I was always on the rebel side.
It was Us versus Them, the forces of rock and roll and musical freedom struggling against the older generation, those in power, the corporate and musical estblishment whose music was of a bygone age. I was always on the side of “Us” and would never change. Or so I thought . .
Of course, my friend and onetime Caroline colleague Christopher England would tell me differently. Chris has many hobby horses, and one of them is a dislike of “oldie music” and a disdain for how quickly the new young thrusting generation become oldies themselves, despising newer music from a younger generation, and believing that theirs was the only true generation of revolution. Chris talks about this a lot, but it was not Chris who brought me to see the error of my ways, though funnily enough my moment of realisation did come when I was in his company, sitting beside him in a darkened theatre in central London, waiting for a tech launch.
Chris is my tech mentor in life you see. Even though I have been involved in IT for more than 30 years, and have worked either directly or on projects for the biggest names in the business - Microsoft, Apple, Dell, Compaq, HP – Chris has always been at least two steps ahead of me when it comes to living in the future.
My first ever mobile phone? Reccomended and procured for me by Chris (who had earlier got me into that great yuppie trend of the late 80s, the pager).
It was Chris who told me about the Orange network, which had this unique new geeky feature not available on any other network, the facility to send short SMS text messages. My first messages were to and from Chris.
When, at a technology exhibition in Earls Court in 1992 I tried out a very early video-phone on the BT stand, it was Chris who was the blocky, pixellated face at the other end, jerking around at a rate of about 2 or 3 frames per second (or that’s what it seemed like anyway). Skype was far, far in the future in those days.
It was Chris who first mentioned some weird tech start up called Twitter, long before it was anything other than a curiosity, and at least two years before it became mainstream.
Not all of his playthings went on to success however. I vividly remember a huge, multi-caller, interactive premium-rate phoneline called “The Villa” which he was an administrator of, into which you could dial if you wanted to meet and interact with people. By pressing commands on the phone you could go into different areas of the villa, meet different people in different rooms, play games, chat etc. It was woefully clunky and terribly expensive, but I can’t help thinking back to it when I see some of the interactions on Facebook.
And so it was that when Microsoft were launching their huge step forward that was Windows 95, it was Chris that I was sitting beside in a large theatre or other such place somewhere in central London. I can’t remember the exact date, but a look back at the launch schedule for Windows 95 tells me that this must have been sometime around, or just before, August 1995.
As we sat waiting for the show to begin, I was very pleased to hear a Rolling Stones track “Start Me Up” being played. (of course, prior to the launch we would not have known that this was a planned part of the whole Win95 theme, in reference to the “Start” menu).
I remember thinking that, after years of big corporate giants being very conservative and oldies focussed in their music for events like this, that it was great that finally they were moving forward, and recognising the value of “our” generation’s music, being young and rebellious, rather than middle aged. Maybe we were winning our battles after all!
And then it hit me, and that one single moment changed my whole worldview on music. This was not big business recognising the value of youthful rebellious music. This was my generation, and our music having been around for long enough that people of my age were now moving up into positions of corporate and government responsibility. This was my generation’s music, in effect, becoming the new “safe” choice, favoured by people drifting towards middle age. This was the moment that I realised that, without so much as a whisper of warning, time had played the cruellest trick of all, and now “we” were becoming “them”.
And sure enough, the signs were there. A new generation of music bubbling under that was not really listened to by my generation, the fact that our music was now increasingly playlisted on mainstream radio . .
From that day on, I could see the truth in Christopher England’s polemic about how closed people’s minds became to everything new over time, and I resolved to think and act differently myself. And this was a good time to do it, as around about the same time as Microsoft was launching Windows 95 another giant was rethinking its strategy, as the BBC started a revemp of Radio 1, to howls of protest from established presenters and audience, that would see a new generation of presenters coming on board, bringing with them the new wave of dance, rock and alternative sounds that had been there, but ignored for quite some time.
Later I was to end up at Phantom FM in Dublin, where for 11 years I was constantly fed a diet of new bands and live gigs. That really helped me to stay up to date, and I couldn’t help but smile when, on the station’s message board in the mid noughties, I saw listeners complaining about how the new music it was playing now was not the same as the new music it had been playing five years earlier.
