Shiprocked – New Edition launched in Dublin

The new (2014) edition of Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline was launched in Dublin last night, with former Caroline and RTE 2FM broadcaster, and current-day drive time 4FM presenter Gareth O’Callaghan doing the honours.

The book is already in stock at most large retailers in Ireland, and will be on sale in the UK shortly.

Below are some pictures from the launch event, in which selected extracts from the text were presented alongside archive TV news footage and of-air audio to give a flavour of 1980s Caroline for the 100 strong crowd who turned out at The Odessa Club for the occasion.

Big thanks to Johnny Bambury for this excellent series of shots.

(left to right) Gareth O'Callaghan, Steve Conway, and Liberties Press MD Sean O'Keefe

(left to right) Gareth O’Callaghan, Steve Conway, and Liberties Press MD Sean O’Keefe

Gareth told the audience how much he enjoyed reading Shiprocked (twice!) and also spoke of his own fond memories of working on board Radio Caroline

Gareth told the audience how much he enjoyed reading Shiprocked (twice!) and also spoke of his own fond memories of working on board Radio Caroline

A number of former Caroline staffers were present for the launch, including Caroline North engineer Michael and his daughter Sue (Michael centre in shot) and former Caroline newsreader turned music journalist Stuart Clarke (right)

A number of former Caroline staffers were present for the launch, including Caroline North engineer Michael and his daughter Sue (Michael centre in shot) and former Caroline newsreader turned music journalist Stuart Clarke (right)

Falling under the magic spell of Caroline . .

Falling under the magic spell of Caroline . .

.


157 Signs That Radio Caroline Made A Difference [28Mar2014]

Radio Caroline celebrates its 50th birthday today, 28th March 2014.

For many, the very founding of the station in 1964 is a major cause for celebration. But I would argue that it is in the station’s long history of survival and independence that the real cause for celebration lies.

ross1983a

Today many people will be celebrating the birth of Radio Caroline in 1964, and it’s founding as the first pirate station off the UK coast by Irishman Ronan O’Rahilly, and rightly so.

Ronan broke the mold, challenged the dominance of established players in both the recording and radio business, and certainly made sure that legal commercial radio on land in the UK was (reluctantly) introduced by the British government probably a decade before they would otherwise have done so.

In the founding of an offshore pirate, Ronan was not unique however. Another station – Atlanta – was being launched at the same time, and was beaten on air by Caroline by just a matter of weeks, and many others followed, including giants such as Radio London (1960s) Radio Northsea (1970s) and Laser 558 (1980s).

No, where Ronan really stood head and shoulders over all others in the field was in his unique ability to make his station last.

To stay on the air, to fight for, and retain independence.

Radio London, and all the other 60s offshore pirates off the UK coast closed down when the 1967 Marine Offences Act became law, criminalising the supply of offshore broadcasting ships, and the buying of advertising airtime on them. But where others left the stage, Ronan fought on, and Caroline continued.

Ronan’s  defiance of the Act encouraged others, but none of the offshore stations aimed at the UK in the 70s and 80s managed to last more than a few years. The biggest, and most successful, Laser 558, was only on air for 18 months (and a followup Laser Hot Hits had an even shorter duration).

It was Ronan who stayed the course, and kept Radio Caroline at sea and on air, despite every setback the government or the weather could throw at him. His ability to ressurect the station when it got into scrapes was legendary.

IMG_1405

But did Caroline really matter?  Once commercial radio had come to the UK, was there a point in Radio Caroline continuing?  I would argue that there was, and very much so.

Commercial radio, when it came to the UK, was long over-regulated and tightly bound by needletime and other restrictions which prevented it from funjctioning as true music radio. And stations were often owned by powerful and well-connected people, in effect becoming just as much of an insiders club as the BBC had been in the 60s.  Where could you get your music played if you were a new band? Where could you hear album tracks rather than just singles? Not, by and large, on mainstream commercial radio (though there were some honourable exceptions to this).

Caroline continued to stay outside the system, and outside the jurisdiction, right through to the end of the 1980s. And this mattered, not only to the listeners who got enjoyment from it, and the hundreds of staff who passed through it’s doors (well – ok, hatchways) but also to the governments.

Radio Caroline was outside government control, and if there is one thing governments really, really don’t like, it is something outside their control. Especially when that something involves free speech, and the ability to be heard by the masses. The fact that Caroline never said anything seditious, and just quietly got on with sharing great music with its listeners was not the point.  There were people out there, on a ship, with a transmitter, capable of being heard, and immune from both government control, and it’s lapdog, big business influence. This had to be stopped.

Did governments really worry that much about Radio Caroline? Oh yes they did . .

Witness the ratification of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention of Laws Of the Sea) by 157 countries around the world, a treaty that ranks offshore broadcasting alongside real piracy (seizure/hijacking/hostage-taking) as well as the slave trade (human trafficking) in terms of a menace that uniquely allows a country to board a foreign registered vessel in international waters.

Extract from UNCLOS:

Article109
Unauthorized broadcasting from the high seas
1. All States shall cooperate in the suppression of unauthorized broadcasting from the high seas.
2. For the purposes of this Convention, “unauthorized broadcasting” means the transmission of sound radio or television broadcasts from a ship or installation on the high seas intended for reception by the general public contrary to international regulations, but excluding the transmission of distress calls.
3. Any person engaged in unauthorized broadcasting may be prosecuted before the court of:
(a) the flag State of the ship;
(b) the State of registry of the installation;
(c) the State of which the person is a national;
(d) any State where the transmissions can be received; or
(e) any State where authorized radio communication is suffering interference.
4. On the high seas, a State having jurisdiction in accordance with paragraph 3 may, in conformity with article 110, arrest any person or ship engaged in unauthorized broadcasting and seize the broadcasting apparatus.

Article110
Right of visit
1. Except where acts of interference derive from powers conferred by treaty, a warship which encounters on the high seas a foreign ship, other than a ship entitled to complete immunity in accordance with articles 95 and 96, is not justified in boarding it unless there is reasonable ground for suspecting that:
(a) the ship is engaged in piracy;
(b) the ship is engaged in the slave trade;
(c) the ship is engaged in unauthorized broadcasting and the flag State of the warship has jurisdiction under article 109;
(d) the ship is without nationality; or
(e) though flying a foreign flag or refusing to show its flag, the ship is, in reality, of the same nationality as the warship.
2. In the cases provided for in paragraph 1, the warship may proceed to verify the ship’s right to fly its flag. To this end, it may send a boat under the command of an officer to the suspected ship. If suspicion remains after the documents have been checked, it may proceed to a further examination on board the ship, which must be carried out with all possible consideration.
3. If the suspicions prove to be unfounded, and provided that the ship boarded has not committed any act justifying them, it shall be compensated for any loss or damage that may have been sustained.
4. These provisions apply mutatis mutandis to military aircraft.
5. These provisions also apply to any other duly authorized ships or aircraft clearly marked and identifiable as being on government service.

