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My interest in radio began when I was five, and it grew even stronger when I, in my early teens, experienced Radio Nord - a Swedish offshore radio station that lasted for 16 months in the years 1961 and -62. On the picture on top to the right you can see Radio Nord's beautiful broadcasting ship, the MS Bon Jour, which much later, after Radio Nord's shutdown in 1962, eventually became the broadcasting ship MV Mi Amigo of Radio Caroline.
I started this website in 2006 with the ambition to offer something much better than the other radio web sites provide, and also when it comes to telling the story of this broadcasting ship. I have seen many other sites where they are trying to provide that story, but they have told it a little superficial, I think. So here is my version, and I will start way back in the start of the Radio Nord project. While you read, feel free to test my selection of offshore radio recordings in both left and right columns.
The project was financed by Texan venture
capital, and the driving force behind, setting up the station, was the
American radio entrepreneur Gordon McLendon
In Sweden in those days there was a rigid radio monopoly and that had been the order for thirty years. In this regard, Sweden would continue through further more than 30 years to be the most stubborn of all European countries. How did Gordon get the idea to create commercial radio in Europe, and why, of all countries, did he choose Sweden? There are several possible reasons, but the foremost was the Swedish-Finnish businessman Jack S. Kotschack (1915-1988).
Jack had moved to neighboring Sweden in 1944 after five years as a front soldier in the Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940, and then in the "Continuation War" (1941-1944), where he also was awarded several medals for bravery. In his younger years in Finland, he had played for the national team of bandy, and he also distinguished himself as a skilled tennis player. His university studies were completed in Helsinki in 1932, and then followed three years at Herne Bay College in England where he also initiated a short but successful career in boxing, and he made it to the college championship which he also won.
Jack's involvement in sports had often helped him in his business contacts. During a business trip, Jack had visited Gordon in Dallas. Their actual intention was to discuss a film project. Gordon had a film studio and Jack had been in the business for several years with the company Svea Film in Stockholm.
After a while, their discussions began to move from film to radio.
Several months before the game, the Swedish Broadcasting Company made it clear that they would not broadcast the match. One argument was that they felt they were unable to resist a public opinion, which saw boxing as grossly dehumanizing. It was, admittedly, a minority, but the arguments they put forward were perceived as more powerful than the sport itself. Moreover, there was another important factor: this was about pro sports! The latter was then a controversial issue, and several of Sweden's top athletes had therefore been excluded from competitions.
The Ingo match was considered by many as the game of the century. Another effect was that the radio monopoly became a more disputed issue than ever before - the refusal to broadcast the match caused a furious public opinion.
One person who saw a chance to use the opportunity was the manager of the Swedish section of Philips Electronics, Herbert Kastengren. He bought airtime on Radio Luxembourg and it was announced that Philips would report live from the boxing match at Yankee Stadium in New York.
The newspapers began to provide expert advices on antenna arrangements
and how to tune the radio to hear the broadcast.
Another source of inspiration to Jack and Gordon were the events that had taken place in the narrow space of international waters between the southern tip of Sweden and Denmark. It was Radio Mercur, which had become the world's very first commercial radio station from a ship anchored on international waters. Since August 2, 1958 they had been broadcasting from the small ship Cheeta.
The founder of Radio Mercur was Peer Jansen (1930 - 1968) who had gotten the idea after hearing the Voice of America broadcasts from a ship on the Mediterranean Sea. They were broadcasting western news and culture aimed at listeners in the Eastern Bloc. Peer came to realize that they were using frequencies which had not been authorized by the International Telecommunications Union. This, however, didn't seem to bother no-one at all - except presumably those in charge in the Soviet Union.
Like most teenagers in the late fifties, Peer used to listen to Radio
Luxembourg. Through a misunderstanding, he had been led to believe that
they too, were broadcasting from a ship, anchored in the English Channel.
This he saw as an additional argument for the idea: if Radio Luxembourg
can broadcast this way - then can we! As we all know, Radio Luxembourg
had fully legal transmitters on dry land and on legal frequencies. However,
the intentions were obvious:
A cousin of Peer, Børge Agerskov, was doing his university studies in law. He was caught by Peers ideas and took the time to study the Danish legislation on broadcasting. He found that it had completely overlooked the possibility to broadcast from a ship out at sea to a specific country, and thereby circumventing the monopoly on broadcasts from within that country. This order was equal in most countries, and Børges discoveries would later serve as an inspiration to many other offshore pirates. But it was Peer Jansen and Børge Agerskov who first of all saw the whole context.
