Keith King put in 197½ hours of airtime on Radio Caroline between 11 November 1984 (20oC) and 6 January 1985. This account of his experience of life on board was published in Monitor 29.
Keith was presenting the breakfast show from 06:00 to 09:00 at the time of his last appearance; thus he was asleep by the time the Ross Revenge lost her anchor that evening. The station left the air at 20:00 for four days; by the time programming resumed Keith had left the ship.
My first impression of the "Ross Revenge" was that she's larger than I'd originally 'imagined'; in addition, conditions on board are more comfortable than I'd expected. There are plenty of creature comforts on board. We have a very comfortable sofa, there are two televisions, one with Teletext in the news-room and a nice large 26-inch colour TV in the mess-room, we also have a video with a video library which comprises approximately one-hundred-and-fifty pre-recorded video cassettes, plus a few cassettes for recording various programmes which we play back later.
The ship is also very stable, she doesn't move about unless there's anything above a Force Five, in which case we get a slight movement; occasionally, if sea conditions are a little peculiar, for example if there's a strong prevailing wind, the ship has a tendency to list, but normally only on a ten to fifteen degree angle. She tends to stay put in that position until the storm dies down. When we get up to Force Nine there's a little bit of rolling and pitching, she tends to pitch from front to back, with a very slow rolling motion.
As far as seasickness goes, it isn't really a problem that hurts anyone on board. Ninety-five percent of people who come on board aren't affected by it at all. I did feel rather queazy on the tender going out, which was probably due to nerves, and the fact it was a far smaller boat, but on the "Ross" I was fine, I never felt ill at all.
During November, we had quite a number of strong prevailing Southerly winds which meant that we had a lot of warm air from the Gulf Stream; and so at times we were reading out the weather, looking at temperatures on land which were pretty near freezing, whilst on the boat, studio windows - portholes! - were open the whole time and at midnight, I was wandering out on deck in shirt-sleeves. It was really very warm indeed, like Springtime temperatures on the boat, because she's anchored in a very sheltered part of the Estuary. The only time we noticed the cold was in the early part of the New Year when we had very heavy snow. At one time, we had approximately seven inches of snow covering the whole deck. This made a rather picturesque setting for some very interesting photographs.
The first person to show me round and introduce me to everyone was Brian Allen, and he showed me my cabin. There were a number of spare cabins when I came on board. They are comfortable, quite large, quite roomy. There's a single bunk, a table, a radiator in each of the cabins to keep them nice and warm as well. There were three blankets already in the cabin, plus a couple of spare pairs of sheets. The bed was already made up; I don't know who was responsible for that, presumably the previous occupant, Paul McKenna.
Everyone was very friendly and from the start I had no problems at all. The majority of them I found more pleasant than I had expected. It's perhaps not a good idea to specify who your favourites are, but Stewart Vincent is regarded by everyone as being 'Mr. Nice Guy' because no-one has ever seen him in a bad mood, he's always pleasant the whole time. Tom Anderson is a very friendly character who really believes in the philosophy of Loving Awareness. When he plays an L.A. promo it's not like playing a commercial, because he really does believe in it and he really does live it. Samantha is very nice. Some people are very critical of her, they'd say "She's an old dragon, she's had a go at me"; but whenever I was around she was pleasant the whole time, and she was one of the warmest characters I met on the boat. She came back on New Year's Eve. Before the anchor had been put down, when we were only a few hundred yards from the "Communicator", she came up to me and said "I don't give a damn about my own safety, all I worry about is Caroline", and I think that summed it up at that time.
The night the anchor dragged
All I can tell you about that is that I was awoken about twenty past nine by Dave Richards who explained we were dragging an anchor. At that time I was very conscious of the fact that the ship was moving and obviously moving quite rapidly. Took a look outside and saw that we'd moved appreciably closer to the "Communicator", the Laser ship. At one stage we did come very close, we must have been just a hundred and fifty yards from the "Communicator" - almost looking up their decks! There was no-one on deck at all; they may have been on their Bridge, in fact I think the Captain, Tim Levansaler, was watching the whole operation from the Bridge, but there was nobody on deck, and I certainly can't blame them because there were thirty to forty foot waves going over both ships, it was certainly dangerous for anyone to be out on deck at that time. Laser were off the air, I think their aerial had come down. They were back on in a day or so.
