Best known and loved from Radio Northsea International, Robin Banks, first became fascinated with radio in the late 1960's, photographing radio ships for the Free Radio Association. This led on to involvement with various land based pirate stations, and later to the Mi Amigo when Radio Caroline returned in the 1970's. From Caroline, it was a short journey across to Radio Northsea International, which he joined in August 1973. He stayed with RNI until the station closed, and stayed on the Mebo II, while it was prepared for a move to Italy to become Radio Nova. When this didn't come together, he worked for a while in Dutch clubs and for Rank Xerox, before a spell on the Voice of Peace, off Israel. Robin - real name Robin Adcroft, (born 23 May 1950), returned to the Mebo II, when it had been sold to the Libyan government, as a transmitter engineer. Tests were often heard, in Europe, on shortwave featuring the RNI theme Man of Action. Robin continued to work as a transmitter engineer, being involved with the Irish pirates in the 1980's, as well as Laser 558. His radio installation work took him around the world, to Africa, the Middle East and South America. In more recent years, he became involved with Project Redsands, which aims to restore the fort complex. Robin, who came from Cheltenham, returned to his hometown recently, fighting a battle with cancer. He passed away at Leckhampton Court Hospice on Sunday 16th September. Our condolences go out to his very many friends.
ROBIN BANKS INTERVIEW
Among the guests at the annual France Radio Club / Offshore Echo’s event – Euroradio, held in Calais in September 2004, were Robin Banks and A.J. Beirens, both of whom had been involved with Radio Northsea International.
Robin Banks with AJ Beirens at Euroradio 2004 in Calais
We asked them if there were there ever any plans for RNI to move back to the English coast rather than to Italy?
AJB I would doubt it very much. I was involved with RNI for about four years, and the last year I was also involved with Radio Atlantis with the permission of Bollier in Zurich. He said, "OK do a programme for Atlantis, but do it under a different name". The guys on Atlantis wanted me to do a programme on a Saturday evening because they all wanted to sit down and enjoy the weekend film on Belgium TV together, so they needed someone to do a show. I did a soul show under the name of Michael O, because it rhymed with soul show. But neither with RNI or Atlantis have I heard of any venture to bring RNI back off the English coast.
AJ Beirens and Robin Banks on board the Mebo II - August 1974
What was the maximum power of RNI - the real one?
RB Well it ran at 90 KW on one occasion for about 7 days - I don't know the date exactly, it was about 1973. But unfortunately the rectifiers wouldn't handle the power, so it had to be reduced, and the running power normally was around 35 KW at 220 metres.
AJB There is another story associated with that. They had problems bringing the transmitter up to maximum power, and Mr Bollier found out that Vatican Radio had an identical transmitter. So he said to his secretary in Zurich, "Type a letter to The Vatican. Dear Pope......"
RB One of the problems was we were on an adjacent channel to a transmitter in France, Lille. And we caused some interference to the Lille service area. We were asked to reduce the bandwidth of our audio, so that's why our signal wasn't terribly good, we had a little bit of interference from the high powered Lille transmitter.
AJB And in the beginning it was on exactly the same frequency as the student radio station in Lille, so they complained as well.
Robin you were on the ship during the short wave test from Libya. What actually happened?
RB The final demise of the MEBO 2, I wasn't there to witness it so I can't swear that it happened. But I understand that the maintenance costs were considered to be too high. The reason for that was the ship periodically went to Malta foe repainting and refitting etc, and they were overcharging the Libyans. And during an occasion when Colonel Gadaffi was abroad, the navy in Libya decided that the ship was a waste of money. So they removed all the transmitting equipment with a view to installing it on shore. I was appointed to do the installation. It never happened, but we did remove the equipment from the MEBO 2. Then later on the ship was sailed about 10 miles off the coast of Tripoli, and used as target practise by the navy. So it was blown up, and is somewhere on the bottom of the sea a few miles off the coast of Tripoli.
Could you tell us what technical changes were made to the ship between Holland and Libya. Did you broadcast during the voyage?
RB No we didn't broadcast at all between Holland and Tripoli. The work was completed in Rotterdam and we retuned the transmitter to 1250 khz. When we arrived in Tripoli we were there for about 3 or 4 weeks offshore. Then finally a Libyan delegation arrived, and requested that we switch the transmitter on. Everything ran fine, and then they requested that we went ashore to the harbour and transmit from the harbour itself, so they could have access to the ship. I warned them that transmitting with the full 100 KW, which we were then able to do, would cause severe damage to ship to shore communications and other communications equipment. But they insisted that we should transmit, which I did. The results were quite funny. First of all, the Holy Koran radio station, whose studios were only 1 km away, their programme was obliterated completely - all they could hear was rock n' roll music from the ship. The second thing that happened was the army, who had a base at Tripoli harbour, were hanging their washing out to dry on the line. But the line was made of wire, which was conductive - the result was the clothes caught fire with the energy. But that wasn't the end of it because there was a grain ship unloading about 1 km away on the other side of the harbour. And as the jib of the crane neared the hull of the ship, there was a huge spark like lightning, and the whole of the ship became like transducer, a loudspeaker and they heard rock n' roll music. The Arab crew didn't understand the technicalities of what was happening and they thought this was a warning from Allah, and they refused to work. So we really caused a lot of trouble inside the harbour, but it wasn't our fault, as we had been requested to broadcast from the harbour by the Libyan broadcasting engineers.
Was the ship acquired by Gadaffi for broadcasting to the Libyan domestic audience, or was it for foreign propaganda purposes?
RB None of us were sure what the purpose of our mission was, I can only tell you what we actually did. The first thing was to prove that the transmitters worked, and we ran them for about 2 or 3 months with rock n' roll music continuously without any announcements. We understood the reason for that was to block Radio Cairo. At the time, Libya had an argument with Egypt and the borders were closed. There was some military action along the Libyan Egyptian border. We went to Tubruk and transmitted continuous music on 774 khz, and I think it was reasonably successful, but I don't think the signal was terribly effective in the Tripoli area which was some 1000 km west of Benghazi. But in the Benghazi region, Radio Cairo could not be heard at all. Later on, we moved the ship to the western region of Libya and relayed the Holy Koran station by simply connecting a VHF receiver to the studio.
RB Libyan programmes were also relayed from Malta in English on Radio Mediterranean. Then there was an argument between Libya and Malta and they refused to relay the Libyan service, so we were requested to transmit them from the ship. Interestingly the transmitter on Malta was rated at 500 KW, and we were only 100 KW, but they had better reception in the Mediterranean from our ship than from Malta. This is because it was from a ship and we had very high conductivity because it was at sea. The effectiveness of the transmitter is about four times what it would be on land. Later on we used the Radio Veronica 10 KW Continental transmitter which was on about 1540 khz and we transmitted Libyan local radio in English for ex patriots working in Libya from around the world. So all four transmitters on the ship were fully employed throughout this period.
Do you still have any contact with Bollier and Meister?
RB I haven't been in contact with them for about 5 or 6 years now. I don't think they're involved in any broadcast work at all at the moment. I've no idea what they do these days.
Celebrating France Radio Club/Offshore Echos 30th birthday in 2004