The most exciting radio era - ever  !

By Paul Rusling  Date: Thu, 13 Nov 2003

 

The early days of Radio 270

Most listeners first discovered Radio 270 perhaps in the same way I did: I was a school boy at the time and our regular radio station was Big L on 266. Now, our radios were only very cheap ones in those days, very basic and not much selectivity or sensitivity. So, while listening to Big Lil one morning, suddenly it was masked by a massive signal playing old people's music; mainly Frank Sinatra’s 'Strangers in the Night', that sort of thing.  

 

This was the main topic of conversation at school that morning – what was happening? Had radio London gone mad?   We soon found out that what we were hearing was the first test transmissions of Radio 270.  I hated it at first, and thought it must be very square, because my Uncle George had bought some shares in it, like many people who lived near Scarborough.  He soon sold them when it became official Labour Party policy to oppose commercial radio – Uncle George was a schoolteacher, the deputy head of the main school no less.

 

Well, to hear Big l was impossible from that moment on and I turned to Swinging Radio England which had just started, a station which changed my life completely. SRE changed my music tastes, my listening preferences and gave me a hint of just how exciting and enthusiastic radio could be. When I began DJing at the local Mecca Ballroom, I adopted a style that was a cross between Larry Dean and Jimmy Savile – the result sounded like a Yorkshire accented Tony Prince on speed!

 

More stations

I needed a better radio to hear SRE better after it moved from 355 to 227, and on the new 14 transistor Russian Vega I found Radio City and another station that was to have quite an effect on me – Radio Veronica. Caroline South was now back  on the air and now with 50 kilowatts and on 1187 kcs, so we could hear that in Yorkshire too, though the signal was not too strong.

 

Soon after its launch Radio 270 began changing its music for the better and it became hip, groovy and  maybe even ‘cool’ to listen to it. Everybody else in the North East of Britain seemed to be tuned in to the new station. They had some nice guys there;  for instance that crazy Aussie ‘Neddy’ Noel Miller was becoming household name that every one knew.

 

First contact with offshore radio

I was very much into music and would copy down the Radio 270 chart, their ‘Fun Forty’ every Sunday afternoon.  I analysed this and tabulated the results in a new listing which totalled how many weeks at which number which I used in my Saturday job, deputising for the regular DJ at the Locarno Ballroom. I sent my analysis to the station and got a letter back from the Managing Director, Wilf Proudfoot, praising my effort and idea. They talked about this on the station too many times, and my parents became so proud. Even at school the teachers heard this and they asked if the Paul Rusling they spoke of on Radio 270 was a relation of mine.  I had bundles of the Radio 270 stickers and publicity materials and distributed these to night clubs, , boutiques, etc in Hull.

 

I did not understand what happened when my favourite station, SRE, closed down. It just ‘disappeared’ and was replaced the Dutch language Radio Dolphin. I remember one Dutch DJ was pretty good in those days, and full of enthusiasm, now my good friend Lex Harding. It was to be many years before I discovered the stories about SRE.

 

Commercial Radio Supporters Club

The next year about Easter 1967 everyone was incensed by the Wilson Government’s announcement they would bring in the Marine Offences Act and I organised a petition to save Radio 270, and the other stations. I wrote to the station telling them about this and said that my friends and I had formed The Commercial Radio Supporters Club. Radio 270 began talking about this on the air and gave out our address in Hull for people to write to help with the petition. It was astonishing as we suddenly had about 50 letters every day from all over the North East and other places too - it was hard work organising all this but people did send us money to help and that paid for the postage costs. My family were very poor and I was eldest of seven children. I remember taking a lot of our mail to the Locarno and getting a friendly office worker to put it with their mail for sending to save stamps, so Mecca Ballrooms also helped the Radio 270 cause. Over the next two months we got almost 100,000 signatures on our petition - from Leeds, York, Newcastle, Hull, Sheffield, etc. We took them to Downing Street and went to see the Free Radio Association - dear old Geoffrey Pearl and his wife June who made us every welcome and appointed us as the FRA’s North East representatives.

 

After Radio 270 closed our Commercial Radio Supporters Club got more organised, running weekly disc nights in Hull to which we invited Radio 270 deejays along as guest presenters. Some said that what we paid them for a nights work was better than their weekly Radio 270 wages!  Rusty Allen, Alan West (then called Ross Randell) and Mike Baron were regulars, and we had Don Allen too just a month after Radio Caroline closed down in March 1968.   I still have tapes of them doing these CRSC club nights - being introduced by a very excited sounding Paul Rusling, aged 14 at that time! We could not afford Spangles Maldoon and Johnnie Walker as they were too expensive and wanted 40 Pounds, I think.

 

Some of the Radio 270 staff joined our club, including Maurice Jeffrey, advertising Sales Manager, and some years later I became friends with the Proudfoot family who became involved in later Rusling radio adventures.  We still talk about Radio 270. Wilf’s son Ian was my age  and I once borrowed his bike from the Radio 270 offices (built on the side of Wilf’s house and still there today).  Ian  was the luckiest boy I can think of as he went with his Dad to Grimsby for the final fitting out of the ship and sailed with the ship out to Scarborough Bay for the first broadcasts.

