Tales of Future Past v2

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Radio Pirates

Future Living

The future of piracy!

Pirate radio, that is. Back in the 1930s, broadcasting regulations in the United States and Britain were tightening up and some foresaw the day when enterprising radio entrepreneurs would construct vast armoured fortresses containing gigantic transmitters that would float on the high seas and broadcast to the world without let or hindrance.

In the 1960s, such radio piracy actually came about, but not in the Blofeldesque way imagined. In the early 1960s the BBC had a monopoly on radio broadcasting and teenage pop music programmes were relegated to four hours a week without a hope of an unestablished band getting on the air. Enter eccentric, wealthy Irishman Ronan O'Rahilly who decided that the only way around the problem was to broadcast from the high seas.

Well, the North Sea and Irish Sea, anyway.

So began the legendary Radio Caroline, which ushered in the era of modern pop music in Britain by broadcasting 'round the clock what the BBC saw as insignificant. It even inspired a Thunderbirds episode.  

Unfortunately, even O'Rahilly's money didn't run to Bond Villain installations, so he had to fall back on clap-out coastal ships that rusted, leaked, broke anchor, and were generally regarded as a menace to navigation. He eventually ran through three ships. One was scrapped, the second sank, and the third struggled on through the '80s against hostile British and Dutch governments who laid a virtual siege against the ships and their crew of eccentric deejays to prevent them from being resupplied.

In the end, Radio Caroline fell silent in 1991 -- a victim of an ignominious grounding on the Goodwin Sands, and, ironically, competition from BBC 1 and other pop music stations that had followed in Caroline's vanguard.

Maybe you don't need a floating fortress to make history after all.

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