anyone who loves their music and who grew up in the UK
in the sixties, pirate radio, and the pirates who
operated the pirate stations, were a hugely
significant lifeline and deserving of hero status.
They played our kind of music 24 hours a day when the
BBC had been playing an hour of popular music a week.
They were young and hip and with it where the BBC had
been stuffy and square.
anyone who loves their music and didn't grow up then,
they nevertheless owe a huge debt of gratitude to the
pirates for the popular musical revolution they
enabled, the impact of which is still with us today.
Digger talks to Chris Dannatt about Pirate Memories, a
site dedicated to the memory of these innovative and
brave DJs and support staff. They lived and worked on
choppy seas for weeks on end on abandoned forts, on
ships and rigs around the coast of Britain back in the
sixties. That is, until the BBC and the Government
decided they'd had enough...
Please tell us about your background and about your passion
for Pirate Radio Chris.
Chris: Radio Caroline - the UK's first pirate radio station,
began broadcasting at Easter 1964. I missed out on the first
year of offshore radio, but came across 'Radio London' - 'The
Big L', in the Summer of 1965.
was 11 years of age, and my dad had just passed away. I had
got through my 11 plus exams and was set to go to our local
Grammar School - a feat which did not come easily to most
working class families in our area. During the summer
holidays, mum and I went to stay with her sister in a small
Lincolnshire village, and I soon became friendly with two of
the local children. I went to their house, a couple of doors
up from my aunt's - and their mother, Doreen, had the radio on
in her kitchen as she was baking. The radio played endless pop
tunes, and, as I'd always been one for stealing my brothers
record player and playing his discs when he was out at work, I
knew that the BBC didn't play non-stop pop. I asked where the
music was coming from and Doreen was quite graphic. This was
'Radio London' - although the music wasn't coming from London
- it was coming from a ship near London. But apparently they
(who THEY were - I didn't tag onto until much later!) were
going to close it down soon anyway - but wasn't the music
really good? I had to admit that I'd never felt so
strongly about something ever before. I was hopelessly hooked,
and spent the rest of the summer holidays at Doreen's house
listening to her radio.
I arrived back home, I eagerly tuned in to our own portable to
where Radio London was on the dial. From then on, Radio London
was our staple diet for music entertainment. In June 1966,
Radio London reception was blotted out on the dial by another
new pirate radio station - Radio 270, off the coast of
Scarborough, north Yorkshire. Radio 270 felt more local, and
mentioned places near to where we lived, so although I still
twiddled around the dial to listen to the other pirate
stations which were now on air - Radios 270 & London were
the stations we listened to.
August 1967, the then Labour Government (The "They"
I mentioned earlier) brought in a very unpopular Bill (The
Marine Offences Bill) which silenced all the pirates bar one -
Radio Caroline... but that is another story in itself.
decided that as the pirates had nearly all but gone, I wanted
to be a DJ, and I started running a pop music club at the
Grammar School. I wrote articles in the school magazine, and
even set up a make-believe studio in my bedroom. I now had my
own record player, and a tape recorder, with which I recorded
all the music from Pick of the Pops on the BBC. Very naughty,
but I didn't care. The BBC, I felt, had a hand in the closure
of the pirates so they became public enemy number one. I left
school and got a dreary job in a local garage, but the nights
and weekends were filled with music. When I was 16, I
approached a local mobile disco company who took me under
their wing and I began to learn how to be a DJ proper! I
worked with them for over 7 years and during that time set up
my own mobile disco. I even sent a "demo tape" to
the nearest local radio station to us at the time in
Nottingham. Sadly, I received the usual "Don't call us -
we'll call you" letter, but the advice was sound (very
poor pun there!) - press on with the DJ'ing - stop trying to
sound like a pirate radio DJ and be yourself.
forward 40 years and my career includes the following: 3 years
with BBC local radio as researcher/station assistant;12 months
working on a number of Irish pirate radio stations in the
80's; 13 years in Independent Local Radio as Commercial
Production manager/engineer; Winner of over 50 awards for
commercials around the world, including New York, Chicago,
Hollywood, London, oh ...and Leeds! Still involved with the
'mobile' disco business, but from a purely office based
perspective; Now presenting programmes on Internet radio &
still producing commercials for anyone in the business who
passion for radio and essentially the Pirate variety has never
diminished, and I think that it has become more of an
obsession, since I've now got a little more time to dedicate
to it generally.
