I had been a keen listener to the offshore radio stations since Easter Saturday 1964 when the family gathered around a Danasette transistor portable to hear Radio Caroline's first day on the air.
A family holiday to Dovercourt, Essex (where the TV Comedy "Hi-De-Hi" was later filmed) in July 1966, plus daily visits to local East Coast resorts served to heighten the interest in this area of this uniquely different and fun filled hobby of compulsive listening to the "tranny". The Pirate Radio ships could clearly be seen anchored four miles from the shore. The transistor radio buzzed to life with crystal clear reception of Top 40 Radio, bright friendly DJs and high-powered American jingles.
In 1974 at Billericay School in Essex, pupils were asked to choose any subject for a personal anthology, preferably their own specialist subject. I chose offshore radio as a subject, which at that time was not fully researched in print. The Dutch offshore stations Northsea, Caroline and Atlantis were promoting a magazine called "Monitor" and giving much mention to a person known as "Buster" in Benfleet. In order to obtain research I simply arrived at the magazine's address by moped and asked to interview the mysterious "Buster". I am pleased to say he agreed and over the course of a few visits provided much detailed information for me to include in my project.
In the late 1970s I was employed full time in an export office and part time in two groups as bass player/vocalist. One group was the resident band when a duo called The Glowworms took to the stage in 1979 at a Basildon talent contest; they finished in third place. The duo were none other than Dave Gahan and Vince Clarke both later of Depeche Mode and Vince Clarke of Yazoo, The Assembly and Erasure!
A number of musicians we knew, occasionally giged with and shared the odd pint at the local went on to have their 15 minutes of fame as part of what became known in the media as "The Basildon Sound". These included Fusion (lead singer Nick Kershaw, whose hits included Wouldn't It Be Good, I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me and The Riddle) and The Pinkees (lead singer Andy Price) who had a No.8 hit in December '82 with Danger Games. Andy Price was also the writer of several of the songs of ours which shortsighted record producers and A & R men turned down!
The early 1980s brought a new craze to the UK from the USA which, like the Internet in later years, spread like wildfire. "One Four For A Copy" - yes, it was CB Radio! Everyone had to have a "handle" (a nickname) as a call sign. I chose Monarch as it was written across the back of my shiny new midnight blue Mercury Monarch imported, like its CB radio TRI STAR 777, from the States. Much to my surprise a number of people said I sounded like a DJ while others said something like "I know I have heard your voice before; who are you?"
A journey back home through Basildon on Sunday 20th September 1981 set in motion a chain of events which was to change completely the future direction of my career.
I chatted to a CB club in Basildon called Essex AM Breakers and was invited around for a coffee. There I met people who were interested not only in Citizens Band radio but in commercial radio as well. The following week I found myself at the studios of SEHB (South East Essex Hospital Broadcasting) in Southend-on-Sea recording a soundcheck demo. Shortly afterwards I began broadcasting on two small pirate radio stations using the name Keith King for the first time.
I purchased from a small ad in Exchange and Mart my first Disco and Lighting System - second hand for just £500, which included a record library of 3,500 songs.
With the help of Phillip Whitcomb, a member of the Essex AM Breakers club, I set about getting my first gigs as a DJ and learned basic presentation skills. With the relocation of, and my departure from, the company in Greenwich where I was employed as a Shipping Manager I went full time as a DJ on April 26th 1983.
I set about building up a network of regular venues in and around Basildon to play. The town also had its own small commercial radio station serving 26,000 homes by cable. Radio Basildon was in search of new staff as some of their number were offered jobs with the recently-launched Essex Radio. There, after a trial period, I was given a regular mid-morning show from Monday to Friday.
In mid August 1983 a picture of the new Radio Caroline ship, Ross Revenge, with its 300ft tower, appeared on the front page of the Essex local paper The Evening Echo. I decided there and then that I wanted to get a job as a DJ on the ship as soon as possible.
I went to visit the address in Benfleet where nine years earlier I had compiled my school project to see if the people who produced the magazine I heard promoted were still there. I was greeted at the door by a lady wearing a Veronica 538 t-shirt and knew immediately I had arrived at the right place! The lady was Monitor's sub-editor Penelope Page and inside was "Buster", a.k.a. Roland C. Pearson. I immediately joined the small, dedicated team who were producing Monitor magazine and was invited to the pre-launch party for Radio Caroline held at The Lyceum in the Strand, London.
On Saturday August 20th 1983 I went for a trip out to the Radio Caroline vessel Ross Revenge arriving alongside at 12 noon just in time to hear the opening broadcast. We delivered a bottle of champagne to celebrate the opening - and by so doing were first to technically break the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act in 1983 while the station had regular on air transmissions.
Two months later I met Radio Caroline's management with a view to a regular position as a DJ.
However, I took a holiday in Tenerife and was offered a job on what was then the only British nightclub on the whole island, Bentley's of Puerto De La Cruz. I replaced their former resident DJ who was leaving to take up the offer of a regular job on the Scottish radio station Westsound at Aire.
Tenerife was an incredible experience for someone who had lived a routine and rather sheltered life style in England. The weather was great, people were on a high and every night had the atmosphere of New Year's Eve. In the town of Puerto one became quite the little celebrity. The nightclub owner, former Bailey's of Watford compere Joshua JJ Jones, was keen to promote me as "Radio Basildon DJ Keith King". I did, after all, have the t-shirts! I exclaimed that station is nothing, but he replied "The people on holiday here come from all over Europe, and what they don't know won't hurt them"!
