The above photo needs no introduction.
You know the spiel by now.
25 years ago today/tomorrow, the night of the 15th/16th October 1987 saw The Great Storm, or The 1987 Hurricane, or whatever you would like to call it. Millions of trees uprooted, millions in property damage, 18 people killed, road, rail and power disrupted, and none of it forseen or foretold by the met office.
Amid great sniggering, the clip of Michael Fish reading the weather forecast on BBC TV at lunchtime on the 15th will be played, with him saying there is no hurricane coming, and the talk will be of how utterly the Met Office failed to prepare the Great British Public for the terrible storm.
That’s the collective memory, and everyone knows it is true.
Except . . it isn’t.
I was there, and I was right in the teeth of the storm in all it’s fury, and I had been watching that lunchtime weather forecast, and I had heard Michael follow his comment about there not being a hurricane (technically true) by telling everyone to “batten down the hatches” as there was going to be some very stormy weather overnight. Ah, but they never play that bit of the clip do they?
But more than that, I was expecting him to say this, and I knew several days earlier that the morning of the 16th would see a great and violent storm coming in from the southwest . . because the Met Office had told me, and other BBC viewers. Far from being unprepared, we were well prepared for a storm, and although, yes, it was much more severe than we expected, it is wholly unfair to say that the nation was not warned.
The nation was, you see, mostly indifferent to the weather warnings over the preceeding days, and much more concerned with waiting for Neighbours to come on after the news bulletin. But the warning was there, as far back as the previous Sunday.
I should clarify here that myself and my colleagues on board Radio Caroline were always very attentive to the weather, and always watchful and mindful of what it was going to do, as in our exposed anchorage 18 miles off the Kent coast the weather had a profound impact on our day to day life – on our level of comfort, on the ease of our doing our jobs, on our prospects of being resupplied at any given time, and on the quality of our sleep. So we were very attentive and invested in the weather forecasts.
You might expect me to tell you of the amazing struggles to stay on the air during the great storm, and the frightening moments and waves as tall as buildings that we encountered that day, but that is not the purpose of this article. I’ve written about it in my book Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline, and there is another account of it written by myself, which you can read for free online at Soundscapes (EDIT: for some reason the article cannot be directly linked from here, but if you google “soundscapes conway hurricane” you will find it)..
No, this piece is my attempt to shout my truth unheeded into the wind yet one more time, and try to tell you that the story of Michael Fish and the sleeping Met Office is . . just a story, a popular narrative.
Unfortunately, it has over time become THE Story, the only one that is told.
So, did the Met Office warn about the storm, and how far in advance did we know?
We knew as far back as Sunday 11th October, four or five days earlier, that we were in for an almighty storm in the early hours of Friday 16th.
Needing to be conscious of the weather, and as Caroline’s Head of News, one of the things I never missed was the Farming Programme on Sundays on BBC1 (not sure if it was called Countryfile back then, but it was essentially a more down to earth and less jazzy version of the programme that still runs to this day). The programme always featured a long-range weather forecast for the next 7 days, and this was highly useful to us on Caroline for assessing if we were going to have some bumpy days, and when there might be a weather window for supply boats to reach us.
I was particularly conscious of the forecast on that particular Sunday, as we were short staffed (two presenters down), running short on certain supplies, and crucially had not received new records for a number of weeks (pretty essential for a contemporary music station). The large supply ship that came out from France that weekend did not have these people or items, but brought a message with it that there would be a small boat coming from the UK on Friday with fresh staff, supplies, and music.
Looking at the long-range weather forecast on the farming programme, we knew that this was just a pipe dream, and that there would be no new supplies on Friday – the weather would be far too rough for even the much bigger French tender to come to us, never mind a small fishing boat.
Thus we were well aware of a big storm on the Friday, and when Michael Fish made his comment about battening down the hatches, well as good seafarers, his advice was more literally true for us than for anyone else.
So although the ferocity of those mountainous seas at daybreak on Friday, 25 years ago, did astonish us, we could not, truly, say we were not warned.
Next time you see the clip of Michael Fish, and you hear the story about how forecasters did not predict a storm, don’t believe it.
I’d like to believe that my personal truth would counter the popular myth, but i know that, like on that morning a quarter of a century ago, my words will be lost in the howling wind.
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!
Time for some more photos from Radio Seagull’s recent spell offshore. This time it’s the people shots.
This is by no means everyone who was on board during the week, just a mixture of some of the Radio Seagull and Radio Waddenzee presenters who came and went during the two weeks I was there.
OK, this one is for the more technically minded radio enthusiasts.
Out here on board the former lightship Jenni Baynton, our engineer Walter Gralle has been building a copy of one of the old-fashioned high-power AM transmitters as used on the offshore stations of the past. This is similar, apparently, to a transmitter used on the Caroline ship Mi Amigo in the 60s.
