Johnny Lewis: The first Laser experiences
It was in 1983 that Johnny Lewis was working for South Coast Radio in Ireland and soon became Head of Production, then eventually started running the programmes as well. He had some great time in Ireland and even mentioned that one day who would move to Ireland forever. He was earning in those days on South Coast £150 per week; but for that he had to look after transmitters, be in charge of production and look after programming the station. Above that it was nothing for him to be called out at four o'clock in the morning; He did get a bit tired of it at one point because the station was being jammed by RTE - in fact it would be unfair to say they were being jammed by RTE, as they were jammed by a guy who worked for RTE and was doing it off his own bat. He claimed that as the people at South Coast Radio were 'pirates' he had as much right as South Coast Radio did with the frequency so he was jamming the FM frequency. Johnny even can remember several times being up all day and all night just to keep the thing on the air then going to sleep and the thing would go off the air just as he went to sleep. Johnny Lewis left South Coast Radio at Christmas '83 and went to ABC, where there were all the Voice of Peace people. When he got there, there was Dave Windsor, who's an amazing character.
Johnny: ’He can do impressions of Tony Allan, Andy Archer - he can do a great one of me! It was because of him really that I went down to ABC. He went out to the ‘Ross Revenge’ at a later stage. Dave is really one of the Caroline people, he totally adores Ronan (but who doesn't? He's the greatest guy in the world); but poor old Dave went out to the ‘Ross’ and spent three hours on board and was seasick and he had to come back. There were also Clive Derrek and Andy Ellis, who were with the Voice of Peace; Tony Morrell who'd never worked on a ship but worked at Radio Nova in Italy which had ship-connections when it first began through A.J.Beirens and others. And there was a guy called Stuart Clark.You might have read about one of these so-called pirate ships, the one called Manor Park. It was going to be Radio Ventura or something; he was actually on board the ship that was going to do that. And then we were joined at ABC by Alan West in January of '1984.’
Next to the fact Johnny Lewis loves the way of living in Ireland there was another thing in favour: ‘you can't get a pint of Guinness anywhere else like you can in Ireland!You've just got to taste it to believe it. On Saint Patrick's Day they actually stamp a shamrock on the top of the Guinness as well! The whole scene in Ireland was just so relaxing, its such a friendly place. I went there just for that month, but even if I hadn't been ill I would have stayed.
I'll tell you what really swung my mind about going back to sea. Dave Windsor and myself, we're very good friends, and we would meet each other for lunch.I used to do the ten till one programme in the morning so I'd meet him down in Tramore village. Tramore is a lovely little coast town on the South East of Ireland and we would go and sit on the breakwaters looking out to sea each afternoon. I remember one afternoon seeing this little coaster steaming out of Waterford heading South down the Irish Sea. It was a fairly rough afternoon and it was dipping and spray everywhere; and I said to Winds "Oh, that's it, I've got to go back!" Now at this point I'd had one or two 'phone conversations with people regarding the ‘Communicator’. So I thought I'd go to Waterford, to ABC Radio, and have a think about a few things.I was there a month, got a 'phone-call and somebody said: "would you like to go back to sea?" I said "yes, please" and went!’
So the periods on board the MV Mi Amigo, where Johnny Lewis worked in the seventies, and the MV Cito, where he worked under the name ‘Johnny Moss’ for the Voice of Peace, were followed on the next radio ship working for the Laser organisation. It was the MV Communicator where he stepped aboard under not to good conditions. Johnny: ‘we had a fairly long North-Westerly. When we got alongside, the first thing we could see was loads of lights, because they've got these massive 500Watt lights on deck to show up all the working space. We could see the helium tanks for the balloon idea which at that time had failed. The ship was quite a way out of the water so it was a rope-ladder job to get on, which in that sort of weather is not too good! However, a couple of us managed to get on without falling in and at that stage all the American crew went off, leaving few of us on board; Blake Williams, our new Skipper, myself and a couple of American disc-jockeys. Just after we went on we decided to try and get the thing using the balloon because the balloon obviously didn't work; well, but it just didn't last. I think they were designed to sixty knots on land, and of course on a ship when you get winds of about 20 knots it starts to roll so you're getting then a force of fourty knots ship's rolling. You only need a force five and you’ve got problems out there really. That's my theory why it didn't work. I don’t think a balloonsystem would work anyway; I'd go for the good old tower system. Anyway, rather than wait for towers we decided we'd try to put a 'T' aerial up. Now, for anybody who's technical, trying to make a 'T' resonate on 729 is not the easiest job in the world. Basically what you've got to do is to try to get as much copper above the ship as possible. Ideally, you want as much of it in the vertical as opposed to the top loading section, the 'T' bit. We could only get 45feet vertical which didn't help matters at all. We got to work on this ‘T’ anyway and I was surprised it worked. We made the 'T' literally using all coper and it was very heavy copper. The top loading section was, I think, ten foot across and sixty foot long. And there were six strands at sixty foot long, all with shorting bars going across with ten foot spacings between them.
