No.25: Ray Clark in conversation with Bill Rollins

Bill Rollins

Bill Rollins. Photo posted on Radio Caroline's Facebook page.

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 interviews was with Bill Rollins.
 
Bill was a DJ on the short-lived Tower Radio / Radio Tower but by the seventies was working for East Anglian Productions, a company that released a number of offshore radio nostalgia products. Through them he became the continuity voice on Radio Caroline's sponsored religious programmes. This continued when Caroline returned from a new ship in the eighties and, for a while Bill, became the link between the guys on the ship and the office in London.
 
This interview took place in 2003 and we are grateful to Ray for sharing the recording with us.



RELIGIOUS PROGRAMMES IN THE 70s

BILL ROLLINS: I didn't get involved (with Radio Caroline) until, I guess, the late seventies. I mean, I had an interest in pirate radio - in the sixties I was on Sunk Head fort. I'd been on Radio Tower as a 16 year old kid trying to make his name - which never happened - but at least I got paid out there. About £10 a week which in 1965/66 was quite good for my age. It wasn't until the seventies that I sort of got an interest, listening to Caroline and recording programmes. Why I recorded them, I don't know. I thought I was the only person in the world that did it but, in retrospect, I was one of hundreds that did. I tried to keep recordings that were more than just the normal run-of-the-mill programmes. The more interesting bits. Being a bit selective about what I kept.
 
During the latter part of the 70s, I was working with East Anglian Productions at Frinton. Mainly doing radio and TV commercials plus offshore documentaries. Also at that time, we were involved with an American organisation called Pan American Broadcasting which was in Cupertino, California. It was run by a guy called Gene Bernald and basically what they were doing was placing religious advertising on radio stations right across the world. Ray (Anderson, boss of EAP) had made contact with Gene and the deal was he wanted to get some religious programmes on Caroline.

RAY CLARK: He'd heard of Caroline?

BR: He'd heard of Caroline. He'd made contact with Ray, or vice versa, and the deal was that the tapes would be sent into East Anglian Productions at Frinton from the States. We would sort of organise them and at the end of each tape we had to record a short little message which basically said “you can also write to Father Joe at BCM Box 66, London WC1” and things like that. And that is basically all that happened. We sent the tapes out (to the ship) - I am not sure how they got there. The tapes were sent to London, as far as I remember, and eventually went out to, as it was then, the Mi Amigo. The Mi Amigo was ticking away in the latter part of the seventies. The signal was up and down quite a bit but nonetheless the religious organisations were tolerably happy I guess. Not a lot of mail came in for some of the programmes so what Gene would do at that point was write hooky letters. The trouble is he'd sign the letter Bill Rollins and put my address on them. He'd send them over to us here in the UK for us to post to Box 66 so they'd have British postage stamps on them to send back to the States, to these religious broadcasters. Well most people would perhaps write and say “it was a wonderful programme. How uplifting. I do enjoy listening to you” but Gene would go a bit further and start explaining to the religious people that “I'm actually visiting Africa and I'm trying to bring the word of the Lord to Africa and any help you can give me in this field would be wonderful.” Well that was OK until one day I got home and my wife said to me: “what the f*ck is this?” And what it was was a box, I guess something like 3 ft by 2 ft by 1ft full of bibles. There must have been 100 bibles in this box, sent by one of the religious organisations for me to distribute to the poor people in Africa who hadn't had a chance to read the book. Other stuff came in as well but I think that was the worst case - a hundred bibles turning up!

RADIO CAROLINE RELIGIOUS PROGRAMMES, 1979

Sundays 18.30-19.00: The Abundant Life Program (Oral Roberts)
Mondays & Tuesdays 18.15-18.30: Prophecy For Today (Pastor Perry F Rockwood)
Sundays 06.30-07.00: The International Gospel Hour (Vic E Howard)
Fridays 06.45-07.00: The Albert Bonk Program
Daily 19.00-20.00: How Your Mind Can Keep You Well in a Moment of Truth (Roy Masters)
Sundays 18.00-18.30: Wings Of Healing (Evelyn Wyatt)
Tuesdays 06.45-07.00: The Divine Plan Program
Thursdays 18.15-18.30: The Power of the Word (George Ray)
Weekdays 06.30-06.45 & 18.00-18.15: The Camp Meeting Hour (Rev. Jimmy Swaggart)
Mondays 06.45-07.00: Monday Morning Meditations (Clement Victor Barnard)
Weekdays 06.15-06.30: Garner Ted Armstrong
Mondays 18.30-19.00 Independent Baptist Hour (Milburn Cockrell)
Tuesdays 18.30-19.00: Words of Hope (Dr. William Brownson)
Wednesdays 18.15-18.30: The Perfect Way Program (Pastor Charles B Bernardi)
Saturdays 06.00-07.00: The Mount Paran Worship Hour (Pastor Paul L Walker)
Thursdays 18.30-19.00: The Victory Hour (Jimmy Waters)
Wednesdays 06.45-07.00: The Hour of New Life (John Hitchcock)
Thursdays 06.45-07.00: Eric Butterworth Speaks
Fridays 18.45-19.00: The Old Country Church (Rev. Paul Smith)
Sponsored programmes running on Caroline in summer 1979 in order of first appearance on the schedule, as listed in ‘Monitor’ magazine.

