Don Stevens: The First Day On Caroline

The story of our adventures in France and Belgium, the police chases and our arrest and confinement in Boulogne Castle have appeared elsewhere over the years, but, I will write a definitive article here for the book in the near future. Clearly, we still could not get to Radio Caroline, and, with Tony Allan furious still at Simon Barrett, we came to a crossroad. Tony did not want to work with Simon and decided to leave Belgium for Amsterdam, inviting me to go with him. Seeing my surprise, Tony said perhaps I was right, you better get out anyway you can, here's the money, less travel expenses, do what you two can.
My aim was to get out to the ship any way we could, so I told Simon we go back to Boulogne, and try again from there, he clearly was not keen, but we had to get out, the lads on the ship had been out there for over 11 weeks.
We arrived back in Boulogne by bus, they are usually full, the trains are virtually empty and we would have been spotted by the police straight away, on a bus, we get into the town centre without being spotted. From the bus station, we sneaked back to Alain's cafe, he jumped out of skin when he saw us. Alain quickly hustled us in to the back, and told us we should not be in France, he had already had a hard time by the Police. Finally, after much debate, he agreed to get the boat to sail in the morning, we had to stay hidden in the cafe. All was fixed for the morning. As it was late afternoon, Alain showed us his 'passion room' upstairs, and Simon and I went to sleep on the huge King Size bed.
I was roughly shaken, the room was dark, Alain was shaking me, and whispering for me to get up and come downstairs, no lights. I got up, shook Simon, and grabbed our bags of records and shuffled downstairs, almost falling down the stairs. In the cafe, Alain had placed some rolls and coffee and exhorted us to eat up quickly, the car will be here soon. I noticed it was 3am on the clock. I wolfed down rolls sipping coffee between bites, I knew that being at sea on an empty stomach is a bad idea, fill up, and avoid being seasick. Simon finally came down, but did not eat as much as me, the car had arrived.
Out we crept, put everything in the car, and off to the harbour, well, to the very end of the harbour to a small group of fishing boats, this was the stop point. Out we bundled, to the edge of the quay, and I found myself staring at what was virtually an inshore launch. The skipper raised his arms up for the bags, I passed them down, warning of their weight, he nearly fell into the water when he got purchase on the handle. We came down the quay wall ladder, and on to the boat. No sooner were we aboard than the skipper fired up the diesel and pulled away, he'd unhitched the boat while we were boarding.

All was dark in front, behind us, Boulogne was aglow with lights on the streets and the ships. The skipper lowered his aerials and masts to avoid detection by radar, and he opened up the motor to about 25 knots. It was very cold, this was February, the last week of the month, and we were lucky that it had been a wet month so, it was warmer than it might have been normally. We hugged the French coast and then Belgian coast and then, at about a position just north east of Dunkirk the skipper turned north and begun our journey to the Thames Estuary, and asking us if we knew the location of the ship. I thought he had been there before, but, he had not, he was a smuggler who usually ran illegal immigrants for Alain to England, this was a whole new ball game for him.
Simon had a radio in his bag, so, I asked him if we could use it to 'find' the ship. Simon thought I was crackers, but the skipper liked the idea, and we put it in his little cabin and I tuned into Caroline, which was now broadcasting the first hour of Radio Mi Amigo. Turning the set physically until I reached the weakest signal we followed the direction of the radio.
The skipper was anxious about an hour later, and I soon saw why, we were very close to open expanses of sand, and the skipper decided to turn east and head for deeper water toward Belgium. We had been beside the Goodwin Sands, a grave for many a ship over the centuries, but, back in deeper water, we were being bounced all over the place.
Sunrise and we were back 'DF'ing' Caroline and the sun behind us, it was now about 8am, and suddenly, in the distance, we could see a small sliver of white on the horizon, reflecting the sun rise. Closer we moved, and then we could make out a mast, it was the Caroline, we were delighted, but the skipper, he was ecstatic, it seems, we were low on diesel and he was afraid we were going to get stranded at sea. He had not calculated the diversion on the Goodwin Sands or that Caroline was so far north in the Thames Estuary and he was hoping to get some fuel from the Caroline.
Closing in now on the ship, the skipper circled at a distance to make sure we were not being watched, we listened for aircraft, no sound, and the only ship was the lightship, on the horizon, so we steered for the starboard, the senior side, of the ship, putting the ship between us and the lightship. Our manouvering brought a reception committee up on the deck, it was a mild morning, the sun was bright and quite warming, and the sea had become calm. I saw a very tall man in chef's whites, a shorter stockier man in overalls, a lean but muscular man with a sharp eye and bald with his hair cropped and a seaman. I soon learnt that the chef Joost, the second guy was ships engineers, a quite man, the sharp eyed dude was the Captain and he was hailing us now. Once he was satisfied we were from Caroline he began to unchain the entrance and indicated us to come alongside and come aboard.

