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Radio Lazer - Part 2

Issue: 4 Updated: 27th March 2014

Second & concluding part of the the story of Lazer

Testing as Laser 730 launching as Laser 558, & finally resurrected as Laser Hot Hits

Over in the UK, things in the North Sea were hotting up. With Caroline still broadcasting on 963kHz, Laser was now getting ready to join the Old Girl. It would be interesting to see whether Caroline would spread its "Loving Awareness" around a competitor!

Bridge of Ross Revenge

The bridge of MV Ross Revenge in 1983

Communicator in 1984 ready to test

The Communicator arrives in the Knock Deep, drops anchor at 2.5 miles South of the Ross Revenge at 16 miles off Walton on the Naze in readiness for the first low powered test transmissions on 15th February 1984

I had varying reports on Laser, news reached me that they had sailed out from Eire where the ship had been fitted out under the guise of a scientific research & exploratory ship. Days later I heard that Laser were just about to start test transmissions. "Are they still going with the balloon idea?" I enquired? Back came the reply "They've got six large balloons plus a supply of helium on board." I recalled the manic 1960s show called "Laugh In"… replied "veeeeeery inteeeeerrrrresting" We rigged up a long wire aerial at Sovereign & tuned in to 729kHz

Laser 730 balloon

Flying it's balloon the 730kHz sporadic tests were conducted until March 1984

MV Communicator in sea mist

The MV Communicator in the Knock Deep anchored with her first T antenna

We listened over the next few days, it was clear to me that Laser's new management team had stolen all my programming ideas. Most of the Jocks were American. They'd even nicked the station name I'd thought of, although they had changed the spelling from Lazer to Laser, later to change to Laser 558. They had even nicked my idea of broadcasting non-stop Beatles music for their test transmissions. I had done this on Sovereign in the UK when we'd started in 1983 & it'd worked well. The one thing they didn't' have were the speeded up zaps … only I had those!

MMI Headed Paper

Representing USA Radio Roy Lindau owned MMI a major marketing office for Radio in the States & Laser off Europe


Audio Break

One of the early advertise on Laser 558 commercials by Rick Harris from original studio tape (C219/1)

I didn't know whether to be happy that my North Sea Radio project had actually worked or whether to be bitter. I also had to concede that the balloon with an antenna suspended did actually give out a belting signal, at least it did for a while. In a way I felt beaten, but then a couple of funny things happened. We continued monitoring Laser's progress. One day, Laser was off the air. We waited for it to return. It did. Then it went off again almost immediately. We soon discovered that severe weather conditions had blown their supply of balloons, complete with antennas, all the way to Norway!

MV Communicator Port stern view

Prior to arrival she'd spent some months anchored in the ship moorings at Margate Roads awaiting clearance to go on air. The early Balloon Tests were enough to spur Philip Smyth into investing more money in the project

The test signals with the Laser Zaps gave away the format as contemporary hot hits

The ship wasn't ideal for broadcasting being light she's been ballasted but with a high freeboard rolled even in the lightest of seas. The studios too were high up in the ship at accommodation level & at the stern of the ship so DJ's suffered the worst of the weather

Fortunately the station had been modeled on American Radio Station AM studios with all audio played from NAB Cartridges which were unaffected by the ships heavy rolling & corking

After the balloon fiasco between 7th & 23rd May 1984 Laser had a conventional T antenna built at sea & adopted 558 kHz/538 Metres Medium Wave the former Radio Veronica frequency

This proved to be shrewd move with the station penetration good even into the evenings across the UK & much of Europe & by July she'd a DJ team of 10 & a strong audience 9 million but no commercials

Laser had no option but to return to base for an aerial re-think. With a new aerial configuration, this time built by Andy Gemmel-Smith, Laser recommenced broadcasting. This time, they used the frequency 558kHz using the call sign "Laser 558"

Laser 558 Bumper Sticker

The Laser 558 Car or should we say Bumper Sticker for the station that ran from 6th May 1984 - 5th November 1985

MV Communicator starboard side

MV Communicator with painters derrick over side

Philip Smyth is estimated to have spent at least £1m on Laser. However, he has obviously recovered his losses now (see "Where are they now?" below)

MV Communicator forward mast

Communicator forward mast antenna arrangement

What would have happened if I had not been edged out of the Laser project? I've often wondered. It's fair to say that its demise would still have happened but certainly, it would have not have had such a bad start. If I may cite three examples of my expertise in radio. Sovereign in the UK was incredibly successful under my management. Sovereign International was also a very successful radio station and in terms of listener figures (considering that there were at least another 50 stations to chose from), we completely wiped the board. Many of the programming ideas that I instigated for Laser were used & when things went well, which they did after the balloon fiasco, they netted around ten million listeners. I make no apologies for boasting but the facts speak for themselves!


