Boss Radio and the Hallmark of Quality continued

More memories of Swinging Radio England and Britain Radio

Memories now from another one of the original team, Colin Nicol:

Colin Nicol

Colin Nicol, photographed a couple of months earlier in the studio on board the mv Cheeta II.

I had left Caroline - much to (station boss) Ronan's surprise. I know he looked stunned. I feel sure I was the first DJ to resign from the Caroline organisation. Everyone else (a large number) had been given the flick. A few had left for health reasons or sea sickness, of course. I had just ended my stint on the refurbishment of Cheeta II.
Then I realised I did have nothing to go to and radio pirates were still anything but respectable in early '66. I had thought I'd do some commercials and record stories etc. which I understood was being arranged. That must have been when I made my first approach to Radio Luxembourg, though that summer relief job did not come up for some months.
Somehow I ended up at the London Hilton. I must have heard about the new station via the grapevine and had phoned and, as I remember, was welcomed by Don Pierson and Bill Vick as an experienced pirate able to advise and help them as well as broadcast and bring them some of the aura of Caroline, so to speak. As well, they wanted some non-American voices to balance those of the jocks they already had.
The Americans were terrific to deal with - very pleasant people and true to their word. However delays occurred, as had to happen with such complex arrangements, and when we finally got aboard we found ourselves having to sleep on the floor of a large hold in sleeping bags etc.. Not long afterwards a maze of pine structures were put in place and we had tiered bunks.
The exciting things for me about the Olga Patricia's fit-out were two-fold. First, there was the unique and powerful transmitting equipment. A quite unique aspect was a piece of equipment which I was told was invented for radar installations and which was able to split the function of the mast so that two stations could broadcast simultaneously from it.

Radio England / Britain Radio rate card

Swinging Radio England and Britain Radio advertising rate card kindly provided by Grey Pierson. Click to magnify.

The other was the studio equipment, which was my - and probably England's - first encounter with such advanced operation, as well as automated programming. The huge desk was a bit daunting at first when compared with everything I'd worked before, even in Australia. It was great fun to work it - like playing a Wurlitzer after a concertina.
I did feel, after we had gone on the air, that we were not hitting the spot with listeners and tried to customise the output accordingly but my role as advisor had been overlooked by then and the unprepared British audience was bombarded with high pressure radio. It was a little too much too soon for many of them. The possibilities were terrific and we had the equipment, the output power and the organisation. It just needed to be tailored to the more subtle British way of doing things. There's no questioning the enthusiasm and determination of my Yankee friends. It was a great experience for me to work with them. However, as things were going, I felt I needed a more secure future and had really had enough of seaboard life. I pursued my Luxembourg application and with contacts pulling a few strings, flew to the Grand Duchy on the very day of the first reading of the Marine Offences Bill in Parliament. I felt that justified my action.
As I try to remember, I believe we had a press launch of the station at the London Hilton, I think in the Beachcomber Bar. I may be wrong in that - life was a bit of a whirl in those days. The whole thing was professionally done and there is no doubt the arrival of the Americans had a significant influence on the ultimate arrival of local and commercial radio in Britain. From what I hear these days, that still leaves a good deal to be desired. Bring back Radio England and let's swing again!”

Nowadays record companies have synchronised worldwide release dates for their products but in the sixties American records were often released in the States months before they became available in the UK (and vice versa). Radio England frequently played the US releases which gave the station a unique sound and meant that it was often ahead of the competition. There is an early Radio England Boss 40 here.

Radio England / Britain Radio envelope

Swinging Radio England and Britain Radio envelope. Click to magnify. Courtesy of Hans Knot.

In July 1966 some listening figures were published for all the offshore stations. A survey carried out by National Opinion Polls estimated Radio England's audience as 2,274,000 and gave Britain Radio a mere 718,000. As the two stations had only been on the air for a matter of weeks when the research was carried out, this could have been interpreted as a major achievement but, compared to the eight million plus listeners that the survey gave both London and Caroline, potential advertisers were not impressed. Although they managed to attract a few big name accounts, more and more of the stations' revenue came from special offers (a fishing rod, a watch, a colour portrait of Man From Uncle actor David McCallum, etc.).
During that same month a second group of American disc-jockeys flew in, signed up for the project by Don Pierson. Jack Curtiss was mainly heard on Britain Radio, Bill Berry, Boom Boom Brannigan and Chuck Blair mainly on Radio England. A fifth member of the party, Jim Henry, did not stay long and we are not sure if he made an appearance on air at all.

click to hear audio Chuck Blair on Swinging Radio England, Sunday afternoon 7th August 1966. The recording is an extract from the Offshore Echo's tape Offshore Classics vol.27, and is used with kind permission (duration 3 minutes 7 seconds)

Ron O'Quinn with John Lennon

Ron O'Quinn with John Lennon on the 1966 Beatles tour of the States. Photo kindly provided by Ron. He is pictured with Paul McCartney here.

In August, senior DJ Ron O'Quinn left the ship to accompany the Beatles on their final tour of America (see this page). He had problems with immigration on his return to the UK and, although he did make it back out to the ship, he resigned soon afterwards and headed home.

click to hear audio Ron O'Quinn on Swinging Radio England, just back from touring the States with The Beatles. The recording is an extract from the Radio Broadcast Library cassette Off Air Collection vol.10. It has been kindly donated by Lynne Sims from Martin Lynch's collection (duration 2 minutes 55 seconds)


Rick Randall and Wayne Fontana

Rick Randall, left, with one of the Stars of ‘Swinging 66’, Wayne Fontana. Photo from the Don Pierson collection, kindly provided by Grey Pierson.