(end of extract)

The ranking of stations such as Radio Caroline alongside the slave trade and ships hijacked by real pirates illustrates just how seriously governments regard the ability of individuals to have access to broadcasting – radio or TV.

Think of this: Forget terrorism or drug trafficking (neither of which are grounds for search and seizure of ships in this convention).  The one thing that 157 different government agree is the really, really dangerous menace of the high seas, the force that causes most harm to society, is to have a bunch of hippies on a ship sharing their love of the latest Nick Cave album.

In some countries, this fear takes the form of keeping most media state owned. The UK and Ireland, as more liberal democracies, don’t do this any more, though in point of fact they had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the era of commercial radio by the offshore pirates in the case of the UK, and landbased ones in Ireland. But the instinct to control runs deep, and where hard power cannot be used, soft power is always an alternative.

If you can’t restrict access to broadcasting to directly state-owned operations, you can at least operate your licencing system in such a way that those who have control of most of the licences are known, and safe, and establishment.

And safeness breeds sameness and lack of diversity, which is one of the reasons why it is so very important to have alternatives who are outside the cosy circles of the industry, even if to be such an outsider feels, at times, like being a lone voice crying in the wilderness.

Since Radio Caroline came ashore in 1991, there have been many, many opportunities to sell out, and let the brand or the station take investment from big groups or big business.

All of these, while seemingly friendly and from corporations who doubtless would have promised to respect the station’sethos, would certainly have led to the destruction of Caroline in pretty short order – sanitised, corporatised and probably eventually discarded too. This has happened to so many great independent radio stations, so many idealistic groups of individuals. That Caroline stayed away from this temptation is a minor miracle, and here all credit is due to Ronan O’Rahilly and in latter years Peter Moore for refusing to take the easy option and sell out.

Caroline has ploughed a lonely furrow over the years, surviving on the margins, but it has stayed independent, and for that, we can truly give thanks, and wish the station a very Happy 50th Birthday.

Radio Caroline is still alive and can be heard today via the new frontier of independent, uncontrolled speech – online.  Tune in at www.radiocaroline.co.uk or download the smartphone app.

Steve Conway – a proud member of the Caroline family


What Do DJs Dream About?

Steam-punk style radio ships, terrible choices, but above all: dead air.

dr2

I often tell people that many of the ideas for my stories and posts come to me in the small hours of the morning, but this one is very literally so – I’m writing this fresh out of bed, having just woken from one of those dreams . .  you know, the ones radio presenters seem to have.

This one was a modern variation on the age-old basic theme, so before I recount my latest fevered imaginings, let’s have a look at the theme.

We all have a vast array of dreams, from the wild and wonderful to the mundane, and of those we can remember amongst the many unique and sometimes inexplicable ones there are also those that come from time to time that fit into certain basic themes that many people share: dreams of childhood, encounters with partners long estranged and parents and other relatives who have passed away. There are the erotic or romantic dreams, repetitive and unfinished dreams, and of course the classic dreams of anxiety.

Many people seem to dream of finding themselves naked in strange places, but I don’t seem to suffer from those.

For me it is usually a different terror – I find myself back on the day of my first Leaving Cert exam, conscious that the results will affect my life and job prospects, but somehow aware at the same time that it has been 30 years since my last class, I’ve forgotten almost everything of the course, and the exam is about to start NOW. (there is also another one I have occasionally, where I have to choose between going back out to sea with Caroline and losing my home and financial stability, or going on shore and being stable, but missing out on wonderful times)

These are all dreams or types of dreams that most, if not all people share

But there is another dream, which comes maybe once or twice a year, which I call the DJs dream.

dr5

The details vary slightly from time to time, but the basic formula is always the same (hey, that sounds like a description of commercial radio formats!)

I’m in a radio studio, on air. It’s a really important show. This is make or break for me. I’ve (unaccountably) been asked to fill in for someone on a huge station, BBC Radio 1 or RTE 2FM or some such. It’s a one-off, but if I perform well I will be invited back.

The track is coming to an end and I can’t find my next one. (In years gone by the dream would having me desperately trying to cue a vinyl record but unable to find the right groove on the album for the track, these days it is more often flicking through a set of CDs or playout system and unable to find anything that will play). or perhaps, as the song run out, and the dreaded silence starts, I really want to press play on the next track, but my arms just won’t move . .

Minute follows minute of agonising dead air, and I desperately struggle to hit something that will put audio back onto the airwaves again. I know everyone is listening, judging. My opportunity is slipping away and I am helpless . . .

I thought that was my dream alone, but over the years I’ve heard it back from many other people in the industry, all of whom, like myself, are (or seem to be) normal, well-adjusted presenters, with no particular anxieties, content with their careers etc.  I guess it comes from the horror of dead air that fills the radio presenter, and fact that we are so keyed up during our shows to be ready to put something – anything – on that will fill the gap left by a misfiring computer or a suddenly defunct CD.

IF

Speaking of misfiring computers, I had a dream around 8 months ago that I was totally alone on a radio ship miles out at sea (I think it was Radio Seagull) and about to go live on air. I had my laptop with playout system and tens of thousands of tracks with me, and an outstanding playlist prepared. The studio was ready to go, except that no where on board could I find a cable to connect the laptop to the mixing desk, and there was no one else on board to help me, and no other music, only what was on my laptop . .

As I’ve been a newsreader as well as a presenter, I sometimes have a different style of the dream. This comes about once a year also, and in it I am back out at sea with Radio Caroline, which is for some reason broadcasting again on high power AM, and expecting at any moment to see a government tug coming over the horizon to take us away. We’ll only be here for a few days before the powers that be silence us, so it’s really important for us to make those few days count. And day after day after day in this dream I wake up at around 9am to find that I have overslept and missed my morning news shift. That’s bad, but at least I have an evening show. But I fall asleep again and miss that too. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after . . .

dr3

The Radio Caroline of my dreams (I’m talking actual dreams here rather than aspirations) is a very strange place.

The ship. seeming perfectly normal above the waterline is yet enormously bigger underneath, with vast Lord-Of-The-Rings style underworld caverns full of clanking machinery, unguarded pits, and hissing steam pipes.