 

Don Stevens and Simon Barrett

 

Our skipper pulled in close and came up on to the wall of tyres that protected the ship and I was amazed to see how low the ship was in the water. We virtually steeped across, from our launch to the ship, and Simon went first, he was known to the Captain, it was Simon's Afro hairstyle that convinced the Captain we were friendly. I passed the bags of albums across to Simon, one at a time, the Dutch guys grabbed them, and then I came aboard. I was finally going realise a dream I had nourished since 1964, I was going to stand on the deck of the motor vessel Mi Amigo, one of the most famous radio ships in the world, and the home to more radio stations than any other ship. I thought to be respectful, so, I extended my hand to the Captain and introduced myself, he had an amused look on his face, but, he shook my hand and welcomed me aboard, I thanked him, and he began to stare at my feet. Was I wearing jackboots, and I replied they were US Cavalry pattern boots from Canada, he remarked that I might like to tip toe round his ship, and gave me an amused look.
After explaining the skippers need for diesel to the Captain, Joost, introduced himself, the engineer had gone to get the diesel, and he turned out to be a very amiable giant of a man. His beard made him look older than he was, but I reckoned he was in his early twenties, but a very tall blonde man, he'd have made a great Thor.
The starboard side is the right hand side of the ship facing the bow. Joost took me in through the door in the white structure on the ship, and this lead into a hallway, with stairs to the immediate left, leading down below. to the right was a door leading into the dining area and studios. To the left, past the stair was the galley, which was Joost's domain. He was so tall he had to walk around with his head facing down and the ceiling brushing the back of his head.
Simon has disappeared downstairs, he had a cabin form his previous visit, and he had gone down to wake up the DJ's we were replacing.
Joost told me to leave my bag in the hall and go and visit the studio, one of the English guys was running the Radio Mi Amigo shows. I went in to the dining room, it was just as I had seen it in so many photographs over the years. I went to the far wall and faced the door I had just come through, and yes, it had not changed. The TV set was still on a shelf in the right corner, high up, the chairs were all as I had seen and the long table in front of me was as it had been on Radio Nord.
Suddenly the door to my right burst open, from the studios, and out bounced a guy with long curly blond hair and glasses, and introduced himself as Johnny Jason, I replied with my name, and he asked me to come in and take over the Mi Amigo operation. I entered the door which was a corridor to the large studio at the end. On my right was a studio with two turntables, a couple of NAB cart machines and two Revox A77 reel to reel tape decks, and seeing the radiator and porthole I knew that this had been the Radio Nord newsroom, the Radio Atlanta on air studio, and the first on air studio for Caroline, though it later became the newsroom.

Johnny explained it was the live studio for Radio Caroline and for the first hour of Radio Mi Amigo and during the day it could be used for production. He then explained the system of recording some of your programmes to be played when you left the ship, and he showed me his tapes which I was to play from that night to allow him time to re-enter Britain. Then into the large studio, which was formerly Radio Caroline South's main studio, now, it was the Radio Mi Amigo studio, but, how different it was now. A Gates Studioette Mixer sat at the top of a 'U' shaped desk, with two Garrard 301 turntables with what looked like home brew arms. A Spotmaster record/play NAB cart machine sat above the mixer, and on the left was a couple of Revox A77 tape decks. The real business was the two Bang & Olufson cassette tape decks, side by side on a rack on the left hand side, with a Revox tape deck below them. These played the programmes from Radio Mi Amigo, which were recorded at their studio's in Playa De Aro, Gerona, Spain, and were delivered by special tenders on a weekly basis. These tenders also changed the Dutch crew and brought water, fuel, food and provisions plus records, magazines and other details, but they worked for Radio Mi Amigo, Caroline did not use them.
Johnny Jason,JJ, showed me the technique for changing programmes, how we had the 'Mi Amigo 'Lieveling' on the cart machine (Lieveling roughly translates to my darling or dearest and is the name used for the stations pick hit of the week, it was this that made Donna Summer famous when Mi Amigo made her 'Hostage' a Lieveling) and as the cassette was ending, fade down, fire off the 'Lieveling' cue the next hour, 'Lieveling' is finishing, fader up and start the next hour. Then, cue the next hour, and cue and have ready the next hour, just in case of a problem.
Our 'Lieveling' that week was 'Love to Love You' by Donna Summer, this being February 1975, Mi Amigo was always proud of the support they gave Donna Summer, and she confirms it when asked in interviews. She was a frequent visitor to Caroline and Mi Amigo offices in Holland before the Act was passed in 1974 in Nederland.
With that, JJ had to dash off to pack, then he skidded to a stop. and invited me to use his cabin while he was ashore. Fine with me so I followed Johnny through the dining room, grabbed my bag in the hall, and followed JJ down the very steep stairs. At the bottom was a corridor, turn left to the crew cabins, toilet and shower. Turn right, for more cabins and the ships record library, known as the 'discotheque' which was at the end of the corridor. JJ's cabin was the last one, on the right just before the 'discotheque, the starboard side. JJ slept up on top bunk, so, I suggested we leave it like that, I'll bunk below. Thats DLT's old bunk, JJ told me, and when I lay down later I noticed graffiti carved into the wooden base that DLT had been there in 1966.
JJ ran back upstairs, I threw my bag onto my bunk and followed him up. JJ remarked my boots were a trifle noisy and he said the Captain would prefer I tip toe at night, I told JJ that the Captain had already made that point. Back in the dining room I was introduced to Bill Danse, the transmitter engineer, who maintained the rigs with Peter Chicago, who was on shore leave. I struck up an immediate rapport with Bill, we worked together for a number of years on The Voice of Peace, off Israel, but, that's another story.
The skipper had been fuelled, but he was not too happy, he thought he needed more diesel then he actually got, and JJ and another guy whom I had not met jumped aboard the launch and waved to us cheerily, keen to get back to dry land and civilization, though the Captain was amused and remarked in Dutch that the launch was heading for England, that, is another story.

