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Radio Lazer - Part 1

Issue: 7 Updated: 5th February 2020

The first part of the full story of Europe's All Hit Radio

The beginnings of a Pan-European radio station to be moored of the South Coast of England from John Kenning's perspective

As part of the story of Radio Sovereign's emergence on the French & Italian Rivera's, I need to mention my involvement in Laser 558 because to begin with the two stations were inextricably entwined. Not a lot has been written about Laser, mainly because many facts have, until now, been kept secret

Paul Rusling's book "The Lid off Laser" has one angle, but only three people were involved in the initial concept & only one person had the original idea, me! So for the first time ever, I'll now reveal what really happened in the build-up to the extraordinary station that was to become Laser 558

Lid Off Laser

When I first came up with the idea, I had limited knowledge of how it might become reality but I knew that if it were to become viable, it would blow Radio One out of the water, so to speak

Let's rewind to the winter of 1981 when I was contracted to broadcast on Radio Arc, a radio station broadcasting to Les Arc in the French Alps. It was a great gig, no wages but a completely free skiing holiday in return for one hour every evening, broadcasting to the skiers who were holidaying there. I'd got the gig courtesy of Neil Ffrench-Blake a jolly nice chap who, at the time, was the programme director for Radio 210 Thames Valley in Reading

Laisse Faire 1966

The Laissez Faire in 1966 moored off Frinton-on-Sea Essex

During the time I was at Les Arc, Neil introduced me to a likeable & eccentric millionaire called Philip Smyth; an Irishman who owned The Sachs Hotel in Dublin. Philip was very interested in radio & admitted that he'd been invited by Chris Carey to financially back Radio Nova in Eire. Smyth had declined the offer & subsequently, Nova took off with a bang. Smyth spent the next year kicking himself for not investing

I got on really well with Smyth & after the holiday gig, kept in contact with him. The following winter of 1982, Neil called me to ask if I'd be interested in going to Les Arc again, same deal. I took it like a shot. I spoke to Philip Smyth who was also going to be there

Whilst going up in a ski lift I told Smyth about an idea that I'd had for a North Sea radio project. I outlined it as simply as possible, as a radio ship broadcasting from the North Sea. Lazer zaps in between records would be used as an audio tool to enable listeners to easily identify the station. To get around the Marine etc Offences Act, it would be staffed by American Jocks & the station would be modeled on my all time favourite pirate: Swinging Radio England

OK, it was a great dream, but by the time we had skied down the mountain, to my utter amazement, Smyth wanted to know more. By the end of the holiday, he was totally sold on the idea. Smyth had missed out on Nova, but this time he wasn't going to miss his chance!

Back in the UK, we met at the Dorchester Hotel in London, where he always stayed, and we discussed the forthcoming project into the early hours. Many meetings took place over dinner & on one memorable occasion, Smyth introduced me to a BBC news reporter called Roger Parry. I was informed that Parry would oversee the projected radio blueprint. I took an immediate dislike to him. He knew nothing about proper music radio & always looked down his nose at me in a rather haughty "I'm a BBC person" kind of way

Ross Revenge Starboard stern view

MV Ross Revenge in 1983 moored in the Knock Deep was to be re-named Imagine after the John Lennon song. Radio Caroline jingles were produced to echo this but the ship's name change never happened

"Flashback" Dateline 17th November 1982: Paul Rusling landlord of the Punch Tavern in Harbour Street Whitstable returned to his pub after collecting wife Anne & new-born daughter Dawn from hospital to find a lorry had hit the pub's sign, bucked the hinges, & came to halt a few feet from the public bars door. A nice present for Paul on his birthday (Whitstable Times)

At this point, no name had been assigned to the projected radio station although given the fact that I intended using lazar zaps, the name was actually staring me in the face. Initially though, I christened it "Radio C" which I thought might be either construed as "Radio Sea" or if nothing else, it would certainly give the Anoraks something to discuss as "C" might stand for Caroline!