Hissing steam pipes? Yes, for in these dreams the radio ship is steam powered, and down in the very darkest depths our engineer can be found stoking an enormous furnace . .

Above the waterline it is different too, with extra corridors of lavishly furnished cabins, which we discover during the dream, and wonder how we could have been unaware of them all the years that we were previously out at sea.

The dream I’ve just woken from this morning though, was biased in the other direction – modern, clean, but equally frustrating.

dr6a

Along with Simon Maher, Richie McCormack and other former Phantom 105.2 heads, I am in a makeshift radio studio in London. We’ve decided to bring the goodness of old-style pirate Phantom to London, and are launching a temporary licenced station to bring Irish indie and unsigned music to the UK, convinced that we will take the market by storm.

Richie is presenting the breakfast show, and I’m the news guy.

It’s just touching 8am, and time for the first news bulletin. I have, for some reason, typed it into my iPhone, and will be reading it from that.

As the news jingle tails away I have lost my place on the phone, and am swiping through the various home screens desperately trying to find the notepad app.  The dead air is beginning, and Richie starts ad-libbing to fill it, looking at me anxiously. I find the app, but am then confronted with a seemingly endless set of pages of other text i have to swipe aside to get to the news bulletin I have prepared.

This is so unfair – I’ve slaved over this bulletin, I’ve bought stories from AP and reuters, I’ve chased down stories myself, this was going to be the perfect, pithy yet punchy two minutes of news, But i can’t find it and I’m swiping and swiping and swiping . . . time stretches on, it’s five past 8, then ten past, and poor Richie is still ad-libbing, while managing to stay remarkably patient. He should be killing me by now.

I have an idea. We’re an Irish rooted station. Why don’t I go to the RTE news site and give our public some Irish news? I quickly find RTE news on the phone, prepared at this point just to read out their stories verbatim, but all that comes up is a series of ads for an Irish Garden Festival due to be held in five years time . .

As with all these dreams, there is never any resolution, and poor Richie is probably waiting still. It does dawn on me that that it might come as a surprise to the poor guy to find himself starring in my nightmare, but hey, my subconscious was obviously going to go with the top-flight A-list presenters for this important venture, so who else could I possibly have chosen? The guy was a legend on breakfast.

Well, from vinyl to CDs to playout systems to apps, my dreams of radio are adapting to modern technology, but the underlying theme is staying the same.

Well, at least that’s it done for the moment. There won’t be another radio-based nightmare for six to nine months or so, and goodness knows what technology I’ll be using in that one . .

Steve


Pictures of Empty Sea

to view the wholly perfect horizon around you in full 360 degrees, nothing but water as far as you can see, with your own self at the perfect centre of it

Just sea, and sky, and horizon - the beauty of an empty sea

Just sea, and sky, and horizon – the beauty of an empty sea

This set of photos comes to you by request – your request.

Every week, sometimes as often as every day, a particular phrase pop up in my search referrer logs (the bit in my stats which tells me what people were searching for on Google or other search engines which led them to click through to this site).

“pictures of empty sea” or sometimes just “empty sea”

Several people a week, over the last three years, a steady stream from around the world, adds up to quite a few views over the years, and all looking for empty sea.

This blog is actually the first result presented on Google for “images of empty sea” and the second for the text phrase “empty sea”.

This all stems from a post I wrote almost five years ago, talking about a particular scene in a book I had just completed writing, then known as “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” but since published as “Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline”.

The post contained a shot of the view from the Caroline ship – nothing but the horizon and empty sea. And it’s that picture which has brought people here. But since so many people come to look for it, and the sea is, and always has been, my lover, I’ve decided to share a few more of the intimate pictures taken during our many trysts.

It's not all sunshine - a classic grey sky, grey sea, so often the view.

It’s not all sunshine – a classic grey sky, grey sea, so often the view.

As always, you can click on any picture for a bigger version. All pictures taken of the North Sea (or its daughter the Waddenzzee ) off the English and Dutch coasts, unless otherwise specified, during my stints on Radio Caroline and Radio Seagull.

Let's look through . .the round window. Whatt do we see . . the empty sea.

Let’s look through . .the round window. What do we see?  . . the empty sea.

When I went to work on the offshore radio ships, people kept asking if life was boring. After all, the sea was the sea, and was always the same they reasoned.

Boring? When the view through the porthole is never the same two days in a row? The sea is a mistress of infinite moods.

Blue sky, blue sea, an unlimited horizon on the Atlantic.

Blue sky, blue sea, an unlimited horizon on the Atlantic.

Evening falls on the Waddenzee

Evening falls on the Waddenzee

A cold wind, and a lumpy sea - slight to moderate in nautical terms.

A cold wind, and a lumpy sea – slight to moderate in nautical terms.

The almost dreamlike quality of the sea pounded and smoothed by a torrential downpour - photographed through a porthole at eye-level to my bunk - what a gorgeous way to wake up!

The almost dreamlike quality of the sea pounded and smoothed by a torrential downpour – photographed through a porthole at eye-level to my bunk – what a gorgeous way to wake up!

The sun is about to rise over an empty sea

The sun is about to rise over an empty sea

Sunrise 2

Sunrise 2

Sunrise complete - 5.26AM in early June.

Sunrise complete – 5.26AM in early June.

The pink tinge of sunrise on the waters of the Waddenzee

The pink tinge of sunrise on the waters of the Waddenzee

So, those are the “empty sea photos.

Below I include a couple more, where the sea is not quite empty, but which I feel are similarly beautiful.

For some reason this photo brings back the most intense memories of the "feel" of being at sea - grey skies, moderate sea, and a fishing boat just glimpsed through a spray-streaked porthole. I can almost hear the wind moaning in the superstructure . .

For some reason this photo brings back the most intense memories of the “feel” of being at sea – grey skies, moderate sea, and a fishing boat just glimpsed through a spray-streaked porthole. I can almost hear the wind moaning in the superstructure . .

4.55AM, I've been on watch overnight, and am just about to make another round of the ship and check anchor chain in the pre-dawn light.

4.55AM, I’ve been on watch overnight, and am just about to make another round of the ship and check anchor chain in the pre-dawn light.

A little later, and the sun is risen.

A little later, and the sun is risen.

Wonderful experiences and a great life. The radio was exciting, but the sea was always breathtaking.

Always my lover, I’m not sure if I possess her soul, or she mine.

A beautiful and lonely place to live and work

A beautiful and lonely place to live and work

I hope you enjoyed these as much as I did.