click to hear audio Ray Anderson back-announcing the 2nd February 1980 edition of How Your Mind Can Keep You Well on Radio Caroline. Clip taken from a recording shared on www.azanorak.com. Our thanks to Ray Robinson (duration 1 minute)

THE SINKING OF THE MI AMIGO

BR: One night I had a phone call from someone, I think it was Kevin Turner, who said “they (Caroline) are putting out some numbers” because at the top of the hour, during the evenings or certain times of the day, if there were problems they would put out a list of numbers. It would be “tonight's numbers are 42, 63, 97...” and he said “something's wrong”. So, don't ask me why but for some inexplicable reason, I put a tape recorder on. I just let the tape run and because back in those days it wasn't digital recording, you had to change the tapes over every hour because the reel of tape would run out. By about midnight I decided - well I wasn't even listening to what was going out, I was just letting it record - and by about quarter to midnight, something like that, I thought “I'm going to bed”. Anyway, to cut a long story short, just as I was about to switch the machine off, I heard Tom Anderson saying “it's not a very good occasion really. We're having to close down. The boat is taking water”. I thought “goodness. I've got something here” so I kept the recording. I went to East Anglian Productions in the morning with this tape. “Listen to this Ray”. Ray hadn't heard anything about it. The next thing we know BBC radio, BBC news, BBC television, ITV, everybody is phoning East Anglian Productions. “What do you know?” Then the sales pitch comes in. “Well we've got the recording of the final transmission.” I think that's the only money I've ever made out of Caroline apart from the ‘God tapes’ because every time that recording went out I got £50 from the BBC (laughs) which was pretty good. ITV paid. Capital Radio paid. It was before the days of ISDN lines and being able to send audio from one side of the world to the other in ten seconds. If you wanted a recording, you had to come and get it, or had to have it delivered. They send motorbike couriers down to pick up this recording. I think BBC radio news actually took a signal of it down the phone line. We literally took the microphone out of the phone and fed the signal down the line. This most distorted recording went out on one of the news bulletins but it was mainly motorbike couriers coming to pick it up. That was that. Caroline had sunk.[1]

click to hear audio The “numbers for the office” being read out at 6pm, 7pm, 8pm, 9pm and 10pm on Caroline's last evening of broadcasts from the mv Mi Amigo, 19th March 1980. Bill's recording, shared on www.azanorak.com. Our thanks to him and Ray Robinson (duration 3 minutes 54 seconds)

THE RADIO CAROLINE DOCUMENTARY

BR: East Anglian Productions made many documentary albums - LPs as it was in those days - of pirate radio. We had been talking about doing a definitive documentary about the story of Caroline. Ray had already done one which covered 1964 to 1974 I think, the first Caroline Story, but this looked like the end of Caroline. When you saw the news clips the next morning on television, all you could see above the top of the waves was just the mast sticking out and the top of the wheelhouse. That was it. So the idea was born that day to do the definitive story of Caroline audio-wise on album and because we had over time made contact with people, we started getting interviews in and stuff like that. The album was eventually put together with a lot of interviews and it worked very well. It was a sort of definitive history at the time, from 1964 to 1980, when the boat sank.

THE RETURN OF CAROLINE

BR: It all went fairly quiet. There were a few rumours that Caroline was coming back on the air but it never happened until, it must have been the latter part of '82 perhaps, it looked as if something was finally happening. In the meantime in August 1983 we (EAP) had gone out to the ship (the Ross Revenge) filming. We took a fishing boat from Felixstowe. We went out to film with Dave Kindred[2] of the East Anglian Daily Times. Andy Archer was with us, as was Robin Ross and Dixie Peach. We got on board and they were still off the air. They hadn't yet come on the air. We did quite a bit of filming that was used in the DVD ‘A Day in the Life of Radio Caroline’. We did more shooting in July 84. Obviously we got to know more people by just doing that.

