Offshore Radio Against The Beatles Phenomenon

By Martin Butera
The Radio Caroline ship off the coast of Ramsey on the Isle of Man in 1967. Image: Chapman

In the early 1960s, an event would occur that would change the sound of British radio forever – the growth of ‘pirate’ radio stations from overseas.

They were born as the voice of a protest for freedom of expression, they were times to talk about drugs (LSD), free sex, a criticism of the British monarchy that supported the United States in the Vietnam War and above all to end the a musical dictatorship that imposed itself by spreading only one “Pop” music band, who sang love ballads and catchy themes, paradoxically later they would become the most influential and successful musical group of all time.

At the beginning of the 1960s there were only three national radio stations in Great Britain and everything was previously checked by the British Broadcasting Corporation, better known as the BBC.

The B.B.C is a public radio and television company of national reach in the United Kingdom, founded on October 18, 1922, the station also offers some services

international radio and television. It is one of the largest broadcasters in the world and was always responsible for creating and sustaining to this day a monopoly on broadcasting in the UK.

The spirit of public service diffusion, in those years clearly responded to the British government that made sure that everything that was broadcast on AIR, were “respectable” programs, educational and for young people a special dose of Pop music called “The Beatles” .

Anyone who wanted to listen to something else had to try to tune into Radio Luxembourg, a small commercial station that broadcast other types of music.

The country of Luxembourg is surrounded by the countries of France, Belgium and Germany and the curious thing is that a large part of its territory is mountainous, this benefited the height of the Radio Luxembourg antenna and allowed the wave to arrive on hot nights to Britain for a couple of hours.

This phenomenon paved the way and was the trigger for a group of pioneers to launch pirate radio stations since Radio Luxembourg had a large British audience that was tired of the phenomenon “The Beatles”.

This is how the first pirate radios were born in Great Britain, in the early years of the 60s, but these did not run with good luck, since the British Government through its media secretary punished with very severe financial penalties and up to 5 years of effective prison for whoever was encouraged to overshadow the BBC

Something had to be done to stop this media dictatorship and it was then that a young man named Ronan O’Rahilly appeared in 1964, his father was a businessman who had much of the control of the Greenore port in Ireland.

Ronan got together with some brave friends, technicians, announcers and DJs of the time, hired a couple of sailors and got on a boat, which took him to the outskirts of the North Sea, until he reached international waters, in this way he would be untouchable by British broadcasting law.

The ship was an old 763-ton boat that was used for passenger transport and bore the name of Fredericia, however Ronan baptized his radio with the name of his girlfriend “Radio Caroline”.

The experience was a total revolution and continued for 3 months broadcasting from overseas to Great Britain, By the autumn of 1964 Caroline had more listeners than the three B.B.C. combined.

From the day that Radio Caroline appeared the British government made threatening noises but no serious and direct action was taken, they knew that they could do nothing against the large number of listeners, legislation now against pirates was in a few words something like “ lose votes ”.

This only encouraged more young people, soon afterwards “Radio 270” joined, aboard an old ship anchored off the Scottish coast and “Radio 390”, from maritime structures that had been war fortresses of the Scottish Navy. and which were now abandoned by the military, from these two new stations the antennas are pointed to cover almost all of Great Britain.

The following year, “Radio Mi Amigo”, “Radio Verónica”, “Radio London”, “Radio Essex” joined, there were more than 10 radio stations operating from overseas. But this phenomenon did not last long, the maintenance costs were very high and thanks to this type of radio, the sanctions were no longer so severe with pirate radios on British soil, the last radio to paradoxically turn off was “Radio Caroline”, Since the ship suffers a malfunction and sinks in the late 70s, but not only Ronan O’Rahilly’s dream sinks in the 70s, in April of that year, McCartney announces that he is leaving the group and each member continues his career solo musical, the maritime battle against the mass media (mainstream) was won.

The Beatles in one of the many performances at The Cavern. (Photo: Public Domain)

60 years since the Beatles’ debut at The Cavern

Entrance to The Cavern Club. (Photo: Public Domain)

Located on a narrow street in the center of Liverpool, today it is a place of worship, a mythical place, because it was here that one of the most extraordinary stories of pop music began 60 years ago. The history of The Beatles.

The Cavern Club was a dark and damp, stuffy basement that had served as a bomb shelter during World War II. Located on a narrow street in the center of Liverpool, today it is a place of worship, a mythical place, because it was here that one of the most extraordinary stories of pop music began 60 years ago. The history of The Beatles.

On February 9, 1961, The Beatles gave their first concert at The Cavern Club. The band then consisted of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe (on bass) and Pete Best (on drums). Best would be replaced in August 1962 by Ringo Starr.