We hoisted this thing up in the air and my God, did it look ugly when it was up there! But at this point it just resembled a 'T' aerial. So, we went downstairs and fired up the transmitter and it didn't like it at all. There were some cracks and some bangs; so at this point we decided to put yet another piece of wire on the end of the 'T', running down to the top of the Bridge, where we would have this big coil. The actual base of the coil was made out of wood, which is not the best thing to use with electricity on a ship because of the risk when it gets wet. We didn't know that this wood had already been wet and when we switched the transmitter on on the Sunday morning, we switched it on gradually at about 500 watts - great, no problems at all. We thought "Ah-ha, we've cracked it". Went up to one kilowatt - no problems. Then as soon as we put it on 1.5kw the whole frame just shot flames everywhere! So we decided that was it, we'd better go off the air quick, we can't use that coil. So then we decided to build another coil. Now Blake Williams got to work on this and we didn't have any material to build a coil. Being on a 'pirate' radio ship you have to bodge things, so the way we made this coil was we got two bits of felt padding from tube boxes that were used to bring stuff aboard the ship when it was in America. The felt padding was ten foot square; in the padding we'd got four flourescent tubes and we just put them in the centre and then wound round them to make a new coil! We put it on, and it worked, but unfortunately the transmitter just didn't like it, and we couldn't get any more than 3kw out of it. At this stage we had what we call 'downward mod', in other words the negatives were higher than the positives, whereas you want the positive peaks on your modulation higher than your negative ones. So we thought we'd try another idea. So we brought the coil down from the top of the Bridge and put it above the transmitter and soinstead of having the coil at the end it’d be at the front. At the same time we lengthened the aerial slightly by putting two peaces of wire running from the stern mast – insulated of course – right down almost to the little ‘lollipop’, the sat-com navigational dome at the back, and then again wire running from the forward mast down to the anchor chain. We had wire everywhere on that boat! We had people come alongside when we were on the air and say "Can we come on board and have a look?" and we said "No! Not unless you want to be electrocuted!" Even we had to watch where we walked. On Tuesday afternoon we switched the transmitter on, gradually we turned the power up to 5kw, and then we tried it with modulation - and it appeared to have liked it. We were getting 133% positive peaks, 95% negative peaks and that's ideal. Perfect! We'd cracked it as far as the listeners were concerned, but the aerial was sparking everywhere. You normally put what they call corona shields on the end of aerials, or any sharp point of the aerial, so that you don't get sparks flying out anywhere. Because what radio waves don't like is bits on aerials that bend so you put a corona shield on. So at nights, if you can imagine it, sparks were sparking with the modulation peaks; whenever we played "Under Cover of the Night" by the Rolling Stones which starts off with a fairly hefty drum-beat, it was amazing to see these sparks shooting out for about two feet! You could actually go to the front of the boat and listen to the station on the anchor chain.
We had a very high 'Q' on the "Communicator". We had the back off the combiner, we took a load of coils out of the aerial tuning units, and we used one of the coils - the 'Q' on that is ridiculous - you only had to move the tap slightly and you lost resonance completely. In half a turn you'd lose it. At first we tried the old 'on-off', quickly have a look at the meters, you know; because we knew that 5kw into the dummy load which was a pure 50ohms was lOAmps so that's what we were going on at first. We did do it fairly well, we got it down to about 11Amps. We were just doing it one afternoon and suddenly there was a knock on the side of the boat. It was Tom Anderson and Bill and they said "We've brought you a present"; we looked and they'd got the Aerial Bridge. That was amazing. Once we had that it was so easy. What was going to be an afternoon's work only took us about half an hour. We were doing it at 60Watts;' you've got to have your gloves on! We eventually got a match anyway, it was very' critical, you're talking of less than half a turn.
