The voyages of Radio Scotland

Radio Scotland began broadcasting from the Comet, a former lightship, at the end of 1965 from an anchorage off the east coast of Scotland. However the owners soon discovered that its signal was not strong enough to penetrate the population centre of Glasgow. At the end of April 1966 the management decided to move the Comet closer. A new anchorage was selected in the Firth of Clyde, off the coast of Troon. The ship didn't have an engine so it was necessary to tow her round the coast.
 
Reception in western Scotland was greatly improved and the station broadcast successfully from this new position for nearly a year. However in March 1967 City and County (Commercial) Radio Limited, the company operating the station, was prosecuted for broadcasting from inside British jurisdiction. The rules had changed governing what constituted territorial waters in an estuary. This had brought the fort-based stations down south inside the reach of UK laws and it had the same effect on Radio Scotland. The company pleaded guilty to the charge and was fined £80. Radio Scotland closed down in preparation to move the ship back to the east coast - but things did not go according to plan.
 
This timeline of what happened next has been compilied by Ian Biggar. Our grateful thanks to him for sharing it with The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame.

DATE EVENT
Monday 13th March 1967 Radio Scotland owners, City and County (Commercial) Radio Limited, are found guilty of broadcasting within territorial waters and fined £80. The station closes at 10:30 that morning to prepare for a return trip to the Firth of Forth.
Tuesday 14th March 1967 The Comet is still off the air and at anchor off Troon due to the gales sweeping the Ayrshire coast. In fact the ship remains off Troon for two weeks.
Thursday 30th March 1967 The Evening Times reports that the “pirate” ship Comet starts her tow by the Steel & Bennie tug Cruiser up to her new anchorage off May Island on the Firth of Forth this afternoon. (Managing Director) Mr Tommy Shields estimates that transmissions will start sometime between 7 and 8 o’clock tonight as the vessel rounds the Mull of Kintyre.
Friday 31st March 1967 The Glasgow Herald reports that Radio Scotland went back on the air last night at 11:15 after being off since March 13th. It mentions that Bob Spencer was heard. This must have been a short-lived return as the station then had to take up shelter in Loch Ewe because of the gales.
Monday 3rd April 1967 The Evening Times reports that the Comet, which has been sheltering in Loch Ewe, is heading for the Mull of Kintyre today. It also states that Steel & Bennie have received no notification from Tommy Shields as to where to take the ship. It mentions that one possibility is that the Comet will be towed back down the west coast to a new position off Ireland. It states: “Later this afternoon the tug Cruiser, with the Comet in tow, passed Tobermorey still without any definite instructions about their destination.” It states that the Comet is still a good day's sailing from any moorings in the Clyde or off Ireland, so the directors of Radio Scotland have 24 hours in which to decide where the Comet will be moored.
Saturday 4th April 1967 The Comet drops anchor at the new position off Ballywalter, County Down. Programming resumes at 12:30 with Mel Howard welcoming listeners to ‘Radio Scotland and Ireland’. Later programmes are hosted by Ben Healy.
Saturday 29th April 1967 Following difficulties in getting a marketable signal into Scotland’s Central Belt, the Comet begins her journey back to the east coast. John Kerr remembers: “So again it was decided to try again for the tow and volunteer DJs were asked for in an endeavour to broadcast as much as possible during what was supposed to be a 3 day tow. Canadian Mel Howard and Australians Bryan Vaughan and myself stayed aboard with 4 crew members and away we sailed.”.
Sunday 30th April 1967 The Comet hits a force 8 gale and has to shelter once again in Loch Ewe. More memories from John Kerr: “On the first day we were hit by severe weather again and pulled into Tobemoray for shelter for the night. Out the next day and proceeded for a little bit up the coast until continuing bad weather had us seek shelter again inland passing through The Kyle of Lochalsh. Eventually one morning at 3am we started rounding the top at the Pentland Firth whilst experiencing a gale force 9 storm. It is certainly no exaggeration to say that all 7 aboard thought we were going to die – you’d see the red light of the tug ahead ploughing into the monstrous seas and thinking there’s no way this tow line will hold in these conditions.”
Tuesday 2nd May 1967 The Evening Times reports that the Comet has successfully negotiated the Pentland Firth and is now being towed down the East Coast of Scotland to her new moorings off Fife Ness. It states that the only “snag” encountered by the Comet since leaving Ballywalter was a force 8 gale which forced her to shelter temporarily in Tobermorey. Since then the tug Campaigner has encountered little difficulty. From John Kerr: “Fortunately we came through I’m sure the most frightening night of all our lives and proceeded down the coast heading to our designated anchor off the Forth of Firth. Imagine the frustration when we thought we’d come through the worst when the weather turned against us again – blowing northerly this time. The seas were so bad that we actually pulled into the Moray Firth and took shelter for 3 days. During our first night there the tow line between the Comet and the tug snapped as it had taken such a battering the previous evening. Eventually we reached our new broadcast site where we remained (from memory) about 10 miles out to sea for the remaining few months of life of the ‘pirates’.”
Sunday 7th May 1967 The Comet arrives at her new position in the Firth of Forth. Broadcasting recommences the following day. Bryan Vaughan recalls: “We started programmes the morning after we anchored in the Firth of Forth with Bryan Vaughan (Rooster Call), John Kerr (Sixpenny Snowball Requests) and Mel Howard following.”

Comet

The Comet, 90 foot long, the 500 ton former Irish lightship used by Radio Scotland. Photo published by the Free Radio Association kindly provided by George Morris.

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