Celebrating the Pioneers of British Music Radio

from the 60s thru to today
Pirate Alley UK
Keeping the Memories Alive
THE 60s

A visit to the Knock Deep - Part Two  

Alex opened up the throttles and we rounded the stern of the ship which houses the world' s most famous radio station. There they were in white paint on that beautiful red hull the words "Ross Revenge Panama" . We tied up along the starboard side and were greeted by ten or so smiling faces. Some familiar some not, but there was John Lewis shouting greetings to our host, Peter Chicago, Mike Barrington, some of the crew, a couple of the Dutch DJs and Susan Charles who, in the middle of presenting the Knock Deep Tea Party, had put on a suitably long album track to come out and say hello.

After a scramble up the rope ladder and over the side of ship we were aboard. I was surprised how low the side of the ship was. It could only have been about six feet above the side of our vessel. John asked that we assemble towards the middle of the boat at the base of the aerial mast. As you look up the aerial it just doesn't seem possible that 300 feet of latticed metal can stand there like that in the middle of the sea. It is a sight that defies description. Quite breathtaking. The only sound is the chattering of the generator exhausts towards the bows and the feeling of stability underfoot is quite peaceful after the previous 2-and-a-half hours of ducking and diving across the sea. We moved back along the starboard walkway past the various entrances to the ships inner companion way and then under the covered portion of the walkway which is directly under the afterdeck.

Being very careful not to trip over Raffles, who was wandering about investigating the visitors, we climbed a ladder, through a hatch and onto the afterdeck. Sure enough there was some washing hanging up to dry in the stiff breeze, but only blankets, not items of a "delicate" nature now famous for getting blown away! It was here that the memorial service was to be held for Ian. The various members of the crew, DJ' sand our party duly assembled. Les presented John Lewis with a ship' s bell which had been engraved by Ian with an inscription regarding the Ross. As we gathered around, our host, John, who had been a close friend of Ian' s, made a speech and told of Ian' 8 skills as an engineer, his lifelong support of Radio Caroline and how he is missed by those who knew him. Peter Chicago also said a few words and the group then moved to the deck rails at the stern. Ian' s ashes were cast on the sea followed by two bouquets of flowers. A very sad moment. With heads bowed this was followed by a one minute silence during which I felt a bit of an intruder at an occasion which was really a rather special and private moment for Ian' s family. As a further mark of respect Susan Charles read an obituary for Ian at 20.00 hours during her programme and asked the listeners to observe a one minute silence with her.

The afterdeck has LA CAROLINE 519 ( recently repainted from 319) painted right across it in large white letters. No doubt it was easier to stay with good old fashioned meters and to alter one number instead of going the whole way, replacing it with 576! I had a brief chat with Peter Chicago who explained that they had been working on the aerial during the week, the cause of the recent breaks in transmission, but owing to the wind, today had not been ideal. I commented that I wouldn' t fancy going up there in any weather to which he just smiled a knowing smile. Moving back down to the walkway I stepped into the inner companion way passing the entrance to the engine room. What I could see by poking my head around the door looked very clean and neat.

Moving on I stopped at the door to the kitchen - sorry galley. A cooker, a microwave cooker, pots and pans, a tea urn and a huge fridge freezer the doors of which are covered in radio stickers from every station I have ever heard of and many more. A pause to take a photo and then moving along the companion way towards the rear of the ship I stepped into the mess room. Surprisingly large, on the far side a large comfortable looking sofa going along the wall and around the corner. To my left a long table laid for ten places with knives, forks, plates, ketchup, etC. No doubt for an evening meal once we had moved off. At the right hand end of the room a wall mounted 26" TV, a video and impressive stock of tapes, another fridge (no doubt for the GBH) and everywhere people chatting. Copies of the Sunday newspapers were gratefully received by the ship' s company.

Dave Collins spoke with me for a while describing how things had been on the VOP and how the climate was altogether somewhat better than what the North Sea could offer. He happily agreed to lead me to where the action is. The studios. Back into the walkway, this time going forwards towards the front we reached some stairs. Up to the Bridge where the maritime radio was talking to itself and calling "Seagull - come in please" . A ghost from the past perhaps, I thought as I passed. Behind the Bridge is the neWsroom, a microphone, typewriter and an out of order telex, which normally works on a short wave link with the neWS agencies, a TV and a large cupboard. "Peter Philips' cabin" , said Dave Collins pointing to the cupboard with a chuckle. Back out of the neWsroom and up another flight of steps into the 963 studio where Walter Simons, one of the Monique presenters, was on hand to explain which bit did what. He also kindly handed out some Monique car stickers which were received by eager hands.

The studio is quite roomy with the console on the opposite side to the door, the turntables sunk into a bench surface on the right-hand wall with records racked above and around onto the wall behind me. On the left of the console are the tape machines with the jingle cartridges racked above. The cassette deck, with its LED level meters blinking away, was playing one of the regular Sunday night religious programmes. On the left hand wall is the large window through to the other studio normally used by the 576 service. This studio is presently not in use. Dave explained that they are currently redesigning it and this was evident by the lack of equipment and masses of loose wires not joined to anything in particular.