A couple of times we had to go off and just change it slightly. If one of those wires, for instance, that was coming down, coming across from the Bridge into the centre feed, just lost part of its insulation, if it would swing and hit something and the insulator went, which it did on a couple of them, we would lose the whole matching. The ammeter would go bananas, I'd got 15, sometimes even 20, Amps just by that little bit going. We kept the tests going until the Sunday afternoon, then decided to call it a day; mostly because the people on the boat were a bit tired because there weren't too many of us on board. The tests had done what we wanted to do, we'd proved our point that the station could work; and I think by all accounts they were fairly successful. We received nearly two thousand letters from those five days, which is not bad when there was no warning that we were going on the air. We were all very pleased about it. So, Blake and myself did the final hour, had quite a lot of good fun; I went downstairs and got the beer which we were drinking all through the programme. That's probably why we were sounding so jolly on the air - and on closing we said "hello" to a few people including of course 'our friends across the road' (Caroline, that is, of course!) whom we had very good relations with. We used to go across to their ship and have tea, home-made beer, and they used to come across to our ship and have showers, and it was just lixe neighbours.’
It’s of course always good to have a good neighbour and sometimes it’s realy needed. One day a storm brought the Laser neighbours in trouble. Johnny recalls: ‘One one occasion our friends on the Ross Revenge had a really stormy night of it, force eleven and they were still on the standby anchor. They didn't go adrift but they were dragging their anchor and went near the sandbanks so we were in constant touch with them all the time but they'd obviously got a good Skipper aboard the ship. They started their engines and dragged their anchor at the same time and pulled themselves away from the sandbanks. And in doing that they had to come past us, and they came within half a mile of us, on purpose. I think it was Tom Anderson who was on the Bridge that morning and I was on the Bridge of our ship and Tom called me and said "Sorry to spoil the view!" as they were going across us. It was a very rough morning and it was funny, actually, being out there with only two ships. You hear a lot of stories about the Ross Revenge rolling in bad weather but it was amazing watching them.The ship pitched a fair bit then when it started to roll it didn't roll, it just wnet over to one side and stayed there! Their aerial catched the wind. But it was not dangerous, and it did’nt go over very far at all. I'd certainly rather have been in their position than some of the times when we were rolling because we did roll you know, and very heavilly, and stand up, and your legs and whole body ached because crab, on the walls and the ceilings some of the time, it was that bad!’
The Spring had started in 1984 and all the people who had heard the testtransmissions and read about the new station in the newspapers, were waiting for more and above that had to be very patience. Before realy getting on air more happened like another bad storm, early April: “The first day into the second of April, the first weekend we had some really bad weather, North-Easts again, eights and nines, and we were clanking on the anchor-chain all Sunday afternoon. At about quarter to nine at night, it was during watching ‘Spitting Images’, there was one almighty clonk, "BANG" it went, the whole ship shuddered, it came up, and it just turned sidewards. We all looked at one another, we knew what had happened straight away, but we continued watching the telly! Typical us! So anyway, the end of ’Spitting Images’ came and I went out. And I think our Skipper thought I was going to have a look at the anchor, but I wasn’t. I was going downstairs to my cabin to have a listen to some music. In fact I turned on the radio, I’d got Caroline on and Tom Anderson was on the air. He said something to the effect of We’ll play this next song for everybody on the small red boat, who seem to be moving about quit a bit tonight!
I was just wondering at that point if that was a hint that we were adrift from them, but I didn't take any notice, just kept listening. I remember at one point looking out from my porthole thinking "Oh, it's a clear night tonight, the old Tongue looks nice and clear, so does Margate". Just after that our skipper came in the cabin and said "We appear to be adrift"! Ah! That would explain why it was so clear! There was no panic at all, you know. We all went up to the Bridge to try to ascertain where we were. Our first thought was to drop the spare anchor, and then we thought no, we'd check where we were first, because we didn't want to make the same mistake as was made with the ‘Mi Amigo’. We wanted to find out where we were in case we dropped it on a sandbank. At this point we were right out of the Knock Deep, we'd actually gone right over the Kentish Knock. We must be the only ship in history that's ever gone over that sandbank and got away with it! That's how lucky we were. We were still drifting, and we knew then that we were heading towards deeper water. So the Skipper went down start the main engine. He was having problems down there with that so he had it to pieces - you've got to give him credit for taking it to pieces in that sort of weather - and started bleeding it, and eventually it went about an hour later, so he did a marvelous job. In calm weather it takes time to put it back together; when a ship's adrift it rolls all the more.
