Ronan O'Rahilly Interview


The full version of these interviews can be found in the Best of OEM and in OEM 81.

One of the most famous names in the world of offshore radio is Ronan O'Rahilly - the founder of Radio Caroline. Offshore Echo's have met Ronan a number of times, and interviewed him. The first time was at Flashback 67, held in London in 1977, when we asked how he felt about politicians…

You know the very fact that a man becomes a politician means that he wants to tell other people what to do. The political trip should be the ultimate. We have created them in a way because the public don't want the responsibility themselves. They give it away to few people. They sit at home, and watch television, and play pool, and do other kinds of things.

An interesting point I discovered when I was dealing with politicians. One of them told me that one of the things they were worried about with Radio Caroline was that if war is declared, that all over Europe, the government can switch in to the radio stations and say: "Go to your base", or whatever they're going to tell people. The only station which will still be running will be Caroline.

It's seems that the problem with politicians is that they are becoming very paranoid. They want to get their hands on everything, on every means of communication. Even if they are in the opposition, the politicians don't want to change anything as they always hope to gain power and so control all the media.

But they are excited by stuff like Radio Caroline., there's a kind of excitement. People are prepared to give, not their money, but to give their "soul" to the cause, you understand ?

Absolutely I understand you completely. I believe Caroline is worthwhile in the Seventies, because of the Loving Awareness thing. The value of the station is based on the fact that by using it, to stimulate the loving idea. A lot of people, believe it or not, more people than you think, are into it. It's just a little fantasy in their brain, but if you plant the seed, that's powerful. I mean it is brainwashing. The whole trip is brainwashing. I mean we watch television, we go to school, the whole thing. It's just who does the most brainwashing.

How did you arrive at the album format

The point is we got into it, as an album station. It's worthwhile as that, because there is no alternate like that, so it's a worthwhile thing to do. There are lots of stations playing singles. It seems to me, if you want that, listen to another station. We provide an alternative concept. The trouble is, if you start playing singles before you know where you are, the whole thing is singles again, because people are influenced by other stations. The disc-jockeys are influenced when they listen to other stations.

You have had a good team for two or three years ?

It seems they care about the whole idea of communicating with people. If it wasn't for what I've seen has happened from the Loving Awareness effort we're all making, I mean it's like everybody in the station is involved with that, either in a little bit... or not at all, there's all different levels. There's people who don't believe at all in it. They say it's not possible or it never happened before, or it couldn't possibly happen. Now to accept that view, for me, is to accept that the planet is finished. So I'm an optimist and being an optimist, I have to look to the only possibility for the planet not being finished. And the only possibility for the planet not being finished is to get into Loving Awareness. We call it Loving Awareness because it is Loving... Awareness: The Love and the Awareness of other human beings. That's Loving Awareness. Now if we don't get into that, and because we have nuclear weapons, because the result of agression is nuclear, and because nuclear wipes out the whole planet and everything living on ft, the idea of continuing to handle nuclear weapons is crazy. We are generating an energy of Love for humanity. That's our contribution, to get people into that idea. Right ? If that took off, then the people who became loving as the result of putting the effort in, and getting into the habit of it, they would then take a decision about nuclear weapons. In other words, they take the decision. It's nothing to do with us. We are just a catalyst. We're like a transmitter... Well, that's what we are. A transmitter. We're transmitting this idea. We hope people will pick up on it.

In the 60's when the pirates were on the air, there was a lot of people listening but they didn't stop the government from bringing in the MOA.

That happens everywhere. Isn't that the truth everywhere? In 1968 in France it almost nearly changed except that the people supported it and that was it. People are into not changing. The majority of people in any situation go for the status quo. I would have thought that Veronica was the one station, when it was on the ship, it was the one station that could have fought successfully the government. Had Veronica decided "we're going to go on, not move at all, just stay in Hilversum. Everybody stay doing the same thing". The next day I think they could have won it. They could have beaten the government. They've lost the momentum. When the Act was passed, the second day, if they had stayed, with the amount of feeling that was in Holland (I was there at the time), it was enormous! If they had stayed, the government daren't touch them the next day.

Like you did in '67 with Caroline ?

No, it wasn't the same situation. The strength of feeling here and the strength of feeling in Holland were two totally different things. If they had been, without moving, and not doing any international offices or any of that - just staying in the sea, carry on the next day without moving their office, nothing, Rob Out saying.. "we're all here, this is where the building is and this is where we are going to be tomorrow and you can arrest ALL of us... this is the address, the same address..." they wouldn't have done it. I'm sure the government would have lost the battle and I'm sure the government in Holland could fall because it is so marginal there. The power of Veronica and the Dutch headtrip was incredibly strong. At that moment... I was on one of the canals, in Amsterdam, listening to the last hours.. People were walking around the streets absolutely in tears! These were middle aged.. it wasn't like a whole lot of kids. That kind of thing. These are grown, married, with children, walking, all in tears. So powerful.. you know, I tried to ring up Bull Verwey, I tried to talking him into staying. The trouble was, the real trouble was, and I think he would have done it except of the fact his wife became very ill and everything at the same time. So he personally was going through a lot of troubles. The trouble was that they had their moment. There is only a moment. You don't get a second moment and if they came on now and challenged they would be wiped out. They had that moment - the moment when they could have stayed and, funnily enough, if they had stayed and challenged the Act it would have been the only country in Europe to actually do it. And then the axe would have fallen to pieces everywhere. It would have opened up England and everywhere else. It was the one country that could have done it.

Why have you kept the station going for the past fifteen years ?