Bill Danse asked me if I'd like to see the transmitters and seeing my surprise he told me we had three on the ship, all made by Continental Electronics in Texas, good rigs for ship based broadcasting. Walking up the starboard side to the bow, and heading toward the mast, a huge structure in its own right, Bill went to the last door, which was open, and I felt a blast of hot air coming out of the door. Down the ladder we went, and there it was, on the right, the 50,000 watt Continental that came aboard in 1966, I had seen photos, but to stand in front of it, feeling its heat, the buzzing, the tinkle of the audio from the programmes, the roar of the fans and the tubes, huge tubes, all illuminated, I was speechless. I had dreamt of this whole day for years, and now, here I was, aboard the mv Mi Amigo, standing on her deck, and looking at her heart and soul, her transmitter. Bill then drew my attention to two other rigs, smaller, but also made by Continental, and these were rated at 10,000 watts each. Bill pointed out they were often run up, and were used, individually, as back up. He also pointed out that he could combine them, as they had been prior to 1966. Even though it was February, Bill was in a T shirt, and I was boiling in my coat.
Bill suggested we go to the dining room as it almost lunch time, so we arrived there and I popped into the Mi Amigo studio to make sure everything was okay. Simon was in the hot seat, and suggested I make myself at home, he would Mi Amigo, and the tapes for the night, and I agreed, but pointed out that maybe I could take over after midnight.
Lunch was incredible, Joost had prepared a mixture of Dutch, Surinam and Indonesian food, which I tucked into, much to the amusement of the Dutch who were surprised to see an English DJ who did not complain about the food. Still enjoying the food, I laughed, and pointed out I was Irish, which really made my new friends laugh. I developed a close friendship over the many weeks that followed and pulled my weight as a crew member (though I was not required to, radio staff did not do ships duties) when we were hit by storms and our anchor dragged. I spent many hours on the bridge, keep the dhip facing the storm while our engine struggled to take strain off the anchor.
The evening meal too, was a through cuisine meal, and my first night I sat in the dining room, watching a bit of television and soaking up the reality of my first day on Caroline.
Adjourning to my cabin, I noticed my air vent and suddenly realised that I was way below the waterline, and the cabin was not very warm, even though the heating was on. But, why worry, she had served many crews for many years, and she must have known I wanted to be here, so, why would she sink when a fan like me was here. With that, fully dressed, I lay on top of my bunk, took one last look at DLT woz here and fell asleep, not waking till 1am when I took over from Simon and became, what I had always dreamt of, a Radio Caroline disc jockey.

 

Don Stevens: My time on Radio Caroline

When AJ Beirens had to cancel the Amsterdam Radio Day 2006 due to severe health problems, there were only a few days left to prepare an interview with another guest. Martin van der Ven immediately tried to approach Don Stevens, but Don had been leaving for Amsterdam and couldn't be reached in time. This was the reason for Don arriving not earlier than midday and it was a pity that the prepared interview with him had to be cancelled, too. But nevertheless Don kindly agreed to answer Martin's questions which were sent to him via e-mail.

Klik hier voor de Nederlandstalige versie.


 

Martin: How did your interest in radio began? Which offshore radio stations do you remember having listened to in the sixties and seventies?

Don: My interest and love of radio was an accident, I overheard a portable radio playing alongside a moter bike rider, he was polishing his bike, and I attracted his attention by my lack of fear of him, and my keen interest in the radio station. It was 1964 and he explained that the broadcast was coming from a pirate ship in international waters and the station was Radio Atlanta, well, to a teenager like myself this was a revelation. I asked the long haired and menacing looking biker more questions, he told me what little he knew, and from then on I was bitten by the radio bug. You can imagine my pleasure and eventually working aboard the Radio Atlanta ship, mv Mi Amigo in 1975, it was the culmination of a special journey.

I loved Radio Atlanta and then Caroline South, the name it took after the amalgamation of the two initial stations, and I was also a keen Radio London listener having discovered the test transmissions in December 1964 with DJ Pete Brady behind the microphone. I dial hopped frequently, just to hear a favourite tune, from Caroline South, Big L then Radio City or KING Radio, and, by 1965, Radio 390 which played a lot of standards by the 1950's greats. My favourite station, the one that influenced me totally, was Radio England in 1966, I checked out the test transmissions for it and Britain Radio, and to this day I still get a buzz when I listen to old SRE airchex and let the memories come flooding back.



Martin: You joined Radio Caroline in early March 1975. How came that you approached the station?