Steve

 


String Theory: My Quarter Century As “Steve Conway”

I think it was John Denver who sang the words “He was born in the summer of his 27th year, coming home to a place he’d never been before” (the song: Rocky Mountain High)

View from Radio Caroline 1987 – an empty sea

As Steve Conway I was born on the 6.30am news headlines exactly 25 years ago this morning, in the winter of my 23rd year, having just arrived at a place that would become home to me for a number of exciting drama and emotion packed years, and a sort of Tir Na Og or mystical lost land for me to look back at later in life.

This is a way of saying that today is the 25th anniversary of my joining Radio Caroline back in the days when it was offshore. Before that that day I had another name, but the practacalities of working on a radio station that was outside the law (not against the law, but actually outside it) made a name change advisible, and so Steve was born as a fully fledged adult, and Steve I have been ever since.

Steve Conway in the Caroline newsroom in late 1987.

And, in a way, it was a rebirth of sorts, because joining Caroline so radically altered my life that the date 24th February 1987  is a dividing point in my life, which was very very different in shape either BC (before Caroline) or AD (after the drifting of November 1991 that ended my offshore years). 

And what of the 4 years in the middle?  They were, in a way, outside normal time and space – life on board a pirate radioship in International Waters being so strange and cut off from normal society, but so physically, socially, and emotionally intense that those involved seem to exist in their own little bubble. For a proper detailed description of those strange years, I would refer you to my 2009 book: Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline, and my forthcoming prequel, sequel and midquel “Running Away From The Circus – Everything I Know About Radio I Learned By Screwing It Up”

No, what the anniversary has really made me think about this morning is time.

25 years – a quarter of a century. In one sense it has passed quickly, but in another, it is a very long span of time, especially if I view it in terms of the changes in the world in which I live.

I’m not talking about the micro world of radio – though that has changed dramatically, offshore pirates now a thing of the past, onshore radio multiplied in number by a huge factor – nor am I thinking about the political world, which, to be honest, despite governments coming and going, wars and alliences changing, is curiously unchanged from 1987 (I have a couple of my Caroline news bulletins on tape, and apart from the names of the participants, many of the actual stories would seem perfectly normal if broadcast today, indeed an old bulletin might almost be played out instead of a new one with few realising there was something wrong).

I’m thinking of the more general world as it personally affected me an an individual, then and now.

Information has been the defining change of those 25 years. In 1987, information was something which you were given, in limited quantities. It was not something which, in the run of the mill that you accessed, unless you have a job which specifically involved accessing files and databases.

On board the radio ship we had a television (and no, we didn’t have a licence for that either!) and it gave us the diet of entertainment and slices of news that were deemed suitable or needed for the population at large. There was no hint of customisation – you had the choice to watch or not, but could not influence that content in any way. Also on the TV was teletext, a few hundred pages of information judged to be of popular appeal, so you could look up things like sporting results, the current UK Top 40, news headlines, weather etc. No deeper dive into this information was possible, and there was no such thing as search.

Onshore it was not much different. You could go to a library, but getting hold of any kind of information outside the daily norm required a lot of effort. What exactly was said during a debate in the House of Commons last night? What are the times of the bus that goes past my friends house in a city 400 miles away? What is the history of Danzig before 1939?  All of these kinds of questions were, indeed, capable of being answered, but not on the spot, not at 8am on a Sunday morning, and often not without considerable time and effort.

When I made the snap decision to join Caroline, my family and friends back home in Ireland did not find out about it for many weeks. There was no Facebook to keep in touch, no text messages, and no way for them to listen to me even if they had known I was on there. 

Whenever I wanted to take a trip back to Ireland to see them, booking it was a big undertaking. I had to visit a travel agent or ferry or airline office, where first of all I would have to wait, patiently, while many other people in front of me were served, slowly. Then I would explain my needs to a person seated in front of a booking system which I could not see, and they would outline the various options of flights or ferries to me. I had no way of seeing those options myself, no way of knowing if what I was being told and sold was really the best for me, or the best for them.

When I went home to ireland, I was in a different world from the UK. No Caroline, no London Evening Standard, no access to my London friends other than making an international phone call (house to house in those days) which would seem . . well, strange.

I don’t have to tell you how vastly different all these things are now. I listened to Caroline on my way to work on the bus this morning in Dublin in clear FM quality via my smartphone, which will also give me the Evening Standard if I want it, let me search and book my flights, even act as my boarding pass. Any of the pieces of information I mentioned above are at my fingertips instantly. Travelling is hugely different, through apps and alerts I know what is going on at airports, can be certain when the next bus or tram is arriving, and can text Geoff in Surrey to tell him that I’m just about to get onto a fishing boat in Harlingen, Netherlands. Or research the history of Danzig should I be hit with a curiosity to do so at 8am on a Sunday morning.

When we look forward in time, we generally don’t see and can’t see the real changes which are going to happen. We think of faster planes and spaceships and wars for water, but we can’t forsee the changes that are gestating which will affect the more intimate, everyday world we live in.

There are other ways of predicting the future however. A couple of the Dutch crew on the Caroline ship had this thing going with a piece of string and a weight which they used to divine the future for the small but important events – such as when the next supply boat would arrive (FOOD! NEW FACES! NEW RECORDS!), who might be on it, and other such things.

The future was predicted based on which direction the string would move when held with the weight on the end, and whether it would stay absolutely still or move around.

The fact that we were doing this on board a ship which even in the calmest weather would move gently may tell you that we were not neccessarily applying the strictest of scientific methods here!

After a string (!) of successful predictions they started asking it some bigger questions.

Who would find love? Who would marry? When would the Ross Revenge make its final broadcast at sea? (the string correctly predicted 1990, but then wrongly told us that the ship would be bought by the Voice of Peace and move to the Israeli coast).

It's not our fault we ran the ship aground in 1991. The string never warned us!

The human curiosity for the future is strong, despite our almost always predicting it wrongly. Looking back today at this junction in my life a quarter of a century ago, I can’t help but wonder what changes there will be in the next 25 years of Steve Conway. Hopefully, when “Steve” is 50 he will still be alive (his body will be 73, so that’s a reasonable hope). Beyond that I can’t really say what will happen.

Whereas before, everyone talked of flying cars, now in the information age we predict brain chips. People will be able to access everything without any external devices, our memories will be preserved forever . . .

But perhaps we are failing to see the real future, and the changes to come will be just as unexpected and profoundly altering as the ones of the last quarter century.

I just hope they are as liberating.

Anyone got a piece of string I can borrow?

