Radio Essex and BBMS
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?
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