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I Hear You Knocking

Issue: 2 Updated: 29th March 2012

Second in the Relics Series this one marks the anniversary of start of Radio Essex transmissions with echoes from the Knock John Fort

Radio Essex Letter Head # 1

1. Radio Essex Letter Head Top Left

Testing began on 27th October with a programme schedule introduced on 7th November 1965


Audio Break

David Sinclair on the BBMS Big Band Show on the 21st October 1966

Knock John in 1966

2. Home of Radio Essex/BBMS

'Britain's Better Music Station' was on the Knock John Naval Fort pictured above in 1966 with its partially collapsed war-time Dolphin, which was added as an after thought by designer Guy Maunsell to aid supply ships

Roy Bates Letter Head

Roy Bates Letter Head Foot

3 & 4.Harry Putnam writes & later leaves his visiting card below

BBMS 813 Tranmitter Output Valve

5. The last BBMS 813 transmitter output valve

Was discovered on the Fort & retrieved in 1967

Finally gaining an RCA ET4336 transmitter some reliability was achieved but power output & quality was variable largely due to the haphazard antenna system used on the fort

Here's our technical consults analogy ......

The Navy Forts weren't big enough to erect a decent sized antenna even for frequencies near the 1500 kc/s part of the band. So a compromise had to be made by using a smaller than technically-necessary antenna. On Knock John it never got any better than scaffold poles so 40% top efficiency. Even with an RCA ET4336 output in pairs of 813's, the homemade mods etc didn't help, so it's absolute max tx rf output 250W, those antenna deficiencies hammed it such that even with a good tx output the actual rf radiated could have been as low as 50W emrp as an example of this, Radio Essex / BBMS on 222m

N.B. EMRP = Effective Monopole Radiated Power, essentially compares an antenna with a reference antenna that radiates 300mV/m at 1km with 1000W power applied to it

One important point worth mentioning is that the offshore stations had a trump card in their favour, that was the efficiency of the earth system. There is no better conductor than salt water both for the actual rf installation & for the rf to flow over before it hits land. The absorption of the field over sea water is minimal compared to the best path over the earth. The BBC used this property to their advantage in the stations at Washford, Somerset, to cover South Wales. Start Point Devon, to cover the entire south coast eastwards & Burghead, Scotland

David Porter G4OYX, ex BBC Transmitter Engineer

Harry Putnam Radio Essex Business Card

6. Harry Putnam Radio Essex Business Visiting Card

Criticised for being "off beat" much Radio Essex music came courtesy of Harry Putnam's own collection that he'd brought over from the States which comprised R&B by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Black Artists, US Radio hits & LP's by artists unbroken in Britain

The stations format varied enormously originally 30'- 60' strip shows were demanded by Roy Bates but with a small crew this was untenable, so a loose MoR 3 hour strip daytime format adopted

More racyPop & R&B was designated to the Essex Beat Club, a kind of late night DX style programme

Knock John 3.7 Gun Plate

7. Gun operation plate from Knock John

Lost until rediscovered by chance in the Medway Towns a 3.7" AA Gun automatic loading system plate from Knock John fitted when the gun was commissioned, believed to be American supported by the spelling was removed before the Fort was used for broadcasting & held by Ian Scoones, the plate has subsequently been preserved together with a silicone mould & a fibre glass casting

The schedule did gain popularity mainly across South East Essex & parts of Kent but it wasn't to last, Roy Bates was summons on 28th September 1966 contravened Section 1 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1949 for using a transmitter without a licence at Knock John Tower

Thinking big Bates changed the stations name from Radio Essex to Britain's Better Music Station, or BBMS as it was better known

On the 30th November 1966 Bates pleaded guilty of the charge & was fined £100

Postcard Reception Report

8. Who ever told him it would be 25KW!

Even though new datum lines of so called drying sandbanks had been drawn bringing Knock John a mile & a half within inshore waters, Bates stated that he believed the Fort was outside territorial limits

But with the anti-pirate law pending advertisers had deserted the station, with revenue below a sustainable level Radio Essex ran out of money & unceremoniously closed down for the final time at 4.30pm on Christmas Day 1966

3.7 Gun in 1979

9. One of the Knock Johns 3.7" guns in 1979

The equipment was dismantled & taken to Roughs Fort of Felixtowe & whilst there are rumors of Radio Essex being heard up to 3rd January 1967 these are unfounded

Knock John in Summer 2003 # 1 Knock John in Summer 2003 # 2

10 & 11. The Knock John Fort looking South towards the Kent Coast & East towards Margate in Summer 2003

No visual sign of the flimsy war-time Dolphin but various odd bits of debris, detectable by echo-sounder litter the sea bed

Knock John in Summer 2003 # 3

12. Even when calm note the swirl of the ebbing tide

Radar top House & guns gone Knock John looks a sorry state

Knock John Fish & Chip Shop 2003

13. So famous in these parts they named a Fish & Chip shop after it at Greenhill Herne Bay Kent

But since publication these premises have ceased trading under the Knock John name

Knock John 3D Image # 1 Knock John 3D Image # 2

14 & 15. Three dimensional model images of the Knock John Naval Fort

Knock John 3D Image # 3 Knock John 3D Image # 4

16 & 17. Produced by Mark Wesley

Knock John 3D Image # 5 Knock John 3D Image # 6

18 & 19. These have been made for a film

Knock John 3D Image # 7 Knock John 3D Image # 8

20 & 21. To illustrate life on the Radio Essex/BBMS Radio Fort

Radio Essex Letter Head # 2

22. Radio Essex Letter Head Top Right

DJ Dance Magazine article Part 1 DJ Dance Magazine article Part 2

DJ Dance Magazine article Part 3

23. Radio Essex article in a 1980's DJ Dance DJ Magazine - Download large : jpg 1 : jpg 2 : jpg 3

Radio Essex & BBMS Facts & Figures

September 1965 - Roy Bates takes control of Knock John Fort from Radio City

27th/28th October 1965 - Test transmissions begin on 1351kHz/1353kHz announced as 2 double 2 metres using a converted USAF 1kW RCA Victor Beacon Transmitter fed into a tangle of wires held aloft on scaffold poles & other jurry rigged arrangements