All credit wnet to the Skipper for getting it going; also we must give credit to Blake Williams. Although he's not a seaman he kept us going, he cooked us soup and food while we were doing all of this. There were only four of us on board, Malcolm, who was the seaman on board, myself, the Skiper and Blake, and without being told we all knew what to do. Malcolm and myself looked after the anchor and we both plotted the course we had taken and the course we had to take back and we kept an eye on our position throughout the night because the weather was very bad. It was gusting up to ten; what made it worse was the wind was actually North-East then it backed to North. So we got confused swell; we'd got the swell coming from in the North-East and the wind coming from the North, so it was causing the swell to build up from the North-East with the Northerly swell so it was really causing the ship to do weird things. It was rolling and pitching, which is really uncomfortable. Normally, where we were anchored in the Knock Deep we were sheltered by two sandbanks, apart from North-Easterly winds. A little bit further down it was all open so we were getting the North-Easterly swell, and the wind was gusting force nine. Also we had these snowstorms; they would only last for fifteen minutes, but in those minutes the wind would gust to ten, sometimes force eleven, and the snow was that heavy it would lay on the deck. So when you'd go up there to check the anchor-chain on a rolling deck it was really dangerous. It was very slippery, you held onto everything when you went up there.’
Reading Johnny’s stories the question rises if it was not too dangerous to do things on a very slippery deck after heave snowfall and if they used the proper material, like life-jackets? “None of us were wearing life-jackets! Not because we didn't have them; but to me, it just hinders you moving about a lot. We made sure there was somebody on the Bridge when we went up there in case we did go over the side, and we had a line ready. You've got to take safety precautions, obviously; that's one thing Ronan was always going on about when I was on the ‘Mi Amigo’, safety. He made sure we had everything out there, and it was later the same on the ‘Ross Revenge, he made sure that there was plenty of life-saving equipment out there. We had on every single light on the ship, even the two 5OO watt quartz lights on the stern that we don't normally use. We turned them on basically so that other ships could see us, because we weren't normally there. We were in distress, there's no doubt about that, but we could manage.
At this point Malcolm and myself decided we'd better try to drop the spare anchor. Easier said than done of course! So we took the two brakes off; well, we took the first off and we were going to take the second one off slowly because in theory as you take it off slowly it should start to run. No, not this anchor! With both brakes completely off it just stayed there, it wouldn't budge. So we both looked at each other and thought "Ah-ha! How are we going to do this?" I said "There's only one way we can do it, isn't there? Let's knock the Hell out of it!" So we went downstairs and got two sledge-hammers and started hitting it. Stupid thing to do, really! And it went - and oh, Christ, it did go! It took one of the sledge-hammers with it and it shot the sledge hammer about fifty feet into the air, that was how powerful that thing went. It nearly took both of us with it! We both sort of ran to get clear of it, nearly going over the side at the same time. And then we got up and just laughed the danger off. I think that was because we were a bit scared of the way it was running away with it. Then we both tried to put the brakes on, but it wouldn't stop it because it was running so fast. There were sparks and flames and everything coming from it, it was just an unbelievable sight as this anchor was going down. Then the worst part of the whole evening happened when the anchor started to catch on the seabed as there was enough of it going down, and then suddenly it caught something. We'd got the brakes on at this point so we were dragging it for a while, and when it caught something it whipped us right round, nearly turning the whole boat right over, that's how fast we were dragging our anchor. With the wind and the tide taking us we went six miles in an hour and a half.