Don: I arrived on Radio Caroline by accident, strange but true. I had become friendly with Tony Allan the previous year through my loose friendship with Nik Oakley of Script Magazine, and Tony soon became a regular and welcome visitor to my home in Hornsey Vale, North London and my wife, daughter and I spent long hours over dinner with Tony talking radio. I mean, everything radio, we spoke of Radio Scotland, Tony's work on The Peace Ship (this was 1974 remember), his Caroline and Northsea adventures, and he was very interested in the stations I was involved with, and especially the formats we developed on Dynamite 235, the album service on Concord 230, and my friendship and admiration of the guys and girls of The Big K. Christmas 1974 arrived and Tony said the Caroline was in need of new broadcasters, would I be available, and would Anne my wife mind. After a few weeks of intense discussion it was mutually agreed that I be available to journey out to the ship. Ronan was happy to pay my wife a weekly salary while I was away, and everything was set for the go, which would come in the form of a coded message to my phone. The beginning of February 1975 I received a call from Ronan, with a code, and the adventure started, and it was a real adventure.



Martin: It was the period after the Dutch MoA having been introduced and the MV Mi Amigo had been towed to the British coast only half a year before. Which kind of tender ship did Radio Caroline use in that period? How long did you have to wait for the next tender?

Don: We had to journey to Boulogne in France to board our 'tender' which was nothing more than an inshore, open, fishing boat, no more than 7 metres long, it was very small. The journey to the Thames Estuary in the middle of February was the stuff of nightmares, thankfully the weather was very mild. We had problems arranging to board the vessel, and so we spent 5 days in the Hotel Mirador waiting for the local group handling our travel to gives us permission to board. We lived on red wine and French cheese and bread, and made impromptu guest appearances at a local disco on the Rue Victor Hugo, it was a way to make a little spending money. We finally got the 'go' after 7 days to board the fishing boat at 4am next day. At the appointed time we turned up.....and Tony Allan, Simon Barrett and I got arrested at gun point by a huge squad of CRS and police who were aggressive and violent toward us all.



Martin: Did you have any problems with the authorities?

Don: As you can see from the previous answer, we had severe problems. The CRS and some French Government men, all armed, all very aggressive, drove us to Boulogne Castle for interrogation and asking us many questions in French, which we were unable to answer. Once they were satisfied we could not understand French they began to ask us questions in English, and discussed our answers, in front of us in French. They did not know Tony spoke and understood French, so we had an advantage as to what was going on. The CRS thought we were smuggling immigrants to Britain, it appears that our local group and the fishing boat had been involved in this trade, the police had planned this operation for some time......they were very angry that they had ensnared Caroline staff....especially as this operation had been jointly planned with the British Government. Our French fishermen were terrified, poor things, they kept telling us not to upset these police as they were veterans of the Algerian War of Independence and should not be trifled with.

I was eventually taken in to be questionned by a very arrogant French government type who informed me that our little escapade was causing a diplomatic row between Paris and London, he asked for information, I told him I knew absolutely nothing. Simon was next, and he was in the office being interrogated for some time, then he was dragged out of the office and three burly CRS men grabbed Tony, beat him across the face and dragged him into the office. Terrifying,...they had discovered that Tony understood French. He was in the office for ages, there was shouting, slapping sounds, we were getting agitated by this, and our police guards cocked their pistols at our movement. Suddenly, the door burst open, and Tony was flung out the door and across the room. I got to him first and helped him up, he was a bit bruised, no bleeding, professional job, but he was able to assure me that they knew nothing.....we were to be deported to Belgium...effective immediately.

10 minutes later we were in fast cars and being taken to Boulogne station and put aboard a train for Lille with instructions to get out of France or else. Later, crossing the border into Belgium we realised that the Belgian police had been alerted and were looking for us with a view to making arrests for attempting to supply a radio ship, it seems the Belgians had a law on the statute book to cover this. We got to Ostend, thanks to some wonderful Belgians who protected us from the police, at great risk to themselves, and we lay low in an Ostend bar run by an ex Royal Engineer who kept the police at bay during a search by explaining we were drunk football supporters who would be sleeping our beer off in his bar.

Next day, we took a tram to Zeebrugge to Townsend Thoresen and a meeting with AJ Beirens whom we thought could get us passage back to England before we fell foul of the police. AJ could not do much for us, I think he gave Tony some money, he let us use his facilities, and eventually we could get intructions from Caroline. The plan was to go back to Boulogne, Tony was not in favour, understandable, he gave me the money and said make your own way back with Simon, and he went to Amsterdam. We eventually made it out to the Mi Amigo but it was a hell of a trip, Tony kept attacking Simon on a regular basis after our arrest and he was not prepared to work with him ever again. Tony figured Simon told the French he spoke the language, even years later over a beer in Garveys in Galway, Tony was convinced that Simon let slip he was a French speaker, never forgave him.

 

Tony Allan



Martin: What was your very first impression when getting on board the ship?

Don: Ah Martin, the first impression was beautiful. We had been travelling for hours up the Channel, across to the British coast, pass the Goodwin Sands and up to the Thames Estuary, the fog was thick, could not see a thing. Luckily, Simon had a radio so we tuned to Caroline and got a direction which we followed for a number of hours until the mist began to thin out. Then, in the distance was a shape I knew straight away, the Mi Amigo appearing slowly out of the thin mist looked majestic in its veil of fog and moisture, and so low in the water. I never knew the ship was so low in the water.

