- Laser 558
Laser 558 was a popular European offshore
pirate radiostation (others include Radio Caroline, Radio Noordzeeand Swinging Radio England) launched in 1984. Laser 558 used mainly American disc jockeyswho had been recruited and flown over from the USA. The station was based aboard the ship the "MV Communicator", which was based in international waters in the North Sea, and thus took advantage of a legal loophole which allowed them to circumvent the requirements for an official license and legally broadcast to the UK. Within a matter of months the station had gained an audience of millions - probably because of its programming format of one oldie followed by one current song. Eventually poor management and lack of advertising income starved the station off the air. In 1986 an attempt was made to return the station to the airwaves as Laser Hot Hits, but the same problems arose once more.
Background to the era
The 1980s were musically a throwback to the climate and conditions that had prevailed in the 1960s. The UK music charts were approximately one year ahead of the charts in the
USAand British music was very popular in America. At the time music videos were beginning to become popular, and MTVhad created a following from viewers who were hooked by back-to-back music videos. Britain was ahead of the US in creating music videos, and so British groups gained a big chunk of the airplay on MTV and subsequently the US charts.
The beginnings of Laser Radio
One of the original funders intending to profit from the return of
Radio Caroline, [http://www.cwgsy.net/private/offshorepirateradio/laser1.html Roy Lindau] , President of airtime sales company Music Media International, left owing to disagreements about programme format. There were also unconfirmed reports that backing had been promised by Philip Morris inc who pulled out at the last minute following pressure from European authorities.
The team originally planned to create a new offshore venture with two stations on one ship. This ambitious plan was scaled down to create a single station called Laser. The station was built on board a vessel that would use a high-flying balloon system in order to keep an extremely high antenna aloft.
The early days of Laser were overshadowed by problems with their antenna. Radio Caroline had already returned to the airwaves from its new ship, when Laser splashed on to the media scene in the UK and immediately commanded attention.The first frequency chosen however, 729 kHz, was a poor choice due to interference and this problem was compounded when the balloon antenna system failed completely. As a result the station was often off the air.
Unlike most European radio stations Laser played nearly all its music from tape cartridges, rather than vinyl. Roy Lindau thought the needle on vinyl records would jump in rough seas. The North Sea, which kills far more than the
Bermuda Triangle, rarely creates a "jolt" sufficient to make such a needle jump between tracks on a vinyl record.
On the 9th August 1985, the UK's
Department of Trade and Industry( DTI), chartered the vessel the 'Dioptric Surveyor' to anchor nearby to monitor pirate stations Laser and Caroline, at the reported cost of £50,000 a month. Having suffered from being tossed about by the North Sea in the relatively small Dioptric Surveyor for some weeks (to the amusement of the Laser staff who issued reports on the DTI staff being ill over the side of the ship), it was replaced with the much larger 'Gardline Tracker'. This ship had been chartered from Gardline Surveys, whose history dates back to the time of Grace Darling, founder of the Lifeboat service. Ironically the 'Gardline Tracker' was in fact a sister ship of the 'MV Communicator', which had been purchased from Gardline whilst in Great Yarmouth harbour, at which time it was named the 'Gardline Seeker'.
Unlike Caroline, the DJs at Laser made frequent references to the DTI vessel on air, poking fun at the ship and staff, and even releasing a parody song titled "I Spy For The DTI" by the Moronic Surveyors (the band consisted of
Paul Young, John Wilson, Rob Day and Laser DJs Erin Kelly and Liz West). The term, Euroseige, was coined by Charlie Wolf.
The song [http://www.offshoreechos.com/offshorethemes/Sounds/I%20spy%20for%20the%20DTI.mp3 I Spy for the DTI] has the same tune and almost exactly the same lyrics as [http://www.oldielyrics.com/lyrics/john_hiatt/i_spy_for_the_fbi.html I Spy for the FBI]
While the music programming was a success, the business plan could be diplomatically said to be less of a success. The backers failed to secure the deluge of advertising that they had hoped, although ads were heard for big brands like Rolling Stone and Time Out magazines. Meanwhile Radio Caroline continued broadcasting and attracting little attention from the [http://www.dti.gov.uk/ DTI] .
Shortly after the start of Laser558,
Radio Carolinebegan simulcasting with a 5 kW transmitter on the nearby frequency of 576 kHz, although this channel suffered more interference.
The Last Broadcast
Due to the blockade and the lack of a sound business plan to supply the successful station with income, the "MV Communicator" was eventually forced into a British port (escorted by her sister ship 'Gardline Tracker'), where the ship and its broadcasting equipment was seized by the authorities. The 'Gardline Tracker' did not return to continue its watch on Radio Caroline, which suggested at the time, that Laser rather than Radio Caroline was the main target for its activities.