First we drifted South-East and then we started going dead South. We ended up near the King Georges Channel, where the ‘Mi Amigo’ was that time in 1975 they had the fun with the Customs and all that, but a bit further East. We got the anchor down about half-past eleven to midnight and it started to hold so we weren't too worried at that point; we were so confident that we were going to stay where we were on the spare anchor we even switched the engines off. We had another anchor that we could shove down anyway, but we didn't want to in case they got twisted. Although we were in a very dangerous position because we were a bit close to the coast, closer than we should have been - we were about two miles North-East of the Tongue Lightship, so we'd gone quite a way. Malcolm and myself were just idiots really. When we'd plotted our position and knew where we were we didn't really have much else to do. We turned the engine off; we thought "we're not going to do anything else tonight, it's too rough; we'll wait until daylight". So I went on the top of the Bridge with a pair of binoculars. You can imagine what the wind was like up there! We were not very far away from Margate and I was just trying to look at a few things in Margate and Malcolm said to me "What the Hell are you doing up there?" and I said (after being on board ship for some weeks, you see) "trying to look for a pub!" Everybody burst into fits of laughter; but I was seeing if I could find a pub! We spoke to the people on the Ross Revenge as well, just to let them know that we were OK, and we asked if they could see us. They said "We can't really, all we can see is a few ships lights and Margate!" We could just about see them, they were a little speck of light on the horizon.Normally we could see the ship really well because they're only a mile and a half from our anchorage.
The next morning was still as rough as ever but we thought where we were anchored, if Big Brother in London had wanted to do anything with us they could have done; I think we were inside International Waters but it was a borderline case and I wouldn't have liked to have argued about it. So we thought we'd get out of there; we started the anchor-winch, got the anchor up, we had the engine going obviously so that we didn't drift any further, and kept the nose into the waves because the worst thing when you haven't got an anchor down is you really do roll, and although it only took us an hour and a half to get down there it took us all morning to get back. We had waves coming over the bow of the ship and everything, and the Communicator doesn't usually dip down that far unless it's really rough. Anyway, we got back - we were going to go round the Ross Revenge and say "hello" but it was too rough - so we put the anchor down and dragged it until it caught on something (probably an old Mi Amigo chain!), and we ended up about one-point-nine miles from them on the emergency anchor. It held, and gradually during the day the weather went down.’
One can understand that, reading this story about drifting and the conditions during bad weather, it’s not so nice going aboard that little red radioship, which was so loved by millions of listeners in the mid eighties of last century. Well Johnny Lewis has another opinion: ‘It was nice going on board the MV Communicator The first thing I saw of course was the mess-room which was just a little room off the alley-way at the stern of the ship. It wasn't bad, it had all the equipment for making tea and coffee, in fact they had a coffee machine in there, one of those perculator things. Then further on towards the stern of the ship, the bit you can see at the back above water, was the television room which was going to be the news-room when the station went on-air. In there were loads of computers for advertising sheets and stuff like that; a lot of money had been spent. You remember our Skipper always playing 'Star Trek and he was always annoyed because the computer would beat him! We had also a television in there with teletext so that we could see what was going on in the news, what was coming on telly, etc. Then just beyond the news-room, right at the back of the ship, was the main on-air studio. It got a bit hectic in rough weather at the back there! It was very nice in the studio. The soundproofing was amazing. It was like a cushiony carpet over the walls. The sound in there was just dead. People who were listening to our test broadcasts probably couldn't hear any generator noise or anything, it was a dead, clean signal when we put the micro¬phone on. In the studios we had a mixing board, a twelve-channel job; every¬thing else we had in the studio, the two triple-stacks, one Revox turn-table and an Otari tape-deck, was started from the mixing board by remotes. You might have noticed that the style of broadcasting we were doing was very tight, 'up-to-the-vocal' jobs and all that; now talking up to the vocals is quite easy anyway but it was made easier on the Communicator by this little gadget that we had on top of the mixing board.
On the cart we had the running time of the cart and it would also say 'intro-time 15 seconds', which would mean you would have fifteen seconds of music before the vocal came in. So as soon as you fired that cart this stop-watch would automatically go back to 'zero seconds' so of course you could keep an eye on that to see how much time you'd got before you got to the vocals. In the production studio, which we could also use for on-air, were couple of Technics turntables; two Broadcast Electronics cart-machines, one record/playback, one playback only; two Otari tape decks, and the same mix console that was in the main studio. Once again everything was started remote controls on the desk. The studios were very comfortable, but being the back of the ship when we did pitch it used to get a bit uncomfortable there.’
