PART ONE: Foreword.
This page contains an extract from Tom Lodge's book about Radio Caroline. It is completely revised and expanded from the earlier versions, is in a hard cover and contains more photos from Tom's
time with the station, with more tales of life aboard, more insights into the music and more stories of the musicians who made the sixties such a special era. The new book is entitled The Ship that Rocked the
World: How Radio Caroline Defied the Establishment, Launched the British Invasion and Made the Planet Safe for Rock and Roll and is available from Amazon and good book shops.
This is an adventure story, so let's get that straight right up front.
What Ronan and his gang of rogues, renegades, and roustabouts pulled off had little intention of making history and every intention of making trouble. Of course they ended up doing both. And along the way incurring the class-conscious self-righteous and occasionally dangerously irrational wrath of Her Majesty's Government which considered everything from illegally sinking them (it did) to immorally assassinating them (which, incredibly, it almost did). And for what high crimes against the Empire was all this wrath in defense of, you ask?
Spreading the Plague perhaps?
No, sorry. Radio Caroline performed the singularly treasonous act of playing Rock and Roll records to an audience that couldn't hear them anywhere else.
So in other words, the British government's response was only a bit more extreme than most of our parents!
We were lucky in America.
We had great radio from the mid-fifties on. Our horrified unsuspecting long suffering hard working mothers and fathers witnessed the birth of a new species - the Teenager - who came in such numbers that they couldn't be exterminated quick enough and took over. And they brought their own soundtrack with them.
And by the way destiny would play a role in the flourishing of that soundtrack in two big ways. When William Paley and CBS introduced the 33 1/3 RPM 12 inch Long Player (LP) in 1948, whose more durable Vinylite plastic would ultimately replace the 78 RPMs very breakable shellac, his chief rival General David Sarnoff at RCA had to invent something to compete. It would be the 45RPM 7 inch single (6 7/8 actually) introduced in 1949. This would coincide with a musician's strike (they assumed records would put them out of business!) which forced record companies to produce more children's records and - here's the thing - tiny portable phonograph machines to go with them. Thusly enabling kids, soon to be teenagers, the ability to play the records they wanted, when they wanted, in the privacy of their own rooms, as opposed to the colossal console in the middle of the living room which was closely policed by one's parents.
This teenage technology came along just in time because their sound track turned out to be an unholy combination of hillbilly trash, blues shouters, and gospel fugitives that some lunatic DJ named Alan Freed was calling Rock and Roll (“wasn't that what black people called sex?!”). Which surely would never have survived (or seen the light of day) in adultsville.
And then, as if by Satanic wizardry - and maybe the reference to the Plague was accurate after all - it hit the Mother Country like a wayward tsunami.
And boy were you ready for it.
A country full of the same frustrated teenagers waiting for a post-World War black-and-white life to explode into widescreen Technicolor. Loudly.
And just in case you think frustrated is too strong a word keep in mind it was those conservative, well behaved English teenagers that upon witnessing Bill Haley and the Comets ‘Rock Around The Clock’ as it opened the classic film Blackboard Jungle, literally ripped the seats out of the theater. They did so for one simple reason. No one had ever heard rock and roll at the proper volume before, you know, loud. And out of those gigantic speakers spilled liberation.
That's what this music was all about. And the explosion of liberation came from the unlikely barrels of the cannons aboard Radio Caroline's Danish passenger ferry, the MV Fredericia, anchored three and a half miles out to sea in International waters. It broadcast the British Invasion back to Britain and gave it the strength it would need to cross the ocean.
And without them ... well unless ‘How Much Is That Doggie In The Window’ turns you on, you don't even want to think about it.
So settle back me hearties and let old Tom spin you a tale about a band of pirates that never made it to the Caribbean, but against all odds made it to New Jersey.
And accidentally saved my life.
Stevie Van Zandt
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