Monday, August 13, 2007

14 August 1967: When the music died

A few disc jockeys on tiny ships like these brought exciting new music to teenagers in the 1960s and had a huge influence on a generation. In those days, for radio read BBC. Home Service, the Third Programme and the Light Programme. These were the sort of thing your parents listened to, and then only occasionally. The contrast between them and the bright, unscripted and free ranging output of the pirates like Radio London and Radio Caroline was remarkable. These were programmes that you would choose to listen to from start to finish. Jingles, adverts and entertaining intros from djs who played what they liked and knew about what they played. You could hear tracks from the American charts months before they'd ever get played on the BBC. You'd hear tracks that may never reach a Top 40 at all.

You got the feeling that no-one was making much money from the stations, that the individual djs were broadcasting from small boxes aboard an old boat some distance off the coast with little by way of home comforts for their several weeks at a time out there. They cared for the music and shared it with people like me.

The Labour government of the day hounded them and this brought yet another dimension to the huge divide between the generations. Your parents might mumble occasionally about some legislation but seemed always to go along with it. Not so the pirates and we realised that it was OK to object to government, that ministers had views but they weren't necessarily right. I was genuinely surprised that anyone should have been so offended by the pirate stations as to draw up legislation specifically to ban them. I have never believed that they interfered with other transmissions nor that it would not have been possible to permit them to broadcast under some approved licence. But no, on this day 40 years ago, Kenny Everett played the Beatles' A Day In The Life at the end of a brilliant three hour show on Radio London. I shall never forget the incredibly emotional moment as the track's crescendo faded, the needle scratched and bumped to the centre of the disc, a small click as it lifted then another click as the transmitters were shut down.

Radio Caroline bravely carried on with Johnnie Walker carrying the pirate banner high for a few more years but the killing of Radio London, Big L, my best friend and companion, was unforgiveable. I shall never forget.

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