As part of the promotion for Radio England, a national pop package tour, Swinging '66, was sponsored in August 1966. Starring the Small Faces and featuring Crispian St. Peters, Neil Christian, Dave Berry and Wayne Fontana, the tour was heavily advertised on air. The gigs proved reasonably successful in the south-east of the country, where Radio England could be heard. Unfortunately outside the station's transmission area, audiences were understandably sparse. The tour proved a financial disaster, losing over £17,000. The station attempted to get some of this back by selling autographed copies of the left-over concert programmes.

click to hear audio Jerry Smithwich plays a promotion for Swinging '66. Tape kindly provided by Albie Somerset (duration 2 minutes 5 seconds)
click to hear audio Alan Black on Britain Radio. Recording courtesy of Stuart Russell (duration 2 minutes 36 seconds)


“This news is BIG news in the world now.....”

It has been suggested that Radio England ultimately failed because it was “too American” for British tastes. If this is true, nowhere was the cuture gap more apparent than in the delivery of news. Listeners in the UK had never heard bulletins like this before! We were used to the BBC and its rather polite presentation of the stories of the day. Radio London had introduced Morse bleeps between the items and a greater sense of urgency but news on Swinging Radio England was something else again. Jingles, sound effects and echo were all part of the mix. It was news as drama. Never knowingly under-stated, each bulletin was “a feature of the Radio England Department of News and Public Affairs” - “Europe's most comprehensive news service”!

Broadcast at 15 minutes past each hour, the early bulletins sounded like this:

click to hear audio Larry Dean reading a news bulletin from June 1966. Tape kindly provided by Frank George (duration 3 minutes 12 seconds)
click to hear audio Jerry Smithwick reporting - and having pronunciation problems with some British place names - in August 1966. Tape courtesy of Martyn Webster (duration 2 minutes 13 seconds)

Later, the Bannerline was replaced by a Space News Hotline:

click to hear audio Ed Moreno reporting in September 1966 “in the public interest”. Recording donated by Stuart Russell (duration 2 minutes)

Radio City's comedy show The Auntie Mabel Hour couldn't resist making fun:

click to hear audio “Swaying Radio Worksop” news - part of a sketch from Radio City's Auntie Mabel Hour, written and performed by Ian MacRae, Alan Clark and Adrian Love. Recording kindly donated by Albie Somerset (duration 1 minute 43 seconds)

“News every hour. More music NOW.....”

Next up with memories of 1966, it is the turn of the only boss jock to last from Radio England's launch in May to its closedown in November, Roger Day:

Roger Day

Roger Day, photographed the following year on Radio Caroline South. Copyright Sheridon Street.

“You can blame Dave Cash for my radio career. I had met him at a Radio London gig at the Marquee Club. He told me there about a group of Americans who were starting a new station and wanted some English DJs. Fortunately I got to see them at the Hilton Hotel before anybody else, even JW, which is another story. You'll have to wait for my book to read that.
This was Saturday April the 2nd and I was hired on the spot.
After many weeks of waiting for the boat to arrive, we headed for the Olga Patricia. Past Big L, Radio Caroline and then to what would become home for the next seven months. Conditions were not good for the first few weeks as none of the DJ cabins were ready, so we all slept in sleeping bags on the floor of the lounge, with cockroaches for company.
Apart from Ron O'Quinn this was the first time I met the other Boss Jocks. Imagine the thrill of being taught radio techniques by these very experienced top forty DJs. They thought the other stations were very amateur and wanted us to sound much more slick and professional. While they were saying ‘good morning everybody’, we were told ‘only talk to one person’. Us English guys were so lucky to have been trained by these fantastic personalities. For me, I still broadcast by the tricks they taught me, and will be forever grateful.
The hardest part I found was doing the news reading with all the timers and sound effects. I am still very embarrassed about those broadcasts.
Although the station had many teething troubles and a short life there were many good times and I have only happy memories. Apart from the day we closed down of course.
I know I am biased but the station was fantastic and way ahead of its time. And we did have the best jingles. When Laser came along in the eighties and everyone was saying how new and exciting it was, I would say we were doing that twenty years ago.”

click to hear audio Roger Day on Swinging Radio England in September 1966. Recording courtesy of Stuart Russell (duration 1 minute 30 seconds)

Swinging Radio England had a loyal audience but sadly there just wasn't enough advertising revenue to make it pay. The owners decided that the Dutch market might prove more lucrative as there was only Radio Veronica there as competition. So Radio England closed down. Recordings from the last day of broadcasting can be found here. The station went off the air at 11.30pm on 13th November 1966, to be replaced the next day by the Dutch language Radio Dolfijn. Although SRE had been a failure, it had brought some excitement and professionalism to the UK radio scene and certainly gave Caroline and London some food for thought. Nearly twenty years later, Laser-558 would prove that an American-style Top 40 station could win a sizeable audience in Britain. Maybe the country just wasn't ready for it in 1966.

Laissez-faire in Miami

The mv Laissez-Faire, back in Miami, her pirate days over. Photo from 1967, part of the Don Pierson collection, kindly provided by Grey Pierson.

Many thanks to Ron, Rick, Phil, Colin & Roger for writing, and to Grey for the photos.
There are more rare photos of Swinging Radio England and Britain Radio on the next page.
Back to the previous page of Swinging Radio England and Britain Radio memories.

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