“They are playing crap aimed at 16 year olds” these 21 year olds would complain, “not like when we were 16, the music was much better then”.
Having recently left Phantom to strike out on my own, I’m working harder than ever to keep up to date on new music, and try to feature a minimum of 50% new material on my shows each week on Radio Seagull. I don’t have the dislike of oldies that Chris has, but on the other hand I don’t have the dislike of modern music that so many of my contemporaries seem to have grown into.
And, though it is itself an “oldie” now in computing terms, that’s as good a reason to be thankful for Windows 95 as any.
The recent test-transmissions on 1395Khz by Radio Seagull have driven quite a few Google search requests to this blog, so I’ve decided to give a quick run-down on the station for any new visitors, as well as for those who follow me for my other content and might be curious.
Please note my disclaimer: I am a Radio Seagull presenter myself (Saturdays 7-9am and pm CET, 6-8am and pm UK/Irish time) so you are reading an insider rather than an outsiders point of view. Having said that, I also have to point out that all views are my own, and not neccessarily endorsed by the station.
So, what is Radio Seagull?
Radio Seagull is a full-time, permanent, licenced terrestrial, English-language radio station based in The Netherlands, specifically the town of Harlingen, in the northern coastal area. As well as AM coverage emenating from Harlingen, the station can be heard worldwide via its online stream, accessible from the station website - www.radioseagull.com
How can I hear Radio Seagull?
In The Netherlands the station shares its AM frequency (1602Khz) with Radio Waddenzee, a regional station servicing the north of The Netherlands in the Dutch language. Waddenzee is heard from 7am-7pm and Seagull from 7pm to 7am on mediumwave, however Seagull is available 24 hours a day online.
(Radio Waddenzee takes its name from The Wadden Zee, a large area of sea on the fringe of the North Sea, but partly protected by a chain of islands 20km or so from the coast.)
As well as terrestrial and online outlets, Radio Seagull is sometimes carried as a sustaining service on other stations around the world. Currently the station is being relayed as the content of a series of test transmissions on 1395Khz on AM, which are being made from the Radio Seagull ship, the Jenni Baynton. These are scheduled to continue until mid-November (but Seagull will continue to be available on its permanent frequency of 1602Khz, at all times).
What type of programmes does Radio Seagull have?
Radio Seagull features both modern alternative and classic rock, as well as a wide variety of specialist music shows. Some presenters specialise in new and alternative music, others present more general shows. Details can be found at the website www.radioseagull.com.
In order to cater for international listeners in different time-zones, the schedule is organised into groups of programmes in 12-hour blocks, repeated once the same day – so that, for example, a show aired at 3-5pm will also be aired at 3-5am, giving people in different parts of the world the chance to hear each show in their “daytime”.
How is Radio Seagull different from other stations I can hear on the internet, or local stations on FM?
Radio Seagull’s programming philosophy is to gather together experienced and professional presenters from around the world, people who are passionate about the music they play, or very knowledgeable in their specialist area, and to give them complete creative freedom to produce the best shows that they can. Unlike larger commercial radio stations, there is no restriction on playlist size, and as a result the music you hear on air is incredibly diverse and wide-ranging.
Presenters come from all across Europe and further afield to work on Seagull, and many are people who have been involved in radio for a long time.
So what’s all this about a ship?
Radio Seagull (and its sister station Radio Waddenzee) are housed on board a former British Lightship (LV8), the Jenni Baynton, which is normally berthed in the harbour at Harlingen. The ship itself is an attraction, bursting full of history, and much restored since its acquisition by Seagull in the early 2000s, and it makes a wonderful base for the radio station – lots of room for studios, engineering facilities, radio mast, and cabins where crew and visiting DJs can be accomodated during special offshore broadcasts. The station also has landbased transmission facilities.
But the ship is more than just a static base.
Once a year, for the last several years, the station has put to sea for periods of about a month each summer, with crew and DJs living on board, a great opportunity for friendships to be rekindled and knowledge to be swapped, as well as recreating some of the excitement of the old offshore radio days (a number of the Seagull presenters, myself included, are veterans of the former offshore pirate stations such as Radio Caroline).
