No.22: Ray Clark in conversation with Emperor Rosko

Emperor Rosko

Emperor Rosko. A Caroline publicity shot.

Ray Clark has interviewed numerous people involved with Radio Caroline for documentaries and his book, Radio Caroline: The True Story Of The Boat That Rocked (reviewed here).
 
One of his interviewees was Emperor Rosko.
 
An American, Rosko presented the 3-6pm programme on Caroline South in 1966 and later provided taped shows called ‘Rosko in Exile’ when he was living and working in France.
 
Ray asked him if he had any amusing anecdotes from his time on Caroline.
 
We are grateful to Ray for sharing the recording with us.



ROSKO: There were so many good moments. I think the time we stole the jingles from Radio England was a pretty good moment. Those of you who bought my now hard to find book on radio[1] will already know the story but, for those of you who have not had the privilege and pleasure of owning one of those, what happened was a new ship arrived. It was backed by Texans. Johnnie Walker was the star of that - I mean an unknown Johnnie Walker at the time but he was one of the stars of the ship. They were anchored about two miles away from us. This big beautiful ship pulled up and they were doing test transmissions. So, of course, on Caroline we used to sit around and we'd listen to what other people were doing that we might be able to embellish, steal, invent, circumvent, whatever what they were going to do - that would be Radio London or any of the other ones. And we were listening for several nights and they kept running their jingles and that was it. They'd just play a jingle and there'd be dead air on both sides so we got the recorders working on about the third night and we taped all their jingles - and this is back in the day when jingles really meant something. They were these brand new super-duper ultra-expensive PAMS jingles that were made in Texas, all about Radio England which was going to be this ship starting up any day to go up against us and Radio London and the other pirates on the forts. So they were going to go on the air the next day. What we did was we took all their jingles that we recorded off the radio - since they were so close it was very good quality - and we edited out with razor blades all the names referring to Radio England and we did voice-overs and things, and added Radio Caroline. We went on the next day, at the same time as they did, using their jingles with Caroline in them. Of course they went absolutely berserk. There were law suits threatened. (Station boss) Ronan O'Rahilly in London, I think he had a good chuckle about what we did because he let us do it for about another two days and then he finally sent a memo saying “OK. Enough's enough guys.” (laughs)
 
The official Radio Caroline jingles were recorded in London with all the bluesy people of the moment, Madeline Bell, etc., um, Julie Driscoll's Trinity, you know, that type of thing, so ours were very soulful, we thought. They were our jingles.

click to hear audio Part of Radio Caroline's ‘Sound Of The Nation’ jingle package (duration 3 minutes 46 seconds)

What else happened that was good fun? ... We once had a French news crew come to spend 24 hours in the life of Radio Caroline[2]. One of the engineers was a rather foxy looking lady. Well, suffice to say, it was a very festive evening on Radio Caroline that night as far as I was concerned and I got the best part of the interview. I wonder why! (laughs)

click to hear audio Rosko ending his show on Radio Caroline South, 22nd July 1966. This is an edited version of a recording shared on www.azanorak.com by Dave Dee. Our thanks to him and Ray Robinson (duration 6 minutes 46 seconds)

Emperor Rosko

Emperor Rosko on board the Mi Amigo. Photo kindly provided by Hans Knot.

I remember we went to visit Radio England once. That's when we first met Johnnie Walker. We were very impressed. All their stuff was new and all our stuff, of course, was second-hand. Um, you know, rotary pots (on the studio desk)... In the studio, if the weather got bad, you couldn't play records because the tone arm would just slide right across the record and you'd get that famous (makes sound of needle scratching across a record) noise. It did get rough quite often out in the North Sea so what we had to do, we had stand-by programmes which were on reel to reel tape recorders. So quite often we would be live on the microphone but we'd be playing the music off the tape recorder.
 
I remember once Muhammad Ali was fighting Henry Cooper[3] for the world title. I was on the ship. I think we were watching it on television. What we did was run a line from the television into the studio and we went “here's your exclusive Radio Caroline broadcast of the heavyweight championship fight” (laughs) and what I was doing, I was playing in the BBC feed and talking over the fellow from the BBC, whoever was doing that, very effectively so it kind of sounded like it was coming from Radio Caroline. I'd throw in a few jingles and stuff. That was totally illegal and terrible but that's the kind of thing we did. That was kind of fun. I guess it was the first ever pirated world championship fight.

Emperor Rosko

Emperor Rosko with Alfie the mynah bird in RTL's Paris studio. A photo shared by Rosko on Facebook.

Did I ever tell you the story about when the newsreader - I forget who he was at the time. He wasn't one of the rock'n'roll disc-jockeys, you know, kind of like a BBC-reject type, you know, a little straight and he'd be reading the news and we'd think of things to do to him to try and lighten things up a little bit because he was so straight. Once I remember I took my mynah bird and we put him underneath the newsreader's table and we covered it with a sheet, and the sheet was tied to a fishing line with a hook so that we could pull the sheet off in the middle of the news. And, of course, when the sheet went off the mynah bird would start doing numbers. You know it would go (squawking) “rock'n'roll, rock'n'roll, Caroline, sounds fine, Caroline” and things like that. And this guy was reading the news of course. It was just to die, to hear him trying to ignore this bird and he couldn't go off the air for two minutes. That was one of the better ones. I can't remember who it was but he was reading the news one day when somebody hid under the table. And, of course, newsreaders have to read sheets of paper. They are not like us. They don't ad-lib. And one of the DJs set his news sheet on fire while he was reading it. That was pretty good because, forget ad-lib, all you heard was (high pitched) “huh, huh, huh”. Those things happened back then. I don't think we could get away with it these days. I think the current station managers would have fits, don't you?



NOTES


1

‘Emperor Rosko's DJ Book’, Everest Books, 1976. An updated digital edition is available to download from roskogear.com.

2

The French TV report is available on YouTube. There is also a video of Rosko on RTL in Paris.

3

The bout took place on 21st May 1966. Although of huge public interest, Rosko is incorrect. It was not a world title fight.


Back to Ray's chat with Ian MacRae.
Ray's conversation with Kevin Turner is over the page.


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