Digger: And what about the background to Pirate Memories?
Chris: Pirate Memories came about in the early 2000's, as I
became more savvy with my PC. I had started to try and find
websites which were dedicated to Pirate Radio and was stunned
to find there were dozens. During my 40-odd years in the
business, I had collected, bought or been given dozens of old
recordings, many dating back to the original pirate days. It
seemed that although there were a number of sites detailing
the history and the stories surrounding Pirate Radio - there
wasn't a good site actually dedicated to selling the
recordings and spreading the word.
also had in my possession a video tape, which was a silent
recording of the arrivals and departures on the Radio London
ship, the Galaxy - back in the 60's. Presumably, this film had
been recorded by either a visitor to the ship, or someone
within the organisation who went to the ship on a regular
basis. After watching the film dozens of times, I noted scene
changes and timed the length of the scenes. I then wrote a
script and, as I was now producing commercials for a living,
asked one of my voice-over colleagues to do a narration. I
then added some authentic 60's sounding production music, and
had another friend who is a video buff finalise the film onto
a DVD. I decided that "Pirate Memories" would
be the ideal vehicle to sell the tape and set about getting
'PM' onto The internet. I started out in a very unprofessional
way, and had no means by which customers were able to actually
buy online. Orders came in, slowly at first, and as I added
new material to the site, more quickly. Pirate Memories has
really still only got a small selection of the audio I have
actually collected, but I am careful not to put on anything
that is of poor quality, as I value the custom of the people
who have bought items from me.
Can you please tell us about the events and activity at
Chris: I received an email from one of the station news
producers at BBC Radio Essex, asking about my pirate radio
exhibition. Perhaps I should explain..... I now had a website
selling pirate radio recordings - I was busy buying and
collecting pirate radio recordings, and the main source was
quite naturally eBay.
2005, I came across a Pirate Radio exhibition for sale called
"Flashback '67". I made some enquiries, and found
that this show had only been seen once in its entirety back in
1977. The asking price was not exorbitant, so I watched the
auction continue and finally plucked up the courage to put in
a bid. I was staggered when I found that I was the winner. And
when the huge parcel arrived, I was even more taken aback -
there were dozens of 30" x 24" cardboard sheets,
each with several photographs attached. Many boards had
headers, and others were large blow-ups of only one picture.
Some of the boards were shabby, but in the main, most were in
good condition. They were all some 28 years old.
Since 2005, I have added more pictures, replaced some of the
poorer ones, and generally tidied up the whole thing. My
efforts had been mentioned on a number of occasions on other
websites, and this also came to the attention of the news
producers at BBC Radio Essex.
2004, Radio Essex had put together a week of broadcasting
dedicated to the sounds of the 60's pirate radio stations,
along with a number of the original DJ's playing the original
tunes. Radio Essex was about to do it all again on a much
grander scale in 2007, and wanted my Flashback Exhibition as a
backdrop to the event.
a very successful appearance at the Sugar Reef Club in
London's Soho at the beginning of August 2007, where over 200
people (including around 30 original 60's presenters),
gathered to honour the Pirates, we travelled to Harwich to put
the Flashback show together for a week.
were working in association with BBC Radio Essex and the
Pharos Trust, who look after the last manned lightship - the
LV18, to be built in Harwich. The lightship was to provide the
"base" for the broadcasts, and in true Pirate Radio
fashion, the ship was moored offshore on a buoy in the middle
of the river Stour between Harwich and Felixstowe. Travelling
to and from the vessel was by way of a small 'tender' boat
operated by a local ferryman. Indeed, all the BBC staff,
pirate DJ's and visitors had to use the tender, as there was
no other way to get on board.