The following year, 1983, was incredibly eventful. Firstly, it kicked off with a love story after a chance meeting with a young lady called Jilly Nicholson. Jilly was a dancer on TV & had formerly been with the Young Generation & Second Generation. Their leggy, high-kicking routines were watched by millions in shows like "Seaside Special" hosted by Tony Blackburn & Co

During my research to set up what was to become Laser 558, I met Howard Rose (aka Crispian St. John) & Paul McKenna. I subsequently gave Paul his first break in radio on Sovereign UK & recognised a future Kenny Everett in the making. He was very funny on Sovereign, yet when he went to Capital Radio in London years later, he wasn't

I met Paul backstage later at one of his hypnotic shows & I mentioned this. He told me that Capital had gagged him to a large extent. Shame; although he should care, look at him now!

Paul Russling

Paul Rusling outside his Public House the 'Punch Tavern' in Harbour Street Whitstable

Opposite the West Harbour entrance the pub' was mysteriously destroyed by fire on 13th September 1984

Punch Tavern

The 'Punch Tavern' (30th July 1988)

Bought by the late John Kray it was run by one of his sons renamed 'The Quayside', sold on John Kray's eldest Stephen runs the 'Bear Hotel' in Rochester, and his youngest son John ran the 'Savoy Snooker Lounge' in Whitstable until sold for residential redevelopment

I also met a guy called Paul Rusling. I recruited him for the North Sea project mainly due to the fact that he was a qualified radio engineer & possessed the required knowledge to put a ship out in the North Sea. I later set up a subsidiary company which I used for many years Hot Air Radio Productions or H.A.R.P. for short

Paul& I flew to New York to investigate buying transmitters & also to set up a sales force to sell advertising on the new radio ship. We met Roy Lindau, an experienced advertising agency guy who had handled the advertising sales for various US radio stations. Roy was completely sold on our European Radio Project & put us in touch with many useful contacts. He also placed ad's in "Billboard" the US music & radio magazine. The ad ran along the lines of "US Jocks required for a new European Offshore Radio Station. Send resume plus air check"

Charlie Wolf on MV Communicator Deck

Charlie Wolf with Fever Pitch base ball cap

Demo tapes started to arrive, we listened to every one. They were nearly all good but one really stood out. I told Roy that this guy was the American equivalent to Kenny Everett. "Who is Kenny Everett?" asked Roy. I laughed & told him to call the Jock; Whatever he wanted, we simply had to employ him. A deal was struck & I knew we had our star broadcaster. When I eventually heard Charlie Wolf on Laser, he was even better than I thought he'd be & I felt so proud that I had been the one who'd recognised his talents


Laser Zaps, Laser 730 Charlie Wolf announces tests on 558,Laser 558 Sung Jingle studio tape (C219/1)

During the next few months, I had very strong suspicions that I was being edged out of the whole operation, despite the fact that the deal I had struck with Smyth had entitled me to 50%. Despite my misgivings, I still continued to work on Radio C. I finally decided on a name for the new station. As we were going to use lazer zaps, why not call it Radio Lazer?

The frequency for our new station was 729kHz, I voiced serious misgivings as it was perilously close to BBC Radio 4. I was assured that our proposed signal would not interfere, providing our transmitter was kept strictly on channel. However, 558kHz was also a fairly clear channel & that would have been a much better frequency. I was always uneasy about 729

Ross Revenge Port Side View

Radio Caroline ship Ross Revenge in 1983

We didn't know at the time but Caroline was about to return. I can exclusively reveal that Ronan O'Rahilly actually wanted to Caroline to return on 558kHz because I had met Ronan & he actually told me so, thereby giving me the clue that 558 was a good frequency. However, she actually returned on 963kHz with Tom Anderson's somewhat under whelming, opening announcement in which, in rather muted tones, he had announced that "Caroline was back"

MV Communicator in sea mist

Appearing through the mist the MV Communicator, soon after the balloon system had been abandoned in favour of a conventional T antenna

Now let's fast forward to Spring 1984. Sovereign UK had closed & I had just had a meeting with Lindau, Rusling, Smyth & Parry plus a load of American radio people. The radio ship had been purchased; The Gardline Seeker, & Rusling had come up with "an absolute brainwave" The antenna for Radio Lazar would be attached to a balloon tied to the back of the ship which everyone was totally sold on it