Quite different from earlier project in offshore radio was that on Laser they didn’t use to much the turntables, which was common in those days. Johnny recalls: ‘One thing about the Laser 729 project was that nearly everything, 99% of the music, came not on record but on cartridges, like most stations use to put their commercials on. What we used to do was decide what records we wanted the studio on the playlist - they could be singles, they could be album-tracks - and we'd cart them up and put them in the studio. Now we had two thousand seven hundred, maybe even three thousand, cartridges in each studio. We used to put the music on cart, mainly because in really rough weather you could continue with normal programmes; you get no problems with records jumping when it's all on cart! It was a lot easier. Radio Nova in Dublin used that system as well. The only problem with that system, far as I can see, is if, for instance, you get some dick-head (that's an ‘I’ word for 'idiot' by the way!) who forgets to cue the carts, i.e. press the startbutton and take the cart out before it's recued. When you actually record the carts, when you press the 'start' button on the record model, it puts what we call a 'cue-tone' on the actual begining of the tape. Now you can't hear the cue-tone, it doesn't come out, but of course the magic eye in the cart pick up and stops the motor. So next time you put it in it's all ready to fire. Sometimes get people who can't be bothered to wait for them to cue so you hear saying "...here's the Beatles...Oh, Sugar!" Someone's forgotten to cue the cart! So it has it's disadvantages. It does have another advantage that a of the singles on board are from America - being an American project - and anyone who's come across American singles will know you get a so called 'Cue-burn' at the begining of them if you play them a lot. And so when you start them you get this hissy effect. Of course on a cart you don't get this and it's impossible to scratch a cart as well. A lot of the carting up was on board done by the American disc-jockeys. Blake Williams and myself carted up about s seven hundred. The discs are all on board so that we can go back to them. I was doing the test broadcasting I was playing discs as well, in fact al new singles that were played were all on disc, we didn't have time to cart up. We did cart up a load of oldies because we didn't want to play too many new records together on the tests. The whole idea was to play stuff that was known, and people would tune in.
After receiving nearly two thousand letters it obviously worked! That was going to be the format of the station, play well-known oldies, good album tracks and Top Forty. Even if people have heard of it, they come across a nice record and they continue listening. For them there was no reason for tune-out! The thing I've noticed being back in this country and listening (this is my chance of getting a job on ILR gone down the drain!) is ther many tune-out factors, there's no tune-in factors. For instance commercial commercial stations have commercials but they talk and you'll get five, minutes of talk and then commercials; that's the biggest tune-out. That's what we were trying not to do, and the other thing was to make it with the commercials as interesting as possible.
We had none of these 'dry' commercials with just talk, we had music over everything. The other thing was when we were making links, we'd link over records - not talk over the vocals or anything, ¬very unprofessional. But you've got to remember we were aiming not just at Britain but Holland, Belgium, Scandinavia, etc., and a lot of the people listening to us won't understand the English language; but as long as they can hear music in the background they'll stay listening. It's as soon as the music 'stops they tune out. We went off the air and a
A lot of people have said: What did you do there for nine weeks? You must have been bored stiff"; We painted the ship and gave it new colours - blue and red mostly inside, with green skirting-boards. We had twenty-three cabins aboard and a lot of accommodation could be used. The cabins were amazing. My cabin for example had a seven-foot long bunk by about four-foot wide, the cabin was very big, a two porthole job - that's one thing I never had on the Mi Amigo, portholes - a washbasin, hot and cold running water all the time. We had this ‘Galleymaid' watermaker which used to actually purify the seawater. It used to suck in seawater and by the time it'd finished with it, it was fresh water, that pure you could drink it, and we did. That really was an amazing thing and we had the opposite to every other pirate station, we didn't have to take it easy on the water. We also had a washing machine and a tumble-dryer there. When there was only a few of us on board we'd be making more water than we could use and the tanks would overflow on deck! But getting back to the cabin, it had a sink with hot and cold water, there was an armchair in there and a settee and also I had a desk where I used to do all mmy writing of the engineering notes etc. So it was a really nice cabin. There was carpet as well. It was also well lit, I had a massive light on the ceiling, a light on the bedside and a light over the washbasin and a light over my desk, So as you caj see it was a working cabin as well as a rest place. The other good thing about it was in really rough weather you had to make sure the porthoholes were closed really solidly because the ship would actually dip below sealevel where the cabin was.