set up the exhibition in the Ha'Penny Pier building right on
the harbour frontage. The build up took several hours and we
were exhausted, but well pleased with the way it all looked.
really having any idea about what was going to happen, we
arrived at the pier at 9.00a.m. the following morning to be
confronted by several people who were already queuing to get
their first look at the Flashback show. The BBC Radio Essex
publicity machine had done a really good job of advertising
the event, and we were soon to find that the queues would
increase alarmingly over the next few hours and remained so
throughout the week of the broadcasts.
all, we entertained over 4,000 people during the six and half
days we were there. People from all walks of life came to see
us and talk Pirate Radio. These ranged from the original
listeners, to an 84 year old chap who arrived looking for
three of the Radio Caroline DJ's who were on board during a
storm in January 1966. He told them he was one of the Breeches
Buoy Crew who lifted them off the vessel on that wintery
night, when the ship ran aground on Frinton beach. To say that
the guys were speechless would be an understatement, and I
left them to their tears and reminiscences!
had people arriving with bundles of pictures, scrap books,
tapes and all manner of memorabilia - all wanting to show us
their memories, and some just wanting to see that their
collections went to a good home. We brought back far more
material than we took, and interestingly, no-one wanted any
money - they just wanted to make sure their memories were
looked after! Naturally, everything has been added to the
Flashback show, and I am eternally grateful to those who came
to see and talk to us.
The 2009 event was somewhat different as, although we were
still working with BBC Radio Essex and the Pharos Trust, the
added attraction was a new film directed by Richard Curtis of
Notting Hill fame...."The Boat That Rocked" is a
story of a spoof Pirate Radio station - "Radio
Rock", and was about to be released on an unsuspecting
public. Universal Pictures had given the Pharos Trust a large
number of give-away items including posters, T-shirts, radios,
and leaflets, so the stage was set to operate another
fantastic week (well five days actually) over Easter 2009.
This time the LV18 lightship was moored to the Ha'Penny Pier
itself, and acted as a floating stage for the appearances of
the Pirate DJ's, many of whom had travelled from the other
side of the globe to attend the event. The weather was good -
the pier was crammed with fans, and once again, we spent our
days endlessly talking "shop" to the Pirate Radio
I could make a living out of that job, I'd move to Harwich
permanently.... It was truly a magical time, and I'd do it
Digger: What is the legacy that the Pirates have left us and
do they get the recognition they deserve?
Chris: The legacy, if there is one - is that the UK now has
commercial radio. Personally, I consider that the 'state' of
radio in the UK is abysmal, but that's for another time when I
have my soapbox with me! It's very difficult all these years
later to describe just what the UK was like - radio-wise in
the early 60's, before the Radio Pirates appeared.
BBC had a true monopoly, and fought tooth and nail to preserve
it. When, before the second World War, a number of European
radio stations began beaming commercial programmes into the
UK. The BBC had complained to Government, with little success
about the "illegal" broadcasts. Naturally, the war
altered everything, but the legacy the BBC was left with, was
an outdated radio service that simply could not or would not
adapt to the changing trends in listening entertainment.
of the BBC's programmes were running during wartime, and there
was only a cursory nod to pop music.
jazz, and music from the shows was a staple diet, and many
orchestras were employed by the BBC to play cover versions of
hits of the day. It was clear by the birth of the Beatles in
1963 that something had to give, and when a 23 year old
Irishman called Ronan O'Rahilly tried to get an artist he was
managing - Georgie Fame - onto the radio, the change was made.
being rebuffed by the BBC big-wigs, O'Rahilly reasoned that he
would have to start his own radio station to allow the public
to hear his artist...and Radio Caroline was born. The pirates
were only on air for just over three years, but the die had
been cast. Successive Governments had worked hard to resist
allowing commercial radio in the UK, preferring all forms of
radio to be looked after by the BBC. However Commercial Radio
became an entity in 1973.
time, Independent Local Radio has become big business, but
many stations are owned by only a small number of companies.
