Radio Essex and BBMS

Radio Essex
BBMS, (Britain's Better Music Station)


Announced wavelength : 222 metres.
Location : On ex Navy Fort Knock John located in the Thames Estuary.
Owner : Roy Bates.
Address : Radio Essex, 33 Avenue Road, Sounthend-on-Sea, Essex.
Tel: Southend 41132.
Hours of transmission : 7.00am to 9.00pm, later 24 hours a day.

Roy Bates, one time fisherman decided that after the success of Radio Caroline and the publicity attracted by the escapades of Screaming Lord Sutch, that he would enter the radio business. He spent some time visiting unoccupied forts in the Thames Estuary and selected Knock John as the most suitable. It took some months to get everything organised and when he eventually returned to the fort he found it occupied by the Radio City staff. He 'persuaded' them to leave and set about building his radio assisted by Richard Palmer and Mark West.
Two of the old wartime generators were restored to working order as was the lighting and other electrical equipment. An old store room was turned into a studio although it had a steel door and no windows. Equipment in the studio consisted of a Vortexion tape recorder, a 50 watt amplifier, a Reslo microphone, two Garrard 401 turntables, a home made mixer, a pair of war surplus headphones together with a chair and a plastic bucket taken from Mrs. Bates' kitchen. Next a pre-war 1 kW RCA Victor, ex USAF radio beacon was installed and converted for use as a broadcasting transmitter. An aerial mast was constructed with scaffold poles and this had a habit of falling down, thus causing a reduction in power using a temporary aerial until it could be put up again.

At the end of October 1965 on either 27th or 28th test transmissions started on 1351kHz (222 metres) and after moving around settled on 1353kHz. On 7th November regular programmes started with a mixed format, Middle of the Road music during the day with Top 40 at night.

The success of the station is hard to judge as the power was often low and the quality of the signal far from good, but by concentrating on local advertising the station was popular in S.E. Essex. On 28th September 1966, a Post Office summons was served on 45 years old Mr. Bates at Southend Police HQ alleging that on 16th August he had contravened Section One of the 1949 Wireless Telegraphy Act by using a transmitter without a licence at Knock John Tower. Mr. Bates said " I shall be fighting this from A to Z all the way". He then stated that the station's name was to be changed in the next week and a more powerful transmitter installed.

Radio Essex became BBMS, Britains Better Music Station following the same format as before. On 30th November at Rochford Magistrates Court Mr. Bates appeared to answer the charge brought against him. Conducting his own case he pleaded guilty, but claimed that the court was acting outside its jurisdiction as Knock John was in international waters and for as long as he had lived this had been so. Indeed French and Belgian trawlers often fished there and nobody had been able to stop them. He asked why if he had been breaking the law it had taken so long before he was summoned, surely it should have been done when he started broadcasting. He was fined 100 and asked for one week to pay. Against the advice of his solicitor he decided to stay on the air pending the hearing of an appeal.

By this time BBMS had changed frequency slightly to 1349 kHz. The station closed down at 4.30 pm on Christmas Day with the last record being Philly Dog. Money had run out and deejays and staff had not been paid for weeks.
All the equipment was dismantled and taken to Roughs Tower, but the station never restarted. However there are reports of the station being heard as late as 3rd January 1967. On 17th January an appeal against the Magistrates' decision failed at Chelmford Quarter Sessions. Mr. J. Roland Adams QC, said, "It appears to us that Knock John Tower is about one and a half miles inside inland waters". No more appeals were made.

Do you remember those 'Golden' days of Offshore radio? If you wish to add anything to these pages then please E-Mail me
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