Robbie Dale in the Radio Caroline South studio. Photo courtesy of Caroline engineer Sheridon Street.
When the Offshore 50 reunion event took place in August 2017, it fell to Robbie Dale to propose a toast to absent friends - the former pirate colleagues who were no longer with us. Now sadly
we must add Robbie's own name to the list of legendary broadcasters who have passed away.
Robbie Dale paying his respects to absent friends at the ‘Offshore 50’ event in London in August 2017. Photo courtesy of Martin van der Ven.
He was born John Robinson on the 21st April 1940 in Littleborough, Lancashire. He had some difficulties at school because of dyslexia but one teacher spotted his talents at a young age and wrote on his report card:
“I predict that John Robinson will be a success in later life, one day maybe a wealthy businessman”. She wasn't wrong.
After a number of jobs and a five year spell in the army, he came to London in 1963 and was working as an antiques dealer in Portobello Road by day and a disc-jockey at the fashionable De Vere Club in South Kensington by night. He met
Radio Caroline's producer Gerry Duncan and Public Relations Officer Frances van Staden who arranged for him to make a demo tape and introduced him to the station boss, Ronan O'Rahilly.
Robbie spoke of his first meeting with Caroline's founder: “The job interview lasted a couple of hours. I sat on one of the two large black leather couches (in his office). The phones on Ronan's desk, which also sported a bronze
bust of John F. Kennedy, rang constantly. I sat and listened to him dealing with one thing after another. In between the calls we had a Q & A session. Finally Ronan asked if I could start the following week.”
Robbie Dale, as he was now called, joined Radio Caroline South in April 1966. It was an interesting time. The station was temporarily broadcasting from the mv Cheeta II while its usual ship, the mv Mi Amigo, was away being repaired
after going aground. When the Mi Amigo returned, Robbie, as the new boy, was temporarily left on board the Cheeta II. He was told to keep reminding the listeners to retune their radios to the other ship's frequency. His memories of
joining the station are here.
When things returned to normal and the programme schedule settled down, Robbie took over the nightly Caroline Club Request Show, later to be renamed Robbie Dale's Diary - a spoof on the long-running BBC radio soap
opera “Mrs Dale's Diary”. His early shows were a little uneven as it took him a while to master the technology - “Robbie versus the machines” was a regular feature - but his warm voice and enthusiasm quickly
won him a large following.
Robbie Dale on the Caroline Club Request Show on 14th May 1966, getting The Who and The Rolling Stones muddled up. Clip taken from the ‘Johnnie Walker and Robbie Dale: Their Offshore Radio Years’ mp3-DVD (duration 3 minutes
Robbie, in full admiral's regalia, with some fans. Cutting from an unidentified local newspaper. Click to magnify.
When Tom Lodge left the station, Robbie was appointed Senior DJ for the south ship. His colleague Dave Lee Travis gave him the nickname “The
Admiral” because he liked everything to be ship-shape on board. Robbie embraced the name and started calling himself that on air. He founded ‘The Beat Fleet’ which doubled as a fan club and free radio supporter
organisation (see here). Thousands of listeners paid five shillings (25p) each to become members and many pop stars of the day were enlisted and awarded Honorary Commissions.
Robbie advertising The Beat Fleet and ending a show in March 1967 (duration 1 minute 39 seconds)
Robbie on Caroline South one evening in June 1967. This is an edited version of a recording available from www.azanorak.com. Our thanks to Ray Robinson (duration 4 minutes 15
Despite the best efforts of the Beat Fleet and other campaigning groups, the British government was determined to outlaw the offshore stations. The Marine Offences Bill made its way through Parliament. It was announced that the new
law would take effect on 15th August 1967, making it illegal for a British subject to work for a pirate station. Radio Caroline was determined to continue broadcasting and Robbie wanted to stay with them. It is thought that he was
able to obtain an Irish passport because of his family roots in that country. When it came to 14th August, the day before the new law took effect, most of Robbie's colleagues quit rather than risk prosecution. Only Robbie and
Johnnie Walker remained although Roger Day, who had gone ashore to get his passport renewed, soon returned. That night, at midnight, Johnnie and Robbie welcomed the listeners
to a new era, that of Radio Caroline International.
