Ronan O’Rahilly – RIP
The original radio pirate dies at 79: Tributes are paid to Radio Caroline founder Ronan O’Rahilly whose illicit 1960s broadcasts into UK homes from a ship off Suffolk changed the face of popular music
- Ronan O’Rahilly launched famous offshore pirate station Radio Caroline in 1964
- Businessman died at 2pm today after battle with advanced vascular dementia
- The visionary remained figurehead of the pirate station located in the North Sea
By Bhvishya Patel For Mailonline, published: 22:11 BST, 20 April 2020 | Updated: 02:58 BST, 21 April 2020
The creator of the UK’s very first pirate radio station Ronan O’Rahilly who revolutionised the world of British broadcasting forever has died at the age of 79.
The Irish businessman, who went on to launch one of the most famous offshore pirate stations during the ‘swinging 60’s’, Radio Caroline, died at 2pm today at a nursing home in Ireland following a battle with advanced vascular dementia.
Born on May 21, 1940, in Ireland, O’Rahilly, who was described as an individual with ‘rebellion and independence of thought in his blood’, went on to fuel a cultural phenomenon that would in turn give birth to the host of popular radio stations seen today.
The founder and visionary of Radio Caroline, who remained a figurehead of the station that broadcast from a ship anchored in the North Sea after its launch in Easter 1964, was the third of five children.
Ronan O’Rahilly (pictured in 1966), who revolutionised the world of British broadcasting forever, has died at the age of 79 in Ireland
The Irish businessman went on to become the founder of Radio Caroline in the North Sea, off the coast of Essex in England, after its launch in Easter 1964
The visionary (pictured with Allan Crawford left), who was the third of five children, bought a Baltic ferry in the swinging 60s
His grandfather Michael O’Reilly, was one of the Irish rebels who was shot dead by British soldiers in Dublin during the easter uprising in April 1916, while his father Aodhogan O’Rahilly, was a businessman who owned the port of Greenore in County Louth, Republic of Ireland.
During his teenage years, O’Rahilly, moved to Chelsea in the bustling city of London and became involved in running the Scene Club in Great Windmill Street in the Soho district.
It was here that he became an agent for pop singers and actors and began promoting records for the Ric Gunnel Agency and managing groups such as Blues Incorporated.
However in July 1961, after a government commission on broadcasting, which was chaired by Sir Harry Pilkington, ruled that the British public did not want commercial radio, O’Rahilly decided to formulate a plan that would allow illicit radio broadcasts to reach thousands across the country.
In an audio documentary shared by Radio Caroline and created by Peter Philips, O’Rahilly is heard saying at the time: ‘The government report was just complete and absolute hogwash. They were 110 per cent wrong.
‘Which if that is carried across the whole field of government, if all the committees that are set up are even half as wrong as that committee was we’re in bad shape.’
In Europe, Denmark had the first known radio station in the world to broadcast commercial radio from a vessel in international waters without permission from the authorities in the country that it broadcast to.
The station was named Radio Mercur and began transmission on August 2, 1958. In the Danish newspapers it was soon called a ‘pirate radio’.
Encouraged by Scandinavian and Dutch pirates, in February 1964, O’Rahilly obtained the 702-ton former Danish passenger ferry, named Fredericia, and transported it to his father’s port in Ireland where he had the boat fitted with transmitters, studios and a 180ft mast before renaming the boat Caroline.
He went on to found the station in the same year in the hopes of competing with the BBC which held sole control of radio at the time and reflect new musical trends.
Speaking at the time about the name of his boat, the man who would go on to change the scene of British music forever, said the name of the vessel had been inspired by a picture of President John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline in Life Magazine.
The founder of Caroline Radio (with Dj Tony Prince Of Radio Caroline) decided to purchase his own shape and begin his own radio station
O’Rahilly (left and right with fellow crew members onboard the boat Radio Caroline) obtained the 702-ton former Danish passenger ferry, named Fredericia, and renamed the boat Caroline
The visionary (pictured inside the offshore radio station) transported the boat to his father’s port in Ireland and fitted it with transmitters, studios and a 180ft mast
He said: ‘I was very plugged into the Kennedy’s, big big fan of the Kennedy’s. And I remember travelling across to the states to buy the transmitter gear and I remember having this Life magazine and there was a picture of Caroline Kennedy disrupting government.
‘She was in the cabinet room or something, there was a meeting going on and she sort of climbed out from underneath the desk and disrupted everything.
‘Instead of Jack Kennedy having one of his aides get rid of her amid an important meeting he got involved with her leaving all these serious powerful men sitting around twiddling their thumbs. That was the story behind that.
‘The photograph was of her climbing out from under the desk with all smiles and the and it was the whole image really. I said bang that’s it’.
The Irish musician, manager and businessman started Radio Caroline after he failed to obtain airplay on Radio Luxembourg for keyboard player Georgie Fame’s records because it was committed to sponsored programmes promoting major record labels – EMI, Decca, Pye and Philips.