Steve


Facing Death At Dawn . . And Life Afterwards

The past is indeed another country, but the future is a map that we can draw for ourselves if we dare.

It was 20 years ago this morning, (20th November 1991) that I came to the end of the roughest night I had ever known in all my years at sea with Radio Caroline, and faced what I came to believe would be my last ever dawn.

Aground on the infamous Goodwin Sands, which have claimed hundreds of ships and thousands of lives, we were gradually rolling over, each wave pushing us a little closer to the tipping point where the ship would capsize. Ironically, although there was not enough water to float her, there was more than enough to flood into her and fill her up if we went sideways . . more than enough to drown in.

The waves were towering in the North Easterly Force 11 winds, the seas icy – we wouldn’t have lasted more than a few minutes if we went over.

The brave men of Ramsgate Lifeboat had already tried to rescue us and failed, running aground themselves,  losing a man overboard in the process (happily quickly recovered by safety line). Now we were waiting for the helicopter, but it seemed we would be in the water before it arrived . .

Certain that we would be drowning in minutes, the floor beneath us already at a 45 degree angle, we hugged each other, shook hands, and said goodbye. We knew we were going to our doom . .

ITV teletext reports on our rescue - photo Geoff Rogers

The story of that morning, and our eventual rescue by the RAF helicopter R166 is described in detail in my book Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline, but even the printed word cannot do justice to the memories which are still vividly seared onto my brain, even all these years later.

I absolutely believed that I was about to die, and that morning, and in particular that moment, has changed my life since then.

The 20 years I have lived since that morning on the Goodwins is a bonus, and the older I have got, the more I have appreciated this, and the more I have lived my life with zeast and purpose. The sudden seeming end of Caroline in 1991 (though not the final end, as it has bounced back and is adpating to a new age) instilled in me a knowledge of the impermanance of states of being, and ensured that when I got involved with Phantom FM in later years I treasured each moment, and drove myself to both give and take the maximum from every day that I worked there.

In life too, I reach out with lust for living to take the most from each day, and push myself to do and experience more and newer things.

Life is a bonus, and I am determined to spend that bonus to the full.

Many people around me comment on my seemingly unflappable calm when faced with difficult situations. This too comes from that morning on the Goodwins, for as I see it, I have been minutes from an icy drowning death, so why should anything that happens in a more normal work or life based situation cause me to panic?

Time has been kind to Radio Caroline too, and that morning, seemingly a point of closure for the station was to be in fact the first step in forcing it to adapt to a new path, which though seemingly bleak for much of the 1990s, has blossomed in latter years into an unprecedented period of stable broadcasts, with new technology enabling the station to be heard in undreamed of quality in previously unreachable countries.

20 years on I have spent the night of the 19th/20th November sipping wine with close friends, and thanking my lucky stars for all the richness of life and the benefits of new technology that both I and Radio Caroline have enjoyed in the last 20 years.

It’s right to raise a glass and look back, but the biggest gift of all is to be able to raise my gaze and look forwards.

Steve


Special Reading & Talk to commemorate 20 Years Since The Goodwins Shipwreck

20 years on from the most terrifying morning of my life . . aground on the Goodwin Sands with hopes of rescue seemingly dashed as the crew of the Ross Revenge shook hands and prepared for the ship to roll over . . .

Shiprocked - Life On The Waves with Radio Caroline

Seven Towers Agency, East Wall for All and The Sean O’Casey Community Centre present:

Radio Caroline, former Phantom FM DJ and Best Selling Author

Steve Conway

Reading from his book

Shiprocked, Life on the Waves With Radio Caroline

Sean O’Casey Community Centre, East Wall, Dublin.

7pm Monday 21 November

free parking, admission free

20 Years ago this November, Dubliner and East Wall resident Steve Conway  survived the shipwreck of the Ross Revenge, the last of the Radio Caroline off-shore Radio Ships.   Reading from his book, Shiprocked he tells of this event and of his life on the famous Pirate Station, Radio Caroline.

Steve will also read a preview excerpt from his new book, due out next year, that covers his career beyond Caroline, including the 10 years spent working for Dublin’s alternative station Phantom FM / Phantom 105.2

This event is free, but an opportunity will be available to give donations and to RNLI and Sean O’Casey Community Centre.



1395 tests reach Ireland in final week

Have a listen to the tests of the custom-built AM valve transmitter on board the Radio Seagull ship in Harlingen, Netherlands, as picked up more than 300 miles away in Co. Kildare, Ireland

1395-in-Kildare (mp3 file)

I reported during the summer on the construction of a custom built, old-style valve transmitter for high-power AM on board the Radio Seagull ship, the Jenni Baynton, located near Harlingen, in the northern Holland.   For the last 6 weeks this transmitter has been in use, performing authorised tests on the 1395AM frequency, which is licenced to a different operator. During these tests Radio Seagull has been relayed, and they come to a close after this weekend (14th November 2011) after which Seagull will continue to be heard on its own frequency 1602Khz and online worldwide.

For the last week, the transmitter has been operating on a higher power setting, and in addition to providing coverage throughout The Netherlands (the intended coverage area) it has been possible to listen much further afield, the signal reaching many parts of the UK, and latterly Ireland.

Click on the link below to hear a short (1 minute) sample of reception on an ordinary car radio, at Monestrevin, Co. Kildare, at around 5.45pm on Monday 7th November.  This recording was made simply by using to “voice memo” function on my mobile phone to record the sound inside the car, so the original reception quality is even better.

1395-in-Kildare (mp3 file)

Not a bad reach for a hand-built rig on a little lightship.  Kudos to Walter, Colin, Sietse and the the onboard engineering staff on the Jenni Baynton.

Steve


So Who Are Radio Seagull?

Radio Seagull, from the lightship Jenni Baynton

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.

Hey, these are just some guys I was close to when I took this picture. Pretty supportive too.

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”.

Seagull presenters (left to right) Steve Conway, Chris Kennedy, Mandy, Dave Foster

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.

Radio Seagull's Martin Smith samples life at sea

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.

Radioship Jenni Baynton, home of Radio Seagull

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).

Sietse Brouwer, founder and owner of Radio Seagull & Waddenzee.

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:

https://steveconway.wordpress.com/seagull/the-jenni-baynton-at-sea/

https://steveconway.wordpress.com/seagull/inside-the-jenni-baynton/

https://steveconway.wordpress.com/seagull/jenni-baynton-crew/

https://steveconway.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/dreamy-seagull-pics/

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!