Johnnie Walker with Robbie Dale on Caroline South, midnight 14th August 1967 (duration 5 minutes 13 seconds)
Robbie on Radio Caroline International on Sunday morning 7th January 1968. Clip taken from the ‘Johnnie Walker and Robbie Dale: Their Offshore Radio Years’ mp3-DVD (duration 2 minutes 56 seconds)
New DJs joined the team and Caroline continued, but they faced a tough time. Instead of the daily tenders which they had previously enjoyed, now they only had irregular visits from Holland. Journeys to land were
long and unpleasant and the broadcasters felt very cut off. Robbie presented the 9am-noon show each day but he became ill with a stomach ulcer and was forced to leave the ship in January 1968. He had met a boutique owner in Amsterdam,
Stella Regina, and he decided to stay in Holland with her and work for the station on land. In early March Robbie and Stella were on holiday in Spain when they received a telegram from Johnnie Walker. The Caroline ships had been seized
by the Wijsmuller company because of unpaid bills. The station had been silenced. Robbie returned to Holland and helped to close the office at Singel 160.
Robbie at a Radio Veronica gig.
After a chance meeting with DJ Jan van Veen, Robbie was invited to join the Dutch pirate Radio Veronica. The Dutch government had not yet acted against this popular station so Veronica was still legal and, unlike
Caroline, its programmes were recorded on land which made life much easier for the disc-jockeys. Robbie's programmes, presented in a mix of Dutch and English, proved popular in Holland and in 1969 he joined the Dutch national television
network TROS. He presented the teenage music magazine Jam. TROS wanted Robbie to host a spin-off radio show too which meant leaving Radio Veronica and joining Hilversum 3 for Jam on Radio. During this period he
released a couple of singles in the Netherlands, Soul Mamma and Hey, You're Crazy. He also got into producing bands, setting up Admiral One Productions. One
of his releases Powerful Jim by Serpentine was played extensively by his old ship-mates now working on Radio Northsea International. Robbie also wrote a column for
a music paper.
Robbie on Radio Veronica, 17th March 1968. Clip taken from the ‘Johnnie Walker and Robbie Dale: Their Offshore Radio Years’ mp3-DVD (duration 3 minutes 20 seconds)
One of Robbie's columns in ‘Top Pop’ magazine. Click to magnify.
In 1972 Robbie and Stella, now married, moved to London with their family. He had been away from British broadcasting for a long time. Things had moved on. Robbie joined an office cleaning company as Managing
Director. By chance, one of the company's clients was the new commercial station for London, Capital Radio, so Robbie was often to be found in their Euston Tower base, not presenting shows but checking his cleaners were doing a
During the seventies Radio Caroline returned to the air and Robbie made one more appearance on the station. Over the weekend of 13th-14th August 1977 an event called Flashback '67 was held at the Centre Airport
Hotel, Heathrow. This was the first ever offshore radio convention and Robbie interviewed a number of the guests there on the Saturday night. The recording was then rushed out to the ship and, on the following evening, a special
programme was broadcast as the DJs played his taped interviews, describing it as a “live link-up” with the hotel.
Radio Mi Amigo's Herman De Graf and Radio Caroline's Stuart Russell start a special programme at 6pm on Sunday 14th August 1977 and ‘link up’ with Robbie at Flashback '67, talking to
DJ Mark Roman, author Paul Harris, Robbie's old ship-mate Spangles Muldoon and Caroline's first DJ Simon Dee. The “young Irishman with grey
hair” they mention is Caroline founder Ronan O'Rahilly (duration 4 minutes 50 seconds)
Robbie was involved in an Ulster Television/Belfast Telegraph bid for a local radio franchise in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately the Independent Broadcasting Authority awarded the licence to Downtown
Radio instead. In early 1980 a group of people came together to plan a new offshore station. This never came to fruition either but three of the group, Robbie, his old colleague Chris Cary (DJ Spangles Muldoon) and former Caroline
Director Philip Solomon decided to launch a land-based station in Dublin, Sunshine Radio. There was already a thriving Irish pirate scene but many of the stations were not very professional. Sunshine was
going to be different.
