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Britain's Better Music Station

Issue: 6 Updated: 29th June 2017

Part two of our feature on radio from Knock John

Having secured the Fort Radio Essex operated until summoned for broadcasting within Territorial waters

A sham; the UK Government employed dubious hydrographic data to define fresh land datum's from seldom drying sand banks to bring the Forts within territorial the limit

Whilst the legal situation intensified Radio Essex the first 24 hour radio station in Europe was to change it's name to BBMS Britain's Better Music Station

Knock John Blue Wash 1965

'Flashback' to Knock John (1965)

With each Thames Naval Fort open to the elements at each end and all the Brass Portholes taken sea birds had made themselves comfortable, cleaning up was an especially long and unpleasant task

Knock John Deck & Dolphin

Deck view of the dilapidated and partially collapsed Dolphin with ramshackle decking (February 1966)

Western Knock John 3.7 Gun

Antenna lash up

Various methods of keeping the aerial aloft were tried; Roy sent out an old flag pole, at one stage a large wooden ships mast proved far too heavy to deploy

Western Knock John 3.7 Gun

String and Wire

Much like Radio Sutch scaffold poles were the preferred fall back

North end of Knock John from Top-House

North Deck end of Fort (February 1966)

The old jib arm and the muzzle of one of the 3.7" A-A Guns always played part of the antenna

Radio Essex Deck Plan

Bridge-Deck Plan

To help you around here's a plan

A = West Dolphin end below this at level 1 the engineering work bench and stores, along with the third Gardner LW generator stripped for spares. Level 2 below and later 3 were for sleeping, below that was unused

B = The former Galley where the small Radio City Lister generator was stowed

C = Lounge & Galley

D = Studio

E = Transmitter room held an old United States Air Force 1kW beacon RCA Victor modified to run on medium wave. At one stage the former Radio City Cossor transmitter was used, but was stripped to provide parts in favour of a home built unit of questionable quality

F = East behind open ended wing access below to level 1 the Gardner LW generator room

Levels below that again were unused

There were reports of haunting's on Knock John, with so much of the Fort unused in total darkness, it's easy to understand why people should feel so uneasy especially when alone

Radio Essex Testing

Test Transmission, initial studio arrangement

The first studio playing non-stop test music from long playing records

The fibre boarding lined the walls of the deck level rooms

Transmissions were always around 222 metres initially on 1351kHz then 1353kHz & later as BBMS on 1349kHz

Fire Eating Engineer Brian Roberts

Providing a welcome glow a Brian Roberts self proclaimed engineer fire eater warms things up

When a nicely made transmitter produced by Peter Clark came out, it was decided that his 2 kW transmitter in a veneered wooden case might represent a bit of a fire hazard!

After braking up the transmitter with a hatchet Brian was christened the mad axe man

The parts were passed to John Thompson of Radio Invicta/K I N G fame who built another transmitter that was used until the stations demise

Knock John Galley

The Galley

Basic but functional with its Baby Belling was virtually identical to galleys on the Radio Invicta and City Forts

Crew Relax

Mark West, Graham 'Get up and Go' Johns, Mike Curtis* relaxing in the lounge

Note that most of the brass port holes on the Naval Forts had been pillaged for scrap

* Mike Curtis not to be confused with Mick Curtis who was with Radio Sutch was a real cockney character who lived near by the Dartford river crossing

Mike performed alongside Vince 'Rusty' Allen (ginger haired) on the Crazy Eve and on Dick Palmers brain child the Essex Beat Club

Vince Allen

Vince Allen with BBMS Listing in London Evening News

One memorable story from Dick is joining Radio Essex, taken to the Fort Roy made sloppy knots around 5 gallon barrels of Diesel to be hauled up, one of the knots came undone with the barrel tumbling to burst on the Tender deck soaking Mike appropriately dressed in a 'White Suit' Roy fell about laughing

Crew in Lounge

Unknown Engineer? Mark West, Graham Johns and Mike Curtis in the galley

Crew haul supplies aboard

Personnel, materials and supplies being hauled up onto deck

Bates Family Western 3.7 Gun

Bates on board - Michael, Roy, Penny, and Joan by southern 3.7" Gun

Former Army Major Roy became an Essex fisherman spotted the potential of Knock John

One wonders if he'd have preferred an Army Fort had one been available?

