THE LASER STORY - PART THREE
Reproduced with kind permission of "Offshore Echo's Magazine."
The Laser Story Part 3.
In Part 1 and Part 2 of the Laser story, we looked at how the station was planned and started up. While on the surface and after only a few weeks on air, Laser 558 claimed a huge audience and appeared to be very successful, behind the scenes storm clouds of several types were gathering.
NINE MILLION LISTENERS.
On 28th July, Music Week reported that Laser claimed an estimated nine million listeners in Europe. "When advertising begins Laser 558 hope it will be for generic international products such as film, records, soft drinks and cars". according to Roy Lindau, who added "nobody has signed yet". A new voice was heard in late July, that of Michael Dean. Around this time it was also announced that the station was now owned by "Eurad SA"
The Observer for 5th August featured radio pirates and spoke about Laser, saying that "it revives memories of the first generation of pirates in the 1960's". Life on Laser is cramped and spartan, but the disc jockeys who work two months on and one month off say they havn't yet got bored. "There's no traffic, no bills and no phone" said Charlie Wolf. Outside their four hour shows, the DJ's, three men and two women stay busy preparing material, reading, listening to music and sunbathing. Tommy Rivers spends his time writing up his Masters thesis on audience research and radio stations for the University of Wisconsin. The monotony is occasionally broken by the sight of an RAF Canberra swooping low over the ship presumably to photograph any boat that goes out to it. A police launch occasionally has a look and at weekends boatloads of "anoraks" come out to cheer on their latest hero.
ANARCHY ON THE AIRWAVES.
Laser 558 appeared on BBC TV news bulletins on 17th August, when reporter Philip Hayton visited the Communicator and was shown around the ship. The report concluded how established radio stations were losing listeners to the new wave of pirate broadcasters, both offshore and onshore. The Mail on Sunday, for 19th August, continued on the same theme. "What we are facing is anarchy on the airwaves" said John Baldwin, the IBA's Deputy Director for radio and their pirate specialist. "It is a nightmare and the authorities seem to be doing nothing to put it right. A time is rapidly approaching when we will have to find a way of dealing with the major operators ourselves".
Paul Rusling's book "The Lid off Laser" was launched in August 1984. The book mentioned an unnamed European backer and his adviser, a man involved with BBC news and production. The London evening paper "The Standard", for 21st August revealed that the BBC man was Roger Parry and later identified Philip Smyth as the backer of Laser. Smyth, owner of the Sachs Hotel in Dublin, lives in a £200,000 house in Fox Rock, a leafy and expensive suburb of Dublin.
The Kent "Evening Post" for 23rd August, reported that Laser's deejays had been appearing at the Laser Lover's roadshow, a contravention of the MOA. Maidstone based agent Bob Steptoe denied this, saying "there have been no DJ's from the boat appearing at any of our disco's". The Post revealed that Holly Michaels, David Lee Stone and Ric Harris had all sneaked ashore, avoiding passport control and appeared at the roadshows handing out publicity photo's. The shows attract around 500 fans paying L3 each, and the American DJ's can earn L200 a night tax free for their appearances. They return under cover of darkness through Kent ports. The Home Office and Police are investigating Laser's activities concerning possible illegal immigration.
Mighty Joe Young made his debut at 1930 on Tuesday 4th September, taking over the last hour and a half of Jessie Brandon's show. Jessie was feeling unwell.
LASER LOVER ROADSHOW.
As well as the Laser Lover and Communicator Roadshow, with Rob Day, operating during the Summer in South East England, Laser announced on 6th September that the roadshow was now operating in Holland and Belgium, and that listeners could contact Frans van der Drift Produkties.
Music Week reported on 15th September, that despite statements from the Department of Trade and Industry that investigations into the supply of Laser were underway, no communications had been received. "I'm hoping no news is good news" said Laser's spokeswoman Jane Norris.
October saw the arrival of the long promised adverts, the first aired being for "Ski" magazine and later in the day for Aswin fire extinguishers. Also aired, was the first of many plugs for "The Lost Opera" by Kimera and the Operaiders. Kimera was reportedly an opera trained Korean princess and the Operaiders, the London Symphony Orchestra.
The Sun newspaper carried a full page article about Laser on 5th October, when reported Sue Carroll visited the ship. More adverts heard during October included Marlboro cigarettes, Rolling Stone and Ritz magazines, USA Today newspaper, Kon-tiki holidays and Bose loudspeakers.
Laser 558 TOP 10 - October 26th 1984
1. Chaka Khan - I feel for you
2. Wham - Freedom
3. Duran Duran - The Wild boys
4. Paul McCartney - No more lonely nights
5. Georgio Moroder & Philip Oakey - Together in Electric Dreams
6. Julian Lennon - Goodbyes
7. Alison Moyet - All Cried out
8. Billy Ocean - Caribbean Queen
9. Billy Ocean - Europena
10. Limahl - Never ending story
Tina Turner - Private Dancer
Jermaine Jackson & Pia Zadora - When Rain begins to fall
Kimera and the Operaiders - The Lost Opera
On 23rd November, Laser left the air at 1830 during Jessie Brandon's show for urgent maintenance to the aerial system, due to a force nine to ten storm. Jessie announced "I am checking out, we've got some weather problems out here as you can doubtless hear and it's a real shame because I was going to do the best show you have ever heard tonight. But stick around your radio, we'll be back as soon as we can. Laser 558 All Europe Radio". They returned at 1630 on the 25th November.