VIEWPOINT

BR: Eventually, after a period of time, the religious stuff started up again[3]. Gene Bernald and a lot of the broadcasters, Roy Masters[4] especially, was really intent on getting back on the air over here.

RC: What sort of response were they getting? Was it good?

BR: In a good week you'd probably get a hundred, maybe two hundred letters, maybe more, which is not bad considering people had to put pen to paper. It wasn't thousands. It wasn't the proverbial sack full of letters turning up but we were getting stuff and we were forwarding it on. They were reasonably happy. We are going back to the early days. When it came back in the eighties I don't think the response was quite as good. That's how I feel about it. I don't know. Maybe the religious people will tell you differently. Roy Masters was hell-bent on getting back on the air with his programme. A lot of the other ones we never had any contact with really. Roy Masters was very good. When I was doing the album, the Caroline (documentary) album, I wanted to interview him because he was one of the big players, one of the names that people would remember. I contacted Roy Masters in California at his Foundation of Human Understanding. I didn't really know what kind of response I was going to get. He was so accommodating, it was unbelievable. I asked him the questions. We tried to record it on the phone but he said “don't do it. I'll record it here and mail you the tape” and, lo and behold, he posted the tape over. Very accommodating. Because Caroline was a bit rebellious, I think he felt a bit rebellious as well. There was something he liked about the whole idea of Caroline.

VIEWPOINT 963 as of October 1986

WEEKDAYS
18.00 Johan Maasbach (-18.15)
18.30 Garner Ted Armstrong
18.45 Ernest O'Neill
19.00 How Your Mind Can Keep You Well...
20.00 World Missionary Evangelism (-20.15)
21.00 Word for Today (-21.30)
 
plus
MON 20.30 Bibleway (-21.00)
TUE 20.30 Strength for Today (-21.00)
WED 20.30 Hall Deliverance Foundation
    20.45 Youthtime Radio (-21.00)
THURS 20.15 Tree of Life
    20.45 Harvest Gleaner Hour (-21.00)
FRI 20.45 The Old Country Church (-21.00)


SATURDAY
18.00 Johan Maasbach (-18.15)
18.30 Garner Ted Armstrong (-18:45)
19.00 Seek Me Early (-19.15)
19.30 Words of Life
20.00 Sacred Name Broadcast
20.30 Harvest Time Tabernacle
20.45 The Perfect Way (-21.00)
 
SUNDAY
18.00 Johan Maasbach
18.30 Garner Ted Armstrong (-18.45)
19.00 Wings of Healing
19.30 Voice of Bethel
19.45 Faithway Baptist Hour
20.00 Jewish Voice Broadcast
20.15 Word of Faith
20.45 Albert Bonk (-21.00)
Sponsored programmes running on Caroline as of October 1986. Any gaps between the programmes were filled with non-stop music.

click to hear audio Bill Rollins back-announcing an edition of World Missionary Evangelism on Radio Caroline in April 1986. Recording courtesy of Bill (duration 49 seconds)

There was once particular incident I will tell you about. Sometimes the tapes came in on... forget the idea of digital and wonderful quality. These were sent in on crummy old cassettes, the cheapest cassette tapes that you could possibly ever lay your hands on. How they sounded as well as they did when they were broadcast is still a mystery to me. They were really bad but, anyway, what we had to do with some of the tapes... say there was a C90, a 90 minute tape. The programmes would actually run about 14 minutes each so there'd be a minute or so's gap in between each programme for us to just drop-edit in “we hope you enjoyed the programme tonight. Don't forget you can join Father Holy Joe tomorrow evening at 7 o'clock here on Viewpoint. You can write to him at BCM Box 66” and all the rest of it. Well, when you've got a C90, you can do it. You just keep dropping in the edits. When you turn the tape over to play the second side, you don't listen to the whole recording but you do just make sure there is a recording there. Put the end tag on and go on to the next recording. Well on the second side of the tape (on this particular occasion) the second programme out of the three on that side was distorted and was up and down in speed. It was just unbroadcastable so, after I'd done the first announcement on the second side of the tape, I left a gap then put a tone on the tape, a 1kHz tone to hopefully attract somebody's attention and went in and said “don't use the remainder of this tape. It is faulty.” Another tone, run for about 30 seconds. At the end I said “well you've probably gathered by now the rest of the tape is f*cked. Please do not use”. Never thought any more of it. Now one of the deals we had with Pan-American was that we had to check that these programmes were going out and log that they were going out. That's how we got our money. If we didn't do our side of it over here, Gene Bernald didn't get paid through his company, we didn't get paid and so on. So we'd check that the programmes were going out. Now obviously you're not going to sit there for two hours every evening listening to this twaddle but you would just check occasionally if you happened to be passing a radio. You'd turn it on. “Oh yes. Roy Masters is on. Oh yes, it's Father Holy Joe”, whatever it was, and that was it as far as we were concerned. Yes, the programme had gone out. There was no problem and we could fill in the log for Pan-American and send it back to them. Except - and I can't remember which programme it was - but I can remember I was in the car, driving up the A12 towards Chelmsford one evening and I turned Caroline on, see what's going out, and I heard myself say “you can also write to...” you know, then I heard this tone come on. Now this is maybe three weeks, four weeks, maybe even more after I recorded it... and I heard the message “the remainder of this tape is f*cked” going out on Caroline. You can imagine how I felt. This should never have gone out. You imagine everybody in the country knows it's him in that blue car that's driving up the A12 that's just said it. But, of course, not many people did. I spoke, a long time after, to (engineer) Mike Barrington who was out on the ship at the time and apparently they were all sitting in the mess room while this stuff was going out and they didn't have it on loud. They just had it ticking away in the background. They heard the end announcement and, between the mess room and the studio, there must have been a distance. I don't know how far it was or how long it took but, by the time Mike got to the studio, his words were “just as I opened the door was when you said ‘you've probably gathered that the rest of the tape is f*cked’” and he said “I just hit the stop button at that point”. I think we had two letter of complaint so whether that means there were just two people listening to Caroline at that time (laughs) or not, I've no idea.