Early Laser Zap Jingles, produced after meeting at Punch Tavern, Whitstable. Studio Tape (274/1)

In December 1983 the East Anglian Times announced a new Pirate Station, the MV Communicator was then moored in the Margate Roads, the deep water anchorage for ships making way to & from London & the East Coast Ports

With the station silent moral was low, the American crew under local captain Big Dave were languishing onboard or at their lodgings "The Winpoles", a guest house on Herne Bay Promenade

I was at the time working at the BBC producing interview features, and covering for David Cornett and Brian Fawkner

Invited to attend informal meetings with Rick Harris it was proposed I programme the soon to launch Lazer/Laser

It was plain even at this early stage money was a likely issue so declined

We did though have a social relationship with Laser often visiting the MV Communicator on our runs out to the Ross Revenge which can be seen in following features Laser 558 : Eurosiege : Caroline 83-4 - ED

MV Communicator Port Bow View MV Communicator Port Stern View

The Gardline Seeker was built in 1955 by Yacht U Bootswerft Aberking & Rasmussen Lemwarder

MV Communicator Port Side View

Kicking up a stink, clouds of smoke most likely fuel injectors showing poorly maintained generators, common throughout the life of Laser

Ship's Statistics

'MV Tananger'

The Communicator had been built in 1955 as a General Cargo Charter Ship 'MV Tananger'

'MV Charterer'

She became the'MV Charterer' working until 1976, then survey ship for Gardline as the 'Gardline Seeker' of Lowestoft, before conversion to a Radio Ship at Tracor Marine Fort Lauderdale

The newly named 'Communicator' was strengthened with the layout changed to accomodate two 50kW transmitters

Tananger Ships Bell 1 Tananger Ships Bell 2

The preserved ships bell rscued from the Orkney scrapyard in 2006

MV Communicator Port Bow Close Up View

Length 189', 56.95 Metres

Beam 30', 8.95 Metres

Draught 10'6", 3.169 Metres

Gross Tonnage 490, Net Tonnage 219, Deadweight 576


Moored at 51 38 63 E & 1 33 69 E

MV Communicator Port Quarter View

MV Communicator showing redundant gas bottles

MV Communicator Gas Bottles

MV Communicator close view of gas bottle racks

I strongly objected to the balloon idea but was shouted down by the Yanks who told me in no uncertain terms that during the Vietnam conflict, many radio stations had successfully used balloons with an aerial suspended. I replied that weather conditions in the North Sea were somewhat different to the conditions in 'Nam But I was out-voted

Inmarsat Pod

Inmarsat satellite communications system pod

I called Smyth & told him I was about to quit the project. The final straw was when Smyth then told me someone had made allegations that he hadn't been paid wages that I'd been given to forward to him. I swore on my daughter's life that I had paid the engineers everything that was due. I packed up everything I owned & set off for the French & Italian Riviera's

MV Communicator Starboard side deck

View along starboard side deck

MV Communicator view of deck from bridge

View from the MV Communicator bridge, with the trusty Inflatable Zodiac Taxi secured amidships

MV Communicator flags

The "I Want To Communicate With You" signal flags flutter in the light breeze

The views & opinions expressed are those of the author John Kenning & are not necessarily shared by others or this website

See John Kenning on Big L 1997

More from Laser 558 in Laser 558 : Eurosiege : Caroline 83-4

29/3/07 - Great ScrapBook this month, seriously great ScrapBook item. I was an avid Laser 558 listener & fan as a teenager, I just can't get enough reading material & pictures of this old girl

I even made my way up to Lowestoft when she came back from Holland & had a good look around her. OK, she was in a hell of a mess then but I just had to go

I am in my glory here, thank you, looking forward to the next installment

Regards - Tony G Smith, Medway Towns, Kent, UK

29/3/07 - Hey how cool is this one a seriously brilliant tale of Pirates doing down Pirates - Sharon Osbourne - London, UK

3/4/07 - Read the first installment of Laser which was very interesting. Can't wait to see the next, so get those typing fingers going - John Radio Man 1952

Laser 558 story feature continues in Radio Lazer - Part 2 or

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