What continues to be so important about Rockall?
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Is there any tangible connection between Radio Caroline in the 1960's and the subsequent Radio stations that have used that name? When Caroline closed in 1968 and it became evident that there was no chance of a return Ronan O'Rahilly quickly involved himself in other matters. The Irish Times obituary for him has a brief yet reasonably concise summary as seen below. It does miss out on the Caroline TV hoax, however an article in The Birmingham Post from March 1970 demonstrates how Ronan O'Rahilly believed in the operation at that time and in usual form exuded an air of positive optimism. The idea of Caroline TV first surfaced in May 1966 when the Cheeta 2 (which was equipped with TV broadcasting facilities) was loaned to Radio Caroline whilst the Mi Amigo underwent repairs and refurbishment. When it became clear that Caroline TV existed only in the imagination, Ronan continued with his film productions.
Irish Times. May 2nd 2020.
O’Rahilly ventured into films himself as executive producer of two 1968 productions: The Girl on a Motorcycle, memorably starring the singer Marianne Faithfull as a newlywed clad in black leather on a visit to her former lover, and Two Virgins, a short accompanying John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s avant-garde album of that title.
He also made Universal Soldier (1971), featuring George Lazenby as a mercenary in Africa. It came two years after Lazenby’s starring role as James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which not only flopped, but was notable for O’Rahilly having disastrously advised Lazenby – whom he managed – not to sign a seven-film deal because he doubted that the 007 craze would last.
His last attempt at feature film production was Gold (1972), a hippy story influenced by the counterculture of Easy Rider.
The Birmingham Post. 13 March 1970.
Mr. O’Rahilly, in the great tradition of pirates, is a very elusive chap. But when I finally contacted him at an office in London this week he told me: “I have bought two Constellation aircraft and we shall be on the air by the end of the summer.”
He claims to have already taken 600,000 dollars [about $4m in today’s money, allowing for inflation] worth of advertising and arrangements are in hand for engaging crews for the aircraft. Mr. O’Rahilly feels he is not contravening the 1964 Act, which is aimed at stopping anyone in the United Kingdom supplying goods, financing or placing advertising with a pirate station.
“British companies are not placing advertisements with us,” he said. “The advertisements are from foreign firms who manufacture goods sold in Britain. Ronan O'Rahilly “The planes will be based on the Continent – I’m not saying which country – and the programme material is being bought from the United States and other foreign countries.”
Some of the programmes will, in fact, have been made in Britain but Caroline will buy them through Continental firms. The planes can stay aloft for 19 hours, but will only be needed to circle over the North Sea for eight hours at a stretch. “You should be able to get Television Caroline in Birmingham. I reckon we can cover up to 80 per cent of the country,” says Mr. O’Rahilly.
The programmes – in colour and on 625-line UHF – will have a pop style basis, but will not be all pop shows. “There will be talk shows and serials, and a two-hour pop spectacular every night.” The broadcasts are technically possible. The Americans have already run successful television transmissions from aircraft. Mr. O’Rahilly says that the station has cost “a lot of money to set up” but declines to say just how much. If Caroline Television does get off the ground – and Mr. O’Rahilly is determined it will – then an immediate anti-aircraft barrage (legal not physical) can be expected from the Government.
So what about Radio Caroline International in 1970 from the Mebo2?
The two owners of RNI Edwin Bollier and Erwin Meister approached Ronan O'Rahilly to use the Caroline name and five days before the UK general election they switched to Radio Caroline International. Already campaigning vigorously against Harold Wilson and supporting a large free radio demonstration in London O'Rahilly along with Simon Dee (whose career was in a downward spiral) gained the wrath of the Labour Party. Despite the apparent success of all this activity (see the article from The Offshore Radio Museum below) the pair would also have made themselves enemies of the British establishment.
Simon Dee had a knack for upsetting senior management losing his TV career both at BBC and LWT as a result. However he was under the impression that he was under some form of surveillance when he became involved with Ronan again. This is quite possible and would also suggest O'Rahilly was a likely candidate for the attention of Special Branch or MI5. In reality allowing the use of the Caroline name was really just a limited publicity stunt by RNI, the station had not really returned and switched back to RNI after the election was over. The original Radio Caroline had no logical connection with this publicity stunt and like Caroline TV it came and went in moments. Ronan O'Rahilly would however be firmly on the radar of the British Government and their various agencies. The ripple effect of this ensured the Dutch would outlaw offshore radio ending Radio Veronica's days at sea. Offshore radio was now a real problem for governments and the rules of engagement would begin to change.
Offshore Radio Museum (link).
The Labour Government in Britain had called a General Election for 18th June 1970 and on 1st June Edwin Bollier, announced that RNI would close the day after the election if the Labour Party were returned to power. At the same time he also announced the immediate closure of the unsuccessful German Service, which the station had tried to sustain since it came on the air earlier in the year.
Listeners tuning in to RNI's transmissions on 13th June 1970 were surprised to hear the station using the call sign Radio Caroline International. The owners of RNI had come to an agreement with Caroline’s founder, Ronan O'Rahilly, that they would mount an intensive anti-Labour Party campaign in the days immediately before the General Election. The use of Radio Caroline's name would, it was thought, have more impact with listeners.Radio Caroline bus June 1970
Key marginal constituencies in London and the south east of England were targeted while a continuous stream of anti-Labour propaganda was broadcast by the station in the run up to election day.
A campaign bus, with Free Radio slogans and photographs of 'Chairman Wilson' toured marginal constituencies in the south east of England promoting the station and denouncing the fact that the Labour Government had authorised the jamming of its transmissions.
An important link in rallying supporters during this campaign was the Free Radio Association (FRA), which was still operated by Geoffrey Pearl from Rayleigh in Essex. The FRA provided facilities in the form of telephone numbers and addresses through which listeners could contact the station in response to on air appeals for help distributing campaign leaflets, stickers etc.
On 16th June 1970, just two days before the General Election, Prime Minister Harold Wilson personally authorised the use of the most powerful transmitter in Europe - a one megawatt facility kept for use in a national emergency - to jam RNI's signal.
Against all opinion poll predictions the Labour Party lost the General Election on 18th June 1970, with many marginal seats in London and the south east being gained by the Conservative Party. Although almost impossible to quantify it is virtually certain, and now generally accepted by political historians, that the campaign mounted by RNI/Caroline during the run up to election day had a significant impact on the result of the 1970 General Election, particularly in those in London and south east marginal constituencies.
Radio Now & Then
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