Although the LV18 was never a ‘pirate’ ship, having served until 1995 as a Trinity House Lightvessel, the spirit of free radio lives on aboard this ship!
It was on Easter Saturday, 1964 that Radio Caroline broke the BBC’s radio broadcasting monopoly. Commercial television had arrived in 1955, and the public were hungry for a music-rich radio station. Instead, the BBC Light Programme devoted only a few hours a week to the burgeoning pop music of the era.
This wasn’t just because the BBC was anti-pop, but the complex agreements with record companies and music publishers meant that the BBC was severely limited in the time it could devote each day to playing commercial gramophone records.
The pirates had no such problem, because they simply had no agreements with anyone. After Caroline came a surge of offshore stations, based outside the UK’s 3- mile coastal limit , and thus anchored in International Waters where domestic laws simply didn’t apply.
They survived on a diet of non stop 45s with commercials – and a useful top-up of religious programmes paid for by wealthy American evangelists like Garner Ted Armstrong and his “World Tomorrow” programme.
Despite the memory still being warm today, these stations survived for a mere three years before Government legislation outlawed them and one by one they closed down on 14 August 1967. Caroline was the exception, but its closure came six months later when both ships (The north ship was the original M.V. Caroline boat and the south ship was M.V. Mi Amigo) were seized by debtors.
In 1972 the Mi Amigo was rescued from the scrapyard and Caroline resumed. Business was slow and money tight, so daytime on the station’s transmitters was often hired out to other stations. These included the Belgian Radio Mi Amigo, set up by waffle manufacturer Sylvain Tack on New Year’s Day 1974 and after a colourful and checkered existence, it finally closed in October 1978.
Caroline continued, but the Mi Amigo sank in 1980, to be replaced later by the M.V. Ross Revenge when broadcasts resumed in 1983. Caroline continues to this day, with the help of a band of talented volunteers, and can now be found in some parts of the UK on DAB Digital radio, and for the rest of the world via the ubiquitous internet.
For a long time, Caroline was alone in keeping the dream of offshore radio alive. But in the summer of ‘97 a group of radio enthusiasts decided to recapture the excitement of offshore radio with a 28-day broadcast as Radio London from a grain carrier, the Yeoman Rose, anchored off the east coast.
Others then took up the idea and in 1999 Radio Northsea International rose from the ashes as a 28-day licensed station broadcasting from the LV18, a ship supplied by marine rental specialists Sea Containers.
Some of those involved thought it worthwhile to acquire the vessel from Sea Containers, and it passed into the care and ownership of the Pharos Trust, who spent many years lobbying for a permanent mooring and at the same time loaning the ship to radio groups for more nostalgic broadcasts. Further broadcasts were made as Radio Northsea International, Radio Caroline and the BBC themselves got in on the act, chartering the ship for a number of broadcasts of Pirate BBC Essex.
Since LV18 moved to its new permanent home on Harwich Pier, the Trust has established its own annual broadcast to coincide with the Harwich Sea Festival and with respect to original pirate ship, the station has used the name Radio Mi Amigo, along with the wonderful original jingles written and produced by Steve England, who joined us last year to tell some tales of life at sea.
A potted history of the LV18, taken from the LV18 website
- 1999 Chartered to Tony O’Neil for restoration and first used as a mother ship for revival broadcasts of offshore radio, including Radio North Sea International off Clacton.
- 2000 Radio Caroline, for one month off Harwich.
- 2001 Radio Mi Amigo off Harwich.
- 2002 Radio Mi Amigo and Harwich Community Radio.
- 2002 Pharos Trust established as a charity to own, preserve and exhibit LV18.
- 2004 BBC Radio Pirate Radio Essex, off Harwich.
- 2007 BBC Radio Pirate Radio Essex, off Harwich.
- 2008 Radio Sunshine, The Boat That Rocked movie.
- 2009 BBC Pirate Radio Essex, Harwich Ha’Penny Pier.
- 2011 Opened as permanent visitor attraction on Harwich Quay.
- 2012-2016 Radio Mi Amigo from Harwich Quay