RADIO CAROLINE/RNI

Don Allen

The full version of this interview can be found in OEM 99.

INTERVIEW by BRIAN CULLEN of MARCHER SOUND  
mid-1994

You first began on Radio Caroline back in the Sixties, but you were on the South ship first?

I came over to England on holiday and we planned on going back within the month and then we changed it to three months. I went up to London and curiosity got the better of me, walked into Caroline House and I was just there at the right time. I said I was a broadcaster/presenter having worked in radio in America and Canada and, to and behold, I was offered a job right there on the spot. So the following day I found myself on the Mi Amigo. We were on the South ship from March until about June and unfortunately the sea got to me so I was all set to pack it in. They offered me a job in Caroline House and I commuted back and forth from London to Reigate. Then come November, they were very short of DJs on the North ship, they asked me if I would go up for a week or two weeks. The only person who was on the ship at the time, was a gentleman whom I met briefly on the South ship, Graham Stewart, who later became Bob Stewart.

What was the North ship like, was it more luxurious?

It was indeed. The Fredericia, was a converted Danish passenger ship. The Mi Amigo was a bit of a converted cargo ship and if you put them side-by-side and anybody who saw them at the end of their days in Amsterdam, the Mi Amigo was about half the size of the Fredericia.

You had a good team on the North ship, Jerry Leighton and Bob Stewart, Tony Prince, etc. Did you get on pretty well as a team?

We did. On the North ship, we did our own thing and our own teamwork. We didn’t have any boss as such, we knew ourselves when you were doing wrong or right so we were own bosses.

Did you realise in the Sixties, that you were literally pioneering commercial radio in Britain.

No, we didn't actually. From day-to-day we thought we were going to be thrown off the air. We knew something better had to come out of it but at the same time it was a case of you tending to look over your shoulder.

It seems crazy that even though Caroline was well received throughout the country, it seems totally ridiculous that they wanted to close it down.

Well, tell me this. Has the Government ever let anything good carry on?

Going back to the programmes. You used good old Hank with "Funneeee" and Alice with "Lovelee. " Where are they from?

I wouldn't really know! Alice came off a commercial, a mattress commercial, something about a Myers bed or something. The laughing bit I think it was on a tape somewhere and it wasn't being used so I thought "Finders Keepers. " I've used that on every radio station I've been on, Caroline to Manx Radio to.

So August 14th, 1967 came and the end of August was when the law applied to the Isle of Man. Was it a difficult decision to stay with Caroline at that time?

No. Funnily enough I was very disappointed, but there were a few disc-jockeys who said that they were going to see this through and I look back now in retrospect at myself and think that it's funny now but it wasn't funny at the time. There was me in the Isle of Man with a couple of ex-bingo callers and disco DJs. I was told by Ronan O'Rahilly to smarten these boys up, they're our new crew and I said what about Mr. X and Mr. Z and they're supposed to be going back on. No, says Ronan you're the only one that's going back! I think the only “professional” person who was with me was Mark Sloane. There was Jimmy Gordon, Freddie Bear, Martin Kayne. I wasn't too impressed with any of them really from the broadcasting standard. I must say now that the popularity of Caroline was never really as high as it was before the Bill.

Another good night was the night before Mick Luvzit's wedding. You seem to have some great fun then?

We did indeed! I don't think anybody went to sleep that night. I brought my wife out on board because there were Dutchmen on board and some of these guys hadn't seen dry land in about six months so you can imagine the sight of a woman on board! Dare I say it, I double-locked the room that night.

Unfortunately Caroline closed in March 1968, and the ship was towed to Amsterdam. Did you know that it would be the end? 

Yes and no. I would be a liar if I said that it would be the end. You know how you get these premonitions inside yourself, I thought to myself "They're not cutting that anchor for nothing. " It was a huge anchor and it took them a good day to sever that anchor because the chains were really heavy-duty stuff and the fact that we were anchored in the Irish Sea and they left the chain with a marker buoy. The buoy stayed there for a couple of years.

You've worked at various radio stations ranging from Canadian radio, Caroline, Manx Radio, RNI, BBC Radio Merseyside and now Radio Three in Ireland. Which did you reckon was your happiest time?

Undoubtedly Caroline. When I look back now, there was never a station that was ever so good to me as Caroline. In fact, Ronan O'Rahilly, I look upon him and respect him as a prophet in many ways because he said to me along, longtime ago and he only said things once but they always remained in my head and I can remember him saying to me back in 1967: "You look after Radio Caroline and Radio Caroline will look after you" and sure enough no matter where ever I went after that I was always referred to as Don Allen of Radio Caroline.

So, it's in your blood, once a pirate, always a pirate?

Yes, that's right, but the memories will never leave me. It started with Caroline and I could have worked for a few other pirates, Radio England, at one stage. I was considering going to them but I suppose I was a faithful pirate and stayed with Caroline for three years. The most ironical bit was I started on Radio Caroline on 8th March, 1965, and I stepped off the ship after it arrived in Amsterdam on 8th March, 1968. Right down to the day!

All Copyrights reserved  Brian Cullen/OEM 2002