Perks of the job included free steak meals and drinks from restaurants in the town in return for promoting the owners of the venues when they were present in the nightclub and plugging their good food and hospitality! Free food and drink was also provided for invited female companions thus saving much wear and tear on the wallet!
I had a great respect for the local Spanish DJs who could create a fun orientated atmosphere simply by mixing records in precise patterns with synchronized beats. Their ability to achieve this result without speech was really something to admire. They were pioneers of the High-Energy style of music which soon became known as House in the UK. I learned much from them in the way I present which I still use today.
After eight months of holiday time all the time I was getting tired of island life and wanted to go back to England for the summer. On my return in August 1984 I found that seven million people were now listening to the offshore stations Caroline and Laser 558 and I knew if I could get a job out there it would firmly establish my new career in the entertainment industry.
I recorded a demo tape, which was sent to Radio Caroline DJ Carl Kingston. He immediately offered me a job on the radio station off the Israeli coast called The Voice of Peace. I declined the offer as I considered the region to be too unstable and did not believe it would help my career prospects in any way; an audience of soldiers, wandering tribesmen and camels seemed an unattractive prospect!. The pay would have been $100 per month with free accommodation in a down-market hotel in Tel Aviv when on shore. Conditions on board the MV Peace were known to have been poor and it was rumored you could be sharing your bunk with the occasional cockroach! - No thanks!
I said I hoped to secure a job with Caroline as my interest was with the station I had listened to most of my life. The tape was sent to the new Caroline management team who were considering the hiring of new staff at the time.
I joined the Monitor team and Caroline DJ Johnny Lewis for a meal at The Tandoori Parlour restaurant in Thundersley, Essex in September 1984 where I learned first hand about life on board a radio ship for weeks or months at a time.
A further meeting was held in London later the same week with Carl Kingston and the late Jay Jackson. I received a call from the Caroline office and was asked if I was prepared to start work on the radioship at short notice on a trial basis - the overnight programmes seven nights a week on "the graveyard shift" (2-6am) to see how I settled in. Within two weeks I had the noon to 3pm lunchtime show to present.
magazine now have a CD set available ("Caroline Christmas '84") featuring the fun we had that Christmas! For details click on the "Offshore Echo's" logo above then on the "Doc.CDs" button, and scroll down to "Caroline Christmas '84".
Click to hear Keith in action on Radio Caroline, Christmas 1984! (2.7Mb MP3 file)
I wrote an article at the time for Monitor magazine, when events were fresh in my memory. This article is the first item to appear on the magazine website
Following my return home I set up a number of unofficial Caroline Roadshows to help pay the bills. I also travelled around Holland and France on holiday.
In July 1986 I was asked to go back to the ship again to replace Kevin Turner on the breakfast show as he was due for shore leave. I spent a month waiting at home for the call to catch the tender out to the ship but gave up the wait as one cannot live on Free Air let alone Free Radio.
Pop quizzes were my next project, which proved in the late 1980s to be very popular indeed. Venues which were used to quiet nights early week suddenly found their numbers rise by over 100 people per night as a result of the regular weekly events. I produced an informal newsletter to let people know of where to find the events and even had a silver Keith King Pop Quiz Cup produced by a local record store who wished to sponsor me.
In the late 1980s the economy was booming; it was the era of the yuppie and there was more work around than I could possibly have time to handle. In addition to the Pop Quiz nights I presented company functions and Discos on the Thames River Boats.
Two news stories stopped me cold on Saturday 19th August 1989.
Firstly, my belief in personal freedom in Europe was shattered by the armed raid by Dutch officials on the Ross Revenge.
Secondly the sinking of The Marchioness Disco Pleasure Boat on the Thames in collision with the dreadger Bow Belle with so much wasted loss of young peoples lives. I was never to work on a Thames Disco Boat again.
The early 1990s saw the worst recession to hit Europe for sixty years and work was much thinner for everyone in the entertainment industry. In 1992 I began work at The Tandoori Parlour restaurant in Thundersley which was the start of a very long association with the 250-seater Dinner/Disco venue.
I continued to appear as a freelance DJ occasionally on radio and in the autumn of 1998 joined the team at European Klassik Rock from Maidstone Television Studios. The station had many famous names as presenters including Bob Harris (Old Grey Whistle Test), Dave Cash and Emperor Roscoe plus established names from the world of local independent radio such as Capital Radio's Randel Lee Rose. Many former offshore names were also part of the team such as Nigel Harris and Johnny Lewis.
The station broadcast via the ASTRA satellite on the audio channel 35 and was relayed by fifty or so FM transmitters throughout Europe including Western Scotland and Southern Ireland together with the former Yugoslavia and Spain. It was also one of the first stations to broadcast on the new digital band in the UK (DAB).
It was, as they say, fun while it lasted; but the station was unable to secure a platform on the new Sky Digital service as at that time all radio stations were operated by Sky alone. There were also not enough listeners to the new DAB service to attract sufficient advertising and the station closed in 1999.
I still work in the entertainments industry and am presently involved in several projects including a new video production and editing service.
Keith King 2004
Back to the Riviera Entertainments Home Page...