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The Radio Tower Project - Part 1

Issue: 2 Updated: 5th February 2016

Much has been said, a little written & heard, but almost nothing seen:

For the 1st time the full & true unabridged story of the ill fated offshore project to launch a Pirate Television Channel & Radio Station from the Sunk Head Fort 9.75 nautical miles (11.21 miles) off the Essex coast

Produced from Transcripts of interviews with the people involved, newspaper cuttings, personal pictures, diary entries, office notes & letters

Pictures are from contact prints, personal pictures, & photographs from the Martin Stevens Collection

Part 1 of a 5 part feature: 'From Radio Pamela to Radio Tower'

Bow of the Pamela

George Shorts 18ft motor boat Pamela named after his wife

Reg Torr MD of TD Television in Clacton came up with the idea to use his Service Manager, Electronics Engineer, George Shorts boat, the 18 ft Pamela

George had built & assembled the makeshift gear for a small low power Local Radio Station for North East Essex

East Essex Gazette Newspaper Head

The East Essex Gazette reports

East Essex Gazette Newspaper Front Page Headline

Banner Headline Friday May 14th 1965

Maurice Tarling & Reg Torr take gear to the Pamela

Maurice Tarling & Reg Torr walking down the hard at Brightlingsea prepare for the 1st broadcast, a Vortexion Amplifier & old fishing rod improvised as a whip Antenna taken down the ramp to the Pamela

Tests were carried out on land around Colchester on Thursday 13th May on 1395 kHz at 250 watts, with a full service promised commencing on 16th May 1965 on or around 234 mww 11.00 - 15.00 on Sundays, with predicted coverage for Clacton, Harwich, Mersea Island & Colchester

East Essex Gazzette Radio Pamela story

Front Page News the East Essex Gazette story

Maurice Tarling & Ken Harper both worked for Reg Torr at TD Television, Colechester

25th October 1013 - I just received confirmation from one of his daughters that the Ken Harper in the article is indeed our Ken Harper. Thank you so much for sharing the story. It's exciting to see what a relative has accomplished or was involved in. He died in 1975 so I didn't get to know him and his children from his 2nd and 3rd marriages so knew him little. My gran' and Ken were divorced when my mum was young, and his children from his 3rd marriage were quite young when he passed on. Again, thank you for posting the article - Jules Bono

The Pamela would anchor each week 3.5 miles off the Essex coast close to the Gunfleet Lighthouse for each weekends broadcasts

See Fort Fax for the Gunfleet Lighthouse

The station failed to appear on 16th, but an 8 hour transmission on 1343kHz, 223 metres materialised on Wednesday 19th May from Pamela, with a single wire antenna held aloft from the whip by a Helium Balloon

The Pamela is launched Ken Harper & Maurice tarling prepare to go live

A simple day boat with an outboard motor, the tiny Pamela was cramped & hardly ideal as a broadcast platform

Adjusting the power amplifier Ken Harper makes the opening announcement

No picture exists of the transmitter which we're told was a Polish RCA

What's unclear is how sufficient power was derived to run the pre-recorded tape programmes on the Ferrograph, the amplifier, & transmitter?

Again we're told some programmes were 'live'

Maurice Tarling takes the microphone on deck

An A/C converter from the outboard motor may have just about coped, but because of noise 'live links' would have been difficult to impossible

Radio Pamela was a great publicity stunt, realising the problems & costs involved in just transmitting once weekly programmes, & not wanting to pursue the venture further Reg Torr pulled out

George Short wanted to continue & brought in Local Businessman Eric Sullivan

Eric Sullivan

Eric Sullivan

Having acquired an former Canadian Army Wireless set #52 transmitter that used just one single 813 output valve

The Radio Pamela team then supposedly contacted Reg Calvert who'd declined to become involved, presumably by then he was advanced with his own plans for Radio Sutch

Having spoken to Reg, Radio Pamela decided to find a fort, their 1st thought was to use Knock John at that time unoccupied, but instead chose the closer Roughs

Eric Sullivan, John Waters & one of John's friends made a trip out in a hired boat owned by Skipper Tubby Bennett, but in choppy seas they were unable to get aboard

With plans to return a week later, word reached Percy Scaddon, Radio Caroline's Shipping Agent, & the Fort was taken over by caretakers on behalf of Radio Caroline

Sunk Head from the Girl Betty

Sunk Head from the Girl Betty

That left the Sunk Head, but word from local pilots told that the Fort was also held by Radio Caroline

Following a severe storm the custodians of the Fort were taken off, John Waters made another trip out & confirmed the Fort deserted

Hiring Ron Pipe's Burnham-on-Crouch based Girl Betty, Sunk Head Tower was boarded & taken over by the would be radio/television team on 13th October 1965

Fort Guards John Boulter & Terry Lambeth both in their mid-20's were already aboard, to hold the fort whilst it was fitted out for broadcasting & to be fort maintenance men

In a terrible condition the Fort's legs were flooded below the water line with the water rising & falling with each tide

Sitting low in the deep rough water tendering, particularly in the winter was to prove a hazardous challenge

Arrival at Sunk Head

Arrival at Sunk Head with the solid fixed 9" personnel ladder hooked onto the fort at the South end with 3.7" Gun embellished JOHN

Advertising for adventurous staff Eric Sullivan persuaded John Waters to stay with the project, living in Clacton with wife Julie, he'd worked as a painter & decorator before the Tower adventure

John had a knowledge of local music & with a friend had made some local recordings of bands which were played at local venues