I remember a couple of times watching the Ross Revenge 'roll - they didn't roll as much as us. And I remember one minute you'd be looking at the Ross and the next minute you’d be right under water! Then you'd come back up again; our ship was pretty lively. I heard stories of the Mebo II rolling and I've been on the Peace and I know that ships rolls, but this ship rolls more than those two. It was all over the place at times. But it was a good ship, nice and comfortable. When it came up across it was full up with food and fuel. We had so much milk and stuff aboard that boat it was unbelievable. I don't think I've ever seen so much milk even in my time on the farm! The trouble was, it was all this long-life stuff which is nice if you haven't had it for a while but after about nine weeks of it you get a bit fed up with it. They did send us out some 'Slimline' milk for some reason; I think it was for me, to try to get my fifteen stone down a bit!
The transmitters were down in the hold – there were only on board, not four - they were 25kW CSI transmitters. A lot of people slag CSI and say they’re bad transmitters but we used them at Radio Nova too, FM as well AM, and we had absolutely no problems with those.
I think they were very practical transmitters and were very easy to repair if something went wrong. Everything was accessible.
The processing equipment was based on the Orban Optimod, but it was a better version and we could do all sorts of things it. Rather than have one compressor we had four, all working after each other. That's what gave us the rich sound, in fact it would have been a lot richer had we not been on 729 because we had to roll it of towards the top end and so we didn't splash on Radio Four, we didn't want to upset the BBC!’
Of course there was more then some optimods and transmitters. Without a generator making radioshows from a ship wasn’t possible. So let’s see what Johnny had to tell about the generators: The generators we had on board the MV Communicator were an Allis Chalmers, 160kva; a Generatr Lister engine - that one ran DC and AC, 50Hz. Then we had a few spare generators that we didn’t use. That was Deutz, similar to the one on on the Mi Amigo but a bit bigger. We needed the auxiliary generators to run the steering gear when we went into difficulties.
The anchoring system on the ship: We had two reserve anchors normal ships anchors, and we had the ship anchored from a normal mooring position round the big dome, that was that round drum that people might have seen on photographs. The reason we had that, that drum did in fact move backwards and forwards so the anchor wasn't taking so much strain, so when the anchor the the drum would roll around with it as opposed to just catch the anchor. That
were six shackles down, on the anchoring system itself, about 190 foot on the end of that we had. I think it was, a five ton sinker on a concrete block and then a heavy anchor as well, so
we shouldn’t have moved.
When we went down to start the engines the night we lost the anchor, both engines just didn't want to know. We needed the auxiliary generator as engine was started by air crompression and we could not run the ship’s steering without the DC generator.
Once a week, to make sure these engines were all oké we'd run them for about an hour. Normally it was a case of just going downs and turning the fuel on and pulling the old lever down, and away they went normally. Now of course the one night we wanted them, this always happens normally. Now of course the night we went adrift, we went down, pressed the button – Splat! Nothing at all. It's always the same you know, you can test these things but the time really want them they let you down.
So that we knew where we were we had this sat-nav equipment, and that used to get hold of a satellite going round up above us somewhere and it would tell us in a readout where we were, so we used to write that down every day at that would tell us our position. 1 degree 33 minutes so-and-so, all that sot of stuff. Also on the bridge we had a gyro-compass and an ordinary compass. Ti gyro-compass used to work electronically, this also used to pick up a satellite and go round with it. That was really for the sat-nav telephone which is, amazing piece of equipment. We could make telephone calls to any private number in the world by pressing a few buttons; mind you, it cost a lot of money!
I think it's about nine pounds a minute to call out; it's about that to call as well! People could call us, but we didn't leave that on really except wh we wanted to make calls.There was also a Telex on board so that we can receive and send Telexs; again, that went through a satellite; the usual RT equipment. We had a Danish ship-to--shore 'Sailor Boy' 24volt radio out there with a choice of about fifty channels (obviously channel sixteen, VHF) ; there was also a 2` rig for short-wave tranceiving - and of course a steering-wheel! It was fun because there was this massive ship's wheel up on the Bridge for actually turning the ship, but they didn’t use it any more! They've got these two buttons, and just stand by these buttons and press them how far you want to go Port, how you want to go Starboard, and it tells you on this meter how far you're going.’
[Interview taken from Monitor issues 28 and 29, adapted by Hans Knot. Photos: Paul Rusling, Theo Dencker, Leen Vingerling.]