Emperor Rosko Interview


Emperor Rosko

The full version of this interview can be found in OEM 106

Born in Los Angeles, California on 26 December 1942 as Michael Pasternak, the son of Hollywood film producer, the late Joe Pasternak, Emperor Rosko’s first radio experience was shipborne - on a US aircraft carrier. From KCVA aboard the USS Coral Sea, Rosko moved to France and then to the UK, arriving in 1965. Chris Edwards met Rosko, while he was in London, and asked....

How did you get the name Emperor Rosko?

The majority of DJs have idols on the radio. Most of the time you had more than one and I used to listen to a guy called Roscoe, who used to listen to a guy called Boscoe and the double-syllable name ending in "o" was synonymous with rhythm and rhyme which was a precursor to rap. I also used to listen to several other people like Wolfman, Tom Donahue, etc. So I took a little bit of everybody and became Emperor Rosko to distinguish myself from all the others. In a way it's a kind of tribute to those who have gone on ahead of us who are now in the great jukebox in the sky. What happens over the years is that you start to lose what you have nicked and it mutates and forms into your own style and guiding light which is then passed on to someone who is younger who maybe listens to Rosko and somebody else and the whole process happens again.

How did you get involved with Caroline?

I was in Paris and I was with Freddy Barclay doing all the French radio shows and a guy called Henry Hendroid was on the tour with Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs. I think I was introducing the show at the Olympia and we got to talking and did I know anything about pirate radio and Caroline. I told I knew it existed and that was it but it sounded very exciting. So he told me to make him a tape, I'm a friend of Ronan O'Rahilly and I'll take it over and play it for him. Within a week I was on my way to the ship.

What was your job on the ship?

My job was to be on the air whenever they wanted me on. Sometimes you did two four-hour shifts, depending on who was sick. Sometimes you did one. There were no actual jobs because everybody wanted to do everything. If we had to do a promo everybody pitched in and did it because it was for the good of the ship, etc. It was a spirit that you'll never find in today's radio stations.

How did you get on with Ronan?

I haven't seen Ronan since I left and I keep making repeated attempts but he's either not around or impossible to find etc. Ronan is one of those characters that you'll never forget. He's a very special guy and he had the insight and the tenacity to stick a transmitter on a boat and gamble a lot of money.

You had a mynah bird at one time?

That's true, Alfie. It always struck me that something that would work on radio was to have a parrot. Instead I got a mynah bird something that would add a bit of spice when you least expect it, which is really a microcosm of what you want, not the whole programme. Which is the opposite of what you are getting on Virgin, which is very stale and monolistic and nothing happens. Whereas if you have a parrot screaming "Rock 'n' Roll" and exciting things when you're doing things then it adds to the mayhem. I suppose it was a precursor to the Zoo format whereas they have a few more people, I just had a parrot! I had a budget as well, I couldn't afford other things. I never dreamed that I was the first one to do that. I left Tony Prince in charge of my mynah bird for a week or two because I had to go somewhere and he spent the entire time with an endless loop of tape teaching the bird to swear. The bird ended up saying a few nasty words and he didn't tell me any of this! I just came back, and mynah birds are very astute and it came up with some good "Fuck you's" at the wrong time! Luckily he didn't remember that one too much, because I encouraged "Sounds Fine, it's Caroline" and "Rock 'n' Roll" were his two favourites. Poor Alfie met his demise in France through my own stupidity. I didn't leave the window open enough in the vehicle he was travelling in and he had a heatstroke. No doubt I shall pay for it one day when my karma is tested.

At one time you pirated some jingles from Radio England whilst they were testing?

