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Radio Essex the Early Days

Then & Now

Initially the Knock John radio project was some what experimental, no one knew if Radio Essex would survive or be forcibly evicted by the MoD

Radio Sutch had got away with it & Radio City was by then established

Knock John Fort Grounding

Going down a treat - Knock John Naval Fort being grounded 1st August 1942

Knock John Fort settling

Settling bubbles as she hits the bottom

Painting Knock John Fort in heavy weather

WWII painting of Knock John in stormy weather courtesy of Michael Cane of Radio Essex reproduced by kind permission of the artist Ahmed Ovias

The first radio team were Vince Allen, Mike Curtis & Mark Wesley, with crew thin on the ground a number of inexperienced youngsters showing an interest were whisked out as relief to help 'knock' the place into shape

Knock John 3.7" shell lockers

3.7" Shell Lockers on Knock John

Reg Calvert had set this president when he'd launched Radio Sutch, stretched for funds, members of his groups & anyone willing were taken out for general maintenance duty& unwittingly found themselves thrust behind the microphone

Shivering Sands & Knock John distant Knock John comes into view

Shivering Sands & Knock John just visible & Knock John both from the SB Greta

A whole plethora of inexperienced young lads came via the local Whitstable Office & were used to fill the airtime on Radio City

For many it was a once in a lifetime opportunity & of those finding themselves doing programmes it never went beyond the initial stage

Paul Freeman

One such lad was Paul Freeman

Terry Palfrey renamed by the Essex people Paul Freeman was at Radio Essex early on before regular programmes began

Says Dick Palmer poor Paul found himself mercilessly bullied by the notorious Engineer Brian the 'Mad Axeman' Roberts, who'd been introduced to Radio Essex by John Thompson, originally involved with Radio Invicta

Dick Palmer made clear to Brian to leave the lad alone, but Roberts couldn't resist the temptation & continued teasing the poor boy until for his own well-being he left on the next available boat

Knock John in 1969

The looming Knock John home of Radio Essex in 1969

Roberts earnt his nick name from hacking a perfectly good transmitter to pieces with an axe

Built by Peter Clark, the transmitter had been paid for & shipped it's said with full insurance to the Knock John!

The so-called 'new' transmitter was made from parts of wrecked unit & sold back to Roy Bates

Dick recalls when it was delivered, "We couldn't believe it had a Shellac cabinet" Roberts & Thompson said this was to save on weight"

"Luckily the transmitter was useless & failed to work it would have been a fire-bomb"

Richard Palmer on Radio Essex 222

Richard Palmer on 2 double 2

'Making Waves' & the Radio Essex Documentary CD Gift Set have this story & more

Paul takes up his story ...

As a child I loved anything to do with the wireless, would read every book I could find about the BBC, look at the pictures of the studios & transmitters, I wanted to be apart of that magic world. I would ride my bike out to Brookmans Park to gaze up at the hugh aerials that towered high into the sky

"One day I'm going to be a broadcaster myself a little voice said inside & I'll come out
of those aerials"

My dad bought me a second hand tape recorder, from a mate at work on which I recorded my own wireless programmes & heard my own voice for the first time. Do I really sound like that? I'll never work for the BBC with a voice like that!

Then at Easter 1964, just as I'd left school aged 15 Radio Caroline hit the airwaves this was my big chance!

Paul Freeman's studio 1 Paul Freeman's studio 2

Paul Freeman's home built rig with a passive 3 channel mixer cost him 30/- (shillings) & a pair of Garrard SP23's & his £4.00 microphone

I sent a 7 inch spool of tape with some of my programmes on & waited to be asked to joint the crew of the MV. Caroline

A week later my tape came back along with a nice letter thanking me for my interest & telling me that they did not need anyone just at the moment. O dear, I had told all of my work mates at the local factory that I was leaving to become a DJ on Radio Caroline!

Later that summer we spent a weeks holiday on the Isle of Sheppey, in Kent sitting on the beach twiddling the tuning knob on my nice new transistor radio to hear "This is Radio City on 299 metres medium wave, broadcasting from the Shivering Sands Towers in the Thames Estuary"

I was sat there looking strait out to the very Towers just a few miles away. Further twiddling& I came across K.I.N.G. Radio, broadcasting from another fort on the Red Sands Fort. As soon as I returned home to Barnet I rushed tapes off to both these stations

Back they both came, sorry no job!

Knock John 1993

Knock John in 2003

In the autumn of the following year 1965 I read in my dad's Sunday Newspaper about the pirate war between Radio City & a Southend fisherman called Roy Bates

Mr Bates had landed some men on Knock John Tower, another Fort in the Thames, just how many of these Forts are there I thought. he'd taken off the Radio City men who were doing some "Test Broadcasts" he had grabbed the Fort & was starting Britain's first local radio station call Radio Essex. The station would be "on the air" 24 hours a day on 222 metres medium wave

Radio Essex 1965 Flyer

I rushed to the telephone box on the corner got his number & rang "Can I come a be a DJ. on Radio Essex?"

I actually got straight through to Roy himself "Yes" he said "as long as you can be down at Southend station nice & early tomorrow morning"

" I'll be there"

I borrowed a small suit case from the Lady over the road, packed my bag & told mum that I was off to work for Radio Essex. Thinking back, I don't believe she could have really known that I was going out to live on an old rusty Fort off of the coast of Britain. She'd never have let me go if she understood

Paul Freeman off Knock John

Terry Palfrey off Knock John made his debut as Paul Freeman

Roy Bates met me the next day at Southend railway station & took me to Paglesham, a small fishing village on the Essex marshes. I climbed on the tiny fishing boat & sat down with my case perched in the bows as we set off for the Knock John Fort

After several hours we arrived at the Mid-Barrow light ship where we dropped off some letters for the crew. Turning into the tide, the waves crashed over the little fishing boat & I got soaked. The boatman called "Why don't you come inside?"

