The History of Pirate Radio: Britain and Israel

Rebel Ships: Radio Caroline and the Voice of Peace

Al Jazeera (2021)

Film Review

This documentary compares and contrasts two pirate radio ships that launched in 1964 and 1973 when their countries of origin sought to ban the content they wished to broadcast.

Radio Caroline began broadcasting from international waters off the east coast of Britain on Easter 1964* to resist a British ban on rock and roll music. At the time, the government-owned BBC held a tight monopoly on all broadcasting and refused to license private commercial stations. They also declined to play rock and roll music popular with Radio Caroline supporters. Facing a two-year sentence for broadcasting without a license, disk jockeys initially used false names.

The Voice of Peace began broadcasting from the eastern Mediterranean when the Israeli government declined to give them a license. Its purpose was to counter Israeli aggression against its Arab neighbors.

The British government made only one serious attempt to shut Radio Caroline down. During the 1985 Eurosiege, a British naval vessel blockaded the Ross Revenge (the ship from which the station broadcast) from receiving fresh supplies and personnel. The blockade backfired when every newspaper and broadcast channel in Europe gave the pirate station massive free publicity. At the time many, much of the British public believed Caroline had ceased to broadcast.

Radio Caroline was only boarded (illegally*) only once. in 1989 Dutch police with guns boarded to confiscate and smash all their equipment. This proved only a temporary setback. Massive donations from Radio Caroline supporters enabled them to start up again after a few months.

In 1990, following the shipwreck of the Ross Revenge, all six of their crew were rescued by the British Air Force.

Obtaining a new trawler, Radio Caroline continued to broadcast via ship until 1998. From 1998 to 2013, it broadcast via satellite starting in 2000. In 2017, the British government finally granted them an AM band license, though they continue to broadcast one weekend a month from the new Ross Revenge moored in the Blackwater River in Essex.

Voice for Peace, founded in 1973 by Abie Nathan, did not fare so well. Nathan scuttled his peace ship in 1993, in part owing to economic and legal difficulties.  Another reason was his mistaken belief that the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords would resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. (See The Price of Oslo: How the Peace Accords Set the Palestinian Cause Back 20 Years)


*Easter 1964 was chosen by Radio Caroline co-founder Ronan O’Rahilly to celebrate Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising against the British.

**The Law of the Sea is a body of customs, treaties, and international agreements by which governments maintain order, productivity, and peaceful relations on the sea.

The full film can be viewed free at https://www.aljazeera.com/program/al-jazeera-world/2021/6/9/rebel-radio-ships

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