A History Lesson With Booze ®

The Rocking Pirates and The Rolling Wave

In the 1960s, British rock music was everywhere - except on British radio. A group of DJs took to the sea to broadcast pirate radio stations (until The Man got the message). Our story inspires a rule-breaking rum punch, straight from London.

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Chaloner Woods/Hulton Archive/Getty

In the mid-60s, British pop was a worldwide sensation. But you wouldn’t have known from listening to British radio.

Back then, there were just three U.K. radio stations. All run by the publicly-funded BBC. Which spun just six hours of pop music per week. a.) Because they were kinda square, and b.) because the musician’s union wanted to promote live performances — and wouldn’t let the Beeb broadcast much recorded music at all. U.K. kids had to tune in static-y signals from Luxembourg to get their rock fix.

Enter indie music producer Ronan O’Rahilly. He had pressed a record by a pop singer named Georgie Fame… but he couldn’t get it played on the few BBC shows that did spin rock. So in March 1964, he bought a ferry boat, sent it out to international waters… and from it, broadcast his own station: Radio Caroline.

In just a few years, ten other boat-based pirate stations floated onto Britain’s airwaves, spinning top-forty rock for an audience of up to twenty million Britons.

It wasn’t easy. DJs spun during ocean gales, trying to keep their phonograph needles from skidding across the records. In the winter, they would bring supplies on board, and couldn’t come ashore for weeks at a time. But when they did dock, thousands of fans greeted them as heroes.

In 1967, Parliament banned the pirate stations. But the BBC had learned its lesson: Just a month later, they launched Radio One – an all-pop music channel. The first DJ on air was one Tony Blackburn, one of the stars of Radio Caroline.

The Rolling Wave

Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com
Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com

Shaken up (presumably to the beat) by Naomi Fletcher of London’s Hawksmoor Seven Dials.

  • 40 ml Redbreast Irish Whisky
  • 20 ml Lime juice
  • 10 ml Over-proof rum (any will do, Wood’s Navy ideal)
  • 10 ml ginger syrup
  • 10 ml sugar syrup
  • Guinness stout beer
  • 5 fresh raspberries; lime wedge; mint sprig

Shake whisky, juice, rum, and syrups. Strain into a highball glass, with ice.  Top the drink with a float of Guiness. Garnish with fresh raspberries, lime wedge, and a mint sprig.

Hawksmoor Seven Dials…henceforth to be called the Pirates’ Lair:  

seven dials

  • babetteoh

    I love your show and listen to streaming podcasts when driving around town. Just heard this one and I was surprised the 2009 movie Pirate Radio (released in the UK as The Boat That Rocked) wasn’t mentioned in this segment. It was really good, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Tom Sturridge, and Kenneth Branagh, among others, and is based on the several music boats of the era. Great soundtrack, too.