Knock John in 1966

The inviting landing stage gantry Knock John 1966 less Top-House

We reached the Fort half an hour later, it loomed above us. The skipper yelled "When I say jump, jump &grab the ladder". What ladder? All I could see was a few bits of rusty iron held together with some rotten old rope a good 10 feet above us

As the boat rose up on the swell I heard " JUMP " I did & managed to grab the ladder & slowly haul myself to the top, then through a small hatch & I was there

Richard Palmer the Fort Captain showed me around, the main floor housed the living room/galley next to this was the studio, complete with 2 Garrard 401 turntables a Vortexion mixer, with Reslo Microphone & an old Ferrograph tape recorder

Artists impression of Radio Essex on Knock John

1960's drawing of Knock John with it's 'washing line' antenna by Alan Brown

The bedrooms were in the rooms that went down 7 levels inside the legs of the Fort below sea level where you could hear the sea splashing on the wall outside just a few inches from your head

The transmitter was house in the room next to the studio & spread all over the floor, there were large glowing valves & the crystal that I was told to say our wave length 2 double 2 metres

The aerial went out through an old porthole along to one of the large wartime guns then ran up to the top of the Fort & back down to the gun at the other end

I made my debut on Radio Essex in the early hours of the morning the testing ground for new DJ's

I'd been dubbed Paul Freeman by those onboard, a play on my real name Palfrey

I stayed a week or so playing to an unknown unseen audience, later it transpired Radio Essex was heard over much of Scandinavia in the small hours of the night

Knock John looking NW Knock John looking North

Knock John from SB Greta 2003

I presented my shows around 11 pm to 1 in the morning. I didn't know whether anyone could hear me

Late one night just as the boat was about to leave I said I thought I better go off, we made our way over to the Mid-Barrow light ship & went aboard, the crew were making ships in bottle & tried hard to sell me one, I probably would have bought one but had very little money, just enough for my train home

Knock John in 1967

Knock John in 1967 remnants of the landing gantry visible at low spring tide

Sadly I never went back to Radio Essex, but during the late 1960s & early 70s I hired several boats to take me out to the rusty old Fort & I even managed to climb aboard on one visit

If you're on the North Kent Coast anywhere between Whitstable & Margate look North West & on a clear day you can just see Knock John Tower on the horizon where the young lads of the 40s stopped the bombers reaching London & the lads of the 60s played records to large parts of Essex, Kent & at night most of Europe

Knock John in 1992 from air 1

Knock John in July 1992

I did eventually get a break in broadcasting working for awhile from 1971 presenting a few shows for BBC Radio Medway, one of the BBC first local radio stations as Paul Peters

Paul Peters, Garry Leeds & Geoff Kemp

Paul Peters with Garry Leeds AKA Garry Walker of the Walker Bros
& Geoff Kemp

Today Paul Peters can be heard on Forest FM on "The Fabulous 50's Radio Show" assisted by Geoff Kemp & the "Swinging 60's Show"

The 50's show was heard by award winning broadcaster & station manager Bob Kern of KFMJ in Alaska

He liked it & now it's Podcast via their KFMJ so listeners can download shows via them at anytime

I'm pleased to say that we have a lot of listeners down the west coast of the USA & one in Tucon, Arazona, called Les, who wants to start a fan club for us over there, Ha, Ha, Ha,....yes it's true!

Postscript - I was shocked to read I was bullied poor old Dick is wrong if he told you that I'm sure he didn't mean any harm, but it's WRONG. The rest of the artical is wonderful so thank you for making such a truly splendid job of it. I'm sorry for my outburst, but it was a shock to read that & I felt as though people would think that I left because I was forced to leave which is not true. I was, I suppose home sick & worried about my family, that's why I left I know now 43 years later that I should not have done so.

My best wishes, Terry (Paul)

Knock John in 1992 from air 2

Knock John in July 1992

Greenpeace Flag on Knock John

Knock John on 30th June 2008 @ 19.53 flying a hand crafted 'Greenpeace' Flag

Paul Peters in LV18 studio

Paul Peters gets to grips with the chair on Pirate BBC Essex

Dave Cash & Paul Peters

Cash n Peters on the LV18

17/6/09 - I still have this urge to go back to Knock John for the last time one day. I say this every year, but never get the time to do it. I had an email from a lady who says that it was her Dad that took me out to the fort back in November 1965 and she has offered to arange a trip for me. Perhaps I could make it into some sort of radio show?

I spent fout fabulous days up at Harwich at Easter, quite out of the blue, the BBC asked me to do a 3 hour show for "Pirate BBC Essex". Whoooow it was just wonderful! Although I must admit that I was not too happy with my show. I felt that I could have done much better. The studio was not easy to use, the microphone seemed quite to me and the chair kept moving on it's castors, away from the desk. I should have had an hour getting used to it before I went on the air, but it was fun and the best thing for me was the fact that my show followed on from the great Emperor Rosko. almost certaily my 'Swan Song'! I had more than 50 emails come into the show and dozens of Texts, they came from all over the world as far away as New Zealand.

Paul Peters

Grateful thanks to RAF Manston for the pictures of Knock John in 1992, Micahel Cane for the Knock John painting

For all of the Radio Essex/BBMS features navigate from the ScrapBook Index

For details on all the Thames Estuary Forts see Fort Fax

For our book on Radio Essex called 'Making Waves' & the documentary CD's 'The Radio Essex Story' visit the Offshore Shop

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