Part One: It's nice to be back

In 1980 the Radio Caroline ship, the mv Mi Amigo, sank. The vessel had been in a poor state for some time and, behind the scenes, station boss Ronan O'Rahilly had been looking for a replacement. Unfortunately the disaster happened before anything had been found. Caroline had been silenced.
A fund was started to raise the Mi Amigo. It was hoped that she could be lifted from the sea-bed and converted into a museum but, sadly, the money for this project was not forthcoming and the ship remained in her watery grave. Meanwhile the Caroline organisation continued its search for a new home - and the money with which to pay for it. This was not going to be easy but Ronan was put in touch with two businessmen who could help. Vincent Monsey and Anthony Kramer had been planning their own station to be called Radio Amanda. The two groups merged and, with Caroline's expertise and Amanda's finances, the project was able to get off the ground. Easter 1981 was confidently predicted as the date for Radio Caroline's return.

Daily Mail cutting

The Daily Mail reports on the plan to raise the Mi Amigo, 23rd May 1980. Click on the image to magnify.

Meanwhile some of the redundant disc-jockeys were also busy. A group including Stuart Russell, Roger Mathews and Richard Thompson issued a prospectus for potential investors. They were planning a new station to be called Radio Phoenix. It would be run on the same basis as the old Caroline with Dutch programmes by day, English at night, and with a number of sponsored evangelical shows to help pay the bills. They calculated that an initial outlay of £233,900 was needed. They got as far as buying a ship but then the money ran out. Radio Phoenix failed to take off.
Meanwhile Easter 1981 came and went with no sign of Caroline's return. Press reports confidently announced successively later on-air dates. As the year went by more stories were published. American cowboy-turned-businessman Gene Autrey was reportedly an investor. Legendary disc-jockey Wolfman Jack was said to be involved. Apparently former Caroline star Johnnie Walker was going to be Programme Controller. In February 1982, still with no on-air date, we heard that the new ship would be called Imagine and would contain not one but two stations. As well as Caroline, it would be broadcasting the Music of Your Life, an American syndicated format aimed at the over 35s. Meanwhile Johnnie Walker and fellow DJs Johnny Jason, Tom Hardy, Stevie Gordon, Mike Stevens, Stephen Bishop and newcomer Pat Sharp were on stand-by, waiting eagerly for news of some progress.
A former trawler called the Ross Revenge was found. In an interview with Ray Clark, Caroline's stalwart engineering supremo Peter Chicago told the story. “(In the search for a ship) we contacted people up in Hull and Grimsby, the fishing ports. We did go to look at quite a big factory fishing vessel, the Lord Nelson, and it was a very big impressive ship. The taxi driver that we took from the station volunteered the fact that he'd actually been a member of the crew on board the Lord Nelson so he was able, once we got there, to show us around. We were very interested in the boat and we contacted a dry dock facility to investigate the cost of dry docking the ship. We enquired as to what sort of money it would probably cost to put the ship into seagoing condition, because this is something that had happened quite frequently with ships that had been laid up a long time and had been bought. He was able to advise us that probably £20,000 to £30,000 would have had to have been spent to get the ship into a viable condition - but he volunteered the fact that there was a ship available that had had all this work done and his own angle was that he'd done the work and hadn't been paid. Well, in short, the boat in question was the Ross Revenge. He told us where the boat was lying. It was up in Scotland and, in short, he put us in touch with the owners who totally ignored all efforts to contact them. Eventually we managed to track down the bank that had put up the money to buy the ship in the first place and we made an offer directly to them. That was how we came to buy the Ross Revenge. As I say, it had had all the dry docking work done, all the electric motors had been overhauled, so we were lucky in the respect that, well, a year before we bought it all this work had been done.”

the Ross Revenge

The mv Ross Revenge. Photo kindly provided by Richard Jackson.

