Memories of Radio Caroline by Sheridon Street .
At the age of 23 I was gainfully employed as a development engineer with a company called Shorrock Development in my home town of Blackburn Lancashire . I had obtained my radio amateur license a few years earlier call sign G3VFU, along with my city and guilds telecommunication certificate.
At work it was all the rage to listen to Radio Caroline North, and wondered if they required an electronic engineer, so wrote to the address that was frequently given out over the radio, as Chesterfield Gardens . I recall writing the letter one night and without any application form, or reference, posted it off. Not being very important forgot about it for several weeks.
Then one day I received an invitation for an interview in London at Chesterfield Gardens . My grand parents lived at Plumstead the other side of the river Thames, so was fairly familiar with London having driven down the A1 and then Edgware road many times, where Caroline house was located off Hyde Park corner. For the interview, I bought a new suit from Burtons the tailors in Blackburn, and drove down to London within a few days of receiving the letter.
At Caroline house the office seemed a very lively place, the receptionist showed me into a room and was joined by a person who showed me a circuit diagram of a transmitter from a service manual, and asked me to identify and explain certain selected pages. It was a circuit diagram of an AM transmitter. This was not too difficult, as I had recently built a similar transmitter myself, being a licensed radio amateur. The interviewer immediately offered me the position as radio engineer, I was asked to sign my expense voucher, and was given £70 pound in cash. I did not request or expect to receive anything and would have done it for nothing. I was told to report to Radio Caroline North as soon as possible.
I returned home to Blackburn and the next day an air tickets arrived for a flight from Blackpool airport to the Isle of Man. I had a dilemma, as I did not want to quit my current job, in case I did not like Radio Caroline, so I took sick leave. Arriving at Douglas airport I was meet by the agent and with some other people taken across the Island from Douglas to Ramsey Bay by car.
The journey was full of anxiety as to what had I let myself in for. The weather was gray, overcast, cold, and wet. We arrived at the Caroline office in Ramsey on the quay side and shown to the office above a shop that over looked the harbor. The tender that day was late arriving due to weather condition. The agent took my personal details including where to send my salary too. Payment was always sent on time, direct to my bank account in Blackburn , right up until the day I left.
About four other persons who I did not know boarded the tender for Caroline. Although this was my first time I had ever been on a tender heading offshore I felt no sense of excitement. I suppose the apprehension overrode excitement at that time. Some dozen tender trips latter, I never failed to be filled with excitement and proud to be going aboard Radio Caroline.
Boarding Radio Caroline north for the first time was a little cloudy memory wise, as everyone I meet was new to me. Technically my job was meter reading the dials on the transmitter, and repairing necessary studio equipment, there were two tall gray transmitters side by side and was told not to switch both transmitters on together, as there was a combiner problem, one or the other was Ok, but not both. The combiners seemed to be hastily installed between the transmitters and forward looking porthole, just lying on the floor, I was told that the half inch copper coils often melted. With 5 Kilowatts of power from each transmitters going into each end, and an antenna tap in the middle, never really appealed to me to switch both transmitters on at the same time.
Written transcript taken from an interview with Don Allan by a Dutch radio station states that the transmitter combiner difficulties were solved. However this proved not to be the case, in my time. During one trip I had to provide a written report about maintenance to a person that came aboard for a short period, I assume that this was the chief technical engineer or his representative.
On my second trip to Radio Caroline North in Ramsey Bay I resigned from my permanent job at Shorrock's. On my third trip, I was instructed to report to Radio Caroline South. This gave me a transportation problem, as driving between Blackburn and Felixstowe on the east coast took over 5 hours. By train unthinkable. The main problem was garaging my car in Felixstowe and recall that I just left it in the roadside a couple of times before eventually finding a rented garage. The car I used is shown in my photo album.
The journey to work eventually became one of the exciting parts of life aboard Caroline south. The tender usually left Felixstowe around six to eight o'clock in the morning so I left Blackburn around midnight. Driving down the then main A1 then across country in the early morning hours was an exhilarating experience I would have to slow down to avoid birds feeding on grit off the road, along the country lanes at sunrise
I don't recall at Felixstowe docks their being and agents office, but have a vague recollection of some sort of porta cabin, but may be wrong about that. Crew changes were always a good time to catch up with events, both on Caroline, and also what the DJs had been doing in their week off in London , most were booked up for some show or other. Communication between ship and agent for necessary ship supplies was via ham radio. The agent was a licensed amateur but never used his call sign for some reason!
