Should Radio Caroline be given a licence?

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?

Probably.

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.

17 comments

  1. The truth needs to come out about how Radio Caroline was taken from its rightful owners by those who were never part of the company that owned and operated the ship at sea. Before walking away from it forever Ronan O'Rahilly very often expressed his sheer dismay about what had happened to his baby. Now he'd rather not even talk about it that's how terrible it was that Caroline was taken from him.

    The MPs need to know these facts.

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  2. I regret that you must have had such terrible experiences in your lifes that you have to be negative about Our Lady. The truth is that The Lady represents freedom and Loving Awareness. The world has gone mad and She is the one Voice of Hope like a beacon of light piecing the darkness. The great founding father Ronan O'Rahilly once said “Caroline can be anywhere” and that is where She is. I listen to Radio Caroline now and then but most important is the fact that She's there. Although I can't hear Her on my way to work or at my work I take comfort from the fact She's there. If She was to get a transmitter like She had in the olden days then I would be able to hear her all the time. Other people would be able to listen too and hear the message of love peace and good music. Please support Radio Caroline as its Christmas time. Thank you. David.

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  3. Radio Caroline can not just be given a licence and nor should it. In order for that to happen would require a change in the law and that isn't going to happen.What do you think the reaction would be from other organisations wanting to run radio services in the Uk if this illigitimate version of caroline was fast-tracked a licence?

    Do these obsessive people who have been hanging on to a long dead dream for more than twenty years really think that the gevenment and parliament will devote even one second of parliamentry time to changing the law to enable Ofcom to issue a licence to these people so that they can broadcast their cringeworthy imitation of a legend to an even wider audience? I don't think so!

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  4. Why do you all hate Malcolm so much?

    I only knew him in a professional capacity and I will admit,he was a bit weird.But no more so than Chris England when I met him…………..

    What terrible thing did Malcolm do?

    ChrisiLeaks time methinks………..

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  5. After refusing the very kind offer made re 1215, why should any incarnation of this name be seriously considered now

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  6. I am just an ordinary Joe who spent a part of my life glued to a radio listening to Caroline, among other off shore stations and like most people of my age I regret the passing of the MOA.

    I listened to Caroline until she vanished off the air as she was the only remnant of what had been a revolution in broadcasting and had the guts to try and stay the course after all the others took their ball home to mummy.

    I have no insight into the politics surrounding Caroline apart from the myriad postings on various “radio” related sites from a vast army of disgruntled anoraks (and that title alone conjures up an image of a weird little man with his brains in a sack)who seem to have no concept of real life.

    Even those who purport to have “worked” for or given their all to Caroline in past decades seem now to be hell bent on destroying the remnants of that legend.

    There are those who say that the current Caroline has no links at all to the original and is just a tribute station. If that were so then she (Caroline) is not giving a very good representation of what I remember her to be like and I wouldn't consider the current incarnation to be a tribute to anything.

    Then there are those who condemn the current owner as an imposter who took over the name by surreptitious means,side lining the real owner in the process and is running the station for his own aggrandisement.

    Then there are those that say that even he who is regarded as the godfather of the station ended up as only a minor shareholder and had lost control anyway.

    Companies change hands every day of the week, not always to the wishes of the original owner, but we don't call those “tribute” companies, we accept the continuity of the name, so why single out Radio Caroline to be different.

    As someone who has very little knowledge of the law and even less knowledge of radio I cannot understand this constant sniping from people that obviously have no intention of ever doing the job themselves, or haven't got the nous to even know where to begin but are happy to set out on a course of total destruction just to satisfy their own minuscule ego's.

    Reading between the lines of all the dross that is published about this radio station I would conclude that the current management have managed, just, to be able to keep the name alive and do have some legitimacy to use it, even if it is but a shadow of what it used to be.
    Caroline does appear to have the support of a good number of names from her past and I'm sure that they can't all be part of a great conspiracy to hide the truth from us.
    In my opinion, for what it's worth, I would say that most of the detractors are sore because they are no longer anything to do with the station and are in all likelihood not welcome within a mile.

    I hope this little rant makes sense to somebody.

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  7. I just found Internet Radio Caroline on my computer and I found the music a welcome change to just about anything else on the internet or broadcast. For me, Caroline is a refreshing change from all the other corporate formula stations. As long as I like the music, Caroline is my number one choice for enjoyment. A broadcast license for Caroline doesn't mean anything to me as I live in Oregon City, Oregon. I couldn't enjoy Caroline when it was offshore, so I get to listen to its reincarnation. What's the UK government afraid of — free enterprise? Oh, I guess it's so they don't have to say they made a mistake in the 1960s! Let's do justice and give Caroline a chance.