The day after Laser's closure Radio Caroline moved from 576 to 558 kHz, a move that angered some Laser fans but gave Caroline much improved reception, even with 5 kW.
Eventually the "MV Communicator" was bought by East Anglian Productions and they were left mainly unhindered during restoration to a functioning radio station in Essex, and sent back out to sea and went back on air in Autumn 1986 as Laser Hot Hits. Because Caroline had claimed the 558 frequency Laser was forced to use 576, reversing the original situation.
Laser Hot Hits lasted for far less time than the original venture, and was generally thought to be inferior to the original Laser 558. The station then went off the air sometime in the Spring of 1987.
Charlie Wolfwas the most memorable and popular of the former Laser DJs. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, he was working and living in Salt Lake City, Utah, when he answered an advert in Radio & Records Magazine (a weekly industry paper in the USA). Wolf has told friends that he almost did not take the job -- ultimately signing up because it would be a free six-month to a year's trip to London. He now lives in the UK, where he has worked for a number of radio stations in the GWR Group (now GCap). He presented several shows on TalkSport Radio (2000-2006), and is known for his outspoken on-air views.
Dave Lee Stone who was the only original 558 DJ to return with a pre-recorded show on Hot Hits on Sundays, died in 1997 after a drinking binge.
Jessie Brandon who actually travelled on board the MV Communicator from Ft. Lauderdale, FLorida on its transAtlantic crossing to Europe, went on to work for Radio Nova, Capitol Radio, and Radio Luxembourg. She returned to the states and worked in rock, jazz, and lastly with Simon Marks' FeatureStoryNews based in Washington, D.C.. Jessie is not currently on the air.
Steve Masters was last heard of working for the Voice of America and running a consulting business back in the US.
Rik Harris left Laser in 1985 to work on Radio Nova.
The most surprising appearance on Laser Hot Hits was that of Andrew Turner as a DJ. Andrew Turner had first appeared as a newsreader on Radio Caroline North and was the only UK resident to stay on board after August 14th 1967. During initial test transmissions he was almost single handedly doing the presentations.
After Laser Hot Hits went off the air, the MV Communicator was once again impounded by UK authorities. This time it was stripped of studio equipment, although the transmitters and generators were intact. The ship was sold many times, until the early 1990s, when radio station Holland FM bought the ship and broadcast from it to the Netherlands. Later the Communicator was sold yet again, this time to the Veronica Broadcasting Society, who then sold it to Quality Radio. The ship was then sold to Dave Miller's "The Superstation", broadcasting to the Orkney Isles on 105.4 MHz with a 3 month RSL in 2004.
Following an incident where the ship took on sea water, Dave Miller sold the ship for just 1,000 pounds. The Communicator is now 'beached' and the new owner plans to scrap the ship. The generators have already been removed by the new owner and the hatches have had their covers removed, exposing parts of the ship's interior to the elements. The MV Communicator currently lies near St Margaret's Hope pier in Orkney. The mast has been removed and the hull has been partially cut up for scrap. A tribute to the ship (complete with a photo of the ship being broken up) appears on the Radio Caroline website - http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/communicator.asp
The station 'theme song' for both Laser 558 and Laser Hot Hits was "Thank You For The Music" by
Charlie Wolf's theme song was "Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?" by
The Three Little Pigs.
I Spy For The DTI, a parody song by band called The Moronic Surveyors was released on the 23rd September 1985 (Farce records 7" single DTI 007, 12" single DTIT 007).
Laser Radio, by The Communicators. This song, praising the station, was recorded and written by Laser fans Roger King and Yanni Tsamplakos.
Laser Rap by
Jazzy E. The music for the station's promotional video.
Lid Off Laser, by Rusling, Paul. (Pirate Pubns (Oct 1984); ISBN 0-948055-00-6)
Pop Went The Pirates, by Skues, Keith. (Lambs' Meadow Publications (Mar 1994); ISBN 0-907398-03-0)
* [http://www.mwcircle.org/mcd.htm#laser558 Listen to Laser 558] Unique recordings from 1984-1986
* [http://www.eylard.nl/OffShoreRadio/Laser/index.htm www.eylard.nl] Unique photos from 1984-1985
[http://www.cwgsy.net/private/offshorepirateradio/laser1.html The Laser 558 Story]
[http://www.laser558.org As close as it gets to an official site these days]
[http://www.offshoreechos.com/Laser/Laser%20story%20menu.htm Offshore Echoes' Laser 558 pages]
[http://www.laserradio.net The Official website for Laser Radio]
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