click to hear audio Bill Rollins introducing a tribute on Radio Caroline to Buster Pearson, the editor of Monitor magazine. Recording courtesy of Bill (duration 1 minute 42 seconds)

SHIP-TO-SHORE COMMUNICATIONS

BR: Ship-to-shore communication. How did it all start? It must have been in '83. CB radio was a big thing at the time and somewhere along the line I'd been talking to Andy Archer. He said “we must try and talk. We've got a CB rig out on the ship.” We used to chat, possibly lunchtimes, and this was going on for a while. I'd be sitting normally along the sea-front at Walton-on-the-Naze, or somewhere like that, or near the Naze Tower at Walton, talking to Andy. There was no secrecy. Somewhere I've got a recording of me and Andy talking and there was nothing secretive, no passing of secrets to Caroline or information for Caroline that I can remember. This was going on for a little while, not long, and it was just me and Andy having a chat. It was as simple as that. So anyway (one day) I'm sitting in the car and, admittedly I might have been running a bit more power than the legal 4 watt CB limit, and I am sitting looking over the sea and just glanced in my mirror. As I did, I saw this car pulling in, bristling with aerials. Obviously it wasn't someone coming along to wish me a happy birthday! It was the British DTI. One of them was Gus Coleman and the other one may have been Mike Hawkins from Colchester. I knew who they were. My big concern was that I was running more transmitter power out of my CB radio than I should have been. Then it started. They did what they had to do. “You're going to have to be reported for this.” Oh well, I hadn't really done anything. I hadn't passed any state secrets on...

RC: So they were going to report you for talking to the ship?

BR: Talking to the ship, assisting the ship, and I thought no more about it until one evening there was a knock on the door. It was almost surreal. When I opened the door... I mean a door frame is about six foot high and I swear this policeman must have been seven foot high. He was enormous. This copper asked if he could come in. I wasn't exactly going to stop him. He was something to do with the Alert or one of the police boats or something like that. “We have reason to believe that you have been passing information on”. I said “no. I was just talking to them. I don't think I have passed anything on that was dodgy.” “Well, you may be hearing more on this.” Marine Offences Act, the whole works. He may even have cautioned me under the MOA. That was the last I ever heard of it but it put me off the idea of talking to Andy. I got away with that and thought best to stop.
 