The main engines were running at this time, they'd already been started - I'd slept through that, I sleep through almost anything! The first stage of the operation was rather tricky, that was to retrieve a barrel full of oil and roll it down from one end of the deck to where it was needed to operate a pump that was fixed at the other end. It was rather strange rolling the barrel across with the ship pitching and rolling.
Bilbo, the ships engineer, corrected the position of the ship and steered us back to our original anchorage. After that we went up to the fo'c'sle and lowered the secondary anchor. I think really the hero of the moment there would be Bruce Purdy. At one stage the secondary anchor got stuck, it wouldn't move. He went right to the front of the boat and gave the anchor chain one almighty kick, actually hanging on to the bow rail at the time as we were diving in with the waves splashing over the top. I think he was very brave doing that, so he deserves a mention for that. He freed the anchor, it lowered; we dropped the anchor about eleven o'clock. All we could do after that was go back to the Bridge to check the ship's position. We were all cold, I'd also lost feeling in the hands, as well, they were completely numb. We checked our position via the ship's compass and using our link with Laser, too. We have a radar on board which gives us the distance from Laser at any one time, which is usually one-point-eight nautical miles; in fact it's now one-point-six, so we're slightly closer.
Really we don't know what happened to the anchor. The first impression was that the ship had dragged her anchor, but it was later believed that the lower end of the anchor had severed. I was later told that the motor would not work to wind the anchor chain up, so there was no way of hauling it in. I think the anchor had gone because otherwise with all that weight the ship's engine would have been completely ineffectual. The story goes that that anchor was once used on the Ark Royal!
I wish I could tell you more about it; unfortunately I was woken up after it'd all happened. The fact is I've spent seven years working in offices and the last two years as a full-time DJ, and unfortunately I've never had any practical experience of any form of machinery whatsoever, so when it comes to maintenance of generators or engines or anything like that which is of a practical nature I'm completely at a loss. When we were drifting there was certainly a feeling of helplessness. All I could do was offer assistance if anything needed moving or if anyone else was doing something just to assist them as best I could. Other than that there was very little I could do. Even when we didn't have a cook on board I couldn't cook either! But all credit to Simon Barrett who taught me a little bit of cooking. I can now cook chops in wine sauce with onions and roast potatoes, and various bits and pieces - which I can put to practical use when I'm on land.
Doing the laundry is certainly difficult. There's no washing machine on board so all washing has to be done by hand. The first batch of washing that I did - much to the relief, probably, of many other people on board - was done by hand, but unfortunately various colours ran from jumpers and shirts so I have quite a number of multi-coloured shirts which now look as if they're tie-dyed! The only way to get washing dry is to hang it out along the back deck. You know where it says "Caroline 319"? There is a washing line which runs right the way down there, so there were various T-shirts saying "Radio Basildon", "Radio Caroline" or whatever all the way along the washing line.
One thing that's been consistently low the whole time is fresh water. At first we were washing in fresh water providing we just had a small bucket or something about that size to wash with, but that stopped and we had to start washing in rain-water the whole time. We only have three electric rings on one cooker as well because the main cooker has broken down, and if you touch that with your hand in water at the same time you get a shock.
There are areas on the ship now which are out-of-bounds, because various people have been fiddling in the engine room, and Johnny said that if someone messes about too much down there it could jepodise the safety of the ship, for example pulling out a valve that shouldn't be touched could cause a build-up of pressure. I didn't go down to the engine-room although I did see the engine working.
The mast does arc. I've looked up myself to see all these sparks jumping across the antenna when there was snow on the deck, the whole time, various sections of the mast itself would light up.
