OEM: How did you get involved in radio?
D. S.: Well, I was always interested in radio from the Luxembourg days, and being in America, I've listened a lot of stuff. So, when it come like the big thing to get involved with radio stations I offered my services to a couple of them and they didn't really want to know (like Luxembourg and that) so I thought the best thing to do was to run my own station and that's exactly what I did -set up Radio Sutch. First of all we started from an old boat. Were you aware of our old boat we started on?
OEM: Yeah, the 'Cornucopia', I think it was.
S.: That's it. We rented that when he'd finished his rounds of fishing so he was
fishing and trawling in the mornings and then sort of 12 o'clock onwards it was
a radio station. The only trouble was it was covered with fish scales and it
stunk to heaven and when all the reporters and press people come on they nearly
all killed themselves skating about. But we used that for quite some time until
the trawler had its insurance taken away because they said that they insured it
as a fishing boat and not for a commercial radio station so we'd no insurance,
the guy panicked and said "You've got to get another boat", or something, you
OEM: How long were you using the boat? I hadn't realised you were using it.
S.: We had the boat for about... two weeks off and on, and that was very, very
successful until, as I say, he got his insurance taken away and we couldn't
guarantee the costs of the boat if anything went wrong with it so he had to call
it a day.
OEM: Did you get involved with any other projects - setting up hotels...?
D. S.: No, because it was too much time consuming just doing the radio, which was getting a lot of hassles and people trying to mussel in on it and trying to get revenue, trying to get people to advertise on it. It was hard and so in the end I was doing more and more of the rock 'n roll one nighters and recordings and I was offered a very good tour of Australia and New Zealand, which I took. That was about ‘64. I took a complete tour and handed it all over to Reg. Calvert, did a deal and sold out to him.
OEM: What did you think of the forts when you first saw them?
S.: Well we wondered what the hell they were still doing there. We thought they
should have been pulled down many years ago.
OEM: What were conditions like on there at the time? What equipment was left on there from the war years?
D. S.: Well, there wasn't much left on there. It had a big winch, which was run by diesel which could pull up all the supplies but we had to get a mechanic on that and he sorted it out and it took him about a week to get it going. So once we got a generator going up there we could even get the toilets and things like that to be flushed pumping the water up. They were flushed by sea water and everything just needed an effort and the maintenance of it and it could be run quite smoothly and in the end it was of course there was a disaster in the end- but the first part of it was really very successful and we were getting a lot of respect for being there because we had the guts to take them over and run the radio station from it. We had threats with the Navy at one stage, the British government told them to get us off. We refused to get off and we had all the press behind us, and TV (as well) were supporting us. In the middle of threatening us and telling us to get off, they just pulled up anchor, this huge battleship, and cleared off.
OEM: Did you get any problems at all with the authorities?
D. S.: Well, that was the main one and the headlines next day was "Lord Sutch turns back the Navy" which was true in a way for some reason or other they changed their mind, they said "get off these forts, you're trespassing", you're this, that and the other and we said "we're not, squatters' rights, and we're claiming this as our own island now", we call it "Sutch Islands" or whatever. They must have radioed through to headquarters or whatever and in the end, they decided it was too much of a hassle to get us off. So… we stayed.
OEM: What about the food, tendering...?
D. S.: We always got a boat everyday delivering to us from Herne Bay and just whatever we wanted we just got it in bulk, bulk buy storage stuff. There was proper old gas stoves there and we just connected them to Calor gas and got them going. So we could cook roasts, we could have tea, hamburgers, everything you wanted -like a proper house.
OEM: What about the tendering everyday? What about the records, tapes... and people going out?
D. S.: Well I was doing the thing on there 'cos I knew when I made records, I was a very wild act and too far ahead for its day and age and the BBC would never play my records, Luxembourg wouldn't play my records. So, there was no one left so I decided to play a lot of my own records on there, obviously, plus a lot of my other colleagues in the business who up to that time didn't get a lot of air play people like 'Johnny Kidd and the Pirates' and 'Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers' and a lot of my own personal friends, 'The Outlaws', and bands like this who'd get now and again a little play but I'd play whole album, you know, both sides for them. Then I did a whole series of events where I asked for any local bands struggling that had just made a record or had made demonstration records, send them in and we'll play 'em over the air. We were playing people's demonstration records and saying if any big record companies were listening, which they were, some of their staff, someone was always listening, you got discovered you know from us playing tapes and their own tapes. So we got a few groups off the ground, which wasn't too bad.
OEM: Who else was out there at the time?