True local radio no longer exists, and even the new
"Community" stations fall far short of providing
for recognition, I think it's fair to say that many older
ex-politicians now openly admit that they got it wrong.
a number of very prominent DJ's still find time to tell anyone
who will listen that they owe all they have.... and have done
- to their time on the early Pirates. People's listening
habits are very fickle though, and Pirate Radio is remembered
most fondly by the people who were actually there. We must
also not forget that Pirate Radio has had many phases. We had
the original 60's type - then in the 70's, Radio Caroline was
back with its Love and Peace and Rock format, and Radio
Noordsee played music for a young Europe. In the 80's Caroline
was back again, with rock & pop and Laser 558 was
"Never more than a minute away from the
Music".....so those listening habits have come and gone.
Also as technology has moved on - people are not so reliant on
their radios. The advent of the iPod and The Internet allows
people to programme their own music now. So if they don't like
what they hear on the radio they can tune out and make up
Digger: What products and services are available on the
Pirate Memories website?
Chris: PM offers a small selection of good quality Pirate
Radio recordings from the halcyon days of Pirate Radio. I've
also tried to cover a number of the other stations such as
Radio Noordsee and Capital Radio from the 70's. Both of these
stations were based in Holland, but are still part of the
history of offshore radio. So too is a recording of Radio
Hauraki - a Pirate station operating in 1966 off Auckland, New
Radio has a rich history, and PM can really only scratch the
surface of what was quite a memorable and creative time in
Digger: What gives you most pleasure about what you are doing?
Chris: I think the thing that gives me most pleasure is seeing
the look on people's faces as they talk to you about their
pirate radio memories. I get a good feeling too when people
contact me asking questions about a certain station or are
simply wanting to find out more generally. People's memories
and recollections are very important to them, and many just
want to remember the good times the Pirates seemed to evoke.
Everyone has a different aspect they like to talk about, and
those memories are very personal.
the other hand, I have been contacted by a number of students
who are working through their Media Studies courses, and have
come across the Pirate Radio phenomenon. Most have really no
idea why (or how) the pirates existed, but several have gone
on to use material I have supplied in dissertations and
presentations as part of degree level work, so that gives me a
feeling of pride knowing that I can still spread the word.
Digger: What sort of feedback do you get from customers?
Chris: Feedback is usually very good, and most buyers come
back for more. I have several customers who have bought up
most of the Pirate Memories collection of recordings. These
customers have also given me invaluable testimonials about the
products, and obviously this helps generate more business. I
also must emphasise that all Pirate Memories sales go towards
buying more memorabilia for the "Flashback '67"
exhibition. I know there are still a lot of unearthed
collectables out there and I keep a look out for anything
which will fit in with the era that Flashback covers.
Digger: What plans have you for the future of Pirate Memories?
Chris: I'd like to see PM expand with further recordings and
other video material. I have plans to expand the collection of
recordings. I would also like to see the whole PM website
revamped. I have some ideas for connecting the PM site and
brand with "Flashback '67" too, as they are both
focusing on the same things in reality. Flashback '67 will be
responsible for the visual side of pirate radio history, and
PM will take care of the audio side. I'd also like to look at
ways of customers to PM being able to download their orders
on-line if they wish, rather than receiving a CD through the
post. Not everyone will want to I guess, but it will provide
an extra outlet for the material.
is a massive project, but it's one that I think needs some
research, and I'm quite looking forward to having a stab at
creating the platforms to make it possible......Watch this
Memories is an on-line shop selling Pirate Radio
recordings and memorabilia, from the halcyon days of
offshore radio broadcasting.
Memories will include recorded material from the60ís
offshore pirate stations and we will be looking for
recordings from the 70ís and 80ís pirates too.
new material becomes available, we naturally will
bring it to you via the on-line shop.
recordings will be on CD where possible.
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By Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: +44 (0)1724 338450
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