Well I can tell you, I think... I believe very strongly in the individual. I believe in the freedom of the individual. I mean there are so many arguments that I like to put my case for the lack of control. I believe in the individual completely. I have complete faith in the individual. I have no faith in the State, of any State. The State is a power and the State is not an individual. The State is a secret group of people who don't exist, and don't have responsability for what they do. And nobody can really tell who they are. Because , is it the local police chief who grabs hold of you in the street? Is it the politician who writes the letter to the other department, which gets the policeman to go and grab you? Or is it the Sergeant Major who says to the soldier: "Fire" ? I mean who is the "THEY", because it's like a non‑entity. You can't call it anything. It's the Loch Ness monster. Is it really there ? You think you see it, and then it disappears. Here's an interesting point: Caroline's fifteen years, two ships, hundreds of discjockeys, over fifteen years, they're now all over the world, Canada, America, everywhere, they were always told by me: you have complete freedom out there, everybody on the ship, they have complete freedom. In that whole period, there wasn't one act of violence by one person on another, and yet there was complete anarchy on the ship, total, total anarchy. Isn't that interesting, as an experiment, I mean you talk about laboratories, look at it as a laboratory, as a test laboratory out there on the sea.

We spoke again to Ronan, in Paris June 1989 and asked that after 25 years, what do you feel about Radio Caroline now?

I feel like it isn't 25 years to start with. I feel like it was only yesterday. It doesn't feel like that amount of time because it was so full of excitement and it is like that all the time because you never quite know what is going to happen tomorrow, it's a battle a day. So it's a lot of adrenalin, a lot of energy, a lot of positive stuff happening all the time and I suppose if you said to me, what's the major feelings? I think the major feeling is that you can do anything you want to do, I really believe that. I suppose it's a difficult thing to quantify in the sense of it's a difficult thing to say what does that mean. Again, getting to survive against all that Government thing, all those years. It means that a lot of people in government were supportive although they knew that they should look the other way and an awful lot of that must have gone on. If the Government decided tomorrow that they should go and battle for 24 hours a day to go and stop Caroline. I mean I'd be prepared to battle and go for it and I have had some very heavy battles, politically, very heavy battles. The biggest one was with Larbour in 1970. I produced 5½ million posters. I fought in a 100 marginal constituencies in the UK We had double decker buses all over, we had hundreds of thousands of young people handing out leaflets. We had the station being jammed by Wilson's mafia and all that was going on and we hung in there against an onslaught. I mean it was a real battle. The first time Britain ever jammed a radio station. During the war they didn't jam Lord Haw-Haw and Wilson was jamming Caroline and it really got heavy and I had stories told to me by people at M15 and M16 at that time that Wilson had plans to have me blown away! How much is true and how much isn't true, you don't know but, we've gone through some heavy scenes.

Did you have a lot of support when you had this trouble with the Government?

When the law came in on August 14, 1967 at midnight we had a big party in Caroline House, like the last party that day before the end and there was one last tender going out from Harwich out to the ship, the last tender on the last day when it was all legal, you know, legal to be involved in England and all the jocks said yeah, we're going to be there. Then about ten o clock in the morning all these disc-jockeys started to say on‑air, that they were leaving. Guys who'd said in the previous weeks that they were going to hang in, all started to resign on the morning of the night. So I had to recruit new disc-jockeys very fast, literally at the party we were having I was talking people into becoming disc‑jockeys at the party and got their things and down on to the ship while the other guys were leaving, it was that dramatic.

Do you think that someday you will be recognized by the English government? Do you think that one day you will be allowed to do what you want?

No. I don't. The extraordinary thing in all that time, they have never once, whatever it is you call a government, they have never once sort of said 'Let us talk about it', not once. So the answer to that is no, I don't think so. It's about the freedom of the individual against the system. I'm a believer in the individual against the system. The spirit of the individual is what's important and not the system.

Why were you the first to think about Radio Caroline?

Why I was? My American mother! I don't know. I suppose my background was that I was into a bit of adventure and I got into rhythm and blues music and the whole music thing and that was quite wild and there was a natural progression. It wasn't any kind of planned total thing. One thing led, genuinely led to another. The Georgie Fame thing with, how do you get him exposed to the public? You had to start a radio station to do it and then you start the radio station and then there is an enormous impact. There are now probably 200 record companies. If you talk to Chris Blackwell of Islands Records, who's now famous all over the world, he will tell you this, Island Records could not have happened without Radio Caroline, Virgin Richard Branson will tell you the same thing. All those people got their thing because Caroline gave them exposure. I would play Island Records because they were an independent company and we tended to play small labels, the individual artists, that was our track record.

If you had known what was the risk of adventure with Radio Caroline, would you have gone ahead?

Oh, absolutely! Without a question I would not have deferred from it, I feel like I am the luckiest person on the planet. I am very wild anyway and I was always. Every school I was ever in, they said goodbye to me because I caused too much activity that was not to do with school that was more to do with having a good time. I was very much someone who believed in getting people to enjoy themselves, have some more fun. For somebody who has a wild kind of streak in them, and who likes to live dangerously, I couldn't have had a better life. I think it's just beginning too, so that's the other side of me. It's been an adventure, it's been a battle and the one thing that is going for it is that now there are probably two or three generations of people who've come up on Caroline and who support us and all the bureaucracy. I know all kinds of levels of British establishment and there are Caroline supporters as there is a huge number of people who are with us and Caroline has been an inspiration to them in the sense of that we have survived and we have done the impossible. So everybody who thinks that they want to do something, Caroline is something they can look to and say 'if they can do it against all those odds and anything that you want to do it's got to be easier than Radio Caroline' as there's an inspirational thing to that because lots of people have told me that and they've been inspired by it.

London 1977 Francois Lhote & Richard Adaridi

Paris 1989 Isabelle Moeglin

Calais 1997 Chris Edwards & Robert Magniez

Transcripts by John Cronnolley