The Beatles established themselves as the emblematic band of the Cavern Club. It was the place where the band forged their musical identity and where Brian Epstein saw them for the first time, on November 9, 1961, shortly before becoming his manager.

For about 6 years, the world suffered a “Beatle seizure”, not only strong, but absorbing and totalitarian

Martin Butera, at the controls of his pirate station “Radio Atomika 106.1 Mhz”,
in Buenos Aires (Capital of Argentina)

The Beatles are considered one of the most influential bands of all time. Their records were selling like hot cakes, people waited days outside the record store to have the new album of the Liverpool quartet, their music has been translated into different languages ​​and their faces are recognized all over the world.

When four guys got together in the late 50s to imitate Elvis and Buddy Holly, chances are none of them had great musical aspirations (except Lennon, who always wanted to be a star). They listened to the records imported from the United States that the sailors brought to the port of Liverpool, they began to play skiffle.

The skiffle is a type of music originated by poor black workers in the United States in the 1920s, based on simple harmonies and performed on cheap, homemade acoustic instruments.

As almost always happens, in all aspects of life, there are dim lights, bright lights, dull lights and diamonds under ashes. This carried over to the mid-sixties, taken to the musical plane, would be perfectly applicable to what, in a certain part, the Beatles and other contemporary rock bands meant.

Many bands did not have their “Brian Epstein” and record labels and companies asked Beatles model bands to be able to sell easily, as is known, there were bands that did not follow the “Beatles” guidelines, that is why most bands from That was the time when they reached a number one, or had some recognition when the Beatles broke up in 1970.

We can mention among other bands: Al Stewart, Arlo Guthrie, Boz Scaggs, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Canned Heat, Groundhogs, The Guess who, Helen Reddy, Etc.

The same musicians, who before were almost obliged to do the will of the companies, were freeing themselves, gaining musical independence and generating greater creative possibilities, from the separation of the Beatles.

Perhaps at the beginning of the 60s, when “Beat” music was born, its greatest exponents kept that style alive, thanks to the indisputable force that “Beat” music genre. This until 1967 when the rock n roll boom was unleashed and originated a revolutionary concert known as “Monterrey Pop” where English bands were also called, who were able to go to the United States for the first time, after the Beatle phenomenon.

So the American public could see the overwhelming force of The Who for example, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin really hit hard on the public, Sly and the Family Stone, Canned Heat, Sha-Na-Na. They were able to show their music to a mass audience, mostly consuming Beat music. When the Beatles broke up, many groups left the underground and massed the rock movement in the 70s, as much or more, than what the Beat was in the 60s.

The Official Charts Company declares’ Sgt. Pepper ‘s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, released in 1967, as the best and most popular British album ever in the UK. I find it boring compared to others. I just don’t like him and I prefer to listen to David Bowie for hours without stopping …

I hope you understand, this is my point of view. I don’t hate the Beatles.

Martin Butera, at the controls of Radio Atomika 106.1 Mhz, pirate station of Buenos Aires (Capital of Argentina), currently continues under the direction of his partner and has been on the air for 18 years

About the Author

Martin Butera is a founding member of Radio Atomika, a station that is part of the second generation of radio alternatives, countercultural, alegal, free, self-managed, pirates born in the heat of Argentinazo 2001 (great Argentine economic crisis).

On Radio Atomika he managed to make rock coexist with ideas, understanding rock as culture, as a scream in rebellious colors within the gray silence, which honestly sometimes overshadows us.

Radio Atomika, is an exaggerated practice of freedom, we do not accept that anyone regulates, neither state nor private, true free expression.

In 2013 to celebrate 10 years of the station (2003-2013), they edit a documentary called “Proudly Clandestinos”, a compilation with testimonies of the protagonists who worked at the station, can be seen on YouTube in Spanish:

Martin Butera, left the project in 2017, when he went to live in Brasília Distrito Federal, capital of Brazil, where he continues in Brazil, working in the media.

Martin Butera Also a radio amateur with more than 31 years of experience and participates in DX expeditions throughout South America using the Argentine radio callsign LU9EFO and the Brazilian callsign PT2ZDX.

Martin Butera is a contributor to Radio Heritage Foundation in Brazil and has also contributed to some of the world’s leading international radio news bulletins.

His articles have been translated into various languages such as Spanish, English, German, Portuguese, Italian, and even Japanese.

Sources and books consulted

Radio Caroline Bible, by Paul Rusling
Beatles in Sight! By John Pring
Shout! The Beatles in their Generation, by Philip Norman
Tune in: The Beatles all These Years, by Mark Lewisohn

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  1. Your story regarding Radio Caroline is factually extremely incorrect. Just one incorrect fact of the many in this short article, Radio Caroline continued broadcasting from the North Sea until 1990 and is now legal although they retain their ship.