D. S.: Well, there was a guy called Brian Poole, who wasn't the singer but he was a personal friend of mine who lived in Harrow. He was one of the main DJ's, another DJ was Colin Mills and then there was Uncle Reg. Calvert and his daughter and Dick. We had a floating crew and nearly everyone who was on there who was an engineer could be an engineer plus a disc-jockey, so they did it all, which was a good asset. We got a complete variation of records. We didn't stick to one type of music. We played all music and we listened to what people said. We read all our mail -a lot of people don't bother, we were concerned - and we were getting a lot of mail - it was quite impressive. We were getting a few sacks full requests for various things and greetings and the local garages. It was good. It was run very, very friendly like a local newspaper more than a radio station.
OEM: What about the office, shore staff? Was there a link between the fort and land?
D. S.: Well, that was 7 Denmark Street. We used to run the office from there and that's where people that would want to advertise or want to meet us or would send the mail to or want to make any deals or anything and if they were any new disc-jockeys who wanted to come on that's where they would contact us. It was the main office. It was running OK. So it was ticking over OK until the government started getting more and more stroppy and threatening to close us down and finding' some little loopholes to try end nail us on.
OEM: What about the studios and transmitting equipment on the station? What was that like?
D. S.: Well the funny thing is we transmitted with ex-navy stuff which we bought. So the government was against us and we ran it from government gun towers with government ex-navy equipment as well, so it was rather a cheek in that respect but it worked very well. It was all second hand gear the generators and the transmitters. We had a good output, we had a good radius. Then you get your freak frequencies where it picks up and many, many miles further on, you know, you get people pick up in Scotland for some reason or other... or in Denmark. We had enough equipment definitely because we could keep building every time we got anyone with any deals buying time, investing in any publicity or anything like that, campaigns or record products. We could reinvest in the actual equipment itself it was gradually building up. We had a huge, big aerial on order but I don't know if that arrived in time.
OEM: What about the studios themselves? Record decks and that sort of gear?
D. S.: When we first started everything was worked off of batteries so it was really Mickey Mousey, you know. Off the boat it was really small and batteries would run down and we couldn't transmit. It was crazy but once we got going on that, we got a generator going and we got proper sized turntables, Garrard and all the lot. But at first we'd done our trials and we'd tried it out for about a week and been successful. We decided to hold a press conference, the boat was supposed to come in and pick us up, but it was too dangerous, you know all the waves up, the tide was up, everything was wrong and the boat couldn't come in. So I interviewed all the press' in a big lower car park and I said "the time's about three o'clock" and we all switch on and "you'll hear it on this frequency", and little did they know but we switched on and it come blurting out and they said "God, that's loud! That's fantastic!". The press were really impressed, so was the TV, all the lot. But what they didn't know is just literally about 300 yards away was Reg. Calvert, just over the brow of a hill, under a tree with all the stuff... He was just doing it all on land! So no wonder that day we were louder than the BBC and Luxembourg and everybody. They never did suss out that. We got a tremendous write-up "great output", "great power" we had and everything and the guy was just 300 yards away from them. The only reason we did that was because the boat couldn't land to put the equipment on.
OEM: Where did the station actually vary from other stations in terms of music?
D. S.: We'd play Rock n'Roll, R & B, Country and Western. We were the first to have spots just specifically for Country & Western fans, specifically for R & B at the time, then Rock n' Roll fans and then just straight music, you know, a bit of Middle of the Road with more wild off beat stuff. It was more of a younger style station, which was needed because they went for a lot of straight pop stuff - Matt Monroes and Frank Sinatras - they've always got the BBC for that. So we deliberately went out of our way to do something different and take notice of what the current kids pat that time wanted to hear.
OEM: Did you also do something like reading out 'Fanny Hill’?
D. S.: Yeah 'Lady Chatterley's lover' and 'Fanny Hill' because that was to break up the nights, the trawler men were out there they loved it. They were all tuned in and the police patrol boats were tuned in, they loved all that! It made a change from something like "Coronation Street". We thought we'd really give them something they really wanted to hear. All nice and scandalous, you know, which was good it kept people listening and people who didn't want to listen could switch off. That's the kind of station we were, we didn't care. We heard about the trawler men who'd come and buy 'Fanny Hill' and 'Lady Chatterley's lover' and some of these spicy epics, which we'd been reading out or telling a few jokes... We used to play a lot of Max Miller albums, which at the time were banned, from the BBC, but we used to love Max, we used to put him on a lot a great artist one of the greatest ever to come out of England. Just because he was a bit saucy, the BBC banned him for many years; they just played certain records but not some of his spicy stuff. We played the whole albums and everyone would be knocked out with it.
OEM: Nobody else was doing that sort of thing at all.
D. S.: No. We were the first. First completely doing that. We played a lot of Stan Freeberg stuff as well. Not just one record but the whole albums, you know.
