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Caroline Turntables

Copy Free Feature of the restoration by Paul Balls of a pair of classic vintage broadcast industry workhorses used by Radio Caroline from 1983

Some Radio Caroline History: With a general shortage of money but a comprehensive list of requirements, Peter Chicago scoured the USA for good quality equipment and happened upon a Dallas radio museum who were prepared to sell him enough kit to make a reasonable studio

 For just a couple of 100 dollars he bought a pair of sturdy Gates CB 500 Turntables, a couple of Gates Mixers, Cart' machines and pair of Ampex Tape Recorders

 Dutch investors had already provisioned a wooden Porta-Cabin, which had sent by road to Spain and craned onto the rear deck, with crude chicken wire hastily welded in place to act as RF screening

  Setting up the studio with the American equipment shipped to Santander Peter built up a collection of usable recordings. Joined by Tom Aderson who was generally working around the ship tiding up, chipping paint and getting ready for sea they chatted and soon realised the wooden Porta-Cabin wouldn't cope with the rigours of the North Sea so they re-assembled the studio behind the bridge

Here's the tale of the Gates CB500 Turntables there after in Roy's own words:

Stripping down Deck 1

1. Stripping down Deck 1

Dating from the early 1960's there was a sticker on one deck that linked it to the Mormon Church of America, they were acquired by Caroline, so ideal for the Viewpoint 963 service!

Turntable platter removed Deck 1

2. Turntable platter removed Deck 1

Taken aboard the Radio Caroline ship the Ross Revenge 1983, they were put in the Portacabin studio's on the rear deck, before being moved to the port side studio that later became the Dutch service

Turntable platter Deck 2

3. Turntable platter Deck 2

The decks were then moved again to the rear studio built by Peter Phillips for Caroline Overdrive, I think there is a picture of them in the rear studio at sea

After the raid on the Ross Revenge in1989 they were put back in to the Dutch studio, ideal as the mounting holes were still in the desk top

Compare turntable platters Deck 2 left

4. Compare turntable platters, Deck 2 left

When the Ross was towed into Granville Dock, Dover after going aground on the Goodwin Sands in 1990, they were in a bad state suffering when the ships generators were slowed down to the UK standard of 50 htz, as a consequence they ran slowly

Caroline had been given some better turntables, so they were removed & dumped in the old freezer/food store at the rear of the ship

Base underside Deck 1

5. Base underside Deck 1

They are very easy to pull apart & I only had to drill out a couple of seized screws. The chassis' were bead blasted & powder coated by a local firm that refurbish alloy wheels for a cost of thirty pounds, turning them round in three weeks

Template for the cutting center hole

6. Lid from a tin can ideal template for the cutting center hole was the for the job

When you had your held your * Caroline Reunion at the King Charles Hotel in Gillingham they sold at the auction for fifty pounds to Graham L Hall, I bought them from him for the same amount (* 12th August 2000)

Strobe markings to set the turntable speed

7. Strobe markings to set the turntable speed

They sat in my storeroom for a few years until I started to refurbish them last year (2013)

Piece of 2x2 to mount cutting tool produced a perfect circle

8. Piece of 2x2 to mount cutting tool ... 9. ... produced a perfect circle

I bought new & one side with adhesive applied pre-cut felt squares, I purchased three in case of a mishap in cutting

24 hours drying before removing excess glue

10. 24 hours drying before removing excess glue

Deck 1 back from being repainted

11. Deck 1 back from being repainted

Deck 1 with Gates name plate

12. Deck 1, note the Gates name plate, it's missing from Deck 2

Deck 1, American mains supply lead & plug

13. Deck 1 partly re-assembled with a new American mains supply lead & plug

Base underside model & seriel number

14. Base plate underside anotated with model & seriel number

I didn't repaint the undersides as Caroline's engineers annotated the base plates, removing it would lose some of the history

Base underside switching

15. Stop/Start switching arrangement, believe felt pen markings added by Caroline

Previous owners

16. Previous owners

Stop/Start switching

17. Stop/Start switching remote engineering markings

Stop/Start switching

18. Stop/Start switching remote engineering markings, alternative view

I have photographs of the mercury tube's which are under the big red on/off buttons, these were rejoined with new wiring

I tracked down some new old stock in the USA but it's illegal to import mercury on aircraft with aluminum skins

Replacement wiring

19. 2" of wire replaced which had badly corroded on both decks

Original manufacturers sticker

20. Original manufacturers sticker, new ones were sourced but not fitted

Deck 2 almost complete

21. Deck 2 almost complete

Deck 2 almost complete

22. Deck 2 almost complete, alternative view

Deck 1, waiting for the tone arm

23. Deck 1, waiting for the tone arm to be fitted

Deck 1 almost complete

24. Deck 1 almost complete

Deck 2 almost complete

25. Deck 2 almost complete, alternative view

Wooden base fitted for tone arm mount

26. Wooden base fitted for tone arm mount

Thus not disturbing the mount, the original wooden Microtrack 306 16" tone arms were broken beyond repair & very hard to find, even more so when you want a pair!

But I hope to find a pair to fit in the future

Tone arm fitted to Deck 1

27. Tone arm fitted to Deck 1

Instead I've fitted Astatic Tone Arms spotted in an on-line auction

Deck 2 with tone arm fitted

28. Deck 2 with tone arm fitted

I powered both decks up and they both ran well after being left for 15 years, there was no smoke or anything amiss just a smooth turning platter

Next jobs are to fit the wiring to the arms and cartridges. Hopefully new capstans being machined for the motors to achieve the correct speed will be finished soon


Properly cared for vintage Gates Turntables are highly collectible, & command good prices

These once prolific transcription units were at most American Radio Stations, the CB series was a proffered BBC Network & Local Radio Station deck in the UK

With grateful thanks to Roy Balls for sharing his restoration with us

If any reader knows of a pair of Micro Track 306 Tone Arms please get in touch

Please feel free to contact us with any further information on the history of this pair of Gates CB 500's or any history on the CB series turntables & Radio Station that used them - Ed

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