 

In those days my family had no camera, we were much too poor, but visions of those days keep returning as lots of people have pictures of me on the quay side at Bridlington, talking to Rusty Allen and Alan West on the tender, etc. I was surprised to see one appear in the recent BBC TV programme about Radio 270.  I also ‘appear’ in Paul Harris' book 'Broadcasting from the High Seas; in his picture of Geoffrey Pearl being quizzed by a policeman that’s young Paul Rusling with the ‘Commercial Radio Supporters Club’ sticker on the back of his anorak. Without Radio 270 (and my favourite station, SRE) I would probably have become a TV repairman or a ballroom DJ.

 

The Caroline Rennaissance

The two ships used by Caroline had selected frequencies at the top end of the MW band as the relatively short antennas possible on a small ship worked better at those higher frequencies. Radio Caroline was languishing towards the end of 1965, as Big L had made big inroads into their audience, wit5h a stronger signal, and being closer to the BBC’s Light programme which was then on 247m (1214 kHz.  Even Radio City were catching up fast:  indeed,both Caroline and Big L tried to buy out Radio City- so they could move their own ships to serve other areas - Radio London would have moved to a location off Fleetwood, Lancashire (the actual spot chosen is now the Lune Buoy and today its the turning point for the IOM ferry going in and out of Heysham) while the Mi Amigo would have gone to The Wash as Caroline East. Anyway, fate intervened and put the Mi Amigo onto the beach at Holland Haven on 20th January after which she had to go to Holland for repairs. The Radio Syd ship the Cheetah II took over for a while, and the Mi Amigo was equipped with a new 50 kilowatt transmitter. This was tuned to 1187 Kcs. (253 metres) between Big L and the Light Programme. For a time, Caroline South transmissions went out from both ships - 199 and 259. 

 

Caroline North however stayed on its 1520 kcs/199m spot and didn't move to 259 until much later in the year. In the Autumn, the Caroline North ship had one of her two transmitters tuned to a new frequency which was announced as 259, but was really about 256m (1169 kcs), later that year.  It was of course conveniently next to the BBC Light programme, and of course Radio 270 which also had a big audience across the north of England by now. From mid November 1996, Caroline North would close down on 199m at 8pm, and re-open at 10pm on 256 metres and go on until well after 2am.  They then closed down and reopened on 199 at 6am. I have some tapes recorded in Ramsey, the quality on 259 was markedly different!  but most noticeable of that time was the  terrific programming.  The Caroline North ‘Good Guys’ (copying a tag line used by WMCA in New York)  LOVED being on the radio, almost as much as Ron O'Quinn and Rick Randall on SRE. In mid December  Caroline North moved permanently to 259M.

 

Caroline's best era?

For me, 1966  was the best era of caroline by far - it was hip, cool, groovy. All happening.  Indeed, in 65, Caroline North had more listeners than the South ship, which sounded to me very much a laid back easy listening station, with Keith Skues and co appealing to housewives mainly. I think it was December 65 that Ronan got Alan Crawford out of the scene and got more involved with running the South ship. - he dragged Tom Lodge off the North ship, who in turn hired Rosko and others to bring Caroline alive.  Unfortunately the Mi Amigo then  bowed out for 3 months after the grounding but by August 66, both Caroline ships were buzzing. And they were making SERIOUS money. Terry Bate and Bill Hearne were the key guys who made that happen, and Tom Lodge of course.

 

When SRE closed in November 66, Caroline quickly signed up Johnnie Walker, the teenage star of SRE, and later Roger Twiggy Day  of course, who at that time must have been still in short pants, but sounded just as enthusiastic.  I think Johnnie replaced Rick Dane, but the rot seemed to set in in January 67 when Philip Solomon joined the board and they set up Radio Caroline Records, (aka Major Minor). Pennies went into Caroline, while others made a fortune.  . . . .(another story)

 

But was this the golden year of Caroline? I know that for music, it was THE year for me. (C'mon guys, it had to be, with Nancy Sinatra at Number One - and in white thigh length boots!) . The jocks were buzzing – surely you all remember Tony Blackburn and Rosko in the few weeks after SRE launched? They were terrific and I would pay £100 an hour to hear them do that again. It was terrific radio.

 

This was the time when both Big L and Caroline both had jocks tailing the Beatles around the USA on that historic last tour, SRE were launching the most famous set of jingles ever, (Jet Set) followed closely by my favourites - ThatMan! . Radio 270 launched. Radio Scotland became audible, Tower Radio tested, and the Home Service and ITN news played excerpts of Radio City (as in Your Tower of Power)  to those of us around the country who had never heard it!

 

And there was much more . . . . . . I challenge anyone to show me a more exciting era to live, for music or radio.

 

Paul Rusling