There's no doubt that Jack and Gordon felt that the recent events surrounding Radio Mercur were inspirational and offered them great encouragement. After a lot of intense talks, Jack said, probably only as a joke or as a reckless idea, Let's make a radio station! Gordon was not lingering on the answer, he only said: OK, Go ahead, Jack.
It seemed quite simple to "go ahead", but it would prove to be an uphill struggle in which many storms blew up, both in terms of weather conditions and in harassments by government officials, or the telecommunications authority and other powerful representatives of the establishment. Such extreme actions as jammers and hijacking the ship on the high seas were actually considered.
A much more unexpected hindrance appeared when the central organization of the advertising agencies advised their members to be cautious and to avoid radio advertising. How much damage could it do to the public's trust in a brand name if it became associated with a radio station that was perceived as "bad", and what if the venture should end in a fiasco? The newspapers and journalists mainly drew up shady, negative scenarios of the new radio station because they were worried that radio advertising would mean harmful competition to the ability of newspapers to attract advertisers.
When Jack, at the beginning of 1960, began the search for an appropriate ship, he initially became interested in a salvage ship, Heracles, owned by the Neptune Company. Jack asked the magistrate inspector to conduct a thorough inspection which resulted in a positive report. Jack felt that the vessel issue thereby had been solved in a reliable way. However, Gordon's confidant, Jim Foster had been involved as “marine experts” and wanted to exercise his greater authority in the matter. He considered Heracles inappropriate - too small! Instead he advocated (the only half as large) Olga, which he had found, moored in Kiel Canal in Germany.
Bob, Gordon, Jim and Jack flew down to Hamburg and then onwards to Kiel, to inspect Jim's findings. Perhaps they had gained too high expectations, in all cases it appears to have been so for Jack. In his book, he described his first sight of Olga like this: "I think she was one of the ugliest boats I have ever seen. Small and worn she lay on the dock, scattering an intense smell of rancid herring, noticeable in a well 20 meters away". It could have been that Jack felt a bitter touch of the didactic he might have experienced from the "marine expert" Jim. However, on the long run, Jim would prove to be quite right - she really was a great ship!
Olga was a 2-masted steel schooner of 250 gross tons, built in 1921. In its original outfit she was 30 meters long and named SS Margarethe. She was one of three sister ships - one came in use as a tug in South America and another was sold to a company in the Far East. SS Margarethe was used for cargo traffic on endless trades over the Baltic and the North Sea. Through the years she underwent several extensions of her hull. The last was performed in 1951, when she reached her final length of 41 meters including the bowsprit of three meters. From the beginning she had been a steamer but her engine was being replaced twice, the last was in 1936, when the Deutz 150bhp diesel engine was installed and became her source of propulsion for the rest of her years. After the change of ownership in 1927, she was renamed Olga after the new owner's wife. In June 1941 she was requisitioned by the German Kriegsmarine in Emden, but apparently she must have been poorly rated there; in November 1943 she was taken out of the Nazi marine rolls and was returned to her civilian owner.
On May 31, 1960 she was towed to Norderwerft, an alteration and repair shipyard in Hamburg, where she underwent a major renovation. The cargo hold was converted into crew cabins, storerooms, rooms for transmitters and space for the two heavy 60 Hz Allis Chalmers-generators, each of 93 kVA (=75kW) to power the transmitters and studio equipment. Directly below the mast was installed the two Continental Electronics 316b transmitters of either 10kW. Above what had been her hold was built the characteristic superstructure with the galley, mess and the studio techniques. She also got her name Bon Jour carved in the bow, and the hull painted in its new orange color.
