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CHRISTOPHER MOORE: [a static-filled radio announcement] Hello, and happy Easter to all of you. This is Christopher Moore with the first record program on Radio Caroline. The first record is by the Rolling Stones and I’d like to play it for all of the people who worked to put the station on the air.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, radio without borders-the conclusion of our special series on international broadcasting.
MARGARET LOWE-SMITH: The satellite radio picture in this country is unique and doesn’t match the picture in Africa or Latin America. This is an incredibly competitive media market.
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. And I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Radio and television signals know no borders. Broadcasters cross national boundaries for profit and for influence. But who governs broadcasts that originate in international waters or space? As our special series on international radio and broadcasting continues, Common Ground‘s Ken Mills explores one of the most popular radio voices from nowhere-the legendary Radio Caroline that covered the United Kingdom and much of Europe in the 1960s.
[with 1960s rock music playing in the background]
KEN MILLS: Once upon a time there was a magical ship that sailed in the British North Sea. The ship, the Mi Amigo, was the home of an amazing pirate radio station. It was heard by millions of people. The name of the station was Radio Caroline.
[a 1960s jingle promoting Radio Caroline]
MILLS: Radio Caroline was powered by love, music, and most of all, commerce. Radio Caroline was a force for change.
[a 1960s jingle promoting Radio Caroline]
MILLS: Our story begins in 1963. If you lived in London your choices for radio would be a few bland channels provided by the BBC, and Europe’s only major commercial radio station at the time, Radio Luxembourg.
Radio announcer: “For all that’s worthwhile, you’re radio dial is on Radio Luxembourg.” [Followed by another announcer who proclaims, “It’s Hughie Green! Opportunity knocks!”
MILLS: If you were a teenager in London in 1963 what you really wanted to hear were the Beatles.
[clip of the Beatles singing She Loves You]
MILLS: The Beatles were at the forefront of a musical and cultural revolution in 1963. One of the people who got caught up in the times was an Irish entrepreneur named Ronan O’Rahilly. O’Rahilly launched Radio Caroline. Johnny Walker was one of the DJs on the station. Walker talks about O’Rahilly and the origins of Radio Caroline.
JOHNNY WALKER: Ronan O’Rahilly was kind of an Irish rebel. His grandfather died in the Easter Uprising in Ireland, so he had good historical reasons to want to put one over on the British government, really. But he came over to London. I think he just got caught up in the whole explosion of the music that was happening. And he discovered an artist called Georgie Fame.
[A Georgie Fame record begins playing in the background
And he thought this guy had real talent. He helped get some money together to fund recording of music. Went round to all these record companies. Found it very difficult to get him a deal. Eventually he did and got a single out. And then he went round, went round to the BBC. And they said, “Oh no, we don’t play records by new artists, you know.” And so he said, “Well, how does this guy get to become known if, you know, his records aren’t going to be played?” “Well, we just don’t have a slot on our program for that.”
So then he went to another organization called Radio Luxembourg, which was a land-based radio station with a hugely powerful transmitter, broadcasting from the principality of Luxembourg. And it would come into Europe at nighttime on AM. And that station was completely funded by record companies buying blocks of program time. I mean, it’s sort of like legal payola. They could buy 15 minutes or 30 minutes of program time. And they played all their new releases. All quite legal and above-board. And Ronan O’Rahilly found out that he would have to buy a minimum of 15 minutes of program time, which was completely out of the question. And at that time we had four major record companies, which had a complete monopoly of releasing records in England.
So here he was with this great artist, with this record made, and no way of playing it. So he thought, “Well, I’ll start my own radio station, and I’ll put it on a boat.” And of course, everybody said, “You’re completely crazy.” But he had, he had-there’s something about Ronan that he could infuse anybody to do anything. He had that Irish charm, that gift of speech. He was, for him John Kennedy was his hero. And I think he was on a flight back from America once when he was reading The New York Times and there was a photograph of John Kennedy in the Oval Office. And underneath the desk was his daughter Caroline. And everybody in the office was kind of suddenly looking down at Caroline, who’d obviously got their attention somehow. And there was this image of the huge might and power of the United States government being disrupted by the joyful innocence of this young girl called Caroline. And he said, “That’s the name of my radio station.”
RADIO ANNOUNCER: This is Radio Caroline on 119, your all-day music station. We are on the air every day from six in the morning till six at night. The time right now is 1 minute past twelve, and that means it’s time for Christopher Moore.
MILLS: Radio Caroline signed on March 26, 1964, Easter Sunday, with a signal that covered most of the United Kingdom and a third of the European continent. Broadcasting on AM, with 20,000 watts, Radio Caroline was in instant smash hit.
