Radio Caroline comes live from the Pyrénées

Did you know that Radio Caroline is still on air and you can listen to it in France?

1 August 2016
By Jane Hanks

 One of its DJs even broadcasts from her home in the Pyrénées foothills – with a slot to show “Not all French music is a load of rubbish”.

Suzy Wilde, who lives at Sariac-Magnoac, Hautes-Pyrénées, started at the former pirate station in January and, as it is on the internet, the shows are easily available in France.

She calls it the best job in the world: “I live in a wonderful village where the people are warm and generous, I can sit in my armchair with a fantastic view of the mountain, listen to the music I love and play it on the radio.”

Involved in the music industry for years, including a classic Los Angeles rock station in the 1980s, she says French music has a bad reputation, particularly with the British, so people miss some great artists. “I want to introduce the best of French music to an international audience.

“I’ve featured people like Véronique Sanson, what a girl! Michel Delpeche, whose song Le Chasseur is a poem in its own right, and that old roué, Serge Gainsbourg.

“Although not strictly speaking a French song, there is also Amer­ican expat Martha Fields in Bordeaux and she is making a big impact with her song Les Rues de Bordeaux.

But the biggest reaction has been for Francis Cabrel: “He seems to be the most accessible. People really seem to love his stuff, despite not being able to understand his lyrics. Some fans say they’ve actually gone to the trouble of translating his words, because they liked his music so much. Amazing.”

Suzy Wilde has the Monday tea-time slot at 17.00-20.00 (French time) with between 60 and 80 tracks.

“I play essentially rock music and classic hits but I do like to help new musicians along as well. The great advantage is we can play what we want without commercial restrictions.

“We love and know the records we put out there and we are still playing the music others don’t want to.”

Although known as a pirate station, Radio Caroline was never actually illegal – although it was made illegal for UK citizens to work there. At the time the BBC had a UK broadcasting mon­opoly and when Caroline opened in March 1964 it dodged this by broadcasting from a ship in international waters off the British coast.

With DJs like Tony Blackburn, Simon Dee, Johnnie Walker and Emperor Rosko it was a huge hit from 1964 to 1967. The brainchild of Irish music promoter Ronan O’Rahilly, he called it Radio Caroline after seeing a photo of President John F. Ken­nedy’s daughter Caroline playing in the Oval Office of the White House. She was obviously disrupting the business of government and this was the image he wanted for his station.

However, there were constant battles with the British government and the station struggled after the Marine and Broadcasting Offences Act in 1967 made it illegal for anyone subject to UK law to work with pirate stations.

It broadcast from various locations and different ships on and off, but faced weather, financial and legal difficulties, culminating in the 1990 Broadcasting Act; where Lord Annan defended Caroline saying: “Why break a butterfly upon the wheel?” 

Its last offshore broadcast was made from the Ross Revenge ship in 1991 before it ran aground on the Goodwin Sands. Later salvaged it has now been partially restored and is moored on the River Blackwater near Bradwell, Essex still with radio studio and aerial. But her days at sea are over.

Now, as broadcasting regulations have been relaxed and technology has advanced, fortunes have changed and audiences are increasing as it is easily listened to... just head to the www.radiocaroline.co.uk website (not the radiocaroline.eu site) and press listen.

Station manager Peter Moore has been with Radio Caroline in good times and bad since the mid-70s: “Radio has just got easier. Now we can broadcast all over the world on the strength of a 4G phone signal and our DJs not only don’t have to be on a boat but they don’t have to be in a central studio. Our breakfast programme comes from the US, we have a DJ in Italy, one in Monaco and of course our only female presenter in France.”

The DJs work for love rather than money. “We do not seek to make a profit as the costs of keeping the station on the air and restoring the Ross Revenge are partly met by donations from our listeners assisted by an all volunteer staff.

“So, we have no commercial pressures and can stay outside the mainstream. We like to think that in a week no track will be played twice unlike conventional radio stations where there is often a limited playlist on a repetitive cycle of 200 songs.

“It is also free for the listener, though any donations are gratefully received. There are no adverts and no traffic or weather reports and no news bulletins. The station is dedicated to music. There’s not much not to like!”

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