We pulled alongside and stepped onto the ship, met the Captain and the Dutch crew, great guys. Did not meet our Caroline friends as we had to run straight to the studio to take over the Radio Mi Amigo broadcasts, all on cassette, and then run the Caroline tapes of our friends to give them time to get home. Once we had done that, we went outside and the fishing boat was gone, so Simon gave me the guided tour of the ship, wonderful experience and a memory I treasure to this day, and he showed me a cabin that was the best on the ship. The graffiti on the underside of the top bunk indicated that Dave Lee Travis and Tommy Vance had been resident at some time in this room, that made me realise where I was. My impression was that the ship was in good repair and good order, contrary to the stories I had heard. We had central heating, our Chef was able to prepare three menus per meal. So, for breakfast, or dinner, or evening meal we had a choice of Indonesian or Surinamese dishes, Nederlands cuisine or English favourites. We had plenty of beer, loads of cigarettes and we had brought with us a huge supply of brand new albums and singles all donated free by major record labels. The Mess Room looked the same as in photos I had seen of the Mi Amigo from 1967 right down to the television on its top shelf in the corner, and we could view all the British stations. Life in February 1975 on the ship was very good. I developed close friendships with the crew, I enjoyed long talks with all the guys, they were very interesting people and they seemed surprised that I enjoyed their company, it seems that the English DJ's tended to keep a distance, or so I was told. Being Irish, I was never very good at keeping myself to myself, and I enjoyed long debates with Bill Danse, bloody fine fellow and a man who has a passion about fairness and human dignity. He remains to this day a fine ambassador for the people and nation that is Nederland, and I consider him to be a real friend.



Martin: Which colleagues did you work with?

Don: I was aboard with Simon Barrett but we rarely saw each other except during the changovers on Caroline. Simon would start Caroline at 7pm, I would take over at 10pm so we met for ten minutes, and then we would change again at 1am, Simon starting his second shift until 4am. I would relieve him at 4am and Simon would go to bed. I took Caroline through until 6am British Time and I would then run one hour of live tunes for Radio Mi Amigo's first hour from the Caroline studio, eventually making announcements in Flemish/Dutch from scripts provided for me by the Captain and crew, they used to laugh at my accent. Apparently, because the Captain taught me my Dutch was in his dialect, but the crew loved to hear Radio Mi Amigo live.

 

Simon Barrett


Then, at 7am British Time I would place an instrumental on in the Caroline studio, run around to the Mi Amigo studio and fire off the first cassette of the day from Playa de Aro, I think it was Joop Verhoof. My duties then would be to change the cassettes top of the hour, and play The Mi Amigo Liebling live from the ship.....we were the first station to play Donna Summer 'Love To Love You Baby' in the whole world, the Liebling going out just after the top of the hour. At 1pm. Simon would take over the cassette changing and I would go to bed until 8pm. That was basically our day until Peter van Dam came aboard, a good bloke and a superb technician, he could make productions like nobody I know. Once Peter joined the Mi Amigo, life for Simon and I became easier, Simon stayed down below a lot, so I spent most of the day with Peter and the crew enjoying the company of hard working decent ship and radio folk, best time of my life. Peter made me many jingles (which I used for many years afterwards, on The Peace Ship and elsewhere) and I made a few voice overs for him. Then he left, to be replaced by Rob Rondor who came out so Peter could go back to Playa.

Johnny Jason I knew already, we met on the ship briefly, he also was the man who took me to Heathrow to catch my plane for Israel in March 1976, we had the pleasure of reuniting at Tony Allans funeral. Dave Owen I knew from The Big K, he is now on Radio Jackie in London, he is a very good broadcaster. Tony never worked with me on Caroline sadly, he went to Amsterdam remember, but, we worked together in Israel in night clubs, he was a regular visitor to my home with my first wife, I employed him at South Coast Radio in Cork Ireland, he breathed life into my 'Music Leader' concept. Then he arranged for me to do breakfast relief at Radio Nova, and I employed him again at Atlantic Sound and then WLS Music Radio, so Tony and myself eventually worked together for many years, geat man, we are all blessed to have known him and to have heard him.



Martin: Radio Mi Amigo broadcast during the day and you had your shows from 7 o'clock in the evening? Which music did you play? Was there a sort of playlist?

Don: I tended to play a lot of black funk and soul, much as Johnny Jason did.......so you would hear Main Ingredient 'Happiness Is Just Around The Bend', tunes like that, because they had the lyrical content and the tempo to make the message of togetherness, work. These tunes spoke of a better life, a better way, and so I found them seductive and I played them. We were encouraged to stick with the Caroline Top 50 albums, and we were discouraged from linking every single track with an announcement. I often played classic cuts, and I played a lot of Dutch music, Kayak, Golden Earring, Ekseption, Earth and Fire and Focus.....ooh, and Thijs Van Leer and Shocking Blue, still think Mariska Veres is outasight...vocally and visually. We also had to avoid jingles, just your name jingle and the odd Caroline......thats because we only had three proper Caroline jingles, the master had disappeared years previous.