Out of the door and Andy Johnson stopped by to say hello. I remarked, that he obviously hadn't given up the weed as he was happily puffing away on a freshly lit ciggy. " A new campaign in October" he said "when I'll be looking for ideas from listeners on how to give it up" . I wonder . Back down the stairs and into the record library, a long narrow room with a wall sofa at one end, a desk and a very full library of albums and singles. I was just about to have a browse when I heard someone calling "Everyone back to the boat, Alex is worried about the tide" . My heart sank, I hadn' t seen nearly half of what I had wanted to.

A request to Dave Collins, "Where' s the new studio and have We got time? "Follow me, they can' t go without you" he said, "more' s the pity" I thought. Back along the companion way almost to the end, aright turn and then a left. There is was, the new studio. Quite small by comparison with the old one but very compact and neat. A cosy 5ft wide by 8ft long with the console at the far end under a porthole. On the right the record decks with carts and albums racked above. With her back to me Susan was presenting her programme. As I stepped through the door I noticed the orange bulb above my head light up as she opened the mike. The studio monitor fell silent, a short pause while the album track came to an end heard only by Susan through her headset and a few million listeners through their radio sets.

"This is Caroline on 576. Good evening from the Knock Deep tea party" she said gently into the mike. The second turntable began to move, a futher period of silence and then the studio monitor came to life again. Removing her headphones Susan turned to say hello, "would you mind if I take a couple of photos?" I enquired, "oh sure but hang on a moment" . A quick rearrangement of her hair, a nice smile and click. Before I could say thanks I was concious of a hand on my shoulder "come on we've been looking for you and Alex wants to move off" .

A quick dash through the walkway and back to the rope ladder. Unfortunately when swinging myself over the side of the Ross my camera holdall gathered a similar momentum and caught John Lewis square in the middle of his back. He wasn' t too impressed, but if it hadn' t been stopped by John' s somewhat solid frame it could well have ended up at the bottom of the North Sea. Back on our boat everyone was calling out their farewells to John, Fergie, Mike, Walter, Peter and several other crew members and presenters as we pulled away from the Ross. The ship looked very large, secure and warm in the darkness as We headed once again out into the choppy sea. We moved quickly and very soon only the deck lights of the Ross could be seen behind us, its silhouette having merged with the night sky.

Passing the Dioptic Surveyor within about 400 yards we could see the various aerials, listening probes and other electronic paraphernalia which are festooned all oVer the vessel. Looking carefully, the lights on the console of the spectrometer she carries could be seen flashing through the portholes in her hull. But no sign of interest in ourselves as We sped towards the MV Communicator.

The stern of the Communicator' s orange hull loomed out of the darkness. On top was the huge white satelite dome. As we rounded the stern, John, with the aid of a bull horn announced our arrival asking for someone on board to have a pencil and paper handy. Unfortunately we were only going to go alongside for about 20 minutes and not go aboard. John wanted to pass on some messages and requests from listeners which had been received on the Info Line following the recent announcements put out by Laser regarding the Eurosiege Campaign. As we came alongside there was Craig Novak with a clip board and pen at the ready. Alongside him looking down at us from the deck rails about 12 feet above was Chris Carson, Jonelle, Tommy Rivers and another familar face usually associated with engineering duties elsewhere.

Various messages and so on were called up as we chatted to the assembled party. In fact it is quite difficult to hold an intelligable conversation with someone 12 feet above you from a rocking boat in a stiff wind. But we did and the Laser jocks certainly seemed pleased to see us. I had seen photos of Chris before and in person she is a very attractive lady. A great smile and of a most pleasant disposition. She could play with my fine tuner any time. Looking upwards the wires of the aerial system could just be seen high above the deck picked out by the various flashlights going off around me. "Where' s Charlie" enquired one of our party. "He's on air" said Chris "but hang on". After a few seconds, to a lound cheer from our craft, Charlie Woolfe appeared, leaning over the deck rail. Fiona commented later that the reception he had received was the sort normally associated with royalty. But he was the "superstar" after all.

With the events of the following night it is unfortunate but possible that we were the last Anorak party to have seen "the man" on board the Communicator. Time was pressing and we had to make for home. A last minute flurry of people calling out for dedications and requests, an autograph book passed up to Charue for signature and waves of farewell. Once again back into the darkness heading towards the Kent Coast which was not yet in sight. As I sat at the back of the afterdeck and looked out into the nothingnesS 1 realised how isolated life on the North Sea must be.

Looking back at the Ross Revenge, the Communicator and the spyboat as their lights grew fainter in the gloomy night I reflected on the past few hours. What an experience. I had waited 20 years to do it and it was all over but it was something I would always remember . The Harbour was very calm and peaceful as we went ashore saying our goodbyes and going our different ways. Driving back along the motorway, deserted but for the occasional haulage truck heading for London, it was a strange feeling listening to the car radio. There it was "Caroline on 576" coming from where I had been only 3 hours before. A familiar message came to mind "From a point at sea. . . . . to the centre of your mind. . . . ."

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