[sound of 1960s pop/rock music]
CHRISTOPHER MOORE: [a static-filled radio announcement] Hello, and happy Easter to all of you. This is Christopher Moore with the first record program on Radio Caroline. The first record is by the Rolling Stones and I’d like to play it for all of the people who worked to put the station on the air. And particularly for Ronan.
[sound of 1960s pop/rock music]
MILLS: Radio Caroline soon expanded its schedule to full-time service. Johnny Walker hosted the 9 p.m. to midnight shift and had a reported 85% of the British audience. He talks about how he interacted from the ship with his listeners.
WALKER: I would go out onto the deck with a long headphone lead and microphone lead, and I’d try and identify a particular car. I’d just say, “Right, flash your lights now.” And I could hone in on just these lights flashing on the coast. And then I used to do a question and answer thing and they’d make a couple of flashes for yes and one flash for no. So I could find out the people in the car, how many people were in the car. Usually it was a boy and a girl, and they’d been out on a date or something. And that became known as Frenton Flashing. And it became quite a big thing. And one time the BBC actually sent out a TV crew, so we trailed this for a number of days saying, “Come out this Friday night to Frenton.” So I went out on deck that night and I could just go “Right, lights on!” And as far as you could see, from either side of the coast, you know that’s 15 miles of coastline, would just light up. And “Lights off!” And they all went out again. And it was complete megalomania going on there.
MILLS: By the end of May 1964, Radio Caroline had an estimated 20 million weekly listeners in the UK and Europe. But nobody knew if Radio Caroline’s broadcasts were legal or illegal. Johnny Walker explains.
WALKER: The reason that we’re three-and-a-half miles out is that English law extended for three miles. Once you’re outside that three-mile limit, you’re in international waters, where the maritime law applied. And there was no maritime law that said you could not broadcast from a ship. So we were neither legal nor illegal, really. Eventually they came out with a new law in 1967 which made it illegal for a British subject to work on a pirate station.
MILLS: The new law was called the Marine Broadcasting Offenses Act. The target was Radio Caroline and about a dozen other pirate stations. The law was to take effect at midnight on August 14, 1967. Of all of the pirate stations, only Radio Caroline defied the law. Johnny Walker, along with host Robin Dale and station founder Ronan O’Rahilly were on the air that night. Millions of people were listening.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: This is your radio station. This is Radio Caroline. It is now 12 midnight
[The song We Shall Overcome plays, followed by applause and cheering, followed by a rock song, Caroline.]
RADIO ANNOUNCER: Radio Caroline would like to extend its thanks to Mr. Harold Wilson and his Labor government for at last, after over three-and-a-half years of broadcasting, recognizing this station’s legality, it’s right to be here, it’s right to be broadcasting to Great Britain and the continent, it’s right to give the music and service to the peoples of Europe, which we have been doing since Easter Sunday, 1964. And we in turn recognize your right as our listener to have freedom of choice in your radio entertainment, and of course, that Radio Caroline belongs to you. It is your radio station, even though it cost you nothing. And as we enter this new phase in our broadcasting history you naturally have our assurance that we intend to stay on the air because we belong to you and we love you. Caroline continues.
[Radio Caroline plays the Royal Fanfare from the Beatles song All You Need Is Love]
MILLS: But Ronan O’Rahilly needed more than love to carry on business. The Marine Broadcasting Offenses Act made it illegal for British companies to advertise on pirate stations. Newspapers were prevented from printing broadcast schedules. Even songs such as We Love The Pirate Stations were not allowed to be aired. Perhaps the final blow was when the BBC bowed to pressure and debuted its own pop music station, BBC Radio 1, in September 1967. Johnny Walker reflects on Radio Caroline.
WALKER: The legacy of Caroline is that it changed radio in this country forever. It brought in commercial radio. It brought in competition to the BBC. There should never be a monopoly in things like broadcasting. And it also had a legacy of helping change music, the whole structure of the British music industry in the 1960s. And it still exists today. There still is a boat today, a boat called the Ross Revenge. And Radio Caroline still broadcasts now in short wave around the world. It has a presence on the Internet. If you did a search for Radio Caroline, you’d find its Web site. And its, what it represented in terms of freedom, great music, the whole kind of ’60s, still lives on for many people. And so it’s got a lasting legacy, really.
[sound of 1960s rock/pop song, Caroline]
MILLS: Reporting for Common Ground, I’m Ken Mills.
MCHUGH: Coming up, the influence of direct broadcast satellites on international broadcasting.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: This channel of educational information is designed to showcase your work and what [you] have learned in the field. Africa, this is your forum. Welcome to The Africa Learning Channel.
