Radio City was a great little radio station. Although it was always short of money, used only the most basic equipment and never managed to put out a signal strong enough to reach the mass market in London, it won a loyal following in the home counties. Many offshore disc jockeys got their start on Radio City before moving on to better paid jobs elsewhere and, despite the high turn-over of staff, especially during the first year of its existence, the station put out consistently entertaining programmes.
THE START, AS SUTCH.
Radio City grew out of a publicity stunt, Radio Sutch. On 24th May 1964 pop performer David “Screaming Lord” Sutch launched Britain’s third offshore radio station, named after himself. Radio Sutch was not a serious venture. The flamboyant singer hired the trawler Cornucopia. Bedecked with skull and crossbones flags, this small vessel put to sea with numerous pressmen there to record the scene. The newspapers lapped up the story and plastered pictures of Sutch all over the front pages, just as he had hoped.
It is thought unlikely that Sutch ever actually broadcast from the Cornucopia. DJ Colin Dale has told The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame that the vessel was only used for publicity purposes. The equipment, such as it was, was soon transferred to a disused war-time anti-aircraft fort complex in the Thames estuary, Shivering Sands.
Radio Sutch commenced transmissions with a power of less than 1 kilowatt on an announced wavelength of 197 metres (in fact 195 metres, 1542 kilohertz). The first record on the station was, of course, one of Sutch’s own: Jack the Ripper.
One of a chain of anti-aircraft forts built in the estuary during the Second World War, Shivering Sands was old, rusty and dangerous but considerably more stable than a 70 foot trawler like the Cornucopia. The disc-jockeys consisted of Sutch himself, his band-mates and their associates, his manager Reg Calvert, members of Calvert’s family and a couple of engineers trying desperately to keep the shambles on the air.
The lack of basic studio equipment, like slip-mats on the turntables, meant that it was impossible for the disc-jockeys to cue the records up accurately. They just had to keep talking until the music started!
In old tape recordings Sutch’s manager, Reg Calvert can be heard playing records and plugging another one of his acts, The Fortunes, in the very early days of Radio Sutch.
Promoted as “Britain’s First Teenage Radio Station” broadcasting hours for Radio Sutch, although advertised as 12 noon – 2.00pm and 5.00pm – 11.00pm, were erratic, with DJs oversleeping and consequently sometimes opening transmissions up to an hour late. Another reason for the sporadic broadcasts was that, initially at least, the station’s transmitter was battery powered and had to be turned off while new batteries were connected or flat ones recharged. Eventually however, the Fort’s original wartime generator was repaired and put into working order, but none of the equipment used by the station was of professional broadcast standard and the poor sound quality and weak transmission signal reflected these deficiencies.
As a publicity stunt it was highly successful but, as a radio station, it left something to be desired. At the start Sutch’s transmitter was powered by car batteries rather than the usual generators and could only stay on the air for a few hours at a time. The DJs frequently had to put out appeals for food, water or fuel. The station was billed as “Britain’s first teenage radio station”. This tied in with Sutch’s alternative career in politics. The previous year he had stood for parliament in a by-election caused by the resignation of the disgraced MP John Profumo under the banner of the National Teenage Party.
Although neither the programmes nor the studio equipment were of the highest quality, Sutch did introduce one programming novelty: his station featured readings of the rude bits of D.H.Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, recently the subject of a famous obscenity trial, and John Cleland’s 18th century erotic novel Fanny Hill on its late night broadcasts. He also played recordings of the comedian Max Miller, who was considered too ‘near the knuckle’ for the BBC. However the transmitter was of such a low power that very few people could hear the shows, let alone be offended by them.
Radio Sutch did not carry many commercials. In fact the main advertisers were ‘Andy’s of Whitstable’, a record shop which supplied discs in return for publicity, and ‘Cliff Davis Cars of Shepherds Bush’, who looked after the Sutch band’s travel arrangements when they were on tour. Some advertisements for local businesses were read out of a Whitstable newspaper and the companies then approached to see if they might be interested in paying for more plugs but there was no organised sales team. Sutch said that, unlike the other stations, his would be financed by gifts received from grateful recording artists after the airplay on Radio Sutch had brought them fame and fortune. This did not amount to very much.
Once the novelty had worn off and the publicity value decreased, Lord Sutch tired of his toy. With a general election looming, he wanted to concentrate on his political career. He also had a lucrative tour of Australia and New Zealand in the offing. He decided it was time to move on but, while he had been losing interest in the station, his manager had become more and more fascinated by its possibilities. Reg Calvert was a shrewd businessman and could see the possibilities. He bought Sutch out for £5,000. The singer went off on his tour and, in September 1964, Calvert re-launched the station under a new name: Radio City.
24th May 1964 The Cornucopia ship left the Pool of London following a press conference and photo session supposedly to anchor outside territorial waters and begin broadcasting as Radio Sutch
27th May 1964 Test transmissions for Radio Sutch begin from Shivering Sands Fort
27th May 1964 Regular programmes begin from Radio Sutch
23rd September 1964 Screaming Lord Sutch sells the radio station to his Manager, Reg Calvert and it is re-launched as Radio City
Broacats started 23-Sep-64 Until 09-Feb-67 299m MW Shivering Sands Fort Thames Estuary seven miles off Herne Bay