The Pirate Life for Me!

This weekend commemorates 50 years since Radio Caroline began running off the East Coast and impacted music forever. The pirate station was home to DJ Tom Edwards of Norwich who loved those exciting days.

radiocaroline

On the Easter holiday weekend of 1964 in the days of swing music and changing attitudes, Edwards was at home wondering what the future held for him. He wanted to be involved with the media but didn’t have a specific goal. He was attempting to write a page for teens for the Eastern Evening News for very little wage when he turned on the radio to hear the banter of the DJ’s between the popular music that his generation loved. The station was Radio Caroline and was being run by Ronan O’Rahilly and Irishman that had grown frustrated with the lack of radio signals available in the area. As a result he had outfitted a ship with the necessary equipment and staff and was running Radio Caroline from the water. With growing interest and audiences, this marked the beginning of other stations broadcasting in a similar way.

Edwards interviewed for a job at Pontin’s holiday camp where he soon parlayed his role into that of broadcasting music live on the camp’s P.A. system and that is where his goal to secure a gig as a professional DJ began. After sending off many demo tapes to pirate radio station all around, he finally heard from Reg Calvert who was running a station called Radio City in the Thames Estuary and he went to work for him from 1965 to 1967 on the sea aboard an enormous tower.

Edwards says that weather often impacted their work due to the seafaring life and he made his home is Whitstable with Peter Cushing as his neighbour. It was an ongoing concern that the government might succeed in usurping the illegal networks and bounce them off the air but Edwards said he just took life day by day and enjoyed his work and his relationship with Calvert and his family who had become good friends. Calvert was shot dead in 1966 when a business deal that he was trying to forge with another station went terribly awry in an argument with Major Oliver Smedley who was on the other end of the deadly deal. Edwards was on shore leave and when he returned to Radio City founded it flooded with police and press.

With Calvert’s death, his wife, Dorothy, began to run the station and had to face court charges and fines for the illegal broadcasting. The station closed down on February 8, 1967 and Edwards returned to Norwich to his family. Dorothy Calvert tried to deploy the staff of Radio City to other stations and Edwards then began working for Radio Caroline on the Mi Amigo along with other DJ’s Roger Day, Mike Ahern, Keith Skues, Keith Hampshire and Steve Young. These were friendships that were formed and maintained over many years.

Edwards recalls these days with such fondness regardless of the difficult moments that occurred over his time on pirate radio. And with 50 years passed since it all happens that speaks to the passion and camaraderie of the mission that each of them had taken on so many years ago to make radio available to so many.

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