Peter van Dam



Martin: Did you have any real commercials or were they fake just to attract potential advertisers?

Don: We had a couple of genuine commercials, but these brave people faced the rigour of the British legal system, as, eventually, did I. Our problem was Martin, that advertisers were not prepared to risk a prosecution just to advertise on a service that, in their view, only had a minority audience. Now, my mailbag contradicted this, but the plain truth is that advertisers wanted a non stop English language radio service playing pop, and we played albums of soul, funk and rock. It is a lesson I learnt well, and endeavoured to ensure this malaise did not ruin the Peace Ship in a later year.

Sylvain Tack was a hero, he provided everything to keep us going, I don't care what people say or think, but Sylvain provided all the comforts I referred to earlier and we were always bunkered on time when he was the paymaster. Fuel oil, sweet water, beer, cigarettes and provisions, all from Sylvain Tack......and Suzy Waffles too, we had crate loads of them, so, you could say he was our biggest advertiser as was Joepi Pop Magazine.



Martin: How many people were on board? Were there a captain and a technician?

Don: Yes, we had a very experienced young Captain during my tour of duty, I think his name was Willem, or Wilhelm, he was a very quite and deep man, but he enjoyed people who tried to do their best. Hence, when he saw that I was keen to insert live announcements into the first hour of Mi Amigo, he taught me the pronounciation and then wrote out scripts for me. During a very nasty 5 day Force 9 north easterly storm, he invited me to the bridge to assist in keeping the ship facing the storm, he shared his chocolate with me during this tiring watch and introduced me to Ginever, I learnt much about the stoicism of the Dutch people from him. Then, our Chef, Joss (pronounced Yose) a huge man with long blond hair who spent all his time bent in the confines of the ship, he was over 6 foot 7 inches tall. Great humour, excellent chef and another easygoing guy until a storm arrived, again, I learnt much from this man, how to be a good seaman, what to do in emergency, and how to cook great food. We had a fully qualified Ships Engineer on board, also from Nederland, very quite guy who was always hard at work keeping the station running. Bill Danse, Transmitter Engineer, a great guy who was always busy, Peter Chicago was out on the ship during my time too, a very deep character, good debater, you could spend many hours discussing much with him on all manner of subject. During my time on the Mi Amigo we had the aforementioned, plus Simon, Peter van Dam, then Rob Rondor and Anka and her boyfriend who tied up alongside the Mi Amigo after running into heavy weather while sailing to England. They spent a while on board ship, Anka even made some cool voice overs.



Martin: How comfortable was the Mi Amigo? The atmosphere on board? You had enough to eat, to drink and most of all to smoke? Smoking a joint was a quite common use at that time....

Don: As I said earlier, we had very good conditions, excellent in fact on board the ship. As an Irish man I had no problems relating to the crew and they became good friends, I was given the impression by the crew that they preferred to keep themselves and the radio guys apart, but, Chicago got along with the crew too, so I saw no reason not to make friends. It is true, that during the Force 9 I mentioned earlier, the crew did not want Simon involved in efforts to stay afloat, and Simon was ok with that, I wanted to help and the crew went along with that. The atmosphere on board as far as I was concerned was good, very professional, and even good natured. To be honest Martin, I never saw a joint on the Mi Amigo in all my time aboard, I did not even get a whiff of cannabis, hashish or gold lebanese during all that period. We had plenty of beer, good food,loads of cigarettes.......no drugs at that time on the ship..sorry.



Martin: Did you ever get to know Ronan O’Rahilly?

Don: Ha Ha LOL!.....you do not work on Caroline and not get to know Ronan, in my time he was all pervasive on the ship. I had lunch with him at The Casserole, his favourite eating spot on Kings Road Chelsea on a number of occassions, I was in his home many times. My wife Anne met him every week and he paid her my salary, as he promised to do, so my family was able to survive while I filled in on the Ship. He is a very honourable man, very very sincere in his love of Caroline and freedom, and a man of his word, he made sure all my fines and problems with the authorities were taken care of, he also arranged that Johnny Jason got me to Heathrow to catch my flight to Israel, he is a total gentleman. He paid me more than he promised, he ensured my family were safe and he stood by me when I was prosecuted for breaking the Marine Broadcasting Act of 1967. Thats how well I know Ronan, he is a good Irishman of good stock, he has the blood of a freedom fighter flowing through his veins, his family were at the forefront in the liberation of Ireland and its eventual independence.



Martin: Did you earn any money on Caroline?

Don: Yes, I did. I'm probably going to be castigated for this, especially after my comments at the Radio Day, but if you work hard you are entitled to a remuneration, not a fortune, but something to show that you are appreciated and are wanted. Peace Ship fans think it is terrible to make a profit and be overtly commercial, but, it is the commercial monies that enabled the Peace Ship to help MILLIONS of poor and abused, not thousands as later happened with the Peace Ship profits. So too with Caroline, Ronan offered me the gig, and I explained how much was required to feed my wife and daughter, pay the bills and the mortgage and leave some aside for me to travel to the Caroline. Not a problem, Ronan is a businessman and he paid me handsomely and took very good care of my family, it is sad that he never let the Caroline go back to a Top 40 format in 1975, he could have made a tidy killing. I am sure that Ronan paid the other guys too, if he did not, then that is because they went out to Caroline for all the wrong reasons, Chicago was paid, so too Bill Danse, and all the crew.



