TOM LODGE INTERVIEW

  

 

Chris Edwards interviewed Tom Lodge for Offshore Echo’s in 1995, in an unusual location – at the top of a lighthouse. Tom was back in the UK and a few weeks before had been on Radio Caroline, anchored off Clacton, broadcasting with a short term restricted service licence.

Tom was at Harwich, where he was due to open the National Vintage Wireless and Television Museum at the High Lighthouse. Chris recalled near the end of the interview that “we looked down, and there was a white Rolls Royce arriving outside. This was to drive Tom around the town so that he could return and “officially” open the radio museum housed in the lighthouse.
You can listen to the interview here (30 minutes approx.) and read the following

Chris asked Tom…..

Where were you born and how did you get into radio?
I was born in Surrey and I moved to Virginia, USA then moved back to Gloucestershire when I was 10. I was brought up near Painswick, which isn't far from Stroud in the Cotswolds. I was educated at Bedale's School, but my dream was always to be a cowboy. So on my 18th birthday I sailed from Liverpool to Montreal, Alberta and got a job as a cowboy on a ranch where I worked for the season. In the winter, I went up to Great Slave Lake which is near the Arctic and did commercial fishing through the ice with the Indians. We drifted out on the ice one day and the person I was with died, and I survived for two days and nights.
It was about forty below and really cold as we drifted across the lake. Eventually I was picked up by some trappers and taken to a nursing station.

There is a story that you were saved by a timber wolf?
Yes, there's a whole story about that. When I came back to England I wrote a book called "Beyond the Great Slave Lake" which was published by Cassells, and was about that whole experience.

How did you get involved in radio?
I went back to Canada and did a number of things. I was working in a goldmine in Yellowknife, which was on the north shore of the Great Slave Lake, and these fellows came from Ottawa and they were planning to open some Canadian Broadcasting Corporation studios, which were going to be stations across the north and employ local people as announcers. So I applied and got the job. I was 22 at the time and I had never any intention of going into radio. Pretty soon after that I became the station manager for a new station that they owned in the capital, which was then Fort Smith and later on they offered me a job in Inuvik near the Alaskan border, but I didn't want to go that far north. But I got a position as a foreign correspondent to the CBC in England. I was working in London sending reports and material back to Canada for the CBC. One day in a pub I met this Irishman and he asked me what I did and I said radio and he said: "I've got this ship with a radio station on it and I’m going to start broadcasting soon. Would you like to work with me?" This sounded really exciting and this man I met was Ronan O'Rahilly!"

Had you been aware of Caroline before?
No, I didn't know anything about it at that time. I didn't know that there was anything like that and this was the information that I suddenly got. A few days later I was in the back of a pick-up heading out to Felixstowe, which is where we were anchored at that time. We went out to the Fredericia, and the station had already started broadcasting with Chris Moore and Simon Dee. I think I was the third DJ on air.

What was your first impression on seeing the ship?
I was very excited. It was something that I've always loved, ships and the sea and working in radio and to have the two together just seemed too ideal. The Fredericia was a beautiful ship. It was built as a passenger ferry and was very comfortable.

Who else was with you at the time?
Simon Dee, Jerry Leighton, Doug Kerr and Christopher Moore. He wasn't on the ship for long, but I don't remember anyone else at that time. Very soon after we had started, Radio Atlanta came and dropped anchor with the Mi Amigo and that confused the advertisers so much that they pulled their advertising. So we formed a new company which just sought advertising but combined the two operations. The Mi Amigo became Caroline South and the Fredericia became Caroline North. Jerry Leighton and I stayed on the Fredericia and sailed around the coast to the Isle of Man, and Simon Dee and Doug Kerr went on to the Mi Amigo and stayed with Caroline South.

What do you remember about the journey going round to the Isle of Man?
Well we broadcast all the way. With Jerry and I being the only disc jockeys, we did two hours on and two hours off because we wanted to keep the broadcasts going. That was quite an accomplishment to keep us awake. I would sleep for about 11/2 hours, get myself together and then go back on the air for two hours and then go off and sleep again. The excitement of it all was going round the country and seeing the reaction from the people. When we got to Beachy Head, I went up on the bridge and I saw Beachy Head on the horizon and looked at it through binoculars. It was crowded with people and that just astonished me. I had no idea that people would actually come along and watch us sail by. So then the idea occurred to me that because it was a beautiful sunny summer's day that there would be a lot of people on holiday all along the south coast, and on the air I said that if you were on the beach listening to us, take out your cosmetic mirrors and flash them in the sun to us. Within five minutes the whole beach lit up, sparkling. So I got a mirror from one of the cabins and I went up on to the bridge and flashed the sun back to them. When it got dark, I changed it to headlights, so that was the first time that they actually flashed headlights at a radio ship.

