20 March 1980: The Sinking of Radio Caroline

At noon on Easter Sunday, 29 March 1964, a new radio station started broadcasting from an old Danish ferry (renamed the MV Caroline) anchored in international waters three miles from the Suffolk coast. The first song played, Not Fade Away by the Rolling Stones, was dedicated to the station’s founder, Ronan O’Rahilly.

Several months later the station merged with its rival, Radio Atlanta, which broadcast from the MV Mi Amigo. In order for its broadcasts to reach the greatest number of listeners, the Caroline, broadcasting as Radio Caroline North, sailed to an anchorage close to the Isle of Man, while the Mi Amigo remained off the coast of Essex and broadcast as Radio Caroline South.

Other offshore radio stations started to transmit over the next couple of years but, with the passing of the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act, these ‘pirate’ radio stations were outlawed on 14 August 1967. Radio Caroline continued to broadcast in defiance of the Act but its revenues were reduced. In March 1968 the two ships were seized by creditors.

In 1972 the Mi Amigo was sold at auction for £2,400. By 1974 Radio Caroline was broadcasting full-time again, although its playlist had changed from pop singles to album tracks reflecting the higher sales figures of LPs.

But the Mi Amigo was an old ship and its seaworthiness was deteriorating rapidly. Several times during its broadcasting history the ship had broken anchor and run aground during storms. It had been described as a “death trap” by the crew of one lifeboat.

During another storm on 19 March 1980 the Mi Amigo broke anchor again and drifted into shallow water. For eight hours the crew pumped water from the leaking vessel but to no avail. Meanwhile, the station’s DJs were still broadcasting.

Just after midnight on 20 March 1980 the crew ceased broadcasting and abandoned the Mi Amigo to its fate. A few minutes later the ship sank leaving only its mast visible above the waves.

Radio Caroline resumed broadcasting from a new ship, the MV Ross Revenge, from 1983, and continued until this ship also ran aground in 1991. A new era in the station’s history commenced in the late 1990s, using satellite and internet technology, and, at the time of writing, Radio Caroline continues to broadcast.

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1 comment to 20 March 1980: The Sinking of Radio Caroline

  • I remember the first time Radio Caroline sank the dejay asking for help. The main thing I remember was hearing the king is dead and imediatly knowing it was Elvis Presly as he was the only king in music history and I am sure I was not the only one listening to this.
    Realy glad Caroline is still going and playing great music
    Pete from Soham

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