like Dermot Hoy. Now he changed his name and broadcast under the name of Bryan Vaughan. He was an Australian who, like yourself, I gave a bit of a name-check to Allan Crawford and he said yes. He did a lot of broadcasting. He was broadcasting for Radio Caroline and he outlasted a lot of people. He was a nice quiet sort of person who won a lot of respect and a lot of friends. He went back to Australia eventually. I think a lot of people saw that (working on the ship) was fine for a time but they had to move on to something else. You went to Radio Luxembourg; Jon Sydney went to the Palladium Theatre and appeared in Babes in the Woods; Roger Gale went into radio and then into television, Keith Skues left and went to Radio London, Tony Blackburn went to Radio London. There was a lot of coming and going. There was coming to be quite a regular turnover. You can't really put it down to a scale of saying well it was a case of a DJ stayed for about six months or a year some of them did that. Then of course 1967 came about and so many left and went to form the new Radio One BBC station.”

Interview © Colin Nicol.

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