Then we kept sailing around and round Cornwall there was less people and so there wasn't as much reaction. When we got to North Cornwall, I think it was Sunday and I always loved the English tradition at that time of reading the Sunday newspapers. I said on air that it was a pity that I didn't have any Sunday newspapers to read and within half-an-hour a speedboat came out, came close and threw this bundle of newspapers over to us. We kept sailing on and off the coast of Wales it was quite sparse and eventually we dropped anchor off the Isle of Man in Ramsey Bay and again I said the same thing about flashing headlights or cosmetic mirrors to let us know that they were there... and nothing happened! My feeling was that they didn't want us here, they didn't like us, we weren't accepted. Then a canoe came out with two men on board and as they came alongside one of the men held up his hand and said my wife wouldn't rest until I brought you this. I didn't know what it was so climbed down the rope ladder to collect the package and by the time I had climbed back up again, they'd gone. I opened the package and inside was a piece of paper with a piece of heather and on the paper was written "Welcome to the Isle of Man" so I knew we were accepted but in a totally different way. It was very warm.

What sort of differences were there between the North and South ships?
The North was owned by Ronan O'Rahilly and the South was owned at this time by Allan Crawford, who had a publishing company, which meant that there was a priority to play his kind of music, which was middle-of-the-road, older type of laid-back music, what I call really boring music. Up north we were playing The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and this type of up-tempo, raunchy music so that it definitely had a different sound and I would say we were far more crazy up north and Caroline South was more sedate at that time.

Tom in 1966 in the Radio Caroline studio on board the Mi Amigo

Would you say that they were more in tune with the audience?
No, I would say that we were more in tune with the audience because when Radio London turned up, Caroline South lost its audience. It did a survey after London had been there a couple of months and they found that Caroline South had one listener to Radio London's ten. Radio London was doing a Top 40 format, the Drake format and using PAMS jingles etc. Obviously the audience preferred that to the more laid-back type of music that Caroline South was playing. So all the advertisers switched over from Caroline South to London and Caroline South went bankrupt. Ronan bought it out around autumn 1965 and asked me if I would come down from the north and get the audience back, now that he had taken over the South ship as it was important for his investment that it created a return. I said that there were two conditions in doing this: (1) I wanted to hire a totally new staff of DJs because I didn't want any vested interests from the old crew to support the old system of music that they'd had and maybe unconsciously sabotage what we were doing and (2) I wanted total control of the music. Ronan said: "Fine, you've got it!" I brought Mike Ahern down from the north and hired Dave Lee Travis, Emperor Rosko, Robbie Dale and I think Rick Dane came later and we went out to the Mi Amigo and the old crew went ashore. One of the people who went ashore was Don Allen and he went up north and we never really worked with each other.

We went on in November-December, 1965. We were doing a totally different format to Radio London. I understood the Drake format very well because having worked in Canada, I knew how that worked which was with a clock. You came out of the new with one from the Top 10, then maybe go to a Gold, then one from between 10 and 20 and then a new release and it was a whole ongoing process like that. I knew that was a very powerful format which had made many stations in the United States number one stations, and I felt we had to compete with that format in a totally different way. What I did was get together a staff of disc-jockeys who were positive, had a really strong feeling about life and were involved in the music scene, enjoyed going to concerts or hosting concerts and were really involved in everything that was happening. That was the main qualification, not the voice, but the energy, feeling and the interest of the person as well as an attitude and a personality. The next thing was that they were not allowed to prepare their show. When you prepared your show in the traditional way you'd write all your songs out, get them all ready and the order that they would be in.

But I realised that you can't be intuitive in that way. I told them to have all the music around them, we had a box with the Top 40, a new releases box, bring out whatever albums they wanted and put them around so you would have everything available that they might want to use and then pick your record while the one before is playing. It was being spontaneously creative with the music and the feeling that you felt at that time. The other thing was that they had to listen to their own show. You go into many radio stations and find that many discjockeys do not listen to their own show. So with that particular format, which is very scary to managers because they can't control it, you put everything in the hands of the disc-jockey.

We took eight months until August,1966, to take the audience back from Radio London, and according to a survey done by Gallup, we had 23 million listeners, which showed that that format really worked. Interestingly, as far as I know, that format has only been used twice and that was the first time. The second time I did it again in Canada and also took the audience away from the top stations. It's a very successful formula which no station in England is using because any station manager would be scared to use it because they wouldn't know how. It creates a lot of little subtleties and you don't have the control that the current system has which creates what I call dead radio, instead of real radio.

What happened at Frinton beach?
That particular night in January, 1966, I'd gone to bed relatively early because I did the morning show, six to nine, and somebody came down and shouted that we had broken the anchor chain and we had to go up on deck. Now we were always winding each other up or playing jokes on each other so I just assumed that this was just another joke and went back to sleep. They came down again and said that we had got to get up in the lounge and I just took no notice.

