Radio Atlantis

Radio Atlantis

Radio Atlantis was a Belgian-owned pirate radio station which operated between 1973 and 1974.

Belgium had passed an anti-pirate law in 1962, but because its neighbour The Netherlands had not yet passed a similar law, there was nothing the Belgian authorities could do (at least directly) to prevent a Dutch-language station aimed at a Flemish audience from broadcasting from off the Dutch coast.

In 1973 Belgian millionaire Adriaan van Landschoot signed a three-month contract with Radio Caroline to broadcast taped programmes aimed at Flemish and Dutch audiences from Caroline's ship MV "Mi Amigo", then anchored off the coast of Scheveningen, Netherlands. The programmes were recorded in a studio at Oostburg, Netherlands.

The arrangement suited Caroline because it meant a guaranteed income for very little effort - all the Caroline staff had to do was play the tapes according to schedule, and the income from Atlantis would help to finance Caroline's English programming.

It was originally intended that programmes would begin on July 15 1973 using the "Mi Amigo's" 10 kilowatt transmitter on 773 kHz (388 metres, announced as 385). In readiness for this Atlantis adopted a postal address of Postbus 385, Oostburg, which remained the station's address throughout its lifetime.

This plan went awry when it was discovered that the "Mi Amigo's" 773 kHz transmitter crystal had gone missing. The crystal, which was about the size of a matchbox, had been used as a replacement pawn for the ship's chessboard, and had apparently been thrown overboard when the chess set was replaced.

Consequently when Radio Atlantis launched it was on the "Mi Amigo's" 50 kilowatt transmitter, on Caroline's main frequency of 1187 kHz (253 m), although all of the DJ announcements originally gave the wavelength as 385. It has been claimed that Atlantis was the only offshore radio station ever to launch on its announced date, even though it was on the wrong frequency.

The Caroline DJs who played the Atlantis tapes soon realised that many of the programmes overran their allotted lengths and had to be faded out early to make room for the following ones. A message was sent to the Oostburg studios reminding the Atlantis DJs that there were only 60 minutes in an hour.

In October 1973 the "Mi Amigo's" 180-foot lattice antenna mast (itself a replacement for the tubular steel mast that had collapsed a year earlier) fell into the sea during a storm. Caroline's engineers rigged up a temporary horizontal wire antenna but this could only achieve very limited coverage.

At this point Atlantis decided to terminate its contract with Caroline and acquire a ship of its own. Meanwhile Caroline was approached by another Belgian businessman, Sylvain Tack, who had plans for a new Flemish/Dutch station, later to be known as Radio Mi Amigo.

Atlantis bought the "Zondaxonagon", a small and poorly-equipped radio ship that had briefly broadcast Dutch religious programmes under the name Radio Condor. Van Landschoot renamed the ship MS "Janeine" after his wife.

(NOTE: sources differ as to the spelling of the ship's name; alternative spellings include "Janine", "Janiene" and "Jeanine". Even the station's official QSL card gives the spelling as "Jeaniane". The spelling given in this article is the one actually painted on the ship's bow.)

The "Janeine" was equipped with a transmitter that had formerly belonged to Radio 270 and Capital Radio (the 1970 pirate station of that name). By this time, however, the transmitter had been cannibalized for spare parts and had to be rebuilt. A new studio had to be built from scratch, and Atlantis commissioned a new antenna mast from a Dutch shipyard to replace the ship's existing T-aerial.

The story of what happened to the mast is a matter of dispute between Radio Atlantis and Radio Caroline. According to Atlantis, Caroline stole the mast to replace the one it had lost. According to Caroline, Atlantis had not paid for the mast so Caroline made an offer to buy it instead. Whatever the truth of the matter, the mast found its way to the "Mi Amigo" instead of the "Janeine".

Test transmissions from the "Janeine" began at Christmas 1973 using the repaired transmitter and T-aerial. In an attempt to achieve better coverage of Belgium the ship was anchored close to the Belgian border, 12 miles from Knokke. Official programming began on December 30. Two days later rival station Radio Mi Amigo went on the air with 50 kilowatts, using the mast that Atlantis had commissioned.

In addition to its regular taped Flemish and Dutch programmes by day Atlantis also broadcast an "International Service" (in practice, an all-English service) from the "Janeine" by night. This did not carry commercials but was entirely subsidised by the Flemish Service.

Ex-Caroline DJ Steve England was appointed Programme Director for the International Service. England had grown dissatisfied with Caroline's album rock oriented format, and so he insisted that Atlantis's format should be heavily singles-oriented. Presentation was to be upbeat, fun and humorous, and punctuated by frequent American jingles, as an homage to the pirates of the previous decade.

Most of the English programmes were presented live from the ship, although there were also some taped shows. British DJ Ray Warner recorded his programmes in England, in deliberate contravention of the 1967 Marine Offences Act.

With its cobbled-together transmitter and inefficient antenna Atlantis never achieved very strong coverage of Britain, but nevertheless gained a small but loyal cult following.

In July 1974 the Belgian authorities threatened Atlantis's advertisers with prosecution under the 1962 Law. The wealthy Van Landschoot's response was to cancel all advertising contracts and meet the station's running costs (estimated at the equivalent of £1,500 sterling per week) out of his own pocket.

By this time it was clear that the station's days were numbered. The Dutch Government had finally drafted an anti-pirate bill which was due to come into effect on September 1.

Atlantis's Flemish Service closed down on August 25. For the station's final week the International Service ran 24 hours per day, finally closing down with a "Goodbye Party" from 6:00 to 7:05 PM on August 31.

The following day a tug raised the "Jeanine's" anchor and towed the ship into Vlissingen Harbour. The station had been broadcasting announcements asking fans to meet the ship at Vlissingen and say their goodbyes, and a crowd of 1,000 turned up to greet the "Janeine's" arrival.

Van Landschoot was fined 1,500,000 francs and threatened with five years' imprisonment under the 1962 Act. After appealing directly to King Baudouin, he had his sentence suspended and his fine halved.

Radio Atlantis's theme tune was Jerry Lordan's "Atlantis". The Flemish service used a cover version by The Spoetniks, while the International Service used the original by The Shadows.

After Atlantis

In September 1974 several people with broadcasting equipment, including a 10 kilowatt transmitter, boarded the long-abandoned Gunfleet Lighthouse off the British coast and began to make structural improvements and modifications. On December 19 the boarders and their equipment were removed by the British authorities. It is believed that this may have been an abortive attempt to relaunch Radio Atlantis. Gunfleet is owned by Trinity House, which because of its responsibility to ensure the safety of shipping does not tolerate trespassers on any of its properties.

The mast that Radio Atlantis commissioned remained standing aboard the "Mi Amigo" until the ship sank in 1980, and thereafter remained above water as a marker of the wreck's position for several years.

Meanwhile Radio Mi Amigo, which parted company with Caroline in 1978, was relaunched from its own vessel, "MV Magdalena", in the summer of 1979, although this only lasted for a few months. It was not until 1999 that Van Landschoot admitted that he had been involved with the relaunch of his former rival station.

Documentary; Reference

In 1982 Steve England produced a documentary LP for the fan organisation Offshore Echos, entitled "Offshore Echos Presents: The Story of Radio Atlantis", featuring numerous interviews with the station's staff and DJs. This was reissued on CD in 1996. Some of the information in this article is derived from this documentary.

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