PORTER: Satellite transmission is rapidly changing the way the radio and television industries conduct business. As we conclude our special series on international broadcasting, Ken Mills reports on WorldSpace, a satellite radio company now broadcasting to Africa and parts of Asia. Plus, the new direct satellite systems about to debut over the United States.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: All the great composers! All the great orchestras! All the great conductors! They’re all here! On Maestro! Maestro! A WorldSpace channel. [the sound of the duh-duh-duh-da from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony]
KEN MILLS: If you were in Nairobi, Singapore, or Manila, you could be listening to Maestro. It’s one of over 40 satellite radio channels distributed in Africa and Asia by WorldSpace, a pioneer in digital satellite radio. In 2001, listeners in the US will also have satellite radio.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: [with a soprano singing an aria in the background] All the great composers! Maestro! All the great orchestras! Maestro! All the great conductors! They’re all here! On Maestro! Maestro!
MILLS: WS is based in Washington, DC. But its satellite programs are not beamed to the United States. Dr. M.G. Chandrasikar[??], Executive Vice President and Co-Chief Operating Officer of WorldSpace, tells us how the system works.
DR. M.G. CHANDRASIKAR[??]: WorldSpace uses currently a very high-powered satellite, two of them in the orbit, the AfriStar and the AsiaStar. And they have very large beams. Each satellite have three beams, and each of the beam covers almost like a continent. Which is more than 14 million square kilometers, which is a very huge area of coverage. It provides almost about 3 megabytes of digital data and information, which can be, can rocket into audio, or talk, or information, or data, whichever way you like.
MILLS: WorldSpace has a strong public service mission.
[with African music playing in the background]
RADIO ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Africa Learning Channel. The Africa Learning Channel is a project of the WorldSpace Foundation. Our mission is to close the information gap between the rich and the poor as well as between urban and rural communities. We hope to extend and preserve Africa’s oral tradition into the new millennium. We hope to do that through a dialogue and dissemination of good ideas to the entire African continent. And we want to give African community’s perspectives, that in some small way improve our quality of life. This channel of educational information is designed to showcase your work and what [you] have learned in the field. Africa, this is your forum. Welcome to The Africa Learning Channel.
[with African music playing in the background]
MILLS: Dr. Chandrasikar[??] Tells about the founding of WorldSpace and the vision for the company.
CHANDRASIKAR: Noah Samara founded this company back in 1990. It was a group of he and his colleagues in America who were working on, you know, positioning and fixing satellites and so on. They came across an idea of making, building a satellite radio as a very cost effective and the most economic way of reaching large masses of populace. At that point of time AIDS was very much there in Africa and they always thought that a better way, the way of educating through a very economic means like radio should be the best way of bringing AIDS awareness in Africa. Literally the company was founded on a vision of serving the humanity, especially the, you know, the developing part of the world, starting with Africa.
MILLS: HIV and AIDS education are still an important part of the WorldSpace effort. But the most popular WorldSpace channels are music stations.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: Capital Radio!
MILLS: Capital Radio, based in Ankara, Turkey, is one of the most popular WorldSpace channels.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: Capital Radio!
MILLS: Capital Radio is one of about 30 superstations on WorldSpace. WS also produces 10 channels, such as this channel, 24/7.
RADIO ANNOUNCERS: 24/7! This is 24/7. 24/7! Hey! Want to party? 24/7! The instant party! Right here on your radio. 24/7! A WorldSpace Channel.
MILLS: The superstations heard on WS are mainly commercial radio stations. In some cases WS gets a portion of the commercial revenue. This causes some interesting situations. For instance, on one of the WS channels, one of the top advertisers is Benson & Hedges cigarettes, a situation that Dr. Chandrasikar is aware of.
CHANDRASIKAR: Yeah. If you are broadcasting from a country, like let’s say for example, let’s broadcasting it from Singapore. You know, the WorldSpace-branded channels have to accept, and all the other broadcasters, have to accept the laws of Singapore. Because the uplinking is from Singapore. Whether downlinking into India, for example, if you are doing a cigarette business in Singapore, the cigarette is allowed by Singapore and it’s not allowed by India, the Indian government cannot object to that because the uplinking is done from Singapore. This is a part of the complexity that one faces in all of the broadcasting village, whether WS or whether it is television or whatever it is. But in such a case the revenues and advertisements done on cigarettes, maybe you have to calibrate from the person who advertises at Singapore, and if that is allowed in Singapore and not from India. I mean, this is the rules of the game, which, you know, the media companies have to play.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: First there was AM [sound of static]. Then FM [sound of disco music]. And now, XM Satellite Radio [sound of contemporary music]. Bringing you up to 100 new radio channels, XM features the best music, news, information, and entertainment available anywhere, with crystal-clear digital quality sound and coast-to-coast coverage.