Who is behind Radio Seagull?
Seagull is the brainchild of Sietse Brouwer, a Dutch businessman and radio presenter who also spent some time working with Radio Caroline in the 1990s. Sietse has a passion for good radio, and a great love of ships, and putting the two together in his home town of Harlingen has occupied a great part of his time for the last 10 years.
Where can I get more info / how can I listen?
The best place to start for both is the website – www.radioseagull.com
You can also see more of my pictures from Radio Seagull’s offshore adventures at the following pages:
If you are a new visitor, I hope this has answered your questions, and made you curious enough to listen.
I can be heard every Saturday 7-9am and pm CET, (6-8am and pm UK/Irish time).
But don’t just listen to me – the rest of the presenters are superb!
I’m now halfway through my week on board the Ross Revenge at Tilbury Port in Essex as part of the 11 days of live ship- based broadcasting to celebrate Radio Caroline’s 47th birthday.
I’m having a great time on board, along with other ex-offshore folk such as Dave Foster, Bob Lawrence, Cliff Osbourne, Jeremy Chartham and others. And we are joined by a new generation of people who have come to Caroline in the post-offshore years, including an amazingly talented presenter and engineer called Ollie, who is about the age that I was when I joined Caroline, and keen as mustard.
Caroline has been on Sky for 12 years, and these days gets a huge proportion of listeners online through streams and apps, and we have emails coming in from all around the world.
So why keep the ship? What purpose does it fill when we are no longer required to be in international waters in order to reach out and touch our audience? Those are questions that would be asked in the business world, where the upkeep of the Ross Revenge would be an “opex” problem.
Well, ignore for a moment the fact that this ship, and the others that preceeded it are to an extent hardwired into the DNA of Radio Caroline. Ignore the fact that every room, every corridor and every nut and bolt on the ship is infused with our history, our memories, and our dreams. Ignore these things, as although they are substantial and important, that could be said to be based on emotion and sentiment.
Even without tear things, returning to the ship to broadcast brings a unique benefit to the station which translates into better programmes and a better “buzz” for the audience.
Living on board during a broadcast, presenters who never normally see each other are forced into close proximity and develop a bond that dies wonders for the overall sound of the station. We wake together, breakfast together, work alongside each other all day, listen to each other’s shows and spend evenings laughing and debating in the record library, where old tall tales and new music releases are swapped in equal measure.
We bounce off each other musically, emotionally, technically. We share our passion and as we share it, that passion grows. A passion for music, for radio, for communication.
The ship is the soul of Radio Caroline, and the ship-based broadcasts let us get in touch with that soul, and drink deep at the well of friendship and creativity.
There are some thing that never appear in the financial entries of a corporate spreadsheet, but which are beyond value nonetheless.
As I write this, Cliff Osbourne is playing “Goin’ Back”
“A little bit of freedom is all we lack
So catch me if you can, I’m going back”
M.V. Ross Revenge
This Easter Radio Caroline calebrates its 47th birthday with an 11-day long live broadcast from the Ross Revenge, the pirate ship that was my home for so many action-packed years offshore in the 1980s.
Starting at 7am on Good Friday and running right though until midnight on May Day Bank Holiday Monday all shows will be coming live from the ship, which is currently berthed in the secure shipping terminal at Tilbury, Essex. . You’ll be able to tune in as usual via SKY 0199 and our web streams (and via UPC cable in Ireland). However we will also be broadcasting to south Essex and north Kent for the duration on 531 kHz AM.
All crew will live onboard for the duration, and I’m thrilled to be involved in this event, although due to other work commitments I can only stay on board for a week as opposed to the full 11 days. But there will be plenty to listen to for the whole broadcast, including special features in addition to the station’s unique album format.
The Birthday Bash will also include the annual Radio Caroline Support Group Membership Drive. There’ll be free gifts for those who join or make a minimum donation, one of which is an exclusive T Shirt only available for the duration of the broadcast.
