Before 1964 there was little British pop radio. The only alternative to the evening broadcasts of the independent Radio Luxembourg, with its firm commitment to pop, and the heavy backing from the record companies which leased air time, was the BBC’s Light Program. An old-fashioned counterpart to the more “serious” Third Programme (classical) and Home Service (non-musical), its content was epitomized by the perennial Music While You Work, which featured dance band arrangements of popular evergreens.
Pop was virtually confined to two weekend shows, Saturday morning’s Saturday Club, originally Saturday Skiffle Club, and Sunday morning’s Easy Beat, hosted with patronizing benevolence by Brian Matthew. Both featured more studio sessions than records and a musical policy that was as broad as it was bland.
This situation was altered on Easter Saturday 1964, when Radio Caroline, the brainchild of Ronan O’Rahilly, commenced broadcasting from international waters five miles off Harwich. Within a week, the GPO had begun its campaign to ban offshore commercial radio, but on May 12, Radio Atlanta came on the air, merging with Caroline in July to create Caroline South and North (operating off the Isle Of Man). Other stations followed, broadcasting from ships or disused wartime defence forts, and in December the powerful, businesslike Radio London opened. By this time the “pirates” had an audience of millions. Their popularity was easy to understand. Unrestricted needle time, flamboyant disc jockeys, and American-style format complete with call signs, jingles and commercials made a refreshing change from the Light Programme.
Listening figures grew through 1965, but although increasing pressure was placed on the Government to outlaw the stations because of their interference with official wave-lengths, there was no attempt at legislation until the introduction of the Marine Broadcasting Offences Bill in July, 1966, apparently hastened by the killing of Radio City owner, Reg Calvert, and the resultant exposure of genuine piracy behind the stations’ breezy facades.
In December 1966, the Government announced future plans for broadcasting, including the establishment of a pop wavelength and local BBC stations. The Marine Broadcasting Offences Bill became law on August 15,1967 and only Caroline was prepared to risk prosecution, surviving until March 1968.
BBC Radio One opened on Sept. 30, 1967, with the Move’s “Flowers In The Rain” and a format similar to that of the offshore stations, using ex-pirate disc jockeys, Tony Blackburn dee-jayed the opening programme, identical jingles, and a playlist centred on the Top Forty.