Friday, April 24, 2020


Ronan O’Rahilly on the deck of the Mi Amigo
shortly after the launch of Radio Caroline
 (image courtesy of The Guardian)
Ronan O’Rahilly became famous in the UK and around the world in 1964 when he when he sailed into international waters and started the pirate radio station Radio Caroline.   

O’Rahilly died at age 79 on Monday, April 20, 2020. The cause of death was vascular dementia – a neurological disease.

O’Rahilly started Radio Caroline to challenge the monopoly that the BBC had on domestic radio. 

Plus, the BBC refused to play a record by his client Georgie Fame. 

He knew he was taking a chance because pirate stations were defying British law. In 1964 he bought an aging freighter  – the Mi Amigo – and sailed into international waters off the coast of Essex and began playing rock n roll.

The Mi Amigo in the North Sea in 1965
(image courtesy of The Mirror)
Radio Caroline was a daytime AM station with 25,0000-watts that covered all of England, Scotland, Ireland and parts of Europe. 

The first song on Radio Caroline was Not Fade Away by the Rolling Stones.

Radio Caroline caused a sensation from the minute it went on the air. The playlist featured the latest tunes from The Stones, The Beatles, The Animals, Lulu and Bob Dylan, artists that were seldom heard on the BBC. In just a few days Radio Caroline was being listened to by millions of people.

Ronan O’Rahilly in 1966
(image courtesy of The Mirror)

Many of the DJs who broadcast from the Mi Amigo became household names in the UK. 

One of the best known DJs was Johnnie Walker. 

In the British tabloid The Mirror [link], Walker paid tribute to O’Rahilly, calling him “an amazing man … who made the impossible possible and changed radio for ever.”

(Scroll to hear our interview with Johnnie Walker.)

Though Radio Caroline has continued to exist on various platforms, its glory days were from 1964 to 1967. That year the British parliament outlawed offshore stations such as Radio Caroline on the grounds that they were not paying royalties to artists.

The final blow also came in 1967 when the BBC started Radio 1, a full-time rock and popular music station that hired several Radio Caroline DJs.

O’Rahilly felt Radio Caroline was the embodiment of his personal philosophy: "Loving awareness.” He once said "Peace and love will triumph over hate."

In 2000 we produced a story a story about O’Rahilly and Radio Caroline for the independent public radio news program Common Ground. It features an extensive interview with Johnnie Walker. We hope you enjoy it!

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