That wasnt always the case. Music pirates once had their own ships, just like their skull-and-crossbones predecessors in the Caribbean. The deejays didnt wear eye-patches or talk like Jack Sparrow, but before they were done reinventing radio rules, they helped shape the musical tastes during the rise of rock and even changed international maritime law.
Long before Napster and torrents, the pirate radio stations of the 60s found a home on the high seas. These renegade outfits operated from a host of different ships that circumvented government restrictions by broadcasting from international waters. At their peak, these stations attracted millions of listeners, who grooved to rock n roll tunes ignored by the state-controlled radio outlets.
On Aug. 2, 1958, Radio Mercur became Europes first offshore pirate music station, operating from a converted fishing boat stationed in international waters between Copenhagen and Landskrona. Retailers in consumer electronics backed the venture, with the hope of selling more radios if a wider range of programming were available.
Their bet paid off: The station eventually attracted 5 million listeners, and one advertiser, a German seller of nylons and stockings, boasted that a radio campaign on the station generated increased sales of 3 million units in just two months. Sales of transistor radios skyrocketed across Europe, with teens seizing the opportunity to listen to their own music in their own room, freed from the controland out-of-date song preferencesof their parents.
The piracy movement quickly spread from country to country. In 1960, Radio Veronica shook up the heavily regulated Dutch broadcasting business when it started operations in a converted German lightship anchored off the coast. The next year Radio Nord, backed by Texas money, took on the Swedish radio establishment from the Bon Jour in the Baltic Sea. In 1962, Radio Antwerpen began transmitting off the Belgian coast.
Britain, then at the forefront of commercial music world, would not long remain immune from the pirates. English rock was shaking up the world, but fans in the United Kingdom only enjoyed a few hours per week of this exciting new music on stuffy BBC radio. Radio Caroline, with its cooler vibe, now changed all that.
In February 1964, at the very moment when the Beatles were setting off the British rock invasion with their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, a different kind of musical assault was underway back in the U.K. The instigator, Irish businessman Ronan ORahilly, came from a family of rebelshis grandfather had been a leader in in the 1916 Easter rebellion and died in an attack on British machine gunners. Now at this critical juncture in music history, ORahilly acquired a 188-foot ferry ship named the Frederica. This would serve as his pirate ship, and he also had an Easter rebellion in mind.
The Frederica was soon converted into a floating radio station, and renamed the Caroline. It started broadcasting on Easter Sunday, and didnt stop. Back in those days, most radio stations didnt operate after midnight, but Caroline kept going round-the-clock.