Many pirate stations would invite their listeners to join them in the pub after the broadcasts. On one such evening in 1970 two Radio Jackie listeners would meet for the first time. They both were big fans of American soul music, and one of them had access to an old taxi band transmitter. Soon Radio Invicta would be heard - The Sound of Midnight Soul.
The transmitter was not entirely suitable for broadcasting - firstly it operated just outside the broadcast band at around 88Mhz, and secondly, it used amplitude modulation (AM), whereas broadcast receivers were designed to use FM and ideally they should actually reject AM signals. On top of this, VHF transmissions benefit from a high elevation and Invicta broadcast from Tony Johns' bedroom in Mitcham - not very high!
Fortunately for Tony Johns and Peter St. Crispian, the broadcasts came to the attention of Bob Tomalski who lived nearby. Bob was not only a soul fan, but had quite keen interest electronics - with some help he set to work building a new high power transmitter for the station.
For the first few months Radio Invicta broadcast every Monday to Friday evening from 11:30 to 00:30.
Throughout most of the 1970s Invicta would broadcast its soul programmes on public holidays and it usually had a good response from listeners. By 1972 they were attracting the attention of the authorities as well.
Post Office engineers with a confiscated Invicta transmitter at Thames Magistrates Court in 1973 following a raid.
From the mid 70s many of Invicta's broadcasts were made in Stereo.
Radio Invicta pioneered the use of Tower block roofs for illicit broadcasting. They obtained a set of fire brigade (or FB keys) which would allow them to gain access to the roofs. Invicta's 100w transmitters were power hungry valve (tube) designs, and the mains power available at the top of tower blocks enabled them to be powered easily. In reality this theft of a few pennies worth of electricity would turn pirate broadcasting from a civil offence to a criminal offence.
From 1978 Invicta started broadcasting every Sunday from 12 noon till 3pm. In order to minimise the chance of getting caught, the broadcast was switched between two transmitter sites. In fact this was unnecessary as the authorities were not raiding pirates at this time following the Radio Jackie assault case. For the listener it meant sudden changes in signal strength and it doubled the chance of either a technical fault troubling the broadcast, or being discovered by the caretaker of the tower block. If the authorities had been active they could easily have tracked the station in the time Invicta was broadcasting from each site.
Roger Tate aka Bob Tomalski recording a programme in the Invicta studio.
This was the era of Disco music and Invicta would play a large amount of disco - though some of the hardened soul DJs would often complain on air. In spite of this, Invicta became an established part of the diso-club scene in London. Invicta DJs would appear at club venues, and many established club DJs would appear on Invicta. This connection between club DJs and pirate radio would soon change the face of pirate broadcasting and result in cut-throat commercial operations, but Invicta didn't spot this opportunity at money making.
In 1980 the authorities had just one outing to raid the pirates and, still reeling from the Jackie assault case, brought the police special patrol group with them. In spite of site switching, Invicta was raided and several members of the crew were caught and prosecuted.
Invicta continued, but as other stations realised the potential goldmine of club DJs, Invicta eventually lost it's lead in the industry. Live broadcasts were made using a UHF link, but in 1981 the raids started coming thick and fast. Invicta struggled on with erratic broadcasts until 1984, but by then the dance scene was firmly established and there were plenty of other, more aggressive pirates muscling in to exploit it. Invicta's contribution was largely forgotten.
Tony Johns died in 1999.
Bob Tomalski went on to become one of the country's leading technology journalists. He sadly died in 2001. The photographs on this page are taken from his memorial web-site.
The Radio Eric archive holds the following recording(s) of this station:
If you have any recordings or photographs of this station you can share please get in touch
Looking for long lost pirate friends? Or just want to say hello?
Visit the draughty phone box, and leave a message.