As the ship set sail across the sea and delivered radio shows to the masses, O’Rahilly was able to ignite a cultural phenomenon that would in turn inspire the commercial radio stations to come.
The businessman said the name of the boat had been inspired by a picture of the Kennedy’s in Life Magazine
Unlicensed by any government for most of its early life, the ship was a pirate radio station that never actually became illegal, although after the Marine Offences Act (1967), which was introduced by Harold Wilson’s Labour government, it became illegal for a British subject to associate with it.
Following the act, the station was forced to leave UK ports and suffered a huge loss of revenue.
However in 1983, after purchasing the ship Ross Revenge, Radio Caroline once again set sail until the boat was shipwrecked off the Kent coast in 1991.
Since 19 August 2000, Radio Caroline has broadcast 24 hours a day via the internet and by the occasional restricted service licence.
The remarkable life of Ronan O’Rahilly
Ronan O’Rahilly was able to ignite a cultural phenomenon. Ronan O’Rahilly was born on May 21 in 1940. His grandfather Michael O’Reilly, was one of the Irish rebels who was shot dead by British soldiers in Dublin during the easter uprising in April 1916. His father Aodhogan O’Rahilly, was a businessman who owned the port of Greenore in County Louth, Republic of Ireland. During his teenage years, O’Rahilly, moved to the bustling city of London. He began running the Scene Club in Great Windmill Street in the Soho district. He later decided to create his own radio station and purchased a baltic ferry. Speaking at the time about the name of his boat he said the name had been inspired by a picture of the Kennedy’s in Life Magazine. As the ship set sail across the sea and delivered radio shows to the masses, O’Rahilly was able to ignite a cultural phenomenon that would in turn inspire the radio statins to come. Unlicensed by any government for most of its early life, the ship was a pirate radio station that never actually became illegal, although after the Marine Offences Act (1967) it became illegal for a British subject to associate with it. Following the act, the station suffered a huge loss of revenue. He later moved back to Ireland in 2013 after being diagnosed with dementia.
Among its famous alumni are Tony Blackburn, Sir Roger Gale and DJ Johnnie Walker. He also managed the musicians Georgie Fame and Alex Korner. Over his lifespan, the mastermind of pirate radio also went on to become the manager of Australian actor and former James Bond, George Lazenby. O’Rahilly, whose life also inspired the Richard Curtis film The Boat that Rocked, later moved back to Ireland in 2013 after being diagnosed with dementia.
Today friend and radio colleague Peter Moore said in a statement: ‘For a man who lived on his wits, dementia was the cruellest blow. Deserting his traditional home turf of Chelsea for Ireland, he moved first to Dublin where his grandfather fought the British in the 1916 uprising.
‘At length he settled in Dundalk across from Greenore where the Caroline adventure started 56 years before. A clever man, sometimes verging on genius. Eccentric of course, sometimes unscrupulous, but suddenly kind and warm hearted.
‘A rogue maybe, but a charismatic and loveable rogue. He will be missed.’
A message on Radio Caroline’s website read: ‘In a pastime populated by unusual people, Ronan was more unusual than all of them combined.
‘In a world where we all follow rules created by others and imposed on us, Ronan had no rules other than his own. He said he was in the business of ”why not?”.’
Following O’Rahilly’s death, famous faces have taken to social media to offer their condolences.
Actor George Lazenby wrote: ‘It’s kind of bittersweet to hear Ronan O’Rahilly has passed away… He was the man behind Radio Caroline, the pirate radio station which helped kick off the Swinging Sixties in London.
‘I remember those days well. He was very influential on me giving up the role of James Bond back in 1969.
‘While I was shooting On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Ronan convinced me Bond was all over. Why get tied to one image when I could do a range of roles. I guess he appealed to the times.
‘He convinced me to not stay on as Bond – I’d be in danger of becoming part of the Establishment. Something he rebelled against. Easy Rider was supposed to be the way forward and I could do three or four of those type of movies for every Bond.
‘I wanted to be a free spirit, make love, not war. Ronan wouldn’t let me sign the Bond contract – kept sending it back. He was executive producer on my movie Universal Soldier. Who knows what would have happened had Ronan not got a hold of my brain? But I don’t regret a day of my life. Not a single day. And I still have a great life. Rest well, Ronan. Love George xx’
While Johnnie Walker wrote: ‘Farewell to Radio Caroline founder Ronan O’Rahilly, The man who made the impossible possible and changed radio forever.
‘Thanks Ronan for the incredible experience of being a Caroline deejay and to challenge the Government in 1967. You were an amazing man.’
Meanwhile hypnotist Paul McKenna added: ‘I am very sad at the passing of my friend the great Ronan O’Rahilly, founder of Radio Caroline. He was such an important person in influencing world events.
‘A personal inspiration and a dear friend, he is definitely someone who changed the world for the better. Rest in peace…’