The Ross Revenge was taken to Santander in Spain for conversion into a radio ship. The work began but a dispute developed between some American backers and Ronan O'Rahilly. The US money-men began legal action to win control of the ship. (One of the Americans, Roy Lindau of Major Market Radio, was later involved in another offshore project, Laser.) Meanwhile writs flew, money was spent on lawyers, and there was still no on-air date. The disc-jockey team disbanded. Johnnie Walker joined Bristol's Radio West, Johnny Jason went to Grampian TV and Pat Sharp landed a job on BBC Radio One. The rest of the broadcasters, who were mainly working on various Irish land-based pirate stations, stayed where they were.
But as the team dispersed and Caroline's return still seemed a distant prospect, Ronan was hustling. He managed to find another source of finance: a Canadian entrepreneur called Nelson Skalbania.
When the legal dispute eventually came to the Spanish High Court in May 1983, O'Rahilly won control of the Ross Revenge. Work could now continue in Santander on preparing the ship. Peter Chicago was joined by DJ Tom Anderson, newcomer Robin Ross and others.

Daily Mail cutting

Cutting from the ‘Daily Mail’, 3rd August 1983. The report was slightly premature. The Ross Revenge was still in Spain when this story appeared. The ship set off on its journey the following day.

On 4th August 1983 the Ross Revenge left Spain and headed north. Towed by the tug Aznar Jose Luis, Caroline was coming home. On 8th August she dropped her enormous anchor, one capable of holding a supertanker, in the Knock Deep Channel of the Thames estuary. Just a few miles away the mast of the old Mi Amigo was still visible, pointing up above the waves. The new anchorage was moderately sheltered, with sandbanks on either side. Only the north-easterly direction was unprotected.
It had been hoped that the station could re-open on Sunday 14th August, the sixteenth anniversary of the Marine Offences Act. From 9th August occasional carrier and test tones were broadcast on 963kHz, 319 metres, but problems with the aerial insulators caused delays and it was not until Friday 19th that non-stop music tests began.
A former Capital Radio producer, Annie Challis, had been recruited as Station Manager / Programme Controller. The plan was for a ‘gold’ music format, capitalising on Caroline's long heritage. At that time no other British station was specialising in playing oldies and she and Ronan thought it could be a winner. They might have been right but the disc-jockeys on board the ship had other plans.
At noon on Saturday 20th August 1983 Radio Caroline returned. The familiar Fortunes' theme tune segued into John Lennon's Imagine and, after 41 months silence, it was back.

click to hear audio Tony Gareth on a test transmission for Radio Caroline, 19th August 1983 (duration 1 minute 10 seconds)
click to hear audio Tom Anderson reopens Radio Caroline at 12 noon on 20th August 1983. Both clips taken from recordings available on Our thanks to Ray Robinson (duration 1 minute 45 seconds)

It was a surprisingly low-key opening programme presented by Tom Anderson. Despite having been one of the last disc-jockeys to be taken off the sinking Mi Amigo, no mention was made of the past and, in fact, very little was said at all. The old sixties style of personality disc-jockeys was long gone; the seventies informality had been replaced as well. The music was similar to that played in the previous decade, album tracks rather than singles, but now it was played in blocks of up to twenty minutes with the broadcasters staying very much in the background. As well as Tom, the first DJ line-up consisted of Caroline favourite Andy Archer along with Robin Ross, Tony Gareth and Dixie Peach.

click to hear audio “It's nice to be back.” Andy Archer, who was on Caroline in the sixties and the seventies, returns in the eighties. The start of his first show, taken from a recording available on Our thanks to Ray Robinson (duration 1 minute 59 seconds)

the first DJ team

The first DJ team. At the back, left to right: Tom Anderson, Dixie Peach, Tony Gareth, Robin Ross and Dave Simmons (who never broadcast). At the front: Andy Archer. Photo from ‘Monitor’ magazine.