Martin: Why did you leave after only 8 weeks on board?

Don: I was actually on the ship from late February, but we played tapes of the other guys shows to give them time to slip into Britain and escape detection by the Government. I was only ever on the Caroline to cover while Ronan recruited new broadcasters and got better weather, I did not mind being at sea during the storms of February/March. When I got back onshore, through a cock up by Simon who reported to Customs in Harwich which is where the tender dropped us, I left him to it and went catch a train. A posse of police turned up and I was arrested, I don't know if Simon got prosecuted but I certainly did, and I kept my mouth shut and told the authorities nothing. They harassed me for months after that, raiding my home, confiscating address books, letters, photos, cassette tapes, and terrifying my wife and child. I was picked up by the spooks and kept under arrest for 48 hours, and when I tried to get a job on legal radio in November 1975 my application was approved for the job once I named names and gave evidence to close down Caroline. Ronan was aware of all of this, he supported me tirelessly through this difficult year, even when others betrayed the Caroline, I kept my mouth shut, and without my evidence I was assured that a case against Caroline could not proceed. I did assist Caroline on shore, as I had done before going out to the ship, I remember one day when Chicago and I were daashing around North London in the Summer of 1975 trying to get a Motor Racing Specialist to fabricate a combiner for AM transmitters, they used similar materials apparently and had the skill to manufacture to Chicago's design.

Clearly, if I had returned to the Caroline I would have been recognised immediately and Carolines operation might have been jeopardised in some unforeseen way. I nearly went out in June 1975 but after all the police pressure I recommended my old radio pal Phil Marshall to Oonagh (Ronans private assistant) to have an opportunity of covering the airshift.



Martin: Although you were with Caroline for only a very short time, from March 3rd to April 26th 1975, you managed to pack in a total 239 hours on the air in those few weeks!

Don: Yes, my old friend Buster Pearson told me that too, he was staggered I completed so many hours, but he included my Radio Mi Amigo broadcasts in that total which made me very proud, I did enjoy my one hour slot on that great station and it enabled me get an insight into the way that Flanders, and also Nederlanders, view the world. I am always grateful that I had the privilege and honour to serve aboard the Caroline with such decent and brave men who put the survival and security of the Caroline above everything. My long hours are due only to the fact that I am a tenacious blighter and I enjoy hard work, and I love being part of the team, and part of the solution.

Listen to Don Stevens on his final day on board the MV Mi Amigo.



Martin: Any funny incidents you still remember?

Don: We had loads of funny incidents on the ship in my time. We used to get the English newspapers every day after we noticed a dredger, The Moderator was always in our vicinity collecting gravel, the Captain asked them on a radio band is they would trade. They switched to an asdic light (think thats what its called) and flashed us an affirmative in Morse. We offered them hard core Dutch pornography (remember, this was 1975, and Britain was against all forms of adult imagery) The Moderator jumper at the deal, so, they used engage very slow speed and pass alongside the Caroline. We would shoot a line to them, finally attach a basket loaded with the pornography, and The Moderator sent back newspapers, spirits, anything we wanted. As their stern cleared our bow, the transactions were completed, this went on for weeks, every day, the Moderators taste for pornography was incredible, but I believe the RAF photographed an exchange and this may explain why they suddenly stayed clear of us.

The RAF were always sending Blackburn Buccaneer low level bombers, convert to photo recon over the ship, so we used to wave to the pilots and make them welcome, we figured they were moving too fast to see us. Then, one sunny afternoon, a Buccaneer flies over us a few times taking pictures, then, pulls a hard turn and flew straight across us midships and gave us a victory roll, an act usually undertaken by the RAF as a mark of respect or courtesy. The Captain and myself were speechless, and we both drew the conclusion that maybe we had friends in the photo recon Squadron of The Royal Air Force.

The high storms of early March and a Dutch yacht in trouble with the seas running so high, the Captain spotted the vessel only because we got a brief look at its sails. The sea was high, man it was scary, and someone was on a small yacht in these conditions, we were the only help available, no lifeboat would venture into these seas. Goddamn, the Captain was on the money, barking orders in Dutch, we fired up the old boats main engine (did not think it worked) and began to move the Mi Amigo forward to her anchor, we were able to inch forward about 30 metres. Meantime, in the murkiness we fired up the standby generators and switched on every light on deck, giving the yacht crew a chance to see us. Sure enough, the little vessel appeared to be turning toward us, but the sea was running fast, if they got alongside we would only have one chance to secure the yacht or it would speed past and be lost. The sails lowered rapidly on the yacht, but the current was running fast, so the Captain managed to turn the Mi Amigo broadside to the current just as the yacht was approaching. It hit the row of tyres on the side, the sea was flowing over the deck, but the Dutch crew managed in appalling conditions to secure the yacht to our side. The crew screamed at the two occupants to get aboard now, we had to turn to face the current, the flow of the sea, and our huge mast was making the ship tilt at a very dangerous angle. The occupants were agile, so would I be in those conditions, they jumper aboard, grateful they had found us by chance, and so did Anka and her boyfriend join the crew for a couple of weeks. Once the storm subsided after a couple of days, the yacht was tied astern, and our two new crewmates provided fresh news and discussion. They repaired the yacht, and one day sailed off to England, never to be seen by the Caroline again, but holding a fond place in our hearts, I wonder if they are still alive today.