MILLS: With that bold boast, satellite radio will begin for US listeners in 2001. XM is one of two satellite radio companies. The other is Sirius Radio. Sirius is where new public radio channels will be located. NPR will have two channels. Public Radio International will also have channels. Margaret Lowe-Smith?? is in charge of NPR 2, the new satellite radio channels from NPR. She tells us about what listeners will hear.
MARGARET LOWE-SMITH[??]: Well, there are two channels, as you know. And one is NPR Talk. And NPR Talk will be a combination of the best talk, a.k.a. call-in programs, that exist in the public radio system. You’ll be able to hear our own talk, NPR’s “Talk With The Nation”; you’ll hear “The Diane Rehm Show”; you’ll hear “Forum,” which is a very top-notch talk show hosted by Michael Krazny out of San Francisco, member station KQED. The other channel is called NPR Now. And I think the best way to define that is it’s going to be more of a variety channel. One of the exciting things that we’re doing with NPR Now is developing a brand new morning show, hosted by a woman named Melinda Woodstock[??], who has a, both a newspaper and a television and radio background. That will sort of be the flagship program on this service, a combination of news and features, commentary-sort of much the same magazine format as “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.” And then on top of that this will also be a place to hear “Fresh Air,” or “Car Talk,” “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” And also we’re bringing in some programs that are produced by local public radio stations that are really high quality and are ready to have a national audience.
MILLS: Smith talks about the philosophy of NPR 2.
LOWE-SMITH[??]: We’re learning how at NPR in some ways to be a radio station. One of the things that we had to figure out to do is, who are we on these channels in the breaks? Meaning, that when “The Diane Rehm Show,” for example, cuts away and gives local stations opportunities to be there, what is NPR Now on these channels? What is NPR Talk on these channels? And we’ve hired station program directors to create the sound of NPR and NPR-NPR Now and NPR Talk. There will be a sensibility that will match the program that is on, but also we want to create a real space. Sort of in the same way if you turn on Nickelodeon, you know that you’re watching this sort of very particular channel with a very particular sensibility. The same with Discovery. The same with ABC News. They’re always there in between telling you who they are and inviting you in. And I think we’re going to be trying to do that in a really meaningful way.
MILLS: But programming two channels 24 hours a day, seven days a week, seems like a huge task.
LOWE-SMITH: I gotta tell you, when I-I don’t know if I should say this out loud, but when I first got this job and I calculated 336 hours a week, I used to go home at night and lie on my bed in my coat and think, “Oh, my God! How am I gonna do this?” And sort of the stunning thing was sort of, how quickly it became clear that there was tons to do here. And that there were-you know, I discovered programs created by local public radio stations that I’d never heard that were fabulous. And I realized that this was a place not only to do what we do well and will continue to do well, but also to give voice to programs that have never had a national place.
MILLS: Smith talks about entering the very competitive US media marketplace.
LOWE-SMITH: We’ve been paying a ton of attention to what everybody is doing. I think that the satellite radio picture in this country is unique and doesn’t match the picture in Africa or Latin America. This is an incredibly competitive media market. And in that respect we’ve been paying tons of attention to both our competition and those whom we admire. I’ve told my staff to listen to commercial radio. I’ve told them to watch cable television. I’ve told them to watch commercial television. I mean, I think there are lots of people who we can take lessons from to make ourselves better, that we don’t have the corner on the market and the corner of how to do things right or the corner on how to attract listeners.
MILLS: NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have invested millions of dollars in the new Sirius Satellite Radio channels. When will there be a financial payback for Public Radio?
LOWE-SMITH: That’s a really good question. I think one of our very early models put it pretty deep in. Probably year three or four when we begin to break even. And after that where we might show some gain. And importantly, we’ve made it very clear to stations and will continue to make it clear, that we see this as win-win for all of us. And that there will be, there will be a kind of revenue share for local stations if NPR does see some gain.
[the sound of the duh-duh-duh-da from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony]
MILLS: Sirius Radio and the two NPR channels are set to begin broadcasting in January 2001. WorldSpace plans to launch a satellite to expand its service to South America and Latin America, also in 2001. Will satellite radio succeed? The answer lies with consumers. It’s their choice. Technology creates new ways to reach people. But it is programming and convenience that causes people to choose one system over another. Reporting for Common Ground, I’m Ken Mills.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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