OEM: You were really one of the first stations to start playing sides of albums as opposed to the current top 20 singles.
D. S.: That's it. Well, because it was people that wanted it. They just said that they'd like complete albums and we just obliged them because we enjoyed doing it. We thought an artist was good enough to make an album and it was selling well or he had a certain amount of people that dug it, we'd play it. As I said we tried all types of music, which in fact we did.
OEM: Was it successful at that time?
D. S.: Oh yes. Very successful; it went a storm because we did it more or less the later part of the evening. During the peak day we played more 45's or (in that day and age) a lot of E. P. ‘s, which we used to have.
OEM: What did you feel when Reg. Calvert got shot? Were you involved with the station at all?
D. S.: I was completely out of it then because if I was still his partner I don't think it would have happened because I don't think the people would have wanted to get too much involved with myself. If they tried the tough arm stuff with me I've got enough of my own bouncers I use in dance halls and people like that to counter-react, whereas Reg. was more or less on his own. I think the whole thing was a tragedy and disgusting. You know it was totally unnecessary, but one of the big drawbacks in life, you have these people that get greedy and try and take away from other people what they've built up. Reg. had built the station up since he bought it off of me. He'd built it up very, very successful and it was getting good revenue. That's all it's down to in the end, it's just money isn't it. People just trying to take money off of people so a guy loses his whole life and the station goes down, it made it bad for all the radio stations because of a few people's greed.
OEM: What do you remember most about the station?
D. S.: Well, I remember that it was a great challenge. Everyone said we'd never do it, we'd never have a radio station, and they said Radio Sutch'd just be a joke. When we first announced we were going to have a radio station, everyone said "Oh no, it's just a joke. It'll never come about". So the achievement of getting it on the air and actually broadcasting, seeing the record go round and know that you were going out to millions of people, which we were because we were hitting the London area. We had loads of cars that would come along to the docks and park just so that they could pick us up nice and strong so there was a lot of following 'cos we could tell it when we went round the neighbouring towns, with our stickers.
OEM: Are there any amusing things you remember?
D. S.: Well, there's a lot, you know, different, things, it's hard to put my mind straight to ahem at the moment, but there were a lot of cases of people trying to get down the catwalks and they'd get so far carrying something, you know, it might be a bucket of water, or washing up liquid or whatever either delivering It. or something, and the catwalk would go, you know, and some of the lads would come tumbling down there. We had a case of someone hanging down there for about twenty minutes, and no-one knew he was there, right on the end of a rotten ladder... Then we had the case of the food poisoning with Colin Mills, he got a bit of salmon or something which had gone off, and he had these terrible stomach pains, no one was taking any notice at all, he was exaggerating, then he started to turn green and purple, so we did an S.O.S. over the radio for help, and they sent a helicopter, and came and picked him up, so he got rescued. That scene was stolen and put into a film called "Slade, the Flame" by the Slade group. They did a stint on radios, on a radio station, made out that they owned one, and that was taken from it, you know. The excerpt was from an old BBC or ITV news which was quite good. I enjoyed the whole challenge of it, it was a good laugh and it was a good experience.
OEM: Would you do it again?
D. S.: Oh yes, but now you've got all these commercial stations, but I still don't like them as much as I do the old Radio Sutch anywhere near, because they're still not as friendly, and they're still not the same sort of atmosphere, things going wrong. We used to have a lot of little things, the record player would suddenly stop, or the plugs would get pulled out in the middle of telling something, and we had a lot of beeps and funny noises. Somebody would be talking, and if you'd got the doors all open, a ship would go by and it's noise would drown you out, and all things like this. It was very personal, very very personal, I expect the nearest you'd have to it in this country is the hospital radios, you know, on a very, very small scale.
OEM: What have you been doing since the close of the offshore stations? Have you been involved at all in anything since then, in any sort of radio?
D. S.: No, only just going round them, you know, having interviews like across America, it went across a lot of them and they asked me a lot of about Radio Sutch, and then some of the people that really were in the know, or, read the biographies and that, they'd ask me a lot about what's it like to have a radio station in England, and what was it like to have a sort of pirate radio station. They were very interested in that, and they said it's a pity it wasn't still going, because they'd like to exchange tapes and ideas and records and stuff. But apart from that I've done the majority of the commercial ones up and down the country, on promoting either shows or a new record. I like the station at the Isle of Man, I like that one, because that is like more of an independent one, Manx Radio. I think they should just let people go and have as many commercial stations as they like, you know, competition is very healthy, and then you can select your own listeners and your own style of music, and your own format, and give the people exactly what they want. That's what is lacking, I think, at the moment.