Radio Caroline ship Mi Amigo. Photo credit Albertoke
I became a listener on Top Band AM with my Nineteen Set, which could be tuned down, the intended frequencies of use being 2 to 8 MHz. It was not difficult to get it working down to 1.8 MHz. I also found I could listen to the locals by turning some pots in a couple of transistor radios we had. I owned only one (the other was my Mum’s), which was a pocket -sized radio with the trade name of the local high street dealer. It was fiddly to tune, but I could listen in my bedroom and it worked. Remember the Nineteen Set was very heavy and dusty, so I had to use that in my den in the loft.
There was a local Top Band pirate who was very active. He boasted of a Codar AT5 transmitter. I do not now remember what his receiver was. No, I was never a Top Band pirate, or indeed any sort of pirate on the amateur radio bands.
In 1967 the then Government was trying to close down the offshore pirate radio stations. I was a Radio Caroline fan, and had listened late into the night (well, until about 11 o’clock) most evenings on the same pocket-sized radio. I was supposed to be asleep, having done my homework. My parents’ expectations were different to those of parents these days.
From August 15th 1967 the Marine Offences Act came into force, making it illegal to operate and service the pirate radio stations anchored off our shores, or operating from offshore forts as one or two did. At 3 o’clock on 14th August, Radio London (Wonderful Big L), Caroline’s neighbour off the Essex coast closed down.
Radio Caroline soldiered on, but there were many of us who believed in “Free Radio” and did not accept the Government’s premise that the BBC should have the monopoly on radio broadcasting in the UK. After all the pirates (commercial radio) had given everyone freedom of choice and had also given a chance to many pop, rock and other bands and solo artists. The pirates made a huge contribution to the cultural changes in the Swinging Sixties.
Some among us protested by putting out our own shows around 195 metres. That is about 1.54 MHz. The Nineteen Set was well capable of that, with a quarter wave antenna (my parents had a large plot of land). I am not saying I participated, and after all, doing an hour’s pre-recorded show regularly would have been a lot of work, but I was a juvenile.
The antenna was very thin and hard to see, being wire off an old transformer carefully unwound. It was surprising it did not break more often than it did. A Post Office detector van did drive down our road once, but no one came to call.
I had a lot of fun with the Nineteen Set. It covered 80 metres as well and was a good old war horse, with the Variometer (ATU) very effective.
Of course, I had some growing up to do, and at the end of the decade I left school and went out to work. This was a culture shock for me, becoming responsible in part for my own welfare, and there were distractions from radio such as my first girlfriend. The radio story rests for a while, but more soon….