A couple of the highlights of the broadcast are 60s Caroline DJ Tom Lodge‘s Favourite Intro Guitar Riffs and a special classic albums of the 60′s & 70′s show which will be hosted by myself.
I will be live on Caroline every night for the week, starting with a 9pm-midnight show on Good Friday.
My show times as below:
Good Friday April 22nd – 9pm to midnight
Saturday April 23rd – 10pm to midnight
Easter Sunday April 24th – midnight to 3am (i.e. early hours Monday morning)
Easter Monday April 25th – 4pm to 7pm (on AM only, not Satelitte/cable)
Tuesday April 26th – 9pm to midnight with special 60s and 70s album show (listeners best albums)
Wednesday April 27th – 9pm to midnight
Thursday April 28th – 9pm to midnight
It’ll be my first time living on board the Ross in more than a decade, and I’m looking forward to the intensity of creative juices that this unusual environment engenders, along with the company of good companions. I have never yet stepped off that ship after a stint on board without being changed in some way, and long may it continue.
Every Saturday from 0600 to 0800 and again at 1800-2000 GMT (or an hour later if you are in Central European Timezone) I present a two-hour rock and indie show on Radio Seagull, an English-language station based in Northern Holland, which can be heard locally on 1602 AM, or globally via the Seagull website.
Once a year, usually in early summer, Seagull puts to sea in its lightship the Jenni Baynton, and the crew of broadcasters and engineers live and work together for a period of weeks, but for the rest of the year I prepare and present the shows from my own studio in Dublin, and link across to the Seagull transmitter through a fast broadband connection.
The joy of Seagull is that within the parameter of being broadly a rock station, it is entirely free format, so I have 100% free choice in what I choose to play, and how I structure the show each week. As long as I include a couple of scheduled adverts/promos, and time correctly to let the local studio in The Netherlands insert an ad-break at the top of the hour, the show is absolutely my own to do with as i please.
If I want to play an ultra-long prog-rock track, I can, if I want to put a softer pop tune inbetween some new rock releases I do, and no one will query my judgement. There is no need to “play safe” so I can goas far down the road of new releases from little-known bands as I like. Or I can theme the show on a whim if I want.
Seagull works on the principle of using presenters who are passionate about what they do, and trusts them totally. It’s a heady freedom, and I love it.
Working free-format is a breeze if you are doing a one-off, but can be more demanding if you are doing a show every week – avoiding the trap of going down the same routes too often, keeping it fresh, and knowing when and where you have played something before. Thankfully technology makes this so much easier these days, but even so, I probably spend about 5 hours – an entire evening each week – preparing the Saturday shows. It’s always worth it though.
A few people have asked about Seagull and what we play, and others about the mechanics of it, so i thought a quick walk-through of how I prepare a show, and the finished playlist would be fun to write and put up.
So here is my Seagull show for Saturday 19th February 2011, from blank page to finished playlist.
I use a wonderful piece of software called MegaSeg to manage my personal music library, put together playlists, and act as a ‘virtual studio” when I am presenting the shows. I purchased this rather than using one of the various shareware packages that are around because of its depth of features – you could run a complete radio station via MegaSeg if you needed to, and I find that it has paid for itself several times over in the ease of access it gives me to store and search my music, and the flexibility it allows me in building and presenting a show.
So, looking at the playlist window, we start of with a clean slate:
In the screenshot above, I’ve added in markers to indicate the two hours of the show, and the couple of promos that need to be played in each. At the bottom is shows me the total running time of the current playlist (2 mins 39 secs ).
The first thing I will do will be to select and put in all of the new music that I am going to feature in the show. I generally like to have about 50% of the content of the show being brand new or very recent material. Again, there is no specific rule for this on Seagull – I am free to use as much or as little new music as I like, the 50ish 5 is my own personal preference, based on the fact that I enjoy discovering and sharing new sounds, and that having a high content of new material is one way of keeping a free-format show sounding fresh month after month.
OK, so in the shot above, I have now added in my new music content, and the playlist comes to 1 hour 13 mins, so probably around 60% or so on this occasion. From the current timestamp (the number bottom left) compared to the previous shot, you will see that it has taken around an hour for me to settle on the blend of new tracks I’ll be playing today.