Steve


Seagull to test on 1395khz

Jenni Baynton's second AM transmitter

Hi all,

A little while back I wrote about the lovingly handcrafted AM transmitter being built onboard the Radio Seagull ship Jenni Baynton during the summer. Now I am pleased to report that you will be able to hear it in action.

Starting tomorrow, 1st October 2011, the ship will be used for test transmissions on 1395Khz AM at various power levels, for a number of weeks. During this time, the programmes of Radio Seagull (already available on 1602Khz AM) will form the content of the test transmissions.

These tests will run 21 hours a day, as due to international agreements the frequency 1395Khz cannot be operated in The Netherlands from 2000-2300 CET (1900-2200 UK/Irish time).

Radioship Jenni Baynton, home of Radio Seagull

As these tests will be at times on higher power than the existing 1602 service, you may find that you are able to pick us up further afield than usual.

Reception reports will be appreciated – full details and regular news at the Radio Seagull website.

And don’t forget, you can catch my Saturday show on Seagull every week,  from 7-9am and 7-9pm CET (that’s 6-8 am and pm in UK/Ireland) featuring the best in indie and alternative rock, with at least 50% of the show devoted to brand new releases, including unsigned bands.

Steve Conway on Radio Seagull

As well as the two AM frequencies, you can listen online anywhere through www.radioseagull.com

Steve


Seagull 2011 Offshore – People Pics

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.

Seagull presenters (left to right) Steve Conway, Chris Kennedy, Mandy, Dave Foster

Radio Seagull's Martin Smith samples life at sea

Paul Dennis waves goodbye after a week on board presenting shows for Seagull. Former Radio Monique DJ Jan Veldkamp can be see at the front of the boat.

No matter how bad the weather . . while we stay warm and dry indoors looking through rain-spattered portholes, station owner Sietse is outside keeping things running smoothly.

Wim Brik and Peter Tenorman from Radio Waddenzee

Win van Egmond and Jan Peters enjoy some rare sunshine on the back deck.

Here I'm in action in the downstairs studio (studio 2) presenting a Seagull show in the early evening.

Looking back at the Jenni Baynton as I departed at lunchtime on a grey, choppy Monday. Shortly after this picture, the ship moved from it's position in the middle of the Waddenzee to one of the islands for a music and culture festival.

 


Lovingly Crafted New (Old) AM Transmitter

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.

Enjoy!

Steve

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Dreamy Seagull Pics

On board the Radio Seagull / Waddenzee ship, our weather has gone from this breezy Sunday . .

 

Click on any picture for a bigger version.

. . to this gorgeous balmy Tuesday

with smooth sea and windless sky, the view to the horizon has a dreamlike quality.

I'm in the top bunk in "Cabin A" and I have my own porthole right behind my pillow.

How about this view first thing in the morning?

But we're here for the radio too. This is a shot where I tried to see if I could get our radio tower to fill the maximum amout of space in the frame, without cutting any off.

Hey, these are just some guys I was close to. Pretty supportive too.

If you’re wondering where the studio, tx and people shots are . . . they’re coming later in the week.

Steve

 


Pre Sailing Thoughts

(click on any picture for bigger version)

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!

Steve


Going Offshore with Seagull in June

LV Jenni Baynton, showing light tower and radio mast.

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.

www.radioseagull.com

Steve


Steve now adfree, and more noisy.

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!

noisy-news-24Oct1987  (this opens as an mp3 clip)

Steve Conway in the Caroline newsroom in late 1987, around the same time as the recording. This was originally the ships chart-room, off the bridge, and unlike the main studios, had no soundproofing.

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.

Steve


Why On The Ship?

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”

Steve Conway
M.V. Ross Revenge
Tilbury Port
April 2011

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You Always Remember Your First . .

A collection of some of the milestones in my life, some important, some quirky!

First memory . . in a cot in my parents room, playing cars by driving my fingers around the blanket . . into transport and machinery even before I could walk!

First (earliest) memory that I can specifically date: the night before my third birthday, travelling down to Mitchelstown in our old Ford 100E sitting on my mother’s lap. The alternator/dynamo was failing and the car lights were dimming . . I remember being carried up the boreen to my great grandfathers farmhouse at midnight after we had broken down just short of our destination. Then I remember my third birthday itself, and my Great Uncle Billy telling me I was a “big boy” and giving me a toy tractor to play with.

First book read. .  Can’t remember what was first, but I was an avid reader. I was really into Greek mythology as a child, and had read the Illiad and Odyssey by the age of 8.

First girlfriend . . When I was only about 6 I had a thing for Laura from down the road. Start as you mean to go on!

First time on TV . . There exists in the RTE Archives some footage of a nine-year-old me wandering through a field in Kerry picking blackberries, as part of a “Landmark” special on farmhouse holidays.

First record bought . . Jeff Wayne “Forever Autumn” from War of the Worlds, in 1978.

First Kiss . . Maggie from New Cross, where are you?

First dance . . some very kind Co. Clare woman took pity on me when I was all alone at the disco on our school trip to The Burren, and whisked me around the floor to the envy of my classmates. I can still remember the smell of her hair . .

First proper job . . (excluding working in the family business), my first actual job was a week as a door to door salesman in 1982. I must have have knocked on half the doors in Dublin, and made only £13 in commission before giving it up.

First car . . A lovely Fiat 500 passed down from my mother. If cars could talk, it would have a tale or two to tell!

First heartbreak . . Yes, it’s Maggie from New Cross again. If you want to know what went wrong, see pages 11/12 of Shiprocked, Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline.  It’s true, I really was that innocent!

First record I played on the radio . . Joan Jett – “Bad Reputation”  (on South East Sound, July 1985)

First record I played on Radio Caroline . . Percy Sledge – “When A Man Loves A Woman”

First time abroad . . England for the 1966 World Cup. (actually it was my Dad who went for the football, I was just a toddler).

First words written to start writing the book (that became Shiprocked) . . “The call came at the worst possible time . .”  (Later I realised that I needed more background about what had happened leading up to my joining Caroline, so that first line written is now many pages into the finished version).

First Draft (of Shiprocked) . . 225,000 words. Redrafted on my own account to 176,000 words to tighten up. But then cut down to 90,000 words for publication . . that was tough!

First (of many!) rejection letters . . 1993 from an agent in London. It would be another 15 years and many more rejections before I came across Seven Towers Agency, who have been utterly brilliant in supporting me, and in refusing to take no for an answer.

First interview as a published author . . The day Shiprocked was published, I was interviewed by Sinead Ni Mhordha on Phantom’s Access All Areas show. I was used to hearing Sinead interview great rock bands, and was just blown away that she was interviewing me. Forget TV3 forget The irish Times, it was sitting across the desk from Sinead that I really felt like I’d arrived!