Oh yes! It was all part of the spirit of things. We had got the word that a new ship had sailed in and there were these rich Texans, who had spent tons of money. They had a 50kW transmitter which would blow everybody out of the water and it was called Radio England. So sure enough they pulled in and you could see them with the binoculars about five miles away and we were all sitting there on the boat gnashing our teeth wondering what was going to happen. They started test transmitting and we noticed that when they tested they would be very clever because they were transmitting only their jingles! No music! So I thought that these were really neat jingles and we had these ropey old things with assorted British soul singers of the period, Julie Driscoll, Madeleine Bell, etc, which we paid 50 quid for. They've got these jingles they paid five thousand dollars for and they were slick. The test transmissions kept going so we ran a 15ips tape recorder and as we were only five minutes away we got perfect quality. We taped all their jingles and then chopped them all up overnight because this all happened basically over 24 hours. We laid beds in there and did voice-overs and put "Radio Caroline" in the middle of them. I think Tony Prince or Mike Ahern went on the air with them next morning and we had them on for the whole day, doing nothing but using their jingles with our "Caroline" in them. I understand that the Radio England office went beserk in London and they went charging over to Caroline House with a platoon of lawyers waving writs shouting "You can't do this" and Ronan said: "We're pirates!!" He then sent a note out to the ship asking us to desist from using them. We had a good time with them and that it was time to turn it loose. But for 48 hours they must have been sick over at the other station, must have been ill. It was great, a lovely coup!

Why did you finally leave Caroline?

Ronan O'Rahilly did a deal with French Radio Luxembourg in Paris which was a long-wave multi-million watt station. The head of one of the big newspaper magazine dynasties in France bought a controlling share in French Radio Luxembourg and they wondered how to make it work because it was the least popular of the three big stations. They came up with the idea of starting off with having a pirate radio within the station because on Europe No. 1. Salut Les Copains was the number one show for the last hundred years for kids. So they decided that they would have a pirate radio show and they made changes all over the station but the big change was "How do we make a pirate radio station if we don't have any pirates." They got in touch with Caroline and asked them how they could do something. Ronan being, I'm sure, the clever person that he is, did some massive financial deal. I heard later on that we were being rented out for quite a bit of money and I was paid much more than I was making on Caroline. Ronan asked me whether I would like to represent them in Paris? So I went and checked in with the station and we talked strategies and they told me that they wanted to do this show which was fine by me. When I asked where, they said here, but there was no studio and I was told them that we played our own records on pirate radio along with production the American way. It had never been done before in France and this was mind-boggling to them and in the end they agree. I told them that I would design the studio and they said: "What do you mean, tapes, cartridges, what are you talking about?" So I explained what they were and they went our and bought cartridge machines and put the studio together and in the meantime, we asked: "What are you going to do for jingles?" They said: " What are jingles?"! It was just one thing after another. So we got a famous French singing group that was currently unemployed and PAMS jingles in Texas, went to Dallas after picking the ones we liked and had them done again in French which took about a week and flew back to Paris. By then the studio was ready and all the engineers in France were going to go on strike because I was going to sit in the studio and play records! We made the press again and in the end we paid this bloke to sit in the studio with a newspaper! So we started pirate radio and it was called Minimax  - minimum blah-blah, maximum music - and we made all the press. For 12 months they made appointments to come and photograph and talk about it and in that time we became the number one kids programme.

You also did quite a few records as well?

Al Capone, Grabbit the Rabbit, The Customs Men, I was always a frustrated pop star,  but I never had a voice to sing and I can't carry a tune. I worked with Lee Holliday and guys like Mick Jones of Foreigner and famous bass players who were all on the sessions. Then there were other records like the Rosko Shows on Atlantic, which will probably be reissued soon on CD soon. They lost the masters and they asked me to do them all again so they should be out soon. Also there was the  "Sound of the Sixties" with Tight Fit and that was the only record I took a payment on rather than a royalty.

What's your most memorable moment?

I think there are different kinds of memories. Profound memories will always be Radio Caroline because it was the heart and soul, and the birth of so much of what is today. In this country there is a certain spirit, and we've been working on a movie script forever and ever to tell the story, as have many others. So whoever gets the backing first is going to make the first movie. I just hope I'm alive to do the cameo part so in terms of spirit, terrific. In terms of professional gratification, ten years at Radio One left a lot of memories, so that would be quite meaningful. Great Britain is one of my favourite countries. Between France, England and the United States I would be hard put to choose. I don't mind, I can live in any of them at any time at the drop of a hat for the right situation. There are memorable things, but those are probably the most memorable. You were asking about moments, but moments don't exist. It's just blocks of time really.

Interview by Chris Edwards.