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50th anniversary of when pioneering DJs ruled waves

Red Sands Fort, formerly home of Radio Sutch
Red Sands Fort, formerly home of Radio Sutch

Pioneering pirate radio broadcasters who made the 1960s swing will be celebrating 50 years since they began off the coast of Herne Bay. Radio Sutch was the third major pirate station to be launched after Radio Caroline began its broadcasts in 1964. It was set up by monster rocker Lord Sutch from Red Sands Fort in the Thames Estuary. He later became famous for satirising politicians when he set up the Monster Raving Loony Party. On Bank Holiday Monday and Tuesday, the Divers Arms in Central Parade will be hosting a special event to commemorate the cultural shift that pirate radio helped bring about. Georgina Paxton, landlady at the seafront pub, said:

“Without pirate radio we wouldn’t have the networks that we have today. Herne Bay was one of the first to have a station based offshore, from the Red Sands Fort, which is why as a pub on the seafront we are going to put on this event.”

Landlord Georgina Paxton at the Divers Arms on Herne Bay seafront
Landlord Georgina Paxton at the Divers Arms on Herne Bay

There will be exhibits and history on display from the many stations that sprang up off Britain’s shores before they were eventually shut down by Harold Wilson’s Labour government in 1967. Among those attending will be Chris Dannatt, who set up the website www.piratememories.com, which charts the history of those who broke the mould. He said:

“These stations were outside the law, but not strictly illegal. They went three miles or more out to sea in the international waters to broadcast. I remember growing up and being very frustrated about the music that was on offer. Our favourite groups would sometimes be on the telly, but on radio there was nothing. The BBC controlled the radio stations and only played music from big orchestra bands and jazz. So you’d hear them doing covers from groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, without actually hearing the real thing. Meanwhile Radio Luxembourg was broadcast from the Duchy, but it was very commercial, and only played snippets of songs for 30 seconds or a minute.”

The frustration helped pirate radio become popular by letting young people listen to the music that they desperately craved. Mr Dannatt said:

“It had a massive impact. It changed the face of music listening and pop music. We could hear the records we wanted to buy on the radio first, so sales of transistor radios quadrupled. At one stage pirate radio was boasting eight million listeners at a time for the popular shows.”

DJs will be broadcasting from the Divers Arms from 2pm on Monday, May 26. There will also be live music there at 8pm. There will be a boat trip to the forts at noon on Tuesday.

Herne Bay Gazette, May 22nd 2014