Laser 558 had more problems on 3rd December, when their transmitter broke down at 1045, normal programmes resumed at 1630. There were more difficulties on 6th December, when Laser announced that they would have to go off air for technical reasons. They left the air at 1437, returning at 1505.
Music Week for 8th December, reported that in the first audience survey, Laser had nearly five million listeners, eleven per cent of the population over the age of fifteen. Roy Lindau, MMI President said "The findings of the MRIB survey are incredible when you consider that Laser has never been promoted or advertised in any medium but its own airtime". A new advert was aired for Verbatim Datalife floppy discs on 16th December.
PIRACY ON THE HIGH SEAS.
On 17th December, the Daily Mail reported on a plot to force Laser 558 off the air. On a tape recording sent to the paper, Paul Rusling and the head of a Local Radio station, discuss ways of silencing Laser. Other papers including the Southend Evening Echo picked up the story and the next day, the 18th, Thames TV carried the story in their "Reporting London" programme. Reporter Michael Wilson spoke to both Rusling and Blackwell and mentioned the arson attack on Paul's pub, which he blames on Laser.
Paul Rusling said "I was approached by someone who said 'you've been aggrieved by Laser', this was about two weeks after the fire, I said it certainly looks that way. I can't think of anyone else that it could be that's responsible. They asked for certain information, I didn't want to give the information I was priveledged to and if they were going to make use of it for their own ends, then I wanted to be reasonably rewarded for that and I suggested that I take part in the operation".
Paul Rusling then claimed he was contacted by Eddie Blackwell, this was denied by Blackwell who claimed it was Rusling who contacted him. Whichever is true a meeting was held in the boardroom of Essex Radio on 28th September, between the two men.
PR. What we intend to do, is go out there and confine the crew to their quarters temporarily, whilst we remove certain items from the ship, which will incapacitate it.
EB. I can't pay you or give you any money to take the thing off the air, I'd be delighted to give you a nice dinner afterwards.
The tape recording continued with a discussion on cutting the anchor chain and towing the ship into territorial waters and then money was discussed.
EB. What kind of money are you talking of?
PR. We're not talking about a Mickey Mouse operation, we're talking about paying the people that do it, £500 a man, about eight to ten people.
EB. About four or five thousand pounds?
PR. We're probably talking about a little bit more than that actually.
EB. It might be possible for someone at some time to pay somebody, not connected with you, something. It would have to be out of this country, but I'm not negotiating.
PR. I've got a bank account in Switzerland and one in New York.
Eddie Blackwell maintained that he was not involved in a plot and that no money was ever paid. He recorded the conversation in order to discover the name of one of his staff said to be involved with Laser. The tape recording was then stolen from Blackwell and edited to remove any mention of the un-named staff member. A further twist to the story is that the un-named person spoke to "Reporting London" and claimed that they had been approached by someone who had the tape and would reveal their name unless £10,000 was paid. Returning to the tape recording;
EB. I'm very anxious not to let your enthusiasm for the termination of this project wane, I'd like to encourage you, but I can't encourage you in a illegal way.
Eddie Blackwell claimed that Rusling wanted to cause trouble for the company that "owed him money". Blackwell had passed the information on the tape to Brian West of the AIRC, but had not involved the police. Roy Lindau took steps to safeguard the ship and sent a transcript of the tape to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Paul Rusling admitted a revenge motive to the "Daily Mail", but later said he had discussed the idea on behalf of others and had now abandoned it. The IBA refused to comment.
During the weeks before Christmas, a number of station plugs were heard, recorded by people like Huey Lewis, The Thompson Twins and Meat Loaf. On 22nd December, the station closed at 2300 because of fuel shortages. The next day the generator broke down at 0948, Laser returned by 1008.
"Smash Hits" magazine for 15th December, placed Laser at no. 2 in their readers poll, while "No. 1" magazine had Laser at no. 5 position. "Music Week" for 19th December and "Womans World" January 1985 both noted the arrival of Laser 558 as one of the events of 1984. Meanwhile January 1985 "The Face" lifestyle magazine that had just advocated skirts for men, listed one of the obsessions of 1984 was pirate radio and was also one of the stimulants. They also listed what was "in" for the new year, these included gin, short hair, plastic mini skirts, bishops, Radio 3 and flamenco. Among items out of fashion were Vodka, long hair, chrome. boxer shorts, politicians, opera and Laser.
To be continued.
The Laser story - Part 4.
THE LASER STORY compiled by Chris Edwards, editor of "Offshore Echo's" magazine, with special thanks to Jim Parkes on whose text the story is based.