Radio Nord

Broadcasting in Sweden, as in so many other countries, has a history of largely unchallenged State Monopoly. In March 1961, however, this status quo was challenged when one of Europe's first offshore radio stations anchored in international waters off Stockholm and began to beam a new type of programme into Sweden. This is the history of that station ; 'Radio Nord'.

Wavelength : 495 metres MW
Location : From the mv 'Bon Jour'. Later renamed 'Magda Maria'. Anchored in international waters off Stockholm.
Owners : The 'Radio Reklam Produktion AB'
Hours of transmission : 24 hours

In November 1959, following the success of 'Radio Mercur', a Swede named Jack Kotschack and two Americans, Gordon McLendon and Bob Thompson set about bringing commercial radio to the Swedish capital.
Their initial task was to find a suitable ship and a salvage tug. The vessel was found in Kiel, West Germany. The ms Olga was a small cargo boat, built in 1921 by 'Deutsche Werke AG'. An originally schooner some 98 feet long. In 1927 her length was increased to 134 feet and engines were installed. She was given the name 'Olga', replacing her original name 'SS Margarethe'.

On 31st May 1960 she entered the Norder Werft in Hamburg to be converted into a radioship. The hold was converted to contain studios, transmitter hall, crew and radio staff quarters. It was intented to erect two 125 foot masts to carry a flat top antenna looped between them. However in the end only one was used. Work did not progress as quickly as has been hoped. Then an even bigger problem arose. Under a law passed during the time Hitler was in power, it was illegal to install, repair or operate a radiostation without government permission. A letter was sent to the shipyard by the German authorities on 10th August 1960 reminding them of the law. The 'Bon Jour' as the Olga had been renamed left Hamburg for Copenhagen where she docked in the free port. It was here that the mast was erected and the transmitters installed. Two 10 kW 'Contintal Electronics 316B' crystal controlled transmitters were flown in from the USA. 6.000 loose parts had to be assembled !

All of the operations from the very beginning were supervised by a 73 year old engineer named Dr Pepke. Captain Kaj Hallonsten acted as his consultant.

At last everything was ready and at 6.00 pm on 20th December 1960 the 'Bon Jour' left Langeline, Copenhagen bound for her anchorage near to Stockholm. Everything was ready for the station to be on the air by Christmas. This was not to be as, during her trip, it was noticed that the stays on the mast were working loose. The 'Bon Jour' dropped anchor off the island of Gotska Sandon to repair the damage. 23rd December 1960 the captain got the ship under way once more and some time later anchored at what she thought was the correct point. The transmitter was switched on, a blue flash came from the arial and everything went dead ! The fishing boat Dannette spent all day looking for the radioship after she had failed to find her at the correct anchorage. With the special Christmas programme tapes still on board she continued the search on Christmas Eve and eventually found the 'Bon Jour'.

On Christmas Day 1960 the crew abandoned the ship as they feared the mast was going to collapse in the heavy seas. A pilot boat took them into Sandhamn. The following day a salvage tug picked up the crew and took them back to their ship which was still in one piece. 27th December 1960 the 'Bon Jour' was towed into Sandhamn. A new captain was appointed , John Johansson. The ship arrived in Stockholm but left again very quickly to avoid any legal problems. She made for Abo in Finland and entered the Crichton Fulcan shipyard for repairs. The Finnish Government put pressure on the shipyard owners to refuse the work and the 'Bon Jour' had to leave and anchor in Chalk Harbour. The director of the shipyard did not like letting customers down, and sent men to carry out the repairs.

4th February 1961, the 'Bon Jour' was under way again anchoring on the 6th off Orno. A gale blew up and to enable the engineers to carry out final checks prior to broadcasting, the ship set off again in search of calmer waters. A crack was heard from the mast and it was discovered that the insulators had broken, so once more the 'Bon Jou' limped into port arriving at the Finnboda shipyard in Stockholm on 7th February 1961. New insulators were fitted and a thorough check made of all equipment. This done and in order to carry out a full check, the transmitter was turned on for a few seconds at a time and one night a three hour test was made with the ship still anchored in the centre of Stockholm.

No one could suspect that the transmissions came from the 'Bon Jour' as the Swedish authorities always sealed the transmitters each time the ship entered national waters. However the crew had discovered a method of bypassing the seals...

Now the 'Bon Jour' left port on 21st February 1961 and made her anchorage. Shortly after arriving the first tests went out. The first voice was that of some Bengt Tornkrantz. After only a few days trouble was experienced with the condensors and a new visit was made to Finnboda. The 'Bon Jour' was at sea again on 1st March 1961 with tests. The following day the Swedish Parliament passed a law that any ship entering territorial waters would have its broadcasting equipment confiscated.

The test transmissions were on 606 kHz, but a loud hum was experienced at night caused by Radio Lyon (from France) on 602 kHz. It was decided to move to exactly the same frequency. This proved satisfactory. But as far as the listeners were concerned 'Radio Nord' was still