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1970s

Pirate Radio Station – Radio North Sea International

todaySeptember 28, 2023

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Radio RNIRadio RNI

In the early 1970s, a European off-shore radio station by the name of Radio North Sea International (RNI) made waves in the broadcasting industry. Operated by the Swiss firm Mebo Telecommunications and jointly owned by Swiss engineer Edwin Bollier and his business partner Erwin Meister. RNI was a daring venture that faced both disaster and success during its relatively short existence.

The History

The story of RNI begins in 1968 when Meister and Bollier, along with a group of individuals, planned to launch a radio station called Radio Gloria from the former Wonderful Radio London ship, Galaxy. However, their plans were abruptly halted on the 2nd of July, 1968, when the German government banned off-shore broadcasting. The Gloria project collapsed, leaving Meister and Bollier determined to find their own means of broadcasting.

Undeterred by the setback, Meister and Bollier purchased their own vessel, the Bjarkoy, and transformed it into a radio station. They renamed the ship Mebo, then Mebo I, and eventually Angela. However, they encountered a significant challenge as they realized that the Mebo was too small for broadcasting yet too large to serve as a tender. Despite this setback, they made do with what they had and continued their broadcasting efforts while working on completing the fit-out of the Mebo II, their intended broadcasting vessel.

The Politics

RNI faced further obstacles when the Labour government in England started deliberately jamming their medium wave (MW) signal on the 15th of April, 1970. In response, RNI took a bold step and began transmitting pro-Conservative political messages in the lead-up to the general election on the 18th of June, 1970. This move not only demonstrated the station’s resilience but also highlighted its willingness to use its platform for political engagement.

On the 13th of May, 1970, RNI made an attempt to minimize interference complaints by changing its MW channel to 1230 kHz. This decision improved reception but, unfortunately, placed RNI’s signal adjacent to the pop music service of BBC Radio One on 1214 kHz. Consequently, within five days, jamming commenced, causing interference not only to RNI but also to BBC Radio, particularly in the region of Kent in the south-east of England.

The Challenges

Despite the challenges faced by RNI, the station managed to attract a dedicated audience and generate a modest financial profit. Its unique blend of music, news, and political engagement struck a chord with listeners who sought alternative voices and programming outside of the mainstream media. RNI’s ability to captivate listeners and its strong determination to overcome obstacles solidified its place in the history of pirate radio.

While RNI’s existence may have been relatively short-lived, it left an indelible mark on the broadcasting industry. Its audaciousness and willingness to challenge the status quo demonstrated the power of alternative media and the impact it can have on society. RNI’s legacy serves as a reminder that sometimes, even in the face of adversity, unconventional voices can break through and make a lasting impact.

The Change

On the 13th of June 1970, five days before the UK election, Radio North Sea International underwent a significant transformation. It changed its name to Radio Caroline International and embarked on a bold campaign in support of the Conservative Party. The brainchild behind this endeavour was Ronan O’Rahilly, the founder of Radio Caroline. Listeners were urged to rally behind the Conservative party as their vote was perceived as crucial in protecting their freedom to listen to the radio station of their choice.

The campaign orchestrated by Radio Caroline was innovative and audacious. O’Rahilly took to the streets in a double-decker bus adorned with posters depicting Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party, as China’s Chairman Mao. The message was clear – a Labour victory would jeopardize the existence of Radio Caroline and consequently threaten the listeners’ right to listen to the station. It was a call to action, a plea for support in preserving the future of commercial radio.

The Impact

The impact of Radio Caroline’s campaign on the election outcome cannot be overlooked. At a “Fight for Free Radio” rally held just before the election, Conservative loudspeaker-vans urged the public to “Vote Conservative and fight for free radio.” The efforts of Radio Caroline, along with the sister station Radio North Sea International, played a role in raising awareness of the importance of commercial radio and influencing voters. Ultimately, the Conservative Party emerged victorious, with evidence suggesting that the radio campaigns made a difference in the election’s outcome.

While the election campaign marked a significant moment in Radio North Sea International’s history, it was far from the end of their journey. On the 12th of August 1970, Kees Manders, a nightclub owner associated with Radio Veronica, was appointed as the commercial director of RNI. However, Larry Tremaine, RNI’s managing director, later clarified that no official agreement had been reached. Manders had been offered a directorship in RNI and invited to start a Dutch service from the radio ship Mebo II, but due to a leaked story, the offer was subsequently withdrawn.

The Legacy

Radio North Sea International, later known as Radio Caroline International, represented a movement that defied existing radio regulations and established norms. They rejected the traditional broadcasting structures, opting for a rebellious alternative that resonated with their listeners. The campaign in support of the Conservative Party showcased their innovative and unconventional approach to radio broadcasting, highlighting their commitment to preserving the freedom of choice in radio programming.

The impact of Radio North Sea International on the radio landscape cannot be understated. It challenged the political landscape, fought for the rights of commercial radio, and gave a voice to those who yearned for alternative radio programming. Despite its challenges and controversies, Radio North Sea International will forever remain etched in the annals of radio history as a symbol of defiance and freedom of expression.


Further Reading

Written by: Steve Bannister

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