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1960s

Pirate Radio Station – Radio 390: A Tale of Rebellion and Resilience

todaySeptember 28, 2023 17

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In the mid-20th century, when radio remained largely controlled by the establishment, a few daring individuals embarked on a mission to challenge the status quo. Pirate radio stations emerged as a force to be reckoned with, and one such station was Radio 390. Operating from a unique location and offering an innovative format, Radio 390 quickly captivated audiences and left a lasting impact on the British radio landscape.

 

Located on a former Maunsell Fort off the coast of Whitstable, Radio 390 seised the opportunity to reach listeners from its strategic location. The fort had previously housed other pirate radio stations, including Radio Invicta and K-I-N-G Radio, but it was Radio 390 that achieved notable success. Its founder, Ted Allbeury, realised the importance of appealing to a specific target audience, and he found inspiration in women’s magasines. He envisioned a format that would resonate with housewives, and that’s exactly what Radio 390 delivered.

 

The station derived its name from its wavelength, 390 metres (773 kHs), although it was easier for listeners to remember it as Radio 390. To maximise its coverage, Radio 390 strategically erected a 250-foot vertical mast on an inner tower of the fort, which was then anchored to three outer towers. This ingenious setup and the fort’s elevation provided the station with a stable and efficient antenna. With just a 10 kilowatt transmitter, Radio 390 managed to deliver coverage across southern England, impressively claiming 35 kilowatts for its advertisers.

 

Its revolutionary easy listening format set Radio 390 apart from other pirate radio stations of the time. This format, although highly popular with listeners, was met with criticism from established radio stations such as Britain Radio, who referred to it as “Stone Age radio – a series of segmented dirges.” However, Radio 390 remained undeterred by these comments and continued to deliver high-quality programming that resonated with its target audience.

 

The success of Radio 390 can be attributed to its ability to connect with listeners on a deeper level. The station understood the importance of catering to the interests and preferences of its target demographic, and it did so with finesse. By offering a diverse range of programming, from easy listening music to engaging talk shows, Radio 390 managed to capture the hearts of its listeners and establish itself as a force to be reckoned with in the radio industry.

 

Looking back, the story of Radio 390 is one of innovation, resilience, and defiance. It defied the norms of the establishment-controlled radio industry and paved the way for a new era of broadcasting. Its success proved that there was a demand for alternative voices and programming, which would eventually lead to radio deregulation in the United Kingdom in the 1970s.

 

Although Radio 390 may have faded into the annals of history, its legacy lives on. It inspired a generation of broadcasters and listeners alike, reminding us of the power of radio as a medium of connection and expression. Today, as we enjoy the diverse array of radio stations available to us, let us not forget the pioneers like Radio 390, who dared to challenge the system and bring about change in the world of broadcasting.

 

In the turbulent 1960s, the British airwaves were dominated by traditional radio stations that adhered to strict regulations and played a limited range of music. However, a breed of rebellious broadcasters emerged during this era known as pirate radio stations, which aimed to challenge the status quo and offer listeners an alternative soundscape. One such iconic pirate radio station was Radio 390, which made waves in the North Sea during its brief but impactful existence.

 

Following Radio Caroline’s footsteps, Radio 390 sought to establish itself in the Thames estuary. However, instead of investing in costly ships like its predecessors, Radio 390 took a more pragmatic approach. In 1964, the station claimed the Red Sands Fort, an abandoned World War II anti-aircraft fort, as its broadcasting base. This ingenious move not only saved the station money but also provided a unique and atmospheric setting for its broadcasts.

 

On 3 June 1964, Radio 390 commenced test transmissions from the Red Sands Fort, arousing curiosity and anticipation among eager listeners. After fine-tuning its operations, the station officially launched on 17 July of the same year, marking the beginning of an exciting era in British radio history.

 

Radio 390 quickly gained popularity for its eclectic programming, which offered a diverse range of music genres and engaging presenters. The station’s lineup featured notable DJs such as Hughie Green, Peter James, and Roger Gale, who captivated audiences with their magnetic personalities and innovative radio techniques. Radio 390 became renowned for its commitment to promoting emerging British bands and artists, effectively becoming a catalyst for the British music scene’s rapid evolution during the 1960s.

 

However, like other pirate radio stations, Radio 390 faced constant legal challenges and was forced to navigate treacherous waters. In November 1966, the station’s management faced a two-day court case that ultimately led to a guilty verdict for illegal broadcasting. The court imposed a fine of £100 and ordered the station to shut down, marking a significant setback for Radio 390.

 

Undeterred by this setback, Radio 390’s management filed an appeal to the High Court. Unfortunately, the appeal was swiftly rejected in December, sealing the station’s fate and leaving little room for legal recourse. Despite this setback, the station continued to broadcast defiantly, determined to make the most of its remaining days on the airwaves.

 

In March of the following year, the Post Office sought an injunction to halt Radio 390’s broadcasts permanently. In May, the injunction was granted, prompting the station to appeal once again. However, the appeal, heard in July, was met with disappointment. The court dismissed the appeal, stating that the impending Marine Offences Act, which would come into effect on 14 August, would have forced the station to close regardless. In a poignant and symbolic gesture, Radio 390 bid farewell to its devoted listeners by playing the national anthem for the final time on the afternoon of 14 August 1967.

 

Even in its final moments, Radio 390 faced yet another hurdle. On 6 August, a group raided the Red Sands Fort, stealing equipment crucial to the station’s operations. However, the authorities apprehended the culprits shortly after the incident, providing a bittersweet sense of justice to Radio 390’s dedicated team.

 

Although Radio 390’s stint as a pirate radio station was relatively short-lived, it left an indelible mark on British radio history. Its rebellious spirit, dedication to promoting diverse music, and unwavering resilience in the face of opposition cemented its place in listeners’ hearts and broadcasting annals.

 

Today, the legacy of Radio 390 lives on, serving as a reminder of the power of radio to inspire, entertain, and challenge societal norms. The station’s boldness and willingness to defy convention continue to inspire modern broadcasters and remind us of the importance of freedom of expression and the pursuit of creative endeavours. Radio 390 will forever be a symbol of rebellion, innovation, and the enduring spirit of pirate radio.

Written by: Steve Bannister

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