On August 10 (1960), the shipyard received a message from Hamburg Oberpostdirektion where they recalled an old Hitler Law of 1937 "Gesetz gegen die Schwartzsender" which made it illegal to install, repair or perform any work at a radio station without permission from the government. Inspections were made by a posse of authority representatives - some of them were Swedes. This made it urgent to hastily move the MS Bon Jour to the Copenhagen free port Langeline for the proceeding work. The 38 meter high mast was erected on the foredeck with rigging and guy lines. They had initially ordered two identical masts and the idea had been that the antenna would be a "flat top" design between the two masts. However, Gordon had connections to an antenna expert, John Mullaney, from the American Navy. His unique antenna principle, called the folded unipole, an inverted ground plane antenna, solved the problem with the mast which actually was very far from any ideal length to function as a half wave aerial. The unique feature was that John Mullaney's antenna design took advantage of the forward and aft guy wires from the mast's top to contribute as radiation elements in addition to the mast of steel. To make this possible, it was necessary that the wires from the top were connected through carefully tweaked vacuum capacitors to ground (the hull). These special capacitors, built in metal boxes, are visible on the deck on some photos of the Bon Jour.
The most time-consuming work in Copenhagen was the installation of the transmitters. They had been delivered as a kit of 6000 parts and was put together, component by component, by Glenn Callison, chief engineer from KLIF and his assistant Archie Mesch.
On Tuesday, December 20th, 1960, it seemed as if all preparations on
Bon Jour was completed and at 6 PM they were set to leave Langeline and
begin the voyage up the Baltic Sea. Still remaining on the quay was the
second mast which had proved to be unnecessary. At 8:30, they had to anchor
because of heavy fog. At 5 on the Wednesday morning, the journey continued.
However, it would take much longer than the estimated 48 hours because of the weather at the time. It was stiff breeze, 10 - 12 m/sec and very rough seas. Bon Jour had in this harsh weather, with her round-bottomed design combined with her high mast, a seaworthiness that got her into a terrible swinging from stem to stern. It was noticed that the stay lines on the mast were working loose. They dropped anchor to repair and adjust the rigging. Most of the men on board were unfamiliar with sea conditions and must have been at worst discomfort. In the case of a disaster there had been no ability to make distress calls; there were no radio telephone on board yet. If Bon Jour was wrecked their only chance was the lifeboat, which was equipped only with oars, no engine.
When Bon Jour, after an arduous voyage, on Friday at 11 am, at last arrived
the Stockholm archipelago, the captain choose to drop anchor at a safer
spot than the estimated near island Ornö. Instead it was at Almagrundet,
where a lightship was nearby with constant monitoring. If an emergency
should arise, it was thought that the lightship would call for assistance
through their radio telephone to the nearest pilot station. From the archives,
it has been verified that the guard on Almagrundet noted Bon Jours arrival
south of the lightship:
At last the moment had come when the radio technicians on board could
start practical tests with the transmitter at full power. Previously,
their only options consisted of testing through a so-called dummy load,
not the real antenna mast, as that would have been a violation of the
radio laws. But now, with Bon Jour on international waters, the moment
The fishing boat "Dunette" had been booked in advance to search for Bon Jour on Friday - the day before Christmas Eve (in Sweden, the 24th is the important feast day of Christmas, not the 25th as in some other countries). The idea was that the "Dunette" would deliver fresh newspapers, and the newly recorded christmas premier programs - and Jim Foster, who we remember as Gordon's naval expert. When Dunette arrived at her estimated spot at Ornö her captain reported (Dunette had a radio telephone) "The Bon Jour is not in sight here". There was nothing to see except the open desolate sea - and that's the way it usually is outside Ornö. When Jack received that message, it came as a lightning strike in the atmosphere that prevailed; in the absence of the test broadcasts which s h o u l d have been started already, somewhere at around 495 meters medium wave.
Before Christmas, Jack had pre-ordered delivery of 2000 telegrams to
Sweden's most important business and official persons:
The Dunette continued searching for Bon Jour on Christmas Eve. But then the captain of Bon Jour had chosen the better safe than sorry solution to abandon her in his fear that the mast was going to collapse. A salvage tug had picked them up and brought them safely to Sandhamn.. It was true that it really had been in bad weather, and this was later to become even worse, up to 17 m / sec.
The captain Elis Olsson got the sack, and some have later chosen to describe
him as a lousy captain. As further evidence of his poor seamanship, they
have claimed that he was the first to abandon ship. - and even more, it
was near that one in the crew was left forgotten on board.
