Pirates and privations

Running a radio ship when you’re operating outside of the law isn’t easy.

Big transmitters use lots of electricity and generate lots of radio frequency — basically electricity in the air. When the sea got really rough, the ships’ transmitter aerials could arc and even ground, causing the transmitters to trip. A favourite trick of ours was to wave neon or fluorescent tubes at passing ships at night. There was so much electricity in the air that you could light them without plugging them in.

The ships required copious amounts of fuel for the generators, and food and water for the crew and the disc jockeys (often one and the same). If the aerial was damaged, someone had to climb the mast to repair it — and even in a calm sea a tall mast moves a lot when you are 200ft up.

Anchors had to be found and installed when the chains broke. Tenders had to sail under cover of darkness or even from ports outside the UK.

In the 1960s tenders came daily; by the 1970s they might come monthly, and stays onboard could be as long as three months. There wasn’t much for the DJs to do other than watch television, sleep and broadcast.

Now, with the internet, communication is taken for granted. But there is still an untouchable romance about a rusty old ship and a big mast.

Mark Neeter, who was a Radio Caroline DJ under the name of Steve Kent in the 1970s, is the author of the forthcoming book The Boats that Really Rocked (www.redplanetzone.com)

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