Audio Break

Laser 558 ran a popular weekend feature the 60s Sunday this was promoted heavily across the European TSA, Dutch & Erin Kelly versions from original studio tapes (C219/1)

I think it's worth mentioning one final, amusing occurrence. Peter Hounam, an excellent, investigative reporter with London's Evening Standard, called me soon after Laser went on air. He wanted detailed information about Philip Smyth. He also asked me "Was it true that the BBC reporter, Roger Parry, was involved in Laser?"

Susan Charles & Erin Kelly

Erin Kelly of Laser 558 visits her friend Susan Charles on Caroline, the Ross Revenge being at anchor a nautical mile from the MV Communicator

------

The original crew made inroads ashore & were replaced, our relationship had grown with them & we often "helped" when & where we could

We "entertained" many of the Laser crew amongst them Mighty Joe Young, & Blake Williams who'd rented a house in Harbour Street Whitstable, as social companions we were learning first hand about life with Laser

On Blake's final shift, having not been paid he jumped ship for Caroline where he made a welcome contribution to the output in terms of ideas & presentation

Laser Audio-Technica AT812 Microphone

For favours to the station I was given a Laser studio microphone (above) one of the Audio-Technica AT812's, this I've used since for interviews on portable equipment, & for a time it was used by my News Journalists at Medway FM for outside work

I refused to give any information about Smyth, and Hounam only managed to unearth a few sketchy details about him. With regard to Parry, I thought about the way he'd treated me & his collusion with others to oust me from the Laser project. Hounam flew out to meet me, he was a really nice guy. I took great pleasure in handing him documentary evidence of Parry's involvement in Laser

Double page articles subsequently appeared in both The Standard & The Sunday Times. In both features, the headlines screamed

"Exclusively revealed - The Mysterious People Behind Radio Laser."

Smyth, Parry & I were named & shamed! I still have the articles; one day, I'll frame them

Laser 558 QSL Card

MV Communicator on the highly retouched Laser 558 QSL Card with Caroline's Ross Revenge in the background

However, the consequences for Parry resulted in the BBC firing him. Rather foolishly, Parry denied being involved with Laser! The BBC informed him that if he was innocent, he must sue The Standard & Sunday Times for libel, they the BBC would then re-instate him if he took action. He didn't so they didn't

Diotric Surveyor from Air

Cry's of "Laser's stealing our audiences" came from MD's at ILR: Eddie Blackwell at Essex Radio & Cecilia Gannett Invicta Radio complained of unfair competition, needle-time restrictions dictated & still does that radio pays to play

Laughable when amongst their ranks were the likes of Roger Day & Dave Rogers & other former Offshore Jocks who'd been only too pleased to give the BBC some stiff competition

But with so much fuss HMG instigated the now famous blockade of the 80's, on the 8th August 1985 the Communicator was buzzed by a helicopter a day later the Dioptric Surveyor a 99' ocean going launched dropped anchor between the two radio ships with a purpose to cut the lifeline of food, water, fuel & supplies

The Government charted vessel monitoring movements around the Radio Ships & sometimes giving pursuit of vessels leaving the ships

I Spy for DTI Record

Whilst the Yanks put on a brave face & did their best to shrug off the blockade they'd named "Eurosiege" But with cracks appearing the as Laser 558 from the MV Communicator struggled to keep going

Recorded at Maison Rouge Studios in London, Laser based their version on Sad Cafe's I wanna Be a Cowboy; John Wilson opens the song, then its Paul Young, the MoD man is Rob Day & Erin Kelly & Liz West the girl vocalists

Versions of Happy Radio with Edwin Starr, Ain't No stopping Us Now (McFadden & Whitehead) Everlasting Love (Love Affair) & Born to Be Wild (Stepenwolf) were in planned production all by DJ's from Laser

1st released in 1966 as I Spy (for the FBI) by US male vocalist Jamo Thomas (Polydor 56755) & made #48 in the chart on 26 February 1969 & re-entered making #4 12 March, if you can find a Shake Hip Mama version it's worth about £10

It did though produce some interesting radio moments & spawned the Moronic Surveyors record

The Untouchables an American vocal/instrumental band also released a version of the song (Stiff Buy 227) this made #59 27 July 1985 & was the likely inspiration of Lasers version


Audio Break

Chuck Cannon, the controversial I Spy For The DTI, & Laser New Music promo'

With the approach of winter & worsening weather on 31st October 1985 the sister ship to the Communicator the Gardline Tracker replaced the Dioptric Surveyor

The Daily Mail reported on 2nd November 1985 that Laser was bankrupt, during John Leeds programme on 5th november 1985 at around 12.21 pm Laser abruptly left the air

Suffolk Skipper Patrick Paternoster had requested help to lift the Communicator's anchor after a generator failure

Refusing a tow the Communicator steamed into Harwich on 6th November 1985 Eurosiege was hailed a success Laser 558 had been starved off air

Communicator comes into Harwich

The Communicator comes into Harwich under her own steam escorted by the Police Launch Ian Hunter

In alphabetical order, where are they now?