John's friend lived across the road from Eric Sullivan so the contact made

John Waters

John Waters

John was followed by American Country Music fan & competent DJ Dave Simser, who'd tracked down the operation having seen a Radio Tower news item on television

Later Derek Massen a TV Service Engineer was brought in as Transmitter Engineer, along with Junior Electrician Bill Rollins

Radio Caroline's Norman St John is said to have shown an interest in joining the project but this might be speculation

Graffiti on the fort

South end of Sunk Head looking West, difficult to read graffiti which read HMS SHAKELTON

Well outside the then territorial limit off Walton-on-Naze, Sunk Head was immune to prosecution, but was in deeper water than the other three Naval Forts

In strong currents, years of big seas breaking over the Fort & flooding below the getting alongside was often difficult & dangerous


Audio Break

 Early weak test transmissions from the Sunk Head Fort with George Short made during the 1st week of November 1965 on 1261kHz, 216 Metres Medium Wave

Towerad early compliment slip

The Tower Radio office was initially at Robin Garton's Families Holiday Camp & Studio base in Walton-on-Naze

After some work to make the Fort was almost habitable & installing primitive broadcast & studio equipment, comprising old Collaro decks, a home built mixer, & amplifiers

Tower Radio announced with weak tests commencing on the 22nd October 1965 using a Helium filled Barrage Balloon, this broke free never to be seen again, then a Kite was tried, but again lost

Inside the fort at deck level Bill Rollins does a test

Left: Inside Sunk Head, the only usable part of the Fort, the main deck with doors to W/C's, wash & bathrooms on left

Commanding officers office, 3 man officers cabin & then galley on right, plan below

Right: Young Bill Rollins came to Tower with Dave Simser in the background in December 1965, above on the tedious test transmissions

The radio signal was just audible ashore, so the task began to build an antenna array on top of the forts teak radar house, testing continued with George Short often behind the microphone, family greetings to his wife Pam & daughters Julie, Linda & Diane

Undaunted Eric Sullivan announced that a television & radio station would open in November with a coverage of around 40 miles inland

The television station would be on air after BBC & ITV closed down, for around 3 hours each night covering a 25 mile radius with old films, cartoons, local news & of course commercials

Channel 5 was selected even though then reserved for space research

The Venus rolls in the swell

Venus tendering rolls in the swell

On the 28th October a distress call was heard, with sea choppy seas the stations own boat was unable to sail, another vessel mistakenly made for Roughs, yet another ship sighted a distress signal hoisted from Sunk Head, & the Walton Lifeboat was dispatched to take off George Short suffering prostrate pain as he'd forgotten to take out his medication

Thereafter all calls from Pirate Radio was monitored very carefully & the RNLI making the point it wasn't a rescue or supply service for radio stations offshore

Venus alongside

Venus begins transfer of supplies: Scaffold poles for the antenna with Chris Gosling, Bill Rollins holding a mug of tea, Dave Simser & John Boulter looking on

The Venus was to be the vessel used to take out a new Oman Generator in the closing chapter of the stations life

Testing continued at just 250 watts on 1350kHz 222 metres, 1341kHz 224 metres,

1293kHz 232 metres, 1258kHz 238 metres, 1280kHz 234 metres & 1265kHz 237 metres

Top of fort antennas

Sunk Head teak radar hose it's with assorted array of antennas

In tandem with work on the Fort, new offices opened in Trinity Street Colchester, as George Short pulled out through illness, new backers were sought

Irish Millionaire Steve O'Flaherty put some money in but stayed in the background, Tommy Shields who was to go on & launch Radio Scotland showed interest but never invested

Peter Jeeves came onboard investing as Co-Director & Dave Simser put in his life savings of £2000

Peter Jeeves

Peter Jeeves Co-Director & MD of Towerad, Peter had previously been in sales & marketing at Conde Nast Publications & Southern Television, he invested £10,000 on the understanding of joint managing directorship

With offices locally at 15 Trinity Street Colchester others opened in Dublin & Park Lane in London's Mayfair

New Companies were formed & registered in Ireland: Vision Projects, Radio Hayward's Heath & Sullivan Jeeves Holdings

Deck level under fort wing

Aboard Sunk Head under the West wing, clearly showing water pooling in the heavily pitted bitumen covering over steel deck plates

With a planned highly local format for an advertised catchment across East Anglia, Tower promised to be the 1st true local Radio Pirate offering something very different to the mainline Offshore Stations

With a rumored television channel Towers plans were indeed ambitious

Radio Tower shop window sticker

Radio Tower Shop Window Sticker

On the Fort things weren't so rosey, heavy seas had prevented the Girl Betty making out from Burnham-on-Crouch, supplies & fuel were getting dangerously low

Tower S-O-S

Radio Tower S-O-S

3.7" gun

The South 3.7" gun one of Sunk Heads two big guns

With the ship-shore link to Colchester being ignored, those onboard were left wondering if they'd been forgotten

Sunk Head Fort

Meanwhile onshore word reached the offices of Tower that any Television Broadcast would be looked on most unfavorably by the British Government

Web Site Message from: Cally Cass Hi, Please hurry with parts 2, 3 & 4 of the Tower Radio history. It's so very interesting and I am so very impatient! ;-) C. Cass

The next installment will cover the much hyped Tower Television the saga continues in

Radio Tower - Part 2

For the features on the Radio Forts navigate from the ScrapBook Index

See a brief history on all the Thames Estuary Forts navigate from Fort Fax

For a range of documentary CD's, the Sealand VCD, books, & a video on the Navy Forts go to Offshore Shop


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