Radio Free London
Radio Free London first came on the air in August 1968, on the first anniversary of the closure of Britain's offshore stations. A transmitter of moderately high power was set up in a flat at Shepherd's Bush, where many of Radio Caroline's former staff had taken refuge. Their aerial was a long horizontal wire which ran across a street and a railway line and was tied to the fire escape of a BBC building.
This was the first test transmission and over the next few days RFL continued broadcasting intermittently with advertising for the first major Free Radio Association Rally, which was to be held in Trafalgar Square on August 17th of that year.
An estimated 5,000 Free Radio supporters attended the rally when speakers included former pirate DJs Robbie Dale, Stevi Merike, Ian Damon, Spangles Muldoon and Lorne King. An additional surprise for the supporters was the appearance of the founder of Radio Caroline, Ronan O'Rahilly.
RFL continued broadcasting every Sunday until early 1969 when it disappeared from London's airwaves. Although it did reappear briefly on FM in 1970 just hours before the launch of the BBC local station Radio London, it was not to be heard on a regular basis until March 1973 when it once again broadcast to London every weekend, this time on 92.8 MHz. This phase of RFL lasted until November 1974, when four members of staff were caught during a raid at Hayes Common in Kent, and once again RFL disappeared from London's airwaves.
The second phase of the FM service reappeared in late 1978 during a snow storm, once again broadcasting from the woods and fields on the outskirts of London, but within twelve months the station has moved to the rooftops of South London's high rise tower blocks. This phase of Radio Free London was the longest period the station broadcast to the capital which lasted for over five years with eight hours of programming being broadcast every Sunday.
Throughout the 1980's RFL could be heard playing the finest rock music but listenership to the station began to fall by the time the 1999s had started and the introduction of the new legal Radio stations which were slowly coming on the air, the need for a rock pirate station became less.
The heyday of RFL was between 1978-1983 when it broadcast a rock format to London every Sunday from the high rise tower blocks of down town South London with a very slow reel-to-reel machine carrying the 14+ hours of programming on FM. RFL was also featured on shortwave, via European Music Radio, and received many enquiries from all over Europe. The station came and went throughout the 80's and early 90's. The last high power broadcast from the station was from Mottingham in Kent when it was heard in stereo, with live and taped programmes for two days over Christmas 1992.
Radio Free London was silent until March 1995, when low power tests were heard on 99.1 FM on Sunday and Wednesday evenings . It was not until six weeks later at Easter when regular shows were heard once again, twice a week for three hours a night incorporating old timers Kenny and Mark and well known voices from the shortwave scene Jodie (ex Radiofax), Terry Phillips and Andy Walker plus new boy Eric May. Because of lack of response from the listeners the FM service was closed and a move to SW was made in November 95, giving European listeners the chance to hear the UK’s oldest landbased pirate station.
A frequency of 6400kHz was used as this had proved to work well in the past with other stations, but as RFL was new to SW and 6.4mHz was out of the main 48m pirate band, a move was made to 6285kHz to build up an audience. This we did and after a few months we moved back to 6400kHz with some very good results using only 15 watts of power from a car battery.
Just before Easter ‘96 a mains supply was installed at our site and 24 hour broadcasts started on our 1st and 3rd Sundays on the air. In June 96 RFL started broadcasting on 3945kHz in the 76 metre band on a Saturday evening and through the night into the Sunday morning and soon both frequencies were used in parallel with our transmitters staying on the air for the full 24 hours of air time with programs broadcast on a continuous loop cassette machine with four one hour shows, repeated every four hours.
At Christmas, a week long broadcast was made with the usual four hour loop and tape changes made every day. A total of 170 hours of broadcasting time was clocked up during that week, with our two transmitters staying on the air non-stop throughout the Xmas week.
Everything was going great, we had now not only a large amount of letters being received at our postal address but also RFL was on the Internet with an E-Mail address and a mobile phone which was used to take calls from our listeners every time we were on the air, but it was all soon to come to a sudden halt, when some children found our site and equipment, luckily we were in the local pub having a drink and caught them as they switched off the transmitter. A move of site was made to wooded area outside of London, but what was to happen on Sunday evening April 20th could not have been foreseen!
We had over the course of three weeks installed mains power and two aerials at a wooded site on the side near the M25 motorway at Junction four in Kent. On the evening of April 19th our two transmitters and a continuous play cassette machine were installed and once again RFL took to the airwaves as usual with good signals being heard throughout the UK and Europe. Everything went well and the time switch turned off the equipment as it always had 24 hours later.
Around 2200hrs that evening someone stumbled across our equipment, (we believe it was a motorway maintenance worker) who telephoned the Police who believing it was a suspect package closed the motorway between junctions three and five while the bomb squad were called in to investigate. There must have been some red faces in high places when the packages were found to be nothing more that a pirate radio station.
Below is a copy of the story that appeared on South-Eastern teletext the following day:
Teletext Page 339 April 21st 1997 London M-WAY CLOSURE BLAMED ON RADIO A pirate radio station is believed to have caused a bomb alert that closed the M25 motorway for two hours. Police shut the motorway at junction four after a member of the public found wires leading from the slip road into nearby woods, and connected to a box. The bomb squad examined the box but decided it was harmless. The DTI are now investigating the transmitter.
Our move to the 51 metre band, 5805kHz has so far been a great success, with good signals heard across the UK and Europe. The move was made when our regular frequency of 6400 became more congested with QRM and interference from Radio Korea. We carried out a couple of tests with only 12 watts of power which had the free radio scene buzzing on hearing clear strong reception almost everywhere. Some RTTY has been noted on the channel of an evening but during the day the 5805 slot remains mostly clear making it a very good choice for broadcast use. Let’s hope it stays that way.
During February 20001 after an act of vandalism at their transmitter site, the short-wave service of RFL had to be suspended. However the London service on 819 kHz continued to broadcast every Sunday. There had been a number of strange happenings and attacks at the short-wave site over the previous year with little idea of who was behind them as very little or no damage was done to the transmitter. Other strange happenings had been the pulling up of buried mains cable and aerial coax, the locations of which were only known to four members of RFL staff. All the transmitting equipment had to be removed and stored in a safe place.
A remarkable twist to these strange happenings took place when a member of the RFL staff was seen entering, and leaving one of the sites and was challenged by other members of staff. This resulted in the said member suddenly leaving the station with the subsequent return of broadcasting equipment to another staff member. It was believed that this former staff member had teamed up with another ex-RFL presenter to start a new station on short-wave.
Following these serious accusations, together with comments on various web sites stating that Terry Philips the main operator behind RFL was responsible for the sabotage, Terry started transmissions from a new station on short wave, Radio Nova International, at the same time vigorously denying having had anything to do with these acts of vandalism.
Radio Free London eventually returned to 5805kHz short-wave on June 4th in parallel with the 819kHz London service. Transmitter power on short-wave was 30 watts. However the internal squabbles continued and the station eventually closed down.
RFL returned once again on shortwave in 2005 on 6275 kHz during the May and August Bank Holiday Weekends. The impressive line-up of presenters were: Andy Walker, Tony Randall, Dave Martin, Chris Ise, Steve Underground, Roger Dale, Dave Doubledex, and Tristian Gaybody.