M.V. Sea Level XI
Ships details: In the first phase of WRLI the ship MV Sea Level XI was being considered for use. This was a high stack North Sea type oil supply vessel with a large open deck space to the aft. Consultations were held with Bob Carr who was the original Texas engineer who helped to set up the original WRL on the Galaxy. The vessel should have been renamed 'Four Freedoms' after President Roosevelt's famous 'state of the nation' message to congress in January 1941.
The mast being considered was a ring variation of the one used by Paul Harris on his ill-fated Capital Radio. The idea was to create a ring antenna with an open space that could allow a helicopter to land on the deck inside of the antenna when it was not in use.
Planned offshore radio station: Wonderful Radio London International was the brainchild of Don Pierson who created the original WRL in 1964. In 1967 John England was a British freelance journalist who wrote to Don Pierson about his other station "Swinging Radio England". Sometime in the late 1970s in Houston a plan was created to make a movie about the British offshore stations of the 1960s. The Buddy Holly Story had just been financed and produced by a Houston related company. This plan put John in contact with Don who later gave John all of his documents about all of his radio stations. Included in the boxes was John's original unanswered letter from 1967. In 1980 John created a franchised monthly magazine in Texas (of which Genie Baskir became editor), and in one issue John wrote a cover story feature about Don's stations of the 1960s and their relationship to Texas radio. Don then started a small FM radio station in his home town and asked John to make programmes for it and thus a show called "Wonderful Radio London" came on the air - first with oldies and then with current British hits. Don took the show and started to syndicate it at the Las Vegas broadcasting convention that year, but then Radio Luxembourg and Capital Radio also started to syndicate similar shows. At one point Genie was to become the presenter of the syndicated show and literature was printed to promote her and the syndicated programme. Don then proposed restarting WRL as an offshore station, and WRLI was born. It went through many phases.
All of this was before Ben Toney came in as General Manager of WRLI. Don advised but did not have any other connection. Don had come back to the States after the close down of WRL in 1967 and tried to get it going again off New York using the Olga Patricia (or whatever the true identity of that ship really was) because the vessel was berthed in Miami. (I have a magazine article from that period of the 1970s in Florida which shows Larry Dean sitting in the studio. Larry was working at WFUN in Miami). Then Don tried to sell the Olga to just about anyone and the net result was a massive Texas lawsuit in which everyone wanted their money from the failed SRE venture.
So Don then tried to restart WRL off California and tie it to Disneyland, and that did not work, and after two failed freeport ventures in Haiti and Dominica following that, Don retired and fiddled with his backyard FM station.
Don suggested finding Ben Toney and he came in as General Manager. From our own efforts and watching Caroline and Laser we learned that genuine Pan-European radio advertising was a myth, and so we tried several other ideas to fund the station. From August 1984, we tried to create a marketing tool using the 250kW XERF in Mexico as a 7 nights a week 15 minute hook with the Wonderful Radio London Show, which was also made into an hour long supporting weekly programme heard on other Texas stations, but this did not work either. The sister station to WRLI hot hits was to be VFG ("Voice of the Free Gospel") for which jingles were made and the Southern Baptist TV Network was used to promote it (VFG used the same jingles music bed as Don's other station of the 1960s: Britain Radio). We changed the planned WRLI format to country music and had some success with the marketing side but we then upset everyone on the programming side! Then Ben Toney got very ill and that was the end of that phase.
Later still the project came back to life with the Sarah, which we planned to keep in Boston and hook up to WWCR shortwave in Tennessee. Paul John Lilburne-Byford registered two British companies to handle the operation which was not intended to be a pirate but a commercial rival to the BBC World Service (as it was in 1990, not as it is now). One UK company name was based on the WWCR call letters: Worldwide Community Radio London, Ltd., and the other was Radlon Sales, Ltd (the same name as the original WRL London office in the 1960s).
Planned location: The vessel was due to anchor in international waters in the Knock Deep (Thames Estuary) close to the MV Ross Revenge and the MV Communicator in December 1984 - just as Peter Chicago once reported that it had in fact already done.
That, in a nutshell, is the "ill-fated" story of WRLI. Of course there is much more to this story including hours of recordings which still exist, and in between WRLI and WCRL came John England's political programs on the Four Freedoms World Service (4FWS) which were rebroadcast on several land based transmitters.
The story continues in the ten year fight with the British Government over the absurd "Sealand" registration of the "Sarah", which in actual fact was a ship already registered in Panama and known as the MV Lichfield I. But that is another story whose conclusion has yet to be written. [Story by John England]