WHERE WERE YOU WHEN: Radio Caroline ruled the waves

The pirate radio station changed DJ Annie Nightingale’s life.

Radio Caroline
The Radio Caroline ship off the coast of Ramsey on the Isle of Man in 1967. Image: Chapman

I proudly wore the official T-shirt with the words ‘RADIO CAROLINE’ on it in red. I was glued to Caroline’s live output through my silver and blue transistor radio (then the epitome of cool tech). And now Mi Amigo, one of their pirate ships, was sailing across the horizon in front of me.

‘This is exciting. We’re just passing Brighton now, listeners,’ announced Simon Dee, then the suave James Bond of this first generation of superstar DJs. From my seafront balcony I felt like shouting back ‘Yes! Hello! I can see you too!’ And at that moment I knew I wanted to be a DJ.

I was passionate about music – writing record columns and hosting ITV’s That’s for Me, which launched The Yardbirds and The Who. But the idea of being part of an illicit operation blasting out pop music from international waters was irresistibly appealing. The TV show Ready Steady Go! and BBC Radio’s Saturday Club were the only other outlets for this musical revolution. Without these and Caroline, which started in March 1964, there would have been no 60s music explosion. John Peel even began as a pirate. Alas, this rebel radio was too good to last – the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act 1967 shut down the pirates. The promise was that the BBC would open a pop station instead. Yeah right, how could it be as good as the law-breaking pirates?

But, hey, every cloud… Once Radio 1 began, I could have a go at becoming a DJ. Actually, no I couldn’t, it turned out, because I was a woman. ‘Radio 1 DJs are husband substitutes,’ said the BBC. They weren’t kidding. It took three years to persuade them to let me loose on their turntables.

I have been at Radio 1 ever since. Not only as the first female DJ but also their longest serving broadcaster – I will celebrate my 50th anniversary in 2020. I still love every thrilling minute. But without the vision and enterprise of the swashbuckling radio pirates, it would never have happened.

Also that month…

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton
  • The Queen’s fourth son, Prince Edward, was born at Buckingham Palace
  • The government announced plans to build three new towns near to overpopulated London, including Milton Keynes.
  • Violence broke out between mods and rockers in Clacton-on-Sea.
  • Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton got married for the first time.