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Radio Caroline founder a visionary pirate who paved the way for radio today

PUBLISHED: 18:59 21 April 2020 | UPDATED: 19:04 21 April 2020

The founder of Radio Caroline in 1964, Ronan O'Rahilly Picture: DAVID KINDRED

The founder of Radio Caroline in 1964, Ronan O'Rahilly Picture: DAVID KINDRED

A Suffolk pirate radio expert has paid tribute to the founder of Radio Caroline whose vision and “determination” revolutionised the airwaves.

Radio Caroline was launched in 1964 and is widely recognised as the first pirate radio station to be received by a wide demographic within the UK Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVERadio Caroline was launched in 1964 and is widely recognised as the first pirate radio station to be received by a wide demographic within the UK Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVE

Ronan O’Rahilly, who set up the station which began broadcasting off Felixstowe in 1964, died on Monday aged 79.

Mr O’Rahilly set up his own station to play non-stop pop music after having been unable to get airtime for Georgie Fame on Radio Luxembourg.

The authorities were taken by surprise when Radio Caroline anchored off the coast of Felixstowe near the Cork Anchorage on Good Friday of 1964, and began broadcasting at noon the next day.

Caroline was the best-loved of the pirates – and it took the 1967 Marine Broadcasting Offences Act and the creation of Radio One to outlaw them and scupper their popularity.

DJ Emperor Rosko in the Radio Caroline studio on the Mi Amigo in 1966. Picture: DAVID KINDREDDJ Emperor Rosko in the Radio Caroline studio on the Mi Amigo in 1966. Picture: DAVID KINDRED

More: Felixstowe celebrates Radio Caroline

Brian Nichols, of the Felixstowe and Offshore Radio Facebook group and one of the organisers of a commemorative stone to Radio Caroline at Felixstowe, said: “Atlanta and many other stations followed, on ships and forts, but Ronan led the way.

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“When the law was passed making them illegal, Ronan defied them and kept Caroline on the air until the money ran out in 1968.

“He refused to give up, and she returned to the air on and off between 1970 and 1990 from the North Sea, from various ships, even though commercial radio stations were introduced on land.

“His determination to keep Caroline on air, eventually led to the station broadcasting now to Suffolk & North Essex on 648Khz AM.”

Mr O’Rahilly’s grandfather had been one of the leaders in the 1916 Irish Rebellion, while his father owned the port of Greenore, where the Caroline ship Mi Amigo was prepared.

More: Radio Caroline wins AM licence

In a tribute, Radio Caroline described Mr O’Rahilly as “a clever man, sometimes verging on genius. Eccentric of course, sometimes unscrupulous, but suddenly kind and warm hearted. A rogue maybe, but a charismatic and loveable rogue. He will be missed.”

He spent his later years back in his native Ireland in Dundalk.

Friends said he was hugely supportive of the move to keep the station and its spirit alive through the use of digital technology, internet and the AM waveband.

The station was immortalised in the Richard Curtis film The Boat That Rocked.


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