First show on Phantom . . November 2000, the breakfast show. I started with a news bulletin, so my very first words on air were to inform the world that George W Bush had just been confirmed president following the final court hearing into vote counts. My first record was Greenday – “Minority” – as good a musicical start as any!

That’s it for now – let’s hope I have many more “firsts” still to come.

Steve


All Aboard for Caroline at Easter

The Ross Revenge at Tilbury Docks in 2010

 

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

The original Caroline studio (Studio 1) on the Ross Revenge

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.

Steve


Fiends Reunited

 

Steve Conway & Rob Harrison reunited

The visit of Prince Albert of Monaco to Ireland brought an unexpected windfall to me today in the shape of Riveria Radio‘s breakfast presenter, who was in Dublin with his team to broadcast live from Ireland in honour of the event. This is none other than my old shipmate Rob Harrison, who I haven’t seen since we were last on board Caroline together at Easter 1989.

Rob was a firebrand in his Caroline days, one of the people who went there to live his ideals and for the love of music rather than money or fame, and I’m pleased to say he still has lot of the old fire burning in him.

We shared a few drinks and much chat about the old days, including a few choice stories which could not make it into my book Shiprocked due to their unprintable nature (including the time that he was thrown in the brig after a difference of opinion with the captain!)

You can hear Rob every morning on Riveria Radio online and like myself he has also recently returned to Radio Caroline where he can be heard on Saturday afternoons. His taste in music is still sound, and his ideals strong, and I’d recommend him as well worth a listen.

Steve

 


Free (choice) Radio – Putting Together A Typical Seagull Saturday Show

 

Steve Conway with the Jenni Baynton in the background, taken on the tender back to shore

 

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:

 

MegaSeg playlist window, starting off with just the adverts I need to play.

 

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.

 

Step 1 - I've added in the new and recent tracks I'll play today

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.

 

The Library window allows me to choose from all music on the system

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.

 

Playlist closer to completion - all tracks added

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.

 

Editing track start/stop info and other details in MegaSeg

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.

 

Playlist with all tracks info edited

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.

SC-Seagull-19feb2011

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

www.radioseagull.com

Steve Conway – 6-8am and 6-8pm Saturdays (7-9 am and pm European time)

 


In 2010, I Lived.

Looking back . . the sun and all that is Dublin can be seen from the very tip of the Great South Wall in the centre of Dublin Bay

Looking back, I can’t recall another year in my life when I have lived as vividly as I did in 2010.

Despite 2010 being bleak economically and politically both home in Ireland and pretty much everywhere else in the west, despite long hours and stress in various workplaces, despite some non-threatening but quite inconveniencing medical blips, despite my car heater dying just in time for the coldest December since records began . . 2010 was a year in which I really lived, in which old emotions were reawakened, and new ones discovered, and my store of life experience grew more than it has done in a long time.

I had set myself a challenge at the end of 2009 to start doing things I had never done before, to open myself to new experiences beyond my comfort zone. And while I didn’t get to the arbitrary goal of “10 things” during the year, I reached 5, two of which were experiences that profoundly moved or enriched me, and a third which brought back childhood memories entwined in a futuristic setting.

Not all of the great things that happened to me during the year were as a result of this self-challenge, but perhaps the attitude it engendered in me of being more open filtered through to other things too.

So what made my year?

Well, some unique experiences came about as i sought to push myself into new things.

Taking part in the Bristol Balloon Fiesta was certainly a “high” point of the year, and my first ever hot-air balloon flight, as part of a mass ascent of more than 80 balloons within an hour at dawn, was a unique and moving experience, so much so that I felt to write about it in purely descriptive journalistic terms would be . . to miss some indefinable element of the experience.

Twisting it in my mind, it instead inspired me to write a short story “A Bristol Awakening” that is neither fact nor fiction, but also both. A very intimate story, it has been received well at a number of public readings, especially by women, and I am hoping to see it published in 2011.

Launching from a Bristol hillside at dwan, with ballons of every shape and size coming before and after us

Drifting lazily and silently through the sky over Bristol, with the Avon Gorge, the Bristol Channel and Wales visible in the distance

Slightly more down to earth, though involving a different sort of (non) flying, as one of my challenges I put myself forward to the Dublin Airport Authority to be one of the special testers of the new Terminal 2 before it opened. Apart from fulfilling my curiosity about the new building, and allowing me a sneak peek at new transport infrastructure, which I’ve always been interested in, the experience reminded me of aspects of my past that I had long forgotten, and also gave me a chance to get my own back on customs, just for once. You can read the details in my post Mr. Beagle Goes To London (Not).

Something I have never wanted to do, and felt I would always avoid, enriched my life and gave me a wonderful experience when i tried it as part of the “going outside my comfort zone” element of my 10-things challenge. A visit to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, accompanied by a an impossibly glamourous companion, opened a whole new world of experience, sight, sound, and stimulation to me. I enjoyed it more than I could possibly have imagined, and do intend to write up the experience here at a later date.

Somewhere I never thought I would see myself!

Pushing myself outside my comfort zone, doing what I would not normally consider doing was one of the elements i wanted to achieve in drawing up my list of 10 things, and I am so very glad I did this.

As the year comes to an end, I’ve so far ticked off 5 things, and have more still in planning, with some space left on the list for spontenaity.

So 2011 should continue in similar vein, and to be honest, when I reach 10, why stop there?

Of course, there were other things which made 2010 an exceptional year for me, some planned, others unexpected.

A couple of things that really moved me were radio related, and did not come about as a result of my challenge list.

Going in March to Ramsgate to do a reading from Shiprocked for the benefit of the RNLI, brought me face to face with the men who came to my rescue on one of the darkest days of my life, 19 years earlier.

Meeting the crew of the lifeboat who battled through a Force 10 NE to come to our aid when the Caroline ship was aground on the Goodwin Sands was a profoundly humbling experience, all the more so because of the warmth of the welcome I received, and the support they showed for Caroline despite having been put through hell that morning and nearly losing their own lives on account of our stubborn decision to stay on board the apparently doomed vessel.

The high point of my year, meeting the Ramsgate Lifeboat crew, left to right is John G Ray, myself, and Ray Noble.

I won’t forget the men of the Ramsgate Lifeboat, and will be making another fundraising trip to see them in November 2011, on the 20th anniversary of the grounding.

The same weekend I revisited the Ross Revenge for the first time in many years, and was invited to join the current-day lineup of Caroline on satellite, which, despite the many years of my absence, felt like a real homecoming.