Below are some photos of this magnificent piece of valve- driven transmitting equipment, which is nearing completion.
Click on any picture for a bigger version.
If you’re wondering where the studio, tx and people shots are . . . they’re coming later in the week.
A sequence of shots taken as I stood the overnight anchor watch on the Radio Seagull / Radio Waddenzee ship off the Dutch coast on Fri/Sat 3rd/4th June 2011.
Sunset over the Waddenze
Screenshot of us in location southwest of the uninhabited island of Griend.
The first pre-dawn lightening of the sky at 0336.
Fully light by 0500
Zoom shot of the low-lying island of Griend at Dawn
A privilege to be here to enjoy such nights and see these sights. Steve.
I’ve now arrived safely in board the Lv Jenni Baynton, anchored in The Waddenzee.
I’ll be on air with Radio Seagull this evening from 7-10 Dutch time (6-9 UK and Irish time).
Catch Seagull in 1602AM in Holland, it via www.radioseagull.com
I’m looking forward to an interesting 10 days afloat.
Pictured here are the radioship Jenni Baynton as I arrived today, and a lively historic sailing ship that has just passed close by.
As I write this, the sun has just set over the Frisian harbour town of Harlingen, in The Netherlands.
I’m staying the night in a delightful hotel in the centre of town, and the view out my window is the one above, gently winking navigation lights on the little entry into the harbour, and sailing ships everywhere. Early tomorrow I will take a supply boat out to the Radio Waddenzee / Radio Seagull ship, Jenni Baynton, anchored 10km off the coast in the centre of the Waddenzee, an area of the North Sea partly protected by a string of islands. I’ll try to blog regularly while on board, but as always this is dependent on mobile signal and everything working well, so it may be patchy.
I’ve had an unusually leisurely trip this time round, giving myself an extra day, which allowed me to fly at a civilised hour, and take the time to enjoy Harlingen before rushing out to sea. And it is a beautiful place, and very thought-provoking.
The first thing that strikes me is how utterly central to the town the sea and boats are. Unlike Ireland, where marinas are generally away from the town, and often semi-private and exclusive, here the waterways are part of the fabric of the town, everywhere you look there are boats old and new, and the people . . they are old and new too.
There are just as many teenagers afloat as adults, and normal families and grizzled old men in beat-up cars rub shoulders with the more well off. The boat, in Harlingen, is classless and timeless.
And it’s so busy.
Looking out to sea as the sun fell boats were dotted along the safe channel out of Harlingen like cars on a motorway, the swing and lift bridges in the centre of town are constantly moving, and groups of people are sitting and socialising in large numbers on many boats.
We’re a strange animal.
We have a unique capacity to get enjoyment from things whose original designed purpose was not enjoyment. Boats were built as a mode of transporting people and goods over water, a simple functional solution to an engineering and logistical problem, yet which one of us does not feel a glow of . . specialness . . when we set foot on a boat?
What is it about being on a floating object that inspires so much passion, and gives so much enjoyment to the human?
I remember once hearing an analysis of a poem written about the beach at Dover that talked about our love of zones of intersection – where the water meets the land, where the sky meets the sea, where the inner meets the outer, where the male meets the female.
I think there is a lot to be said for this, and perhaps the magic of boats and the sea is that you can not only experience the boundary of water and land, but in a way transgress it . . be beyond the limit, beyond the edge of land, on the water, but not in it.
And then there is the horizon, the boundary of sky and earth towards which every explorer has been driven. Nowhere can you better see the horizon, in all its clarity, than at sea.
To stand, at the highest point on the top of a ship’s bridge, or up its mast, is to see the wholly perfect horizon around you in full 360 degrees, with your own self at the perfect centre of it.
Confirmation that you are the centre of the world? Perhaps that is what is so alluring . .
I sail at dawn for my own horizon. We shall talk again!
That time of year has come around again – the annual excursion by the Dutch broadcaster Radio Seagull when it puts out to sea for a month on the former lightship which acts as a studio and transmission base for both Seagull and its sister station Radio Waddenzee.
The Jenni Baynton will be anchored 8 miles offshore from the coastal town of Harlingen and transmitting on 1602Khz AM, with the usual internet feeds.
I will be living on board from June 2nd to 13th, a longer period than last year, and I’m really looking forward to getting the chance to indulge in my love of all things maritime, and rubbing shoulders and exchanging musical ideas with the other Seagull and Waddenzee staff, which will hopefully result in some fine programmes. The ship itself will be offshore until the end of the month, including some time spent located at the island of Terschelling for a local festival.