The captain would soon prove to be completely right, but then he had already been sacked. There remained a lot of work connected with the stability of the mast's rigging. But there was further reasons to the debacle that had arisen: the transmitter that did not work, the overly optimistic expectations of a rapid premiere for Christmas. But most of the drama was because no radio telephone had been installed. None of these problems had nothing to do with the competence of the captain.
Nevertheless, a new captain was hired, and he would become very popular with everyone on board. His first assignment was to take the Bon Jour to Åbo, Finland, where she at the shipyard Chrichton-Vulcan for repairs, and mainly to get the problems concerned with her mast rigging solved.
On February 4, 1961, the Bon Jour left the ship yard, heading to her position near island Ornö, only to find that a gale began to blow up and the shp had to set off again to try to find a calmer position. While this happened, a crack was heard, folloved by a "rain" falling of small white pieces of what had been the porcelain insulators from the mast guy lines. Once again she had to limp off to make repairs, this time they choose to go to Finnboda ship yard
On photographs where you see Bon Jour straight from one of the sides you can see that the balance of the ship makes her mast tilt slightly backwards. This is caused by the fact that she was originally equipped and planned as a schooner; with two masts. Without the aft mast but with a very heavy and large mast in the bow, she tended to be a quite rocking front to back. On some pictures you can also see that a large part of the rudder remained above the water, meaning that the rudder wasn't so effective. In rough wheather conditions, Bon Jour could be difficult to control because the lines connected to the steering wheel was directly linked to the rudder - she had no power steering.
Below the bridge, which was quite far aft, were the berths for the captain, mate and chief engineer. Farther aft, lowest down, was the engine-room and the newly installed diesel generators to power the transmitters and studio equipment. These generators were electrically separated from the vessel's conventional generator for lighting, etc.
Up in the superstructure, or deck house, in its most aft end, was the galley next door to the pantry. In the next room - a small room, was a ladder down to the cabins for the rest of the crew on board. Continuing forward in the deckhouse was the washing and toilet facilities and a shower. Further forward there was a combined dining and recreational space on board. There were floor-fixed tables, comfortable armchairs and also a TV with good reception of Sweden's, then, only TV channel. At the forward rooms was the studio and a control room.
In the control room, the most dominant sight were the four large tape recorders of the American brand Exacton. Originally they had been planned to offer an ability to make programmed automatic broadcasts at night where each of the tape machines would hold prerecorded music, each song combined with an announcement and separated with green "leader" tape. A separate smaller tape recorder was for the commercials and for other prerecorded material. An automatic random switching between these four tape reels would completely avoid any repetitions of the same song combinations. The automatic switching between the tape machines was triggered by the silence occuring when a song was finished and the following leader tape was passing through, then immediately it would start the next tape machine. The tape reels would be shifted before each night. It was, for its time, a "modern" idea, but eventually the whole idea was abandoned since it had failed too often. In its most succesful events it had anyhow led to too lengthy silences between the programme ingredients. The prerecorded tapes were used at times, but then only manually. Later they changed this entire tape-rack-stand with two Ampex recorders of the same reliable model, 350b, that were used at the studios in Stockholm.
The company had employed educated professional journalists as early as October 1960. By a coincidence it happened that the day when they launched newscasts they also had something very particular to report: Russian Jurij Gagarin became the first man in space that day, April 12, 1961. The editors main working tools were the two communication receivers, one National NC-400 and one Hallicrafter SX-100 and also through a Creed RTTY teleprinter machine to receive telegrams from newsagencys such as Reuters AFP, AP, UP and UPA. The news readers listened primarily to the BBC World Service and Voice of America. They also had frequent radio telephone calls to the Stockholm headquarters to receive home news. Radio Nord was the first media in Sweden to report about the "Bay of Pigs" invasion, where a CIA-trained force of Cuban exiles made an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. Another dramatic event when Radio Nord was first with the news was on September 17, 1961, when the United Nations' secretary-general Dag Hammarskiöld - a Swede - died after a plane crash between Leopoldville and Northern Rhodesia. It was a tragedy that paralyzed Sweden and the world, and it has never been clarified whether it was a political sabotage or an accident. The news was first received by the chief engineer Ove Sjöström via short wave. The news reader Lars Branje, who previously had many years of experience as a pilot of the Swedish Air Force, made a knowledgeable narrative of the dramatic event. The vast knowledge that was offered in this particular news coverage must have been difficult to other Swedish news media to beat.