The third time they came down and said that the captain said that I had to come up. So I thought OK, I'll play along with this and I packed my bag and came up and said: "OK, I’ll meet you in the pub in Harwich!" which was were we tendered from. Then I looked out of the porthole and could see all the lights were wrong so I knew something was different and the Dutch crew were running around swearing. I went up to the bridge and asked the captain what had happened. He told me that we had broken the anchor chain and we were drifting towards the beach. Our propeller wouldn't work because it was covered in seaweed so there was nothing we could do but just hang on. I went back down to the lounge and I started playing a game of checkers with Dave Lee Travis which became quite intense and suddenly the board went flying across the lounge as we hit the beach.

Outside it was dark and very cold, ice and snow on the land and we could see all these people out there with lights and a megaphone. They told us to stand back because they were going to fire a rope, which they did and they rigged up a breeches buoy, which was a pair of canvas shorts connected to a buoy and a pulley system. You got into the shorts and were then pulled off the ship. They were scared that the ship would roll over on to its side because the waves were pounding us on the other side, it was a really huge storm. We had no keel so we could have quite easily have rolled over. They wanted to get us off as quickly as possible. We were told not to bring off any personal belongings, just get off. They hauled us off the ship and because of the storm and the water, when they pulled on the breeches buoy, you ducked into the water and then out again and back in so we got totally soaked. I had grabbed this photograph of my wife, which was about four foot square, got into the breeches buoy frontwards instead of backwards, holding this picture and I think the Daily Express took a picture and it made the front page. We were met on the beach by the police with warm cups of tea and taken to a place where they gave us dry clothes and were put up in a hotel for the night. The next day I went and looked at the ship and the extraordinary thing was that the ship had come aground on the beach between the groynes, which were made of concrete and stick out from the beach. If it had hit one of those we would have been in a real mess but it was just parked, like a car, perfectly between these two groynes.

I went up to London where I was interviewed on ITN and I was listening to this transcript just recently. After that we borrowed the Cheetah II, Radio Syd lent it to us and that was how we went back on air while the Mi Amigo was taken to Holland and overhauled and repaired and she came back on air in April.

You were involved with the Disc and Music Echo flexidisc? How did that come about?
One day I got this call from Ronan telling me that I was coming off the ship and was to bring a tape recorder because I was going to do an interview, but it was totally top secret and they would tell me any more details, other than I had to be ready to come off the ship. Eventually the tender came alongside and I was really intrigued by this. I got to Harwich and they put me in a limousine, drove me to London, into Chelsea, some little mews there and in the back door. As I went through the door, there are The Beatles! So I interviewed them and a few other people, Adam Faith, Sandie Shaw, Dusty Springfield; and made up this disc for Disc and Music Echo which they called Sound of the Stars, which I think is quite a collectors item. I still have a copy of it.

Why did you leave Caroline in 1967?
A number of reasons. At that time things started to change. Phil Solomon became an investor in Caroline and he had a label called Major-Minor. One of his conditions was that we had to play quite a lot of his records per hour and I didn't like the records, not only because of what they were but I also think that there were a lot of cover jobs of current hits done by other artists, almost identical but without the soul and energy of the original versions. So to play those I felt like I was cheating the audience and felt really dishonest. Another reason was that he cut all our salaries and we weren't earning much at the time and with the combination of all these things I decided to go to the BBC and got a job there which I liked even less because it was so bureaucratic and had to have so many people operating for a one-hour show whereas I'd done everything myself in the past. After that decided to go back to Canada where I got a job at a radio station just outside Toronto and I worked there for two years from 1968 to 1970 where I built the station up and had quite a big audience. was doing a lot of album tracks at that time and I introduced to an audience that had only heard teenybopper music, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, etc. and it changed their whole music experience and increased the audience.

One day I was approached by a man who said that he would like me to work for him. To which I asked: "Doing what?" and he said: "Anything you like." He was going to pay me double what I was earning and I started in September, 1970 at Fanshawe College, Ontario. I walked around the college not knowing what to do. So I started to teach a little of what I was interested in, which was Marshall McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller. Slowly I built around myself a group of students who were really interested in this. We then started a course called Creative Electronics, in which we were just experimenting using electricity as an art form and that included film, radio, television and biofeedback, lasers and electronic music. Then the OPEC thing came along which meant the economy changed dramatically and the budgets were all cut so I realised I had to make this career-orientated.

We had already built a recording studio as part of our experiments and were very much involved with the music business in Toronto. I changed the course and called it Music Industry Arts, training people to be recording engineers and record producers. This became the largest course in the college with the biggest budget, most students and most staff. It was so popular that we used to get 1,000 applicants a year for only 75 places. It was the world's first training course for engineers and record producers and is still going on and still strong and I taught that for six years. In 1979, I decided I'd had enough of the college life and went to India for two years.

