Now it can be told: Radio London (Plymouth).

8 Aug

Jay told me more, today, about the Radio London (Plymouth) land-based free-radio station of the Summer of 1968. I keep at Jay, encouraging him to write a book. Caroline had been towed away in March. Jackie, by that time, was, I think, doing a great job in London, and the Labour Government were promising severe punishments when the ‘pirates’ were caught.

M1, Jay’s mate, was a licensed amateur radio operator, but all you could yap about on high-band or any band was the equipment. If you mentioned that Man U had won, that was an offence. You were trespassing upon the Beeb’s licence to broadcast news. Yes, young dudes, the toffs were fat-heads in those days.

Jay was looking, one day, through Exchange & Mart, the weekly soft-paper small-ads magazine, and seeing government surplus crystals for sale. The ones that alerted Jay were the ones for broadcasting on medium-wave (AM) band. He nagged M1 to stretch his equipment from 160 metres, up to at least 199 where Atlanta (later Caroline North) had been.

So Radio London, from a Plymouth council estate, got on the air, Sundays, playing the hits, and singing praises to Peter Russel’s Hot Record Store in downtown Plymouth. Gotta have commercials, even if they are unsolicited (and therefore 100% sincere), live, and impromptu, with Cannonball Adderley in the background.

They used to drink down Tamerton Foliot at the Queens Arms or the Seven Stars. (Some lads there, all from the RC school, blamed Jay for leading M1 astray.) A keen supporter (now born-again) was JT, another was DJ, a club DJ. He declined, with regret, to be heard on air.

It was in November 1968 that the publicity got into the local newspapers, and TV news. At the same time, Tim O’Leary was convening Free Radio Association members, in Plymouth, to gather at the Duke of Cornwall hotel. Jay and M1 did not attend.

Then, one of our members, The Old Man Of The Sea, drove round until the Radio London signal was strong, and located the scene of the action. He had an important job in the mobile comms in the Dockyard, and was passionate about radio. He located the RL(P) duo and we went to meet Jay. (None of these names are real, you understand.)

Then, RL(P) was raided and put off the air. The TX was thrown from the back bedroom window and hidden in some vegetation. It was a valve/tube job, remember, so it was u/s. So M1 and Jay came to help us FRA know-nothings run Radio Free Plymouth using the WW2 German field radio, plus a hand-made transformer, that each weighed a bag of coal, that Tim O’Leary had sent down.

When I had gone to Scotland, and Plymouth Sound, the local ILR station, was up and tottering, the buddies continued to experiment, on different frequencies, using various rigs, for the pure joy of it. This went on, Sundays, for a while, here and there.

They knew that the local hams were keen on shopping the wicked, rule-breaking, music-playing unlicensed ‘pirates’. So, one time, up at Roborough, Jay stood guard with one of the pair of (USA-acquired) walkie-talkies (illegal in UK) and he strolled up towards the main road to watch for hams a-coming.He was astonished to find a couple of hams in a car, already on location, waiting! Their base loaded antenna, for their licenced mobile rig, gave it all away.

Melting into the lee of a tree, and keeping his whip antenna out of sight, Jay reported back. The moment the transmission was turned on (a tape recording) the delighted hams rocketed out of the dirt road where they had parked in waiting, and raced back onto the main road STRAIGHT INTO THE SIDE OF A PASSING POLICE CAR!

Jay (with walkie-talkie stowed inside his coat) sauntered over to inspect the stoved-in patrol vehicle, as a member of the public would do, being helpful, and hearkened unto the conversation as the two hams explained to the police officers how they were on important public biz, catching naughty pirates.

The gentlemen of the law were having none of this. They were going nowhere in their lovely motor, now all wrecked. And they had things to say to the two nut-cases proceeding at speed onto the highway without looking.

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One Response to “Now it can be told: Radio London (Plymouth).”

  1. kateshrewsday August 11, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

    It’s never dull, this blog, is it? We used to live in Plymouth and my husband was a Sound journalist. If only he’d known the water that had gone under the bridge before he arrived….

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