Garner Ted-Armstrong - American Evangelical broadcaster whose regular polemical "fire & brimstone" broadcasts were heard on Radio City & Radio London (Big L) in the Sixties, sadly died 2003

Neil Ffrench-Blake - Successful author; current whereabouts unknown

4/08/08 I have been told by an American publisher that I appear on your web-site, 'whereabouts unknown'

So here's my whereabouts: 10 Highwood Close, Newbury, Berkshire, UK (in the summer) 504 Arc-en-Ciel, Vallandry, Landry 73210, France (in the winter)

With very best wishes, yours sincerely,
Neil ffrench-Blake

Peter Hounam - Currently living in Scotland. Peter exposed Israel's atomic secrets in a newspaper article in 1986, when he was in the Country to make a BBC documentary. In 2004, he was arrested by the Israeli authorities & held in solitary confinement. He was later released

John Kenning - Finally settled down (ish) & married Elaine five years ago. Currently flits between homes in London, Paris & Geneva whilst struggling to finish a children's TV series he's been writing for fifteen years

Roy Lindau - Believed to be currently involved with Transition Networks a New York-based communications agency

Paul McKenna - Went on to become a successful hypnotist; his weight loss & training programmes have made him a multi millionaire

MV Communicator from Air

The MV Communicator from the air

Roger Parry - Currently C.E.O. of the International Division of Clear Channel International Ltd. His website states that he was a BBC reporter for seven years but oddly, makes no mention of the fact that he was fired. S'funny that!

Howard Rose - Sadly died July 2002 - RIP

Paul Rusling - Entr

Philip Smyth - Still operates the Sachs Hotel in Dublin but is involved in bitter litigation over the lease. He also has clubs in Leopardstown, Clontarf & Sandymount, he's investing €4m in redevelopment of the Central Hotel in Dublin. Currently, his company, Templeville Developments, which is in dispute with the Revenue Commissioners, is developing hotels in the centre of Sarajevo

Charlie Wolf Card

Charlie Wolf - Currently broadcasts on Big L Radio

Many thanks to all the Great Mates who assisted with dates & names etc that had escaped me. If you have any further info or updates; please email the editor

The story of Radio Lazer written exclusively for www.bobleroi.co.uk by - John Kenning (c) 2006 All Rights Reserved

DJ Rosta

Jessie Brandon, Chris Carson, Chuck Cannon, Dave Chaney, Jeff Davis, Michael Dean, Paul Dean, Rick Harris, DJ Johnny, Jonell, Erin Kelly (1) John Leeds, Jay Mack, Steve Masters, Holy Michaels, Tommy Rivers, David Lee Stone, Craig Novac, Liz West, Blake Williams (2) Charlie Wolf, Mighty Joe Young,

(1) Erin Kelly joined in February 1985 along with Chis Carson & Liz West it was Erin that coined the name Laserettes for the girl Jocks

(2) Blake Williams was one of the early Jocks who with DJ Johnny was heard on the test transmissions

Who've we missed?

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

See John Kenning on Big L 1997

The Laser Story continues in Laser Hot Hits - Part 1

MV Communicator in 1983 from above

You can see & learn more about the tempestuous time of Laser in Laser 558 & Eurosiege

The Laser 558 story from John Kenning's perspective

25th March 2014 - If you stand by Kennings claim that my 'Lid off Laser' book has mislead I challenge proving this. All the information contained is 100% true, an awful lot has been omitted the owner’s name was split to the Evening Standard, who hired and cajoled me to join him

I have a whole portfolio full of radio broadcast qualifications, and continue to work in radio engineering. My company has now provided broadcast services to 42 legal and licensed radio stations, including 3 Public Service / State Broadcaster companies (e.g. Nozema) and to the world’s leading transmitter company, Harris, for whom we still act as contractors on high power MW sites


I left Laser in about March 1983 because of promised money issues. I understand that John Kenning left Laser in July 83, 3 months after I'd gone for the first time. He & I meet Roy Lindau, and a transmitter company. By August 1983 John Kenning had bought the Communicator, selected the helium balloon, though Roy claimed that as his idea - Paul Rusling

If you were in anyway or part involved in the Laser story we'd be pleased to hear from you, pictures, details & credits added as received - ED

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