After the last 60s offshore station, Radio Caroline, was forced off the air in March 1968, there were a number of former offshore radio DJs who now found themselves out of work. Many kept in touch, and would congregate at a small bed-sit flat in Addison Gardens in London. Regulars at the flat included Spangles Muldoon (aka Chris Carey), Stevie Merike, Andy Archer, Mike Lindsay and Robin Adcroft who was a free radio supporter and lived in the flat. All were frustrated at no longer being on the air, but were also angry with the authorities for forcing the popular offshore stations to close. At this time there was a huge group of listeners who missed these stations, and a large rally was planned in Trafalgar Square to coincide with the first anniversary of the outlawing of the offshore pirates.
In Addison Gardens the unemployed DJs had obtained a medium wave transmitter but had not been successful at using it due to a lack of technical expertise. They had tried to wrap an aerial wire round and round the inside of the flat. Unfortunately this resulted in very poor reception anywhere other than inside the building itself where the signal was so strong it caused a Dansette record player in the flat upstairs to boom out the radio station even when unplugged! As the Free Radio rally approached the group realised that they could make a splash and they sought some technical advice from the two experienced radio hams, Pete Chicago and Mike Bass who had provided them with the transmitter. With their help a long-wire aerial was stretched from the flat across a railway line and secured to the top of a metal fire escape on an office block in Woodstock Grove. These offices were occupied at the time by the BBC!
Where it all started. 34 Addison Gardens and the fire
escape on what was at the time a BBC office block.
August 15th was the first anniversary of the commencement of the law which had outlawed the offshore stations, and to commemorate this London's first land based pop pirate went on the air from Addison Gardens. Unfortunately the broadcast was raided by the GPO and police at around noon. In spite of this raid the broadcast received a great deal of press coverage, even finding it's way onto the front page of some national newspapers. The Daily Mirror proclaimed on it's front page "The Cheeky Pop Pirates Hitch Up To The BBC".
Undeterred by the raid, the group made another broadcast, with replacement equipment, on the day of the Free Radio Association rally, August 17th. This broadcast on 204m under the name Radio Free London was clearly heard in Trafalgar Square, and for a time was relayed by a Tannoy system at the rally until the police intervened. The broadcasters were reluctant to end their fun, and they continued past the planned close-down at 4.30pm. Unknowingly, they played into the hands of the authorities who had been trying to locate the source of the illicit signal. At around 5:20 Stanley Smith and other Post Office engineers entered the makeshift studio. Chris Carey asked Stanley Smith to speak on air, but he refused and simply removed what he thought was the transmitter and left. None of the broadcasters were even asked their name, let alone prosecuted.
In reality the authorities left with a pile of junk, as the real transmitter was hidden inside a speaker cabinet. It is said that inside the bakelite housing for the crystal was a note saying "now find the real transmitter!"
This broadcast received huge press coverage and it was decided to commence regular weekly broadcasts, the first of which took place on September 22nd.
Soon others would be inspired by the success of RFL. In fact, the Trafalgar Square rally was where many free radio supporters would make lasting friendships with similar minded people, and it is no surprise that many of the early stations were formed by groups who had first met at the rally.
One of the next stations to appear was Radio Free Caroline. Later in 1968 Radio Free Helen could be heard on 197m every afternoon.
Many of these stations were operated by teenagers in their bedrooms, but using the same location for each transmission would increase the likelihood of being raided by the authorities. Radio Helen came up with what they thought was a solution. They started a network of stations broadcasting just 30 minutes from each transmitter. With this method several hours of programming could be put out each Sunday. At first the stations were named Helen One, Helen Two, etc, but later other existing stations saw the advantage, and joined the network.
The other stations included Radio Apollo, Radio Codswallop, Radio Avenger, Radio Telstar and in March 1969 they were joined by Radio Jackie.
Whilst good in theory, the network idea did cause problems as not all stations put out a strong signal. Consequently listeners would find that the reception could vary considerably, often disappearing completely if they were outside the range of that particular station. Sometimes stations would simply fail to broadcast. Many of the stations used the same location week after week, and the Post Office could continue their tracking activities where they left off the previous week.
All this resulted in dissatisfaction amongst the members of the Helen Broadcasting Network, and it started to fragment. Some stations pulled out, and finally on the 1st April 1969 the HBN closed.
Radio Helen decided to try to form a superstation from the remaining members of the HBN, and made a few broadcasts under the name Radio Helen International.
Around this time the GPO was getting more determined in it's action, and some stations, including Radio Telstar, were raided and put off the air permanently.
Radio Jackie continued with longer broadcasts on 197m, however the remnants of the Helen network meant this channel could get quite busy so they moved to 255m.
The longer broadcasts increased the risk of being raided, and soon Jackie started running out of suitable locations. They came up with a solution which was to change the way pirate stations would operate for many years.
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