Some time later, we are talking about 1985 now, I was talking to Johnny Lewis and the subject of doing a link came up. I said, obviously I have had my fingers burned previously, I said “if we do it, we've got to do something which is quick and very efficient. No wishing each other a happy birthday, trust the sun is shining where you are, and all this sort of nonsense.” I said “let's see what we can do.” So anyway one day I just put a call out. We arranged a time, put a call out. He came back. So we had got the link. We'd made communication. So how it worked after that - and this must have worked for perhaps two years, maybe a bit longer. There weren't cell phones in those days. It was a matter of using CB radio. You had 40 channels on CB. If you transmit on, say, channel 1 and he transmits on channel 1 and then you transmit on channel 1, that means whoever is listening can hear both sides of the conversation. I thought “we've got to be more crafty than that”. So I made up a little chart which showed the channels. Let's say there's 31 days in a month. On, say, the 1st of the month I'd transmit to the ship on channel 31. The ship had the same sort of enigma code, if you like, of what channels to use so they listen on channel 31 but their transmit channel might be channel 8. So if you're listening to either of those channels that day, you'd only hear one side of the conversation, which wouldn't make any sense at all. This went on through the months. We had a different channel every day for a month. The ship would transmit on one channel and I would transmit on another. I tried not to repeat channels. You had 40 channels, you had enough movement there. The numbers were changed every month. This went on until the mast went down. It went through Eurosiege[5]. How the hell they did never cotton on to it, I have no idea. The DTI were out there with all their spectrum analysers. Unless they did know it was going on, and thought this might be handy to let go. Who knows?

RC: Was it at the same time every day?

BR: Yes. Within about 20 minutes. Sometimes it would be early morning, sometimes it would be around 6 o'clock in the evening. It would be a matter of me sort of whistling in the mic “you there, mate?” “Yeah, we're here.” And it worked remarkably quick considering you had to swap channels. I mean “we've got nothing for you this end. Anything your end?” “Yes, we're short of so-and-so, we need so-and-so.” “OK. Leave it with us.” And that was it.

RC: Did you have codes like J1, J2, J3...?

BR: Yeah. In the initial stages it was more plain English. We did create a sort of code so this means ‘anchors gone’, this means ‘taking water’, this means ‘we need more fuel oil’, this means ‘we need more lube oil’, food, whatever, you know, loads of things. There were numbers for the various commercials so you might get a message through which goes “from Monday stop 32 but start 33a.” They knew what it was because they had the listing so they knew to stop whatever 32 was and kick in 33a. And that's how it worked, and it went all the way through Eurosiege. It was very quick. We passed all the (winning) Lotto 649 numbers over it. They used to record it on the ship. They used to record my transmissions on the ship so I didn't have to repeat myself. If they missed any information, they could play the tape back. It saved going over the same thing again. “No, it's number 42. No 42...” You didn't have to keep repeating yourself. It was a matter of “42, 22, 19, blah, blah, blah. See you tomorrow” and it was basically kept very, very short. It worked.

click to hear audio Ship-to-shore communications between Bill on land and Kevin Turner on the Ross Revenge (duration 1 minutes 49 seconds)

One funny incident: I was driving along the seafront in Clacton one morning and, if anyone knows Clacton, along the seafront there's what they call the Gardens area where there's Lancaster Gardens East, Lancaster Gardens West, things like that. Anyway I'm driving along there and I'm coming up to this turning for Lancaster Gardens and the car that is pulling out right in front of me happens to be my old mate Gus Coleman from the DTI with his car covered in aerials. It looked like a bloody hedgehog. I just literally dropped the microphone, went up to the next road, turned right, turned right again, just disappeared up my own tail if you like. I kept looking in the mirror. I thought “it's going to happen” but no. It didn't happen. I just carried on right the way through. While the ship was in the Knock Deep the signals were fine. No problem. Once they'd gone to the South Falls[6], communication was more difficult. A lot more difficult from my location on the Essex coast.

RC: What about Ronan? Did you ever have contact from him?

BR: Occasionally. Normally I'd deal with Peter Moore. At that time he was running the Carburettor Centre in Highgate. That's where we used to send the tapes. I'd normally have contact with him.


NOTES


1

The mv Mi Amigo sank in the early hours of 20th March 1980, see here.

2

Some of David Kindred's photos of offshore radio can be found on Flickr.

3

Radio Caroline returned to the air in August 1983. They started broadcasting sponsored religious programmes in May 1985 under the name “Viewpoint 963”.

4

Roy Masters's programme How Your Mind Can Keep You Well in a Moment of Truth was broadcast on Radio Caroline from 7th July 1979. He died on 22nd April 2021 at the age of 93.

5

From August to December 1985 the British government tried to force the offshore stations off the air by intercepting their supplies. A chartered boat, initially the Dioptric Surveyor later replaced by the Gardline Tracker, remained at sea, near to the Caroline and Laser ships, to monitor any tenders bringing provisions or staff. Laser's Charlie Wolf named it ‘Eurosiege’.

6

The Ross Revenge was initially anchored in the Knock Deep channel of the Thames estuary. During 1987 it became necessary to move the ship. The new Territorial Sea Bill was about to to extend British waters to twelve miles round the coast. On 10th June 1987 the Ross Revenge moved to a new anchorage in the South Falls, off Kent.


Back to Ray's chat with Tom Anderson.


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