Unfortunately Reg Calvert had already put a team onboard eventually they were persuaded to leave

Radio Essex Rate Card

In all its glory the Radio Essex rate card cover

David Sinclair on Eastern 3.7 Gun

David Sinclair touches up the paint work on East 3.7" Guns as things begin to hot up for Radio Essex

David's introduction to Radio Essex came via Dick Palmer who was living at Petts Wood. David from nearby St Mary Cray - Orpington presented Dick an audition tape, this was accepted, the next time they met was on the Fort

Radio Essex Mast

Radio Essex try another aerial configuration

Finally BBMS built a T' aerial slung between a pair scaffold poles

Dick Palmer up mast with Keith Robinson

Fort Captain Dick Palmer up the pole makes adjustments to the antenna mast with Engineer Keith Robinson looking on (March 1966)

Brian Roberts and Keith Robinson were convinced the signal would be improved if the top-house was removed, largely constructed of teak its destruction made no discernable difference

Radio Essex Spot Rates

Radio Essex Rate Card

BBMS intermediate studio arrangement

BBMS intermediate studio arrangement

The studio had been sound proofed by Chris Stewart using old red blankets that had come aboard it gave the cold room a warmer feeling for on-air DJ's

In view a pair of Garrard 401 turntables with domestic tone arms with head shells fitted with Decca Deram cartridges

Roger Scott on air

Roger Scott

Wearing the surplus military headphones enjoys album tracking on Radio Essex

There was also a Collaro turntable just out of picture to play a record of SESAC jingles see below

Penny Bates David Sinclair

Penny Bates adds a touch of glamour to the galley photographed by Chris Stewart (Late 1965 early 1966)
David Sinclair in the intermediate BBMS studio, sign above left 'Speak Slowly' (1966)

The Reslo RBT microphone should be mounted base down vertically, the BBMS is upside down, inadvisable as the ribbon likely to sag


Guy Hamilton on Musical Magazine

Mark West

Mark West

Garrard 401 Turntables with a trusty Vortexion WVA Tape Recorder on left

Radio Essex Advertising Terms & Conditions

Radio Essex advertising rates, terms & conditions

David Sinclair on air

Big Band Man David "Sinkers" Sinclair at the BBMS turntables cues up the third Collaro Turntable in the final studio arrangement

The stations generic jingles were on an LP brought over for America by Airtime Salesman Harry Putnam, at first played on the Collaro Turntable before being recoded on to tape from the Vortexion WVA tape recorder

At one stage there was a serious proposal to run two more radio stations, Radio Essex would be joined by Radio Kent and Radio Eros a light back ground elevator style music station

A dream, with few advertisers, fines and further legislation pending. Money and food was low, the situation was to deteriorate further for those that hadn't gone to Radio 270

Dick Palmer remembers sharing the last rations which soon ran out, the remaining crew survived on salad cream and coffee powder for two weeks until rescued

Supplies hauled aboard

Chris Stewart closest to the camera with engineer Mike Brerton assisting the TV crew's departure

This picture above from Central TV's Reporting '66

The thirty minute documentary programme showed the contrasts between the swish American Swinging Radio England and Radio Essex

Roy Bates leaving Knock John on tender

Roy on the tender pulling away from Knock John heading home to the Essex coast (1966)

13 months after Radio Essex had begun it closed down on Christmas day 1966

Michael Bates with Radio Rssex Gear

Michael Bates sorts the equipment taken off Knock John (1966)

Everything of use was transported to Roughs where it was to remain unused until thrown overboard in 2002

Due to it's operating frequency and poor antenna configuration Radio Essex/BBMS were often heard more clearly in Scandinavia than its own county

Radio Essex broke the mould ignoring conventional technical and programming practices. Despite enormous difficulties, the lack of proper finance Radio Essex was an exciting station, the sort of radio that we'll sadly never hear again

A two part documentary on Radio Essex/BBMS and book 'Making Waves' as a gift set available from the Offshore Shop

Sky Picture of Knock John with Western 3.7 Skyward

Knock John (1979)

By January 1967 Knock John had been abandoned

Knock John in 1992 less Guns

Knock John pictured after it's 3.7" Guns had been removed (Summer of 1992)

Radio Essex QSL Card

Radio Essex QSL Card

Our archive material supported by contributions from the late Eric K Martin, Dick Palmer, Chris Stewart, David Sinclair, Michael Cane, Martin Stevens and Pete Collison

8/4/08 - Firstly thanks for all the wonderful photos of the forts. I've been admiring them all my life. I have been carrying out some visits to the waters around the towers and am planning to board Knock John some time in August. Do you have any further information or photos of the deck, especially with reference to the manner in which it was sealed and the deck condition. Regards Chris

Pleased you enjoy the site features & pictures. Boarding K J these days would be a military style operation. There are no ladders on the legs they fell away in the 60's, the Dolphin's long gone, & since KJ stands highest out of the water than any of the original Naval Forts, getting aboard would be a dangerous challenge. The condition of the deck now is a bit of an unknown quantity. The site features on Sealand give an indication. I can tell you first hand, the deck is full of holes with just heavy gage steel plate loosely laid over them. Inside its basic & K J hasn't been lived in since 1967. But the RAF are said to have sealed the door ways with steel shuttering when the guns were taken off. How securely isn't known - ED

Navigate from ScrapBook Index for details on all the Radio Essex/BBMS features and information on the Thames Estuary Forts see Fort Fax

For an audio visual tour of a Naval Fort a two part documentary on Radio Essex/BBMS and book 'Making Waves' Offshore Shop

[HOME] (c)Bob Le-Roi 2003