Again most of my time on board was watch keeping, and recording meter reading on the transmitter. During my time aboard the Mi Amigo during the 60s I was not aware of the past history of the ship, and events that had happened to the ship, or the events that took place after I had left. Nobody on board talked about past events, and being young and new on boards never thought to enquire.
It transpired that at the time that I was aboard ship was shortly after Radio Caroline had gone aground off Frinton. The ship eventually returned to the same anchorage after a repair spell. Reports mention that the new transmitter and antenna had been installed but during my time on board it did not have any major failures or antenna problems.
On various web sites I have seen pictures of post cards showing Radio Caroline with either a wire antenna or the mast located slightly forward of amidships in some pictures even shows a funnel. The Mi Amigo that I was on had the mast placed on the forward upper deck near the anchor chain locker, not near mid ship as claimed to be the Mi Amigo in many pictures and definitely no funnel.
I recall joining Radio Caroline South early in 1967 and left the week that it was outlawed, and I caught the last tender off before the dead line, never to return. We left on board Johnnie Walker, Robbie Dale and an engineer I think called Trevor Grantham.
The odd thing was that I immediately started work for a communications manufacture in London called Redifon, in Broomhill road, Wandsworth. Several weeks latter I was down in the test department when in came Trevor Grantham who had just started working there, we became mates but he had no desire to travel aboard like me, as an overseas commissioning engineer.
I did hear a few months latter from Redifon personnel department that my friend had left the company. Records indicate that an engineer called Trevor Grantham returned to the ship and remained there until the ship was cut loose from anchorage and towed back to Holland . Is this one and the same person?
Whilst on duty on Radio Caroline south I recall only several events when we had to open the transmitter doors, the time we did, was in search of a water temperature trip, cured by clearing a couple of very heavy duty air duct fans. Inside the cabinet where many small solenoid operated circuit breakers and to observe the sequence of events in order to trace some faults, it was necessary to override the door interlocks, and be inside the transmitter whilst it was on, not a pleasant feeling.
There was a small workshop around back, where if not busy, I managed to answer as many fan mail letters as I could. Usually enclosing a signed photograph. This can be seen on my home web page. At other times I repaired several Apex tape-to-tape machines that would snap a one-inch wide tape if the braking mechanism got out of sync, both left and right spool had very heavy duty direct drive motors. Setting the brakes was a mechanical job; they either broke the tape or failed to stop in which case you had miles of tape all over the place.
I repaired both the main and standby reverberation units located in the front panel of the consul in the main studio facing the entrance to the stairwell leading down to the transmitter room. Several DJs liked to use this reverberation effect whilst talking on air. One day whilst working on the consul I inadvertently kick the reverb machine. I think Robbie Dale was air that day. It would be nice if he could remember this event, some 40 years later.
Instructions were received from London (several months before shut down) to install a combiner unit that required a frame welding above the transmitter. A set of loading coils was manufactures on board and partially set in alabaster cement, to hold the turns apart. One engineer welded the frame without a welding shield or goggles; the job got done but blinded him for several days. Also the same engineer for some reason hot swapped the audio compression unit, located at the bottom of the stairwell immediately on the left. The DJ on duty was totally unaware of this event. I could be wrong but Patrick Starling carried out both events I think, but not sure. The combiner unit was never tested before I left.
Recently my wife Carol has scanned all the photograph taken whilst on both Radio Caroline north and south, and if you have not already visited my home web page, please does so. Perhaps you can identify some names for me. Several photographs in my album shows one of the crew members, that I have called Big John, not knowing his real name. He was a very friendly person who performed ships maintenance, including painting it. He rescued me when I floated away from the ship whilst swimming. That day the sea was very calm and looked as the though the tide had turned, best for swimming, but I began to loose ground swimming back to the ship when Big John threw me a life ring, and hauled be back in.
It has been mention in articles that it was a friendly atmosphere on board the south ship and I can confirm that. Everyone had a job to do but beside this there was always an air of excitement conjured up, I suppose from what we were doing as a pirate station. There were regular gathering usually in the library were we would listen to newly released records. Singing to All you need is love by the Beatles produced one of the largest sing along that end up on air in the main studio.
A box of beer and two cartons of cigarettes were provided as standard issue when boarding, extras could be bought from the captain if required. It was said that the ship could never sink as all the empty cans were thrown overboard from about amidships.
Life was good on board and I would not have mist it for world. Sadly I left when it became illegal to be on board, but this turned out to be the right decision, perhaps I would not be retired in Thailand like I am now, and proud to be writing these very pleasant and enjoyable memories for you.
Sheridon Keith Street.
End of Line : Return to to Radio Caroline Picture Album