(I can be heard on Caroline every Monday 2-4pm, Sky Digital Ch.0199 and via RadioCaroline.co.uk )

Another emotional moment came about in May, after I had been invited to join the crew of the Dutch station Radio Seagull, which was celebrating a month long offshore broadcast, 8 miles of the coast of Friesland.

There were many memories stirred by being offshore for the first time since 1991, though the most intense of these was to come on me unexpectedly.

Back at sea, and approaching a radioship . . . ah, the ghosts are stirring!
To raise my head from sleeping, and peer through a murky porthole to see nothing but grey rolling sea is, for me, a heaven of moody solitude.

The week I spent at sea with Radio Seagull was bliss, with old memories awoken, and new friends and new memories made at every moment of each day. (See the posts OFFSHORE AGAIN and  Seagull Day 1 and   More Seagull Pictures and  Clear White Light and  A Ferry Large Tender as well as   Seagull Offshore – The Pictures for the week as I blogged it at the time)

But the most vivid experience of that week came for me, unexpectedly, in the middle of the night and alone, and had nothing to do with the radio side of the visit. Being given the job of staying up on watch overnight for one of the nights, while usually regarded a something of a chore, for me brought both fear and redemption, as I was finally able to lay to rest the ghosts of what had happened on the Caroline ship, many years earlier, when we drifted, unheeding, onto the deadly Goodwin Sands.

For all that the storm in 1991 had been so fierce, and our ship so run down and unable to navigate that we could not have resisted being swept onto the Goodwin Sands even if we had realised earlier that our anchor chain had broken, I had carried with me these many years a nagging sliver guilt that I should have known, should have been more alert, should have done better.

Now, here I was again, and for the first time since that fateful night, entrusted to watch over a ship at anchor at sea, and in the grips of bad weather too. I was both siezed with fear that it would all go terribly wrong on my watch, and grateful for the chance to prove myself dilligent and keep the most careful of watches. I checked our position regularly, I did a full round of the ship and checked the anchoring cables every hour, I saw us safely through to dawn, and I slayed a dragon that had slumbered in a corner of my mind for many years.

3am and all is well on board the Jenni Baynton

The week was over too soon, but I was delighted to be asked to join the staff of Radio Seagull and to contribute a weekly show from my own studio in Dublin, with my own choice of music – a mix of new and alternative music as well as classic rock, with a bit of blues and soul mixed in. Presenting these shows on Seagull have been an immensely satisfying experience for me.

(I can be heard 7-9 am and pm each Saturday, on 1602Khz MW in The Netherlands, and worldwide at RadioSeagull.com )

Phantom 105.2 in Dublin also continued to be a source of great enjoyment for me, and though I had to move away from regular weekend shows towards the end of the year due to domestic commitments, the station and its staff still feels like an extended family for me, and keeps me informed on new music trends.

There were lots of mini high points in 2010 – from an unexpectedly beautiful sunrise encountered one morning on my way to work, to, finally after all my years on this earth, a proper White Christmas.

Sunrise over Dublin Bay on a winter's morning

Snow lies thick on the furze on Christmas Day

There was also another experience, quite unexpected, which made me feel like a teenager again, one unremarkable Saturday afternoon at a railway station  in an unremarkable British city . . but I won’t go into that one here!

Suffice to say that, for me at least, 2010 has been a year in which i started living and growing anew, despite being at an age where comfort and stagnation would be more usual.

May 2011 have more of the same . . and new . . for me . . and you.

Happy New Year

Steve Conway


On being a Radio Slut

Radio can be anywhere . . . or everywhere

Monday 12th July sees my return to Radio Caroline after an 11 year break, and so I will now be presenting regular weekly shows for three stations – Radio Seagull (on Saturdays), Phantom 105.2 (Sundays) and Radio Caroline (Mondays).

So why three stations, and how can I justify each of them as being “the best” to their listeners?

To answer that, I have to track back in time quite a bit, a quarter of a century, to my first steps into the world of radio.  This month marks 25 years since I did my first ever radio show, on South East Sound, a small landbased pirate in South London, which was campaigning for a rock music licence for the capital city which had just 2 commercial stations at that time.

Now, 25 years on, we live in a world where there is vastly more choice available, in no small part due to the efforts of the people behind  stations such as South East Sound, Caroline and Phantom over the years and I’m delighted to be regularly broadcasting on three unique and strong independent operations in European radio.

Dublin’s Phantom 105.2 is at the centre of music culture in one of the most vibrant and creative cities in these islands, and I feel very privileged to be still going strong after 10 years with the station. I learn something new, discover something fresh and exciting every time I walk into the Phantom studios, and I love that.

Joining the crew at Radio Seagull has allowed me to be really creative in mixing classic and prog rock of 5 decades with new material in an environment where nothing is off limits, and it’s great to be able to bring some of the new Irish rock bands to an audience in The Netherlands and further afield.

And Radio Caroline, still a proud independent voice after all these years, gives me access to  a huge potential audience in the UK via the Sky Digital system, and lets me indulge in my taste for a wide range of musical genres. Caroline  has always been about real people sharing their passion for music in a down to earth style, and so many of the people I admire as real radio broadcasters have passed through it’s studios – or never left!

Back in 1985 when I joined South East Sound in London we were campaigning for more radio serving more interests, and I think it’s great that we have so much more choice in 2010, and that I can now be involved in three stations which though all different in content and coverage, are all keeping the flag flying for independent, alternative music and diverse voices on the airwaves.

Steve

Programme Times:

Radio Seagull 1800-2000 (UK/Irish time) every Saturday

Phantom 105.2 1200-1500 on Sundays

Radio Caroline 1400-1600 on Mondays.


Seagull Offshore – The Pictures

Hi all,

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:

The Jenni Baynton at sea

Inside the Jenni Baynton

The Jenni Baynton crew

Enjoy – I did!

Steve


A Ferry Large Tender

The tender that took me back to land at the end of my stint aboard the radioship Jenni Baynton was somewhat larger than the run of the mill supply vessel.

Thanks to the enthusiasm and helpfull stance of a local ferry captain, Radio Seagull / Waddenzee is able to make use of regular ferry runs when no dedicated suply boat is scheduled.

The skill with which Captain Freddie brings his car ferry alongside the radioship is matched by his warm welcome for members of the radioship’s crew using his service.

Below are some shots taken as I was leaving the Jenni Baynton on Friday afternoon.

Don’t forget I will have a full photo update on Sunday night.

Steve