If I can claim anything in my six years as a “journalist” (inverted commas as I was really little more than a local reporter and music paper ‘hack’) it was playing my part in trying to save the pirate radio stations. These boats and forts were and remain the pinnacle of British music broadcasting. In the days when the Musicians’ Union restricted the playing of records to a mere handful a day on the BBC, the pirates were spawning the cream of today’s DJ’s and the uncertainty and excitement of life in the North Sea kept the listener pinned to the radio.
Their hero was a softly (is there another kind?) spoken Irishman called Ronan O’Rahilly who had already made a mark in London with a trend-setting magazine calle Scene (I wish I’d kept copies) but then decided to start a radio station in a boat off the Felixtowe coast. The ship was the Mi Amigo and the Station Radio Caroline and in home town Maidstone, the reception was really good. Two years before I joined the Gravesend office of the Kent Messenger in the summer of 1966 I had been part of a 250,000 ‘Save the Pirates’ petition which we got to hand in to the front door of No.10, and the paper had printed my letters. In Gravesend it wasn’t long before I managed to persuade the lovely old editor Henry Cohn that I could help fill our edition with a quarter page of record and gig reviews, helped by the local angle that the Thames Estuary pirate forts (Radio City, Radio Essex, Radio 390) were serviced from the town. Naturally I wrote about the pirates as often as possible and went out to sea, once with Ronan himself, and as the Marine Offences Bill reading got closer, every edition of the paper got behind it.
Anyway, fast forward, and my Kent Messenger cuttings book had brought me to Ray Coleman at Disc in Fleet Street, keeping in touch with the pirates. Fifty years ago this week, Ronan gave me the exclusive on this story.
It never happened and this was two weeks after Fool’s Day. Who can tell now – except Ronan whom I think is still with us – was this genuine or a wind-up? You be the judge.