LASER 558

Tommy Rivers, Charlie Wolf, John Catlett

The full version of this interview can be found in OEM 119.

At Euroradio 2000, the annual Offshore Echo's event, held in Calais, Chris Edwards and Robert Magniez spoke to Tommy Rivers, Charlie Wolf and John Catlett and asked them how it all startedÖ..

Charlie Wolf:  I must admit over the years, I haven't been a member of the free radio cause, I don't read the magazines, keep up with it, but at the same time it really has been special today to relive some of these moments, and the love that you folks have for the radio, it is a part of history. 
I always call it the best radio, and the worst radio I've ever done. It was probably the best and worst time of my life, but I remember after leaving Laser and I was back in the States for a while, this girl was reading Melody Maker and it was like the Holy Grail, you've been in Melody Maker. One day she said to me I can't believe you're still in radio, it's like Led Zeppelin and youíve written Stairway to Heaven. What are you going to do next?. 
We actually changed the face of radio, Johnny Beerling at Radio 1 said me once that it was because of the you guys, that caused Radio1 to change. We kicked them in the backside, and it would be nice to kick some of them in the backside again, because they need it, they really do.

What was the music policy?

Tommy Rivers: Music policy, we would watch the charts, to determine what we thought would be a Laser song, which meant we didnít play a lot of the novelty songs that were charting for instance, in Britain. We got our records from a variety of sources, we also weeded out toward the second year a lot of ballads, a lot of slow material, and kept it up tempo.

John Catlett:  One of the things I did on land, was to go around to the record companies and meet the sales promotion staff, and they would always be ready to see me with plenty of free copies of all the latest material. I would simply take this back to the station, which meant waiting for a tender to allow us to get it out to the station, where they would make their selections and decide what to play. 
Even though the record companies were saying officially what a terrible thing it was that we werenít paying All Copyrights reserved fees, and recording fees, they were on the other hand happy to give us as many copies of their recordings as they possibly could. Later they began to advertise some of their records on our station, after we determined that we could play Laser spotlight songs, to which we would take money.

Charlie Wolf: It was kind of irritating that they (record companies) were complaining about the royalty fees. I donít think that Frankie goes to Hollywood were complaining too much when Radio 1 refused to play Relax, and we made it a hit. Some things happened by accident, in music programming, thereís a category known as re-current hits, these are songs that have been hits just recently and maybe have been rested for a while, and they would then come back in. We kind of set a trend in playing re-currents for a lot longer than other stations, they would take a hit, play it and get rid of it. We hung on to it. Part of the reason, was not by design, but the fact that we couldnít get new product, so by accident that happened.
When the BBC top 40 charts on a Sunday, the deejay would, around the new releases, leave a bit of a space between doing his link and starting the record knowing that we were recording the chart and could then have a clean copy of it, until we actually got a vinyl copy out on the ship.

How did you find the staff?

Tommy Rivers: Itís a luxury that many people do not have in their life. You become an adult, you go to work, some day you retire. This gave us a relatively short period of time, to stop the world and get off. In my case, I read, like Iíve never read in my life, to learn about yourself, to learn how to interact with other people. Thatís something that for me, those lessons were important. If you ask Charlie, other people as well, it was a time to check out of the rat race, find out what makes you tick, and figure out whatís important to you.

How did you feel when Eurosiege started?

Charlie Wolf: The Dioptric Surveyor showed up. At that point I was feeling rather creatively drained. I donít remember how soon we found out what it was, but as soon as we did I was skipping up and down the hallway, saying thank you, thank you, thank you. My prayers have been answered.
I think ďEurosiegeĒ was my term. I came out one day, and I found this long pole they used for painting the side of the ship, an strung a mike on the end of it, and I took the bullhorn and I. They would come out to record. I pulled the mixer up on to deck, and I hooked this supposed mike up, and was standing out with my pole recording them.
One day when they were filming us, I grabbed a bullhorn and was directing a movie, Like OK places everybody, weíd wind them up.
There was some incident, when we pissed them off, we woke them up in the middle of the night, and they responded by blowing their horn next morning.

Tommy Rivers: That was about as openly communicative as they got. We decided if we were going to be doing this (Eurosiege reports), letís do it at structured times of the day, and thatís how we fell upon twice a day, as opposed to 24 hours a day, play by play. It came together in the first few days and then it took off.

Were you aware of the reaction Laser was getting?

Charlie Wolf: You folks actually, Offshore Echoís and Buster, had more knowledge of us than I think we did. You guys knew when we went to the toilet. I used to be amazed, weíd read these logs that would come out, we actually got a laugh at you folks in a sort of way, because weíd read these logs saying that last month we reported that the Kontiki ad went out at 9.10, actually the ships clock was off, so even so Tommy said it was 9.10, it actually went out at 9.11. I guess that itís good to know that its there now, so one can look back. You folks probably knew more about what we did, than we did.
I know a lot of people talk about the free radio movement, and Iím glad to have played a part in it, but that was not our intent. We didnít have the history of Radio Northsea and Big L and Caroline and all of that. We knew nothing about that, to us it was just a job. Everyone was holding us up as saviours of free radio, we werenít trying to do that, we were just trying to put on a good show.

Do you think Laser could succeed nowadays?

Tommy Rivers: The times have changed, it wouldnít succeed today. People have a diversity of interests these days, video, games, you name it, CDís, digital quality radio, itís a different world. Radio meant more in the 60ís, in the 70ís, the 80ís, although it was diminishing even then. It is no longer the lightening rod on which a lot of people can get excited about. Itís just one element in entertainment, not like it was a few years ago.

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