Most of these will be very new (just out, or possibly pre release), some will be from within the last 2-3 months, and a couple may possibly be older, but from a newly released album or compilation.
At this point, the tracks are not in a specific order, I have just placed them into the playlist roughly equally distributed between the two hours. I’ll know better what running order I want once I’ve added the other material. I do however know that I want the 16 minute Trail of Dead track, “Tao of the Dead Pt. 2″ to come out of the ad break in the first hour, so I’ve put it in place there.
These tracks are a mixture of album and EP tracks, with the odd single. Usually each week there is one album or EP which I have just bought, and I will feature two tracks from, one per hour – this week it is The Fallen Drakes.
In the shot above we are looking at the Library window, which allows me to choose from the roughly 10,000 tracks I have available (including jingles, promos, adverts as well as music). MegaSeg has a very powerful search function which is instant as you type in the words to be searched for, or you can view the entire library listed by Artist, by Album, by Song Title, by duration, by Genre, or by Date Added (the latter being useful for isolating the newest material).
In this view above, we are looking at the library by duration – this is very useful when you need to complete a playlist to time exactly to the finish of an hour, and need, for example, a choice of all the tracks that are 5 mins 43 in duration, as seen here. I also use the view-by-duration as a good way of randomising the library when i am picking older tracks to play – whereas when viewing by album or artist your eye might be drawn to better known tracks, if you pick a randon time on the list and scroll up or down from it, you will quite often pick up a good collection of varied tracks that might not have lept out at you in the more ordered view.
I have now added enough older material to fill out the the remaining 47 minutes (and it’s taken me a bit more than two hours just to make those choices!). The total playlist length is now 2 hours, 2 mins and 21 seconds – slightly over-long, but that will get cut down shortly. It’s still not neccessarily in the final order though, but I’ve made sure to choose the start track in each hour carefully – I like to have something reasonably strong, and not too quiet to start off the hour.
You will notice that whereas some of the songs have just a duration, others have more info – for example “Wild Angels” by Magnum says :24/5:32/F. This means that the intro on the song is 24 seconds before vocals start, it is 5 mins 32 long, and ends with a gradual fade (the other options are “C” for a “Cold” or sudden ending, and “S” for “Sustain” when it ends on a drawn out note or flourish).
I will need to go through and set this on the other tracks in the playlist – once I have done this, the library will remember this information, so I’l never have to do it again for that track.
In the picture above I am editing the details for Heather Nova’s “Walk This World”.
Setting the intro length is handy, but setting the endpoint is essential. Almost all commercial CD releases of music include a couple of seconds of silence after the end of the track, sometimes as much as 4 or 5 seconds, and it is important to tell the system the exact point at which you wish it to cut to the next track if you are to avoid gaps. Similarly, it is occasionally neccessary to set a start point a second or two into the recording if it starts with silence – this is especially a problem with non-commercial and demo CDs from bands. You also have a drop-down menu for recording the ending type.
Going through and doing this for each track on the playlist will usually take another hour. As the system stores these settings, gradually more and more of my library will be already done, but I’ll always have to edit the details on the new arrivals.
Here is the playlist somewhat later – all track details now recorded, and endpoints set – note this has knocked a full 2 minutes of the duration of the playlist – that’s a lot of little silences!
I have also put in a couple of jingles (will drop in more when I’m actually presenting), plus there are some spots marked “BREAK: Wait for Segue“. This is where I have commanded the system to stop, and wait for me to manually restart it – this is for places where I want to speak for a bit longer, and won’t be using the song intro, and also for the end of the hour, where the studio in The Netherlands will insert an ad break at the top of the hour.
All of this, which has taken probably around 3 hours or more, can be done at any stage, several days in advance of the show if neccessary. All I need to do at this point is save the playlist (which I’ve been doing regularly as i built it of course) and it is ready to be called up when it is time to do the show.
Almost always i will make odd adjustments on the spot as I am going through the show, and the odd song will be changed as the whim, or the mood of the music inspires me to a new choice. And usually one or two tracks will end up being dropped in the end, as the speech bits in the BREAK segments take up some time.