Recently you've been writing a book and a screenplay about Caroline. What's the story behind that?
I've been writing this book about my personal experiences in the Sixties with Radio Caroline, my relationships with people and the drama behind the scenes. Ronan and I went to Roughs Tower in 1966 because somebody had taken the tower away from Ronan. We were machine-gunned and firebombed by Roy Bates, who still lives there. There are all these different things that are in this book and I've also put together a screenplay about this and there are two companies who have expressed a lot of interest in making a feature film, non-documentary, one in England called Paintive Productions. The owner of that company used to own Ealing Studios and there is another one in Hollywood who have been calling me. I haven't talked to the director yet, but I will be soon so I really don't know if either of these companies will do this but there could be some kind of film on this. My purpose of having this done is to show that you can create an experience for younger people to understand the change that Radio Caroline created in the British culture and also created what I call the British music explosion which is still going on. Prior to 1964, British musicians had no status in the world and because of Radio Caroline, they have a credible status. It also broke the monopoly of EMI and Decca, enabling other record companies to start. For example, I believe that Island Records would not have started without Radio Caroline and neither would a lot of the smaller labels of the day, Immediate, etc, or even Virgin Records. You wouldn't have any of the radio stations that you have today across the country now. So it's this drama of this battle that I was involved in between Ronan O'Rahilly, the white knight and Anthony Wedgewood-Benn, who was the Postmaster-General, the black knight, which is still going on today.

You've just finished working on the Caroline RSL off Clacton. What are you feelings on that?
Well, the last few years I've been living in California and I completed what I was doing there. I talked to my son, Lionel, who lives in Gloucestershire and has been running a company called UK Bookings that books bands into bar venues, and also Immune Records. I asked him whether he would like me to come over and work for him for a while. He was very excited so I came over and then when I got here I was called up by some 30-odd radio stations within 10 days and because of that I became aware of the Caroline RSL off Clacton. I contacted them and they said why didn't I come and join them for a couple of days. I told them I could give them all 28 days, which I did, doing the 7 to 10 show at night, having a wonderful time and really enjoying the comradeship of the other guys out there and sorry that it was only 28 days. We had such a beautiful reception from the public and the businesses around Essex and wherever they picked us up and I'm very grateful to have that. A lot of people asked how I felt and I told them that it felt that I had come home. I was back on the ship, I was broadcasting, I was at sea. It was just wonderful after 28 years.

How did you find it varied from when you were there before?
It was 28 years since I had been on a ship broadcasting and 27 years since I had been in this country. It was very much the same and just as crazy, playing as many jokes on each other and playing the music that we liked. There is a closeness that can only occur on a radio station on a ship and I've never experienced that with a radio station on land because there are too many other distractions, so that when you are on a ship with the radio side of things then that is something totally different but also totally unique.

What is your most memorable moment from your 30-odd years?
My most memorable moment in radio was in 1966, which was the peak year when things were going so well, when we had this huge audience. For instance, if I said I like Mars Bars, I would get literally thousands in the next mail. When we came ashore, we were swamped with fans and it really felt that we were doing something that was opening up and creating freedom in the minds and lifestyle of a lot of young people, which was very rewarding. Another special moment which was nothing to do with radio was living in India and I met and lived with a mystic there called Osho but that's another whole long conversation! Some other memorable moments have been taking a motorbike across the United States five times, working with my three sons. The middle one has a band called The Corn Dogs, who have toured over here three times and my youngest one owns this record company and the booking agency. My eldest one is in antiques and he lives in Toronto and maybe one day he will come over here too but I'm very close to all three of them.

What do you see for your immediate future?
I've no idea. I've never planned my life. I wrote a book a couple of years ago called Success Without Goals and I've lived that. I've never had any goals and I find if I live that way, an existence brings me more rewards that I could ever plan or create on my own, so I don't know what will happen. I'm open to suggestions or any possibilities or any gifts. I would like to have a radio show somewhere. Who knows?

Interview by Chris Edwards, transcribed by John Cronnolley



Chris Edwards with Tom Lodge in 1995

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Lodge opening the National Vintage Wireless and Television Museum in Harwich in 1995

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom in the Radio Caroline North studio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On board Radio Caroline in 1964

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Radio Caroline South studio - 1966

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


DJs on land after being rescued from
the Mi Amigo in 1966

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom with the Beatles for the
Sound of the Star flexi disc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Lodge on board the Ross Revenge
in 1995

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Lodge on board the Ross Revenge
in 1995

 

 

Tom Lodge wrote this letter for OEM in 1995.

Click to open