On 14th September 1980, Sunshine broadcast its first test transmission with Robbie at the microphone. The test was a success, being heard over a wide area, but that night the 160 foot aerial mast mysteriously collapsed. Sabotage was
suspected and Chris Cary, fearing IRA involvement, decided to pull out of the project. Philip Solomon had doubts too but Robbie was determined to continue. He borrowed £25,000, using his house as collateral, and bought his
partners out. A new mast was constructed and Sunshine returned to the air on 29th September. It was a huge success. Chris Cary launched his own station in competition, Radio Nova, and the two “super pirates” battled it
out for a share of the Dublin market, later joined by a third Q102.
Robbie on Sunshine Radio, 19th May 1983 while a police raid is taking place. The rival station Radio Nova had been raided the previous day so the event was not unexpected. Both stations later returned to the air. Recording courtesy of
Hans Knot (duration 4 minutes 33 seconds)
In June 1988 the Irish Minister for Communications Ray Burke announced a new broadcasting law would soon come into force, licencing commercial radio in Ireland. If any of the existing pirates wanted to be considered
for a licence they had to cease broadcasting by midnight on 31st December 1988. Sunshine-101, as it was now called, closed at 6pm on the day before the deadline.
An emotional Robbie closing Sunshine-101 on 30th December 1988. This recording courtesy of the Radiowaves.fm
website (duration 6 minutes 8 seconds)
Robbie and Johnnie Walker, right, at the Radio Academy's ‘Celebration of Sixties Offshore Radio’ in August 2007. Photo courtesy of Martin van der Ven.
Robbie was confident that he would be awarded a licence. Sunshine had been a hugely popular and successful station, but it wasn't to be. His bid was rejected. Instead Robbie and Stella moved to Lanzarote. They
purchased San Francisco Park a complex offering self-catering holidays in studios and apartments in Puerto del Carmen. When your webmaster visited in 2001, Robbie was proud to show me the photographs from across his radio career
displayed on the walls of the reception area. As they got older, the couple's involvement in running the business reduced and they retired.
Robbie seemed on good form when he and Stella visited London in 2017 for Offshore 50 but his health deteriorated and on 1st September 2021 Stella posted on-line: “I have to come to terms with the end of a life well-lived. I
lost my best friend and husband yesterday, Robbie Robinson, AKA The Admiral ‘Robbie Dale’. He has been my support and rock for 53 years. He was 81 and lived a good life and thankfully passed peacefully after battling
dementia. R.I.P My lovely Robbie.” And thousands of listeners across Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands are going to miss him too.
Press coverage of Robbie's death: The Irish Times,
The Irish Independent and
The Pirate.ie Podcast #8 is an audio tribute to Robbie's time running Sunshine Radio in Ireland.
There is also an excellent photo tribute on the Radio London website.
Some comments from former colleagues of Robbie's, either sent to us direct or posted on social media:
Johnnie Walker: “Farewell and R.I.P. to my lifelong friend and ‘Defy The Government’ buddy the Admiral Robbie Dale. We shared so many wonderful adventures together and on 14th August 1967 were
the only 2 DJs left to keep Radio Caroline on the air. Good Bless you Robbie.”
Andy Archer: “I shall always be grateful to Robbie. When I started on the Mi Amigo I wasn't the most talented of DJs and when Solomon issued an order that one of us had to go, I thought it would be me.
But Robbie stuck with me and because of that I was lucky enough to have a very long career in radio.”
Roger Day: “Just heard that my old shipmate the Admiral Robbie Dale has died. He with Johnnie Walker was one of the three amigos. That's four friends in the last few weeks ....bad times.”
Tom Edwards: “Yet more sad news ... Our pirate radio DJ family gets smaller with each passing year. I've been told that The Admiral Robbie Dale has died. This man's "energy" should have been his middle
name. He together with Johnnie Walker defied The Marine Offences Act which came into force in August of 1967. He and Johnnie and others continued to broadcast on board the Mi Amigo ship which of course was Radio Caroline. I loved
this man's company. He made me laugh ... and was one of the best broadcasters ever. R.I.P Robbie Dale. My condolences to Stella his wife and the family.”
Johnnie Walker and Robbie Dale outside Caroline's Amsterdam office at Singel 160.