Sydenham DJ is glad he rocked the boat aboard Radio Caroline
PUBLISHED: 10:43 10 January 2013 | UPDATED: 10:44 10 January 2013
Broadcasting illegally to the UK from a rusty ship off the Dutch coast during the 1960s, the pirate station Radio Caroline was hundreds of miles from London’s swinging streets.
But the renegade transmissions, a constant thorn in the side of the British government, were at the heart of the nation’s music scene and Sydenham teenager Steven Hackett, 19, was on the airwaves during the months before its closure.
At a time when many other broadcasters were neglecting them, Caroline provided the youth of the day with the music they wanted to hear and established itself as a stalwart in the fight against record companies’ control of popular music.
Steven, a musician, had gone travelling and arrived in Amsterdam shortly after it was announced Caroline would be relocating from Essex. The Marine Offences Act had outlawed unlicensed offshore broadcasting in 1967, but undeterred, the station set sail for waters outside of British territory.
It was by chance that Steven, now 65, saw a recruitment advert for the station shortly after setting up home in the Netherlands. “Soon after, I was on the boat doing two weeks on and two weeks off,” he recalls. “It was a real eye-opener and a complete watershed moment in my life.”
He added: “I worked the midnight slot and never became as established as other DJs, but I remember television crews coming out to the boat and tourists circling the ship on boats. It was a really exciting time and there was such great music coming from Europe. It was a real flower power time. There were lots of other ships about at the start, but Caroline was the first and the last.” She outlasted other pirate stations including Radio City and Radio London and colleagues, such as Tony Blackburn and Johnnie Walker, later got slots at legitimate stations.
Pseudonyms were commonplace on board to ensure anonymity and Steven became Stevie G, a name he continues to use today for his Sunday slot on Sydenham Radio.
With Postmaster-General Tony Benn’s Marine Offences Act, Steven began to fear he might not get back into the UK.
He said: “My father lived in London and wasn’t very well at the time, I had to be sure I could get back into the country. I thought once the law knew who was on the boat, we could have been arrested. It was all quite scary because we got the papers and knew exactly what was going on at home.We never really knew who was coming on the boat, it could have been MI5 for all we knew. There were lots of people getting on and off all the time.
“The government said our station was interfering with emergency frequencies.”
Radio Caroline was forced to close down in 1968 when the boat was unceremoniously towed to shore by the Wijsmuller tug company due to unpaid bills.
Since then the station has been reincarnated in various guises but never regained the popularity it had in the 1960s.
Stevie G went on to DJ in Amsterdam and joined a band in Denmark before returning to the UK to look after his father.
He said: “My last DJing job was in Sweden. I regret not sticking with it but I never went back after returning home.
“I never felt like a celebrity on the boat, I was green to it all then. But stepping on to Radio Caroline for the first time changed my life.”
To hear the station today, go to www.radiocaroline.co.uk