Studio equipment is similar ex-military & domestic: A pair of Garrard 401's & Collaro turntable, a Reslo RBT vocalists microphone, A Vortexion 50 Watt valve amplifier, Vortexion open reel tape recorder, MoD headphones & a home made passive mixer

7th November 1965 - Regular programmes commenced, transmission hours varied from 07.00 - 19.00, 07.00 - 21.00 with a return to air at 23.00 - 02.00 for the Essex Beat Club

Radio Essex was to be different from the other stations, it had to be local, different musically operating 24 hours a day as soon as possible

January 1966 - 24 hour programmes began

Radio Essex Programmes Schedule

06.00 - 09.00 Get Up & Go Show

09.00 - 12.00 Good Morning Show

12.00 - 15.00 Mid-Day Spin

15.00 - 18.00 The Sound of Music

18.00 - 19.00 Essex Goes Pop

19.00 - 20.00 Instrumental Hour

20.00 - 23.00 R&B & All That Jazz

23.00 - 03.00 Essex Beat Club

03.00 - 06.00 Night Owl

Wednesday 28th September 1966 - Roy Bates is fined under the Wireless Telegraphy act of 1949

Monday 3rd October 1966 - Radio Essex changes its name to Britain's Better Music Station (BBMS)

BBMS Programme Schedule

06.00 - 09.00 Daybreak

09.00 - 12.00 Morning Melody

12.00 - 15.00 Musical Magazine

15.00 - 18.00 Music Till Six

18.00 - 19.00 Swing Session (Big Band Show)

19.00 - 21.00 Evening Inn

21.00 - 00 Formula 66/67 Part 1

00.00 - 03.00 Formula 66/67 Part 2

03.00 - 06.00 Formua 66/67 Part 3

30th November 1966 - Roy Bates pleads guilty of using an unlicensed transmitter & is fined £100.00 BBMS stays on the air pending appeal changing frequency to 1349kHz

Sunday 25th December 1966 - BBMS Closes for the final time at 16.30 the station is dismantled & taken to Roughs Tower

27th January 1967 - An appeal fails finding the Knock John 1.5 miles inside inland waters, no further appeals were made

A-Z of Radio Essex/BBMS Staff

Vince Allen - Programme Director/Senior DJ from September - November 1965

Vince collapsed in studio through exhaustion in the early days of the 1 hour shows

Joan Bates - Wife to Roy responsible for office/supplies from September 1965

Michael Bates - Son of Roy & Joan involved in transfer of station to Roughs from December 1966

Penny Bates - Daughter to Roy & Joan, no involvement

Roy Bates - Owner/Commercial Voice from September 1965

Mike Brerton - Radio Engineer from June 1966

Michael Cane - DJ/Cook from February to June 1966

Peter Clark - Radio Engineer built a 2kW wooden shellac cased transmitter in early 1966

Mike Curtis - DJ from October 1965 to May 1966

Dick Dixon - Radio Engineer/DJ from March 1966

Paul Freeman - DJ in test period September 1965

Guy Hamilton - DJ replaced Van Sterling from June - November 1966

Graham Johns - Breakfast DJ from November 1965 to June 1966

John Knight - DJ from November 1965

Tony Mandell - DJ from June 1966 to January 1967

Richard/Dick Palmer - Fort Captain (Station Manager)/Essex Beat Club DJ from September 1965 to January 1967 Dick lived in Petts Wood came up with the Radio Essex programmes schedule after the failure of the 1 hour programmes, he devised the Essex Beat Club based on London's Flamingo Club

Harry Putman - Sales Manager/Commercial Voice from November 1965 to June 1966

Brian Roberts - Radio Engineer from November 1965

Keith Robinson - Cheif Radio Engineer from November 1965 to June 1966

Roger Scott - DJ from November 1965 to November 1966

David Sinclair - DJ/big band specialist from January to November 1966

Living in Orpington David saw the article writen in Kentish Times by Sue Baker about Dick Palmer & Radio Essex, Sue went to the Evening News then TV's Top Gear, we believe her daughter Erin writes for The Telegraph

Van Sterling - DJ from January 1966

Chris Stewart - DJ later Programme Director served from September 1965 to June 1966

John Thompson - Radio Engineer produced a working transmitter from odd parts taken from the useless Peter Clark unit in early 1966

Ken Veal - Anorak supporter friend of Dick Plamer lives in Orpington, never visited Fort

Guy Vernon - DJ from November 1965 to June 1966

Mark West - DJ from September 1965 to January 1967

24/8/08 - Harry Putman is my sister's ex brother-in-law his daughter Michelle was a bridesmaid at my sister's wedding who lived in New Zeeland and is now in Austrailia - Penelope Jane Darby-Smith

Grateful thanks to David Porter, Jon Myer, Steve Norris, Chris Stewart, Mark Wesley & Terry Vacani for their help in producing this feature

For the full story of Radio Essex see our book Making Waves & the CD Gift Set The Radio Essex Story

For all the Radio Essex & BBMS Knock John features navigate from ScrapBook Index & for Roughs Fort & Sealand navigate from Sealand One

For a brief history of all the Thames Estuary Forts see Fort Fax

We have a range of documentary CD's, the Sealand VCD, books in the Offshore Shop


[HOME] (c)Bob Le-Roi 2005