In recent weeks a small and mainly unnoticed campaign has started.
It is a campaign to get MPs to sign an Early Day Motion prepared by Tracey Crouch, the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford that states:
That this House expresses its disappointment that, having pioneered commercial radio in the UK and for the past decade being a fully licensed broadcaster, Radio Caroline, a cornerstone of British radio history, has been denied by Ofcom the opportunity to secure a medium wave frequency from which to broadcast; regrets that as a result its devoted listeners are confined to listening to Radio Caronline via the internet and unable to enjoy its musical offerings in transit; and calls on Ofcom to exhaust all avenues in making the provisions available for Radio Caroline to celebrate its 50th birthday in 2014 by broadcasting on a medium wave frequency which, it appears, is unwanted by both BBC and commercial operators as a broadcast platform.
Ok, but what is this “Radio Caroline” of which they speak? That’s a difficult one to answer.
|Radio Caroline? Who’s asking?|
Today’s land-based Radio Caroline remains as secretive and as paranoid as it needed to be when the offshore version was operated in a very clandestine manner from a ship at sea, so it is difficult to establish what it is that is to be licensed for no real effort. It appears to be a sole trader surrounded by dozens of glazed-eyed volunteers. There is no obvious commercial structure, no charitable status, nothing. On the face of it, it’s just some bloke and his mates.
Even community radio applicants are expected to show some form of structure and accountability, but getting to grips with this version of Radio Caroline is like trying to break into a Masonic lodge or get sensible answers from the Scientologists. Anybody casually asking anything is immediately declared an ‘enemy’ and hounded by those most smitten by the whole Radio Caroline enigma. Indeed, I put a crowdsourcing question out via Facebook and Twitter about whether or not a licence should be granted and was immediately told I was “twisting the knife”.
That’s how high the unquestioning passion runs.
|An altar of worship|
Unfortunately Radio Caroline does bring with it this baggage of a small band of listeners who are devoted to it as if it is a living breathing deity.
They especially idolise the ship which was once at sea and will lovingly restore it as if it is essential to the programming that comes from the land-based studio many miles away.
Yep. The ship. They idolise it. It’s like being a Cliff Richard fan and idolising the pressing plant that made his records. Scarily obsessive!
These embarrassing but mainly harmless folk act more as a hindrance than an advantage for any serious move forward, and yet paradoxically they are the life support machine that keeps the station from its final death throes. They throw their money at it faster than Americans throw their money into a telly-evangelist’s bank account. However, they do seem to stand in the way of any medication that might take this Radio Caroline from its current coma to becoming as great as the legendary 60s version probably was.
For those not dedicated to living and breathing Radio Caroline, the phrase Radio Caroline brings back memories of childhood or a time when they once listened to something, anything – maybe even Radio Luxembourg – and so the phrase instantly evokes nostalgia.
That’s why everybody ‘loves’ Radio Caroline, especially those who don’t listen.
When it comes to those that might listen to the current Radio Caroline, they have to be happy with the rather tired or bored and disconnected sounding random crop of very old voluntary presenters playing the same couple of hundred old rock records over and over again. To the vast majority of people who are busy being nostalgic about Radio Caroline it was of course never thus, but this doesn’t seem to matter. It was during the ‘rock era’ that Radio Caroline started to take on cult status for the small band of dedicated ones, hence it can never mature to be something new or exciting beyond being stuck in its Groundhog day version of this small era that has so much devotion outside of all the other eras that the offshore station went through.
So, the campaign appears to be that a licence to broadcast on 1071kHz AM is being demanded because in 2014 it will be 50 years since the very first version of Radio Caroline broadcast from the North Sea, and it’s just not fair that today’s Radio Caroline is having to confine its activities to the internet and Sky.
|It all ended in 1989. Or did it?|
Of course, had things been different, back in the early 1990s Radio Caroline could have had what eventually turned into Absolute Radio.
However, this didn’t suit everybody’s plan within the Caroline clandestine organisation and so spoilers stopped the exploration of what might have been a far more exciting route for Radio Caroline but less fulfilling for some behind the scenes. Sigh. It’s no good crying over spilt milk they say, so let’s get back to the matter in hand.
Should this Radio Caroline be handed a broadcasting licence just because nearly 50 years ago Radio Caroline started broadcasting from the North Sea? A lot of people will instinctively and realistically say no. No more than Christopher England should be handed a broadcasting licence just because he was the first person to produce working community-access radio in the UK. They will justifiably argue that what needs to be looked at is what today’s Radio Caroline is doing for today and award it accordingly.
If a radio station was training new talent or playing new talent, or had schemes in place to seriously represent a minority that are unserved, then maybe it’s worthy of being given a licence for no application effort. There are pirate stations out there that are breaking brand new ideas and leading the way. There are internet only stations crafted by minority groups or providing a voice for the disaffected and vulnerable.
Aren’t these far more deserving of the random act of kindness of a broadcasting licence out of the blue?
Is it possible that I’m missing something that today’s Radio Caroline is doing that is actually unique and special, yet all I can see is that its usp is ‘being Radio Caroline’.
Come on now, that’s just got to be weird, surely? A radio station where the actual output is irrelevant to those who adore it. Crazy? Crazy, but true.
Of course, I used the dangerous phrase ‘being Radio Caroline’ there. This leads us to the tip of the iceberg of discontent and fury that surrounds Radio Caroline. For every devotee looking glazed-eyed at today’s Radio Caroline as if it is worthy of unconditional worship, there is at least one nemesis.
The “this is NOT the REAL Radio Caroline” brigade sing from a variety of different song-sheets. At one extreme end there are those that believe that the only true Radio Caroline is the one that was ‘free’ at sea.
Indeed, they patiently await the ‘second coming’ of the one true Radio Caroline, seeing the current version as a false prophet.
|Two old chaps talking of the olden days of Radio Caroline|
There are those who believe playing a bunch of old rock records is not what Caroline was about in its ‘hey day’.
There are those who love the 1960s and thought it died in 1967.
They, along with those who love the 1970s version, or those who prefer the 1980s version, etc., etc., are all united to be at odds with the rock-oldies format that this incarnation of Radio Caroline mysteriously persists in playing.
Add into the mix those who didn’t like the way ‘control’ mysteriously shifted after the ship ran aground and was saved to be brought in-land, and the way key offshore personnel were treated in power plays, or the fact that the original offshore radio operators own the radioship whilst it is lovingly restored by a group of people who are technically squatters, and you have all the ingredients to keep the mysterious ‘dream’ alive.
So. Is this worthy of being unconditionally licensed?
Maybe it is the strangeness and mystery that surrounds it that certainly gives enough reason for today’s Radio Caroline to be granted a random broadcasting licence, but will it be fair on the organisations that are actually doing something relevant to the here and now?
As usual for them, probably not.