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  8. Sorry – I disagree.

    Here we don't buy licences, we earn them – thats the British way!!

    We earn them by demonstrating that our use of valuable broadcast frequencies will offer the public something they are demanding is provided, and that, if allowed to take control of a broadcast frequency, have even a slight chance of keeping it on-air with that all important thing called money.

    Caroline has had many chances to apply for a licence along with everyone else. They have consistantly refused to do so yet now are asking for a licence for free on the grounds that their consistant refusal to even consider working within the rules is something they should be rewarded for.

    Yes I know there is an argument that the value of AM is diminishing, but it still exists and stations still use it – some paying a lot of money to do so, especially in operating costs.

    AM is still worth something and wrong that it should be given away over and above many dozens of others who have consistantly applied to run radio and are yet to be succesful.

    In any event, the costs of operating a viable sized station are surely well outside the capabilities of the present incarnation?

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  9. In the 60's, as I understand it, Ronan saw an opportunity to fill a massive void in UK radio by playing the music that no-one else would at the time. (Also, as I understand it, Ronan had a separate financial interest in seeing such bands prosper). He and the other founders of Caroline were clever enough to find a formula which both paid and was hugely popular. Top marks to them!

    Pity it was deemed illegal, but that was part of the attraction for young teenagers like me, who were going through their “rebellious” phase at that time. It created a massive loyal following, which (who), arguably, maybe, helped change the government in 1970.

    Today, however, there is no such massive void in the UK Radio market. The current iteration of the Caroline organisation (from what little I have heard) seem to be stuck in a time-warp. Other smaller voids in the UK music Radio spectrum are addressed by other small organisations. Therefore I see no need to try and boost “The Caroline Organisation” (TCO) as it currently exists by granting it a full-time AM licence.

    However, for the 50th Anniversary, if TCO (or anyone else for that matter) wished to establish a SHORT TERM AM Radio Station, running for a day, weekend or month, say, reviving the music, adverts, DJs, competitions etc of “the old days”, mixing origninal material with modern revivals or tributes, then it would be interesting to find out how many would listen. I bet a few thousands or even tens of thousands would tune in if there was enough advance publicity. Just for the nostalgia.

    By making sure the revival covered all the major eras of Caroline and taking audience polls, the organisers should be able to work out whether there is a long term business case for reviving a Caroline, and which era was/would be most popular. I bet there wouldn't be a case, but then you would know for sure. Trouble is that if you want “Golden Oldies”, “an Album station” or “exciting, new, cutting-edge bands” there are plenty out there on the air already. (If you want “Loving Awareness”, you seem to be in a minority, I'm afraid, otherwise it would already be bigger than it is). I really cannot see a market.

    The Rebel in me (I never really grew up!) would probably tune into an illegal Offshore Pirate station occasionally, if one existed, just because I could. But actually, being a lot older now, I prefer to listen to Chill without DJs or Ads, so even this devoted fan from the past would probably not swell the listening public for such a venture. Sorry.

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  10. Being someone who has applied for a number of licences in the UK before heading to the colonies where I now have 7 licences I think that to just hand over a licence without a competitive procedure of any kind would be disingenuous and would do Radio Caroline no favours as it would always be pointed out that they never actually WON a licence against any competition.

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  11. Radio Caroline broadcast from a ship in 1964 because that was the only way to broadcast legally. Today in 2012 Radio Caroline can broadcast legally from land in a warm studio because the technology permits it to. Unlike 1964 it can reach a worldwide audience . Those of you who are having this debate over whether the present leadership of Radio Caroline has sold out really needs to ask themselves this question . Would Ronan O`Rahilly in 1964 have broadcast Radio Caroline from warm land based studios to a world wide audience legally if that choice was open to him . Circumstances brought about offshore radio , but make no mistake offshore Radio including Radio Caroline was legal it did not break any laws at that time . I did broadcast on Radio Amy the original Community Acccess Radio Experiment in North London . I was then known as Chris Rabbit Hutch, how are you Chris England . Ladies and Gentlemen Check out Reverbnation on the internet for all up coming artists thats where it is all happening .

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  12. No Chris, It was the only way for Ronan O Rahilly (and others) to get their records aired because Luxembourg and the BBC wouldn't, and they had massive audiences. Radio Caroline pioneered Commercial Radio in Britain (Radio Veronica in Dutch Waters, Radio Nord and Radio Mercur in Scandinavian Waters were there quite a bit earlier) It broke laws after 1967, the MOA, but continued on and off till Nov 1990, as a “free” station, without a licence from any state or country.

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