In the end, I always re-save after finishing the show, so that I have a record of what was played, which can be useful to check back on.
Mega-Seg can also output the playlist as a PDF, so here is the final version of todays Seagull show, so you can see the entire list that we couldn’t fit in the screenshots.
So there we have one of my Seagull Saturday shows, from conception through to transmission.
If you enjoyed reading this, why not give it a listen some Saturday?
Radio Seagull – 1602khz in Northern Netherlands
Steve Conway – 6-8am and 6-8pm Saturdays (7-9 am and pm European time)
This weekend, and the week that follows is going to be one of the high points of my year, as I go back offshore and broadcast from a ship again, surrounded by fellow crewmembers from the offshore stations of years gone by.
“Radio Seagull” is a rock music station which broadcasts the overnight service on the Dutch station Radio Waddenzee, which is based on a former lightship, the Jenni Baynton, normally moored safely alongside the pier in the town of Harlingen.
But for the month of May the Jenni Baynton is putting out to sea again, and will be anchored some 8 miles off the Dutch coast, bringing radio back to the North Sea and providing a great opportunity for former pirates to relive the old days while bringing quality rock music, old and new, to an audience on AM and online.
I’m thrilled to have been invited to spend some time out at sea onboard the Jenni Baynton, and I will be on air each night on Radio Seagull from 10pm-1am CET (9pm-midnight BST) from Sunday 2nd to Thursday 6th May.
Over the month of May a whole host of people from the former Dutch and British offshore stations will be joining Seagull, and indeed I will be on board with my brother, Chris Kennedy, just as we were on Caroline back in the eighties.
Depending on mobile reception, I may be able to share pictures and update this blog while on board, if not, I will certainly do so on my return.
So watch this space, and tune in to Radio Seagull each night for some great classic and progressive rock from the last several decades.
Well done to the folks at the Nova consortium who have won the licence to provide a new classic rock service for Dublin.
Although my own employer Phantom 105.2 lost out in this particular contest, the fact is that Dublin will finally get a classic rock station, which is great news for the listener. And, given the experience of the the people behind Nova at running successful temporary licences, I’m sure that they will do a great job of filling this much needed slot on the dial.
Launching a radio station at any time is a nerve-wracking business, even more so in the middle of an economic downturn, and I wish all the lads and lasses at Nova the very best of luck as they embark on this exciting adventure.
And guys – don’t forget the REO Styx Forigner!
“REO Styx Foreigner”. Sounds better said out loud than written down. And just a little rude, which was the point . .
Way, way back in the mid 1980s, before my Caroline years, I was involved in a little rock music pirate with lofty ambitions in South London, and “R-E-O Styx Foreigner” used to be jokingly referred to as our music policy, though to be fair, there was a goodly amount of the more eclectic stuff too, such as Tangerine Dream, a particular favourite of our transmitter engineer.
The REO was REO Speedwagon of course, a great mid 80s staple, not much heard on the radio these days, though neither is Sryx. Foreigner have fared a little better, though not much.
We were called South East Sound, and we broadcast on medium wave (1188khz) from the woods between Coulsdon and Banstead, every Sunday afternoon from midday to 5 or 6pm.
Looking back it’s amazing the amount of effort we had to go to in order to get the station on the air each week, lugging heavy equipment and car batteries into the woods, spending several hours setting up the aerial all for a few hours of rock.
But there was virtually no choice on the radio those days, London had just two licenced commercial radio stations – Capital and LBC – and that was one more than most places had.
Radio was very mainstream, and there was little room for niches, even fairly mainstream ones like rock.
How very different it is now, with countless stations in the UK on AM, FM and DAB, and pretty much every musical taste cared for.
These days I’m in Dublin, happily (and legally) working on Phantom 105.2 which plays alternative rock, with a smattering of the older classics.
“Ham Sandwich Cure Immediate Arcade Fire” if you like.
Our broadcasting regulator, the BCI, have advertised a classic rock licence, and the company behind Phantom is one of the bidders.
Of course, I’d love Phantom to get it, but whoever wins, let’s hope we get a little REO Styx Foreigner vibe going, if only to let me unlock my inner 80s child.