When Radio Caroline dropped anchor off Felixstowe in 1964, the BBC’s monopoly of radio broadcasting was holed below the waterline, and not even Tony Benn’s Marine Offences Act three years later could refloat it.
The station, or at least its name, has never really gone away - but after years of languishing on the internet, Caroline could be about to set sail once more.
In an act of obeisance that would have appalled its founders, the station’s current owners applied yesterday to the government’s broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom, for a licence to transmit legally on the AM waveband.
If approved, they plan to relaunch Caroline in time for next year’s 50th anniversary of the act of parliament that forced them off AM in the first place.
The original station, free of traditional “needle time” arrangements with big record companies, was a revelation to listeners, playing pop music all day instead of the solitary lunchtime hour offered by the BBC.
Peter Moore, who now runs Radio Caroline, wants to broadcast from the MV Ross Revenge, a ship moored on the River Blackwater in Essex.
The station already broadcasts from on board the vessel, but not on public analogue frequencies.
Mr Moore said: “We think it would be very fitting that, 50 years after the law intended to silence us once and for all, we show that it didn’t work.”
The proposed AM signal would serve Essex and Suffolk, an area served by the station in its early years, with the transmitter based on land and connected to studios on the ship and in presenters’ homes.
“The Suffolk application is in hope of returning to what was always our heartland,” said Mr Moore. “We would broadcast on AM just like long ago to entertain the people who grew up with Caroline and maybe cannot listen just now.”
Caroline originally had a second ship in the north, the MV Caroline, anchored off the Isle of Man, but the signal could be heard only sporadically east of the Pennines. A dedicated pirate station for Yorkshire, Radio 270, was launched in 1966 by promoter Don Robinson and supermarket owner turned Conservative MP, Wilf Proudfoot, from an old Dutch lugger off the Scarborough coast.
Caroline had been founded by an Irish entrepreneur and music manager called Ronan O’Rahilly, whose anger had been piqued by the refusal of Radio Luxembourg to play his independently-produced recordings of the blues artist, Georgie Fame.
He fought tooth and nail against 1967 law, promoted by then postmaster-general Tony Benn, which forbade British citizens from associating with the pirate ships. He lost that sea battle but won the war, with the BBC made to abandon its staid Light Programme and Home Service and, six years later, the legalisation of the first raft of independent local radio stations.
Caroline launched the careers of many presenters who would go on to become household names. Tony Blackburn and Johnnie Walker, who soon jumped ship for the BBC’s new Radio 1, were among the original pirates, along with Simon Dee, who went on to be BBC TV’s first star chat show host, and Keith Skues, who became director of Yorkshire’s first legal commercial station, Sheffield’s Radio Hallam, in 1974.
An Ofcom spokesman confirmed an application from Radio Caroline was being reviewed.