Thats three little adventures, but we had so many.......ah, we were young, we were Kings.

 

Don Stevens on the Voice of Peace Breakfast Show (September 1976)



Martin: In March 1976, you joined the Voice of Peace in Israel.

Don: My time on the Peace Ship would probably never have happened but for my run in with British authorities, so, Ronan encouraged me, through Keith Ashton, to consider the Peace alternative, as we all knew my radio career in Britain was stillborn. Maggie Thatcher introduced a legal comment in the British Telecommunications Act 1986/87 that allowed all sins against the State for broadcasting to be set aside......so I am now safe enough in Britain. Probably, if Simon Barrett had not gone to Customs in Harwich to declare his bags I would have been on Caroline right through the 1970's, but as it was, I was viewed as a potential witness for the prosecution, I was married with a young wife and baby and I was keen to be an established broadcaster. I was tempted to take the prize of a legal radio career, but, in all honesty, as an Irishman I find betrayal of an ideal and its supporters a bitter pill that will not foul my mouth. My reward, a wonderful career in Israel and working with a man who is an honourable human being, Abie Nathan.

 

James Ross, Don Stevens , Phil Mitchell and Richard Jackson onboard the MV Peace (september 1976)


Martin: After your time in the Middle East you went to Ireland. Please tell us about your time there. Which stations did you work for?

Don: After Israel, I changed my name to secure a position as a Music Director for a large entertainment company, Taz Leisure, with clubs and restaurants all over the north of England. Keith York, an old friend, tracked me down, his family lived near to my Middlesbrough home and he offered me a position with South Coast Radio in Cork Ireland, he was a DJ and broadcast engineer for them. They were in need of fresh ideas, a programme director, so I went to Ireland, with my family, for an interview. I accepted the job, and I was able to recruit Tony Allan, and later John Lewis, to work with my professional team and build a successful 'Super Pirate' in the South. The South Coast story is a fascinating tale in itself, but Tony, Keith, John and I had a wonderful time building a superb signal with a 10kW AM signal that could be heard all over Western Europe. We helped establish WKLR in Bandon. I worked with Tony Allan, Keith York and Chris Cary at Radio Nova in Nova Park, Yorkie and I broke the strike by driving my car over the protesters, with police support, breaching the cordon and giving the Garda a chance to arrest some of Irelands top journalists who wished to muzzle free radio and maintain Government power. I was on the Nova Breakfast Show with Bob Galico while Chris reorganised the station.

Then Yorkie and I went to Galway and took a 75% share in a moribund and busted radio station, Atlantic Sound, and built it into a superb example of more music radio. After a silly dispute with 'hidden' shareholders, Keith and I started our own radio company and launched the first 24 hour FM Stereo station in the West of Ireland, with an AM output too. In the end, we ran three stations from Galway, one a country and western outlet, WMAQ, with 24 hours country hits in FM Stereo.

We also went to Israel and revamped the Voice of Peace during this period, almost jeopardising our own radio business and staff futures by aiding Abie, so sad he never let the revamp fully kick in.



Martin: Are you still doing some radio shows nowadays?

Don: Yes, I present programmes as a relief broadcaster for a number of stations, not as much as I would like, but it is nice to help out. I am looking for a new long term radio gig, and I am exploring the possibility of launching a new 24 hour more music radio station for London, using stereo mixes of PAMS jingles which I will eventually purchase from JAM if the project attains its financial target. It is my hope to attract the cream of more music and Boss jocks for the service which will totally captivate the 45+ age group in the south of England, and the music will be the cream of the hits from the 1950's up to the present day. I will also programme the big 'turntable 'hits of yesterday, the songs played by the pop stations everyday, but they were never big hits, so that is one project. Solid Gold Sunday, my oldies show from the 1980's with jingles, tunes and themes from the past is also being offered for syndication, and a number of approaches have been made to me since Radio Day to present some shows on radio services in the Middle East. So, you may yet hear Don Stevens on a radio near you.

Thank you Martin for the opportunity of completing this interview which you rightly wanted featured at the Radio Day, sadly, I was away from the office early, missed your emails and let you down very badly. I sincerely hope this is a small act of contrition which may give your loyal readers an insight into the hurly burly world of Radio Caroline. I look forward to meeting all your readers in the future, and if you see me, please do not be afraid to approach and ask questions, I am happy to be at your disposal.

 

© Martin van der Ven December 2006. © Photos: Don Stevens, Jelle Boonstra (MV Mi Amigo pictures), Ben Meijering, archive Hans Knot, archive Martin van der Ven.