Radio Caroline At 60

In the 1960s, if you were a teenager in the United States, a big part of your life was probably music. There was a seemingly endless supply of both radio stations and 45s to keep you entertained. In the UK and other countries, though, the government held a monopoly on broadcasting, and they were not always enthralled with the music kids liked. Where there is demand, there is an opportunity, and several enterprising broadcasters set up radio stations at sea, the so-called pirate radio stations. In 1964, Irish businessman [Ronan O’Rahilly] did just this and founded Radio Caroline. Can you imagine that 60 years later, Radio Caroline is still around?

Not that it has been in operation for 60 years in a row. There were a few years the station’s ship had been impounded by creditors. Then, the ship ran aground on the Goodwin Sands and was damaged. You can see a news short from 1965 in the video below (Radio Caroline shows up at about the 1:50 mark).

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Radio Piracy On The High Seas: Commercial Demand For Taboo Music

The true story of pirate radio is a complicated fight over the airwaves. Maybe you have a picture in your mind of some kid in his mom’s basement playing records, but the pirate stations we are thinking about — Radio Caroline and Radio Northsea International — were major business operations. They were perfectly ordinary radio stations except they operated from ships at sea to avoid falling under the jurisdiction of a particular government.

Back then many governments were not particularly fond of rock music. People wanted it though, and because people did, advertisers wanted to capitalize on it. When people want to spend money but can’t, entrepreneurs will find a way to deliver what is desired. That’s exactly what happened.

Of course, if that’s all there was to it, this wouldn’t be interesting. But the story is one of intrigue with armed boardings, distress calls interrupting music programs, and fire bombings. Most radio stations don’t have to deal with those events. Surprisingly, at least one of these iconic stations is still around — in a manner of speaking, anyway.

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