"Doing The Business"
The new studio, the Radio Monique studio, is our old production studio. It's been completely refitted. They've put in quite an amount of new equipment. There's a new mixing console, and two new Technics turntables - which are rumoured to have cost them about twelve hundred pounds apiece. The Dutch have about four to five hundred records; but generally they spend more time in the Caroline record library which consists now of two-and-a-half thousand albums and approximately eighteen-hundred singles. All the Dutch records are kept separate from ours, they're all kept in their own studio. Their playlist is kept in boxes to the left of their operating desk. Only three programmes per day, on average, are live, the majority are taped programmes which are on TDK-D cassettes. They have very high quality cassette machines, they use the Dolby noise system which eliminates the majority of the hiss that you'd hear on Medium Wave. (Ad Roberts has a saying, if anyone makes a mistake, "You wont hear it on Medium Wave anyway, don't worry"!) At any one given time there's never more than three or four Dutch people on the boat; so running a station from four in the morning until six o'clock at night (our time) with live programmes all the time would be totally impractical. They only have three live programmes a day, a news service, and something they call 'Radio Avondplaat'.
On the evening of the party to celebrate the opening of Radio Monique, sitting down over the mess-room table Jay Jackson was quite insistent that the station's 'hippy image' should be 'shaved off' - which meant no more long hair, no more beards, and definitely no more moustaches. I of course protested, having had a moustache at the time; and that was the last that was heard of it - for about three hours. Then later that evening Jay came down with a letter which said something to the effect of "What should I do to show I'm gay? Should I grow a moustache?" Immediately Jay ran up to the studio and read out the letter and said "Ah, ha! Now we know why he wants to keep his moustache!" So within about five minutes I ran up to the studio; Dave Richards was on air and I said "Hello darling David!" and just said that in order to quell any rumour the moustache would be shaved off on New Year's Eve - and it was.
In terms of programming format, we once had a discussion on board, everyone aired their own particular views on how they felt Caroline should sound. On the one hand Johnny Lewis said that the station should become what he referred to as 'hamburger radio' in other words rather like Laser with a Top Forty orientated format whereby millions of people would switch on for half an hour as they're driving to and from work, or at various times of the day, and then switch off; but at least they'd tune to the station.
Tom Anderson felt that the station should become a 'rock' orientated station, or at least continue in much the same vein, but including areas of 'crossover', for example Bob Marley would fall into the crossover category between reggae and rock. Various people had opinions which were closer to either one idea or the other, in fact mostly at that time the opinions were closer to the Tom Anderson view. My idea in programming, having a very wide taste in music anyway, was to throw a line directly down the middle and that is to play everything that would crossover from all sections and categories of music, but within a commercial field. If a listener were tuned in, they would be guaranteed to hear at least one track in every three which would be perfectly familiar to them, either a Top Forty single, a very well-known album track or a classic oldie which should be familiar to the vast majority of listeners. These would all be sandwiched with new material. Generally this format seemed to work, the feedback that I had was fine. Johnny would say that musically it was heading in the direction which he felt the station should go; Tom would say at the same time that I was including a lot of rock material and it was heading the way he felt the station should go so everyone interpreted it in their own way! I don't think anyone, at any time, was critical of my music format and choice; and we had some contact with listeners who came out on boats and their reaction was much the same.
The people I've spoken to since I've come on land, people who only listened to Caroline out of curiosity because I was on, have said that the station needs to have a little more chat; it just sounds as though it's a floating juke-box playing records without much personality. People don't like to listen for fifteen minutes before hearing someone speak, they like little things to be thrown in. Even Laser don't segue three records, they'll always say something even if it's only "This is Laser 558", and they've got nine million listeners so it obviously works. It's something that is changing, during the daytime now segues are ones, twos and threes, which goes against the guidelines we were given. The person who says the most at the moment is Jay; no two ways about that, he puts a lot into his programmes.