click to hear audio Dixie Peach on Radio Caroline, 29th August 1983. This clip is taken from a recording shared on the Internet Radiocafé, now known as the Radiotrefpunt (radio meeting point) forum, by Vincent. Our thanks to him (duration 2 minutes 37 seconds)

click to hear audio Robin Ross on the Caroline Breakfast Show, 1st September 1983. Recordings courtesy of Our thanks to Ray Robinson (duration 12 minutes 11 seconds)

21st August - 9th September 1983 12th - 21st October 1983 17th - 21st December 1983
6.00am Robin Ross
10.00 Tony Gareth
2.00pm Andy Archer
6.00 Tom Anderson
10.00 Dixie Peach
2.00am closedown
6.00am Andy Archer (weekdays)
    Carl Kingston *(weekend)
10.00 Robin Ross
2.00pm Carl Kingston (weekdays)
    Andy Archer (weekend)
6.00 Grant Benson (weekdays)
    Simon Barrett (weekend)
10.00 Simon Barrett (weekdays)
    Grant Benson (weekend)
2.00am closedown
(* 15th, 16th 6-7am Tony Scott)
6.00am Peter Quinn
9.00 Robin Ross
12.00pm Carl Kingston
   (sun: Album Top 30)
3.00 Peter Quinn
6.00 Simon Barrett
9.00 Robin Ross
12.00am Carl Kingston
3.00 Andy Moorcock

Sunday Times headline

Headline from the ‘Sunday Times’. Click on the cutting for a couple of pages of media reports on the station's return.

The Ross Revenge, registered in Panama, was built in 1960, weighed 978 tons gross, and was much bigger than the old Mi Amigo. She was also fitted with an enormous 300 ft. aerial mast, reportedly the largest on any ship anywhere in the world. The transmitter was a second-hand 50kW RCA model, previously owned by a Canadian station, and there also was a smaller spare. The output of the studio was fed through an Optimod audio processor to give a loud full sound.
There were a few teething problems at the start but work continued on the ship and gradually things improved. Initially the station was on the air 6am to 2am each day.
In September a news service was introduced but, despite regular tenders bringing new records and a steady stream of disc-jockeys, there was, as yet, no advertising. In October the station introduced a Top 30 album chart show on Sunday afternoons. A survey carried out by Gallup at the end of that month showed an encouraging four million listeners and audience reaction seemed favourable. From 11th November 24 hour broadcasting returned. The station was now putting out a superb signal.

click to hear audio Peter Clark on the first Top 30 Album Chart show on Radio Caroline, 30th October 1983. This clip is taken from a recording shared on by Brian Nichols. Our thanks to him and Ray Robinson (duration 2 minutes 4 seconds)
click to hear audio Simon W Barrett on news duty, Peter Quinn looking after the music on Caroline's Breakfast Show 20th December 1983. This clip is taken from a recording posted on The Offshore Radio Club Forum by Hans Hendriks. Our thanks to him (duration 2 minutes 7 seconds)

The Marine Offences Act of 1967, which had made working for an offshore station illegal, was still in force but initially it looked as if the authorities were going to leave Caroline alone. Tenders came and went without interference. But the newspapers had been carrying stories about a new station, Laser, on the horizon and there had even been rumours of a possible third ship. Maybe the prospect of a new pirate boom worried the authorities because in November the police acted. They intercepted a small boat carrying five people, including disc-jockeys Andy Archer and Grant Benson, on their way back from the Ross Revenge to the Suffolk coast. Caroline was not going to be allowed an easy life after all.

click to hear audio Despite being caught coming ashore before Christmas, Andy Archer returned to the ship for one final stint. This is an extract from his last show on Caroline on the morning of 28th January 1984. Carl Kingston took over at 11am so that Andy could leave on the tender. The clip is taken from a recording shared on the Radiotrefpunt (radio meeting point) forum by Ben and is from James Hutchison's collection. Our thanks to them both (duration 1 minute 45 seconds)

Many thanks to Monitor magazine, the Caroline Movement Bulletin and Offshore Echos.
Part two coming soon.

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