For the duration of my stay on the ship, I will be on air nightly at 7-10pm local time (6-9pm Irish/UK time), every day except Friday 3rd.
I’ll blog regularly from the ship when mobile reception permits, and I’m also hoping the peaceful atmosphere on board will lend itself to some quality writing time also, as I’m way behind on my second book.
Further details next week.
Just a very quick note – I’ve paid for a couple of upgrades from WordPress to enhance the enjoyment of your visits.
As of today, we are ad-free, so there will no longer be adverts popping up for services that are beyond my control.
I’ve also upgraded the storage space which adds the ability for me to directly host audio on the site, so I can now include clips of off-air recordings etc if they add to the article.
By way of trial, below is a clip from half a lifetime ago, back in my newsreading days with Radio Caroline, at sea on board the ship Ross Revenge. The microphones and audio processing used on Caroline were very good at pulling in background noise whenever there was silence, hence the fact that on music programmes we tried to always speak over song fades and intros rather than dead air. This was not possible in the news of course – just listen to the amount of ambient ship noise (mostly generator rumble) being pulled in behind me on this bulletin – not to mention how dilligently the system amplified my between sentence wheezes!
We could have used a news bed (music behind the news) but a huge poportion of the audience find this really intrusive, so we lived with the background noise instead! The location of the newsroom just off the bridge, the closest to the generator room of any of the on board studios, did not help either. The best studio on board for silence was studio 2 (the “overdrive” studio) situated right at the back of the ship. On the clip, the news is followed by Peter Philips reading the latest Lotto 6/49 results (the Canadian Lottery was our biggest advertiser at the time) – this would have been pre-recorded in studio 3, and you’ll note that although generator noise is much reduced, it can still be heard in the background between sentences.
Anyway, I shall add in the odd audio piece here from time to time, and hope that you continue to visit and enjoy this blog.
I’m safely back home in Dublin now after an amazing week’s live broadcasting from the Radio Caroline ship Ross Revenge at Tilbury Port.
Below are a few photos that I didn’t get around to uploading in my earlier live blogs from the ship.
Bigger versions are available by clicking on the picture in each case.
Having a great time here on board the Radio Caroline ship Ross Revenge at Tilbury.
Was great to be on air last night, and had emails coming in from as far away as Alaska and San Paulo. So many people enjoying the music.
Below are some images from my first 36 hours on board. I’m uploading these from my phone via the wordpress app, which won’t let me individually captioning pictures, but they include dockside reflections, the ship at night, Dave Foster on air, and a huge ferry that has joined us this morning.
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.
I was down at my favorite location in Dublin docklands, the Great South Wall, walking my friends Oran and Sarah and their three dogs on Friday evening.
It had been an exceptionally sunny day, and within seconds of our arrival a wall of sea mist came rolling in towards us, blanketing the bottom of the Pigeon House towers, blotting our view of the bay, and muffling and distorting the sounds of nearby shipping.
We watched the Irish Ferries Ulysses creep out of the port at quarter speed, a grey mass almost impossible to perceive against a swirling grey background, sounding its foghorn every minute as it shared the narrow channel with a cargo ferry creeping in the other direction.
A new twist on one of my most loved places.
Now I’m back in Ireland I have, as promised, put together a good selection of photos from my week aboard the floating rock station off the Dutch coast, Radio Seagull, and its ship, the Jenni Baynton.
There are a lot of pictures, so there are divided into three sections, as below:
View pictures of:
Enjoy – I did!
My fourth night on board the Jenni Baynton and I am standing anchor watch for the first time.
Basically this involves being awake and alert through the night, being aware of the ship’s position and anything going on in the vacinity, as well as doing a walk around each hour to check all is well, paying particular attention to the anchor cable.
It’s my first time having any kind of marine responsibility since the last days of Caroline at sea, and I take it seriously. Sure, I’ll joke that I crashed the last ship I looked after into a sandbank, but in truth I can’t forget how our arrival on the Goodwin Sands in the early hours of the morning came as a complete shock to us, when really we should have noticed earlier that we were out of position. After more than 1500 days anchored at the Falls Head, complacency had crept in, with me as guilty as anyone. Not that the outcome would have been changed in any way by our awareness, but in different circumstances the delay in gaining situational awareness could have been critical.
So now I’m acutely aware of how easy it is for things to change on even the most innocent looking of nights, and I acting accordingly.
The studio is the highest and warmest room inside the ship and with the best view, but lots of distractions too. So my back is to the music, my gaze is outwards, and my walkabouts are regular and thorough.
Mother Nature won’t catch Conway napping a second time
As I write this it is 0449 nearly time for my next round, and the horizon to the east is already glowing a predawn blue.
Another couple of hours and it will be time for bed.
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.