Between two and six in the morning it's completely free format, there is absolutely no playlist in operation. For other programmes throughout the day we were album-orientated; we would play tracks from seven albums per hour, which could be selected at random from 'A', 'B', 'C' and 'D' rotations. It was three 'A's, two 'B's, a couple of 'C's, and 'D' optional. Now, we're singles orientated, we try as far as possible to have a good selection of Top Forty material, and we have records put in 'A', 'B' and 'C' rotation on singles so that in any one given hour you should find that we would play seven singles, or seven singles which would include single tracks from albums. We've tried now we're on '576' to make the station sound more commercial in terms of music format. The guideline (which is often broken anyway) is that we should play three records then give a limited amount of chat, but quite often we just do segues of ones, twos, occasionally threes, the average being two now, I think, most spots during the day. It is a problem, if you play about four or five records in a segue, that the longer the segue is the harder it becomes to think of anything to say! If you're doing links the whole time you can think of something, you become more alert, rather than sitting back, relaxing, listening to records; it keeps you on your toes and awake to do segues of one, two or three. Four hours of segues of fours and fives and you just run out of ideas.
Unfortunately I'm back on the evil weed again. As you've probably heard from time to time on the "Ross Revenge" we run out of cigarettes and start biting our fingernails so I did have an opportunity to give up smoking, but it's very difficult. For most presenters it's difficult to do programmes without cigarettes, I find it does help the concentration, and that's the general view of most people on board. And so occasionally programmes may tend to suffer when there are no cigarettes on board, so it's always nice when we have a good supply of cigarettes.
We have a commercial log; as far as anything else goes we just have a pad where we write the name of the artist and the title of the record purely for the use of the next presenter so that he can check back and the same records are not duplicated. In practice it doesn't work, because not everyone checks back, but that's the theory of it.
More mail arrives for the Personal Top Five spots than for anything else. The people that attract the most personal mail are Tom Anderson, I think he certainly has the bulk, and Stewart Vincent.
We saw the Laser people from time to time, they'd come over in their rubber boat; it was very nice to see them. It's very nice them being there, the fact that the boat was always there was an added reassurance, so if either of us got into trouble we always knew that the neighbours were just a couple of miles away across the water and there'd be someone there immediately on hand in case of emergency.
Our ship's dog, Raffles, is a very friendly dog, we have no problems with him at all; but he does have an aversion to the Dutch. He insists on chasing one of our 'Cloggie' friends down corridors and not stopping until he grabs hold of him! Other than that he's fine, but watch him when it comes round to mealtimes because if you have anything in your hand he's liable to jump up and take it! So generally during mealtimes he's kept out of the mess-room, we don't allow him in, otherwise he'll just dive up and pinch the food. But he's very popular - at least, he is with the English side of the operation!
The two Ampex tape-recorders in the production studio are rumoured to have come originally from the Caroline North ship, the "Fredericia"; judging by their age and apparent condition, I would assume that is the case. I've compared them with photos of the original studio and they certainly look the same.
So now you know it has it's good points, it has, at times, it's points which are not so good; but taken all in all it's far better than I expected to find and I'm quite happy with it. I certainly wasn't for the first week, because there's no doubt about it that the first programmes I produced were far below the standard I maintained on Basildon, but as it progressed and I moved into the lunchtime programme I became much happier with that.
To sum the whole thing up, it was really the experience of a lifetime. It was something I'd always wanted to do and I'm very glad to have been given the opportunity to do it. Taking the rough with the smooth, which one always has to do, easily on balance I'd say it was a fantastic time. There are times one doubts one's sanity at having gone, but they're very infrequent times and only last a minute or two and for the majority of the time it's great fun and there's a great team spirit on board. I think that everyone recognises that, on board a ship particularly, people living in a small community have to get on very well; and I think that if people apply that to their daily routine that's what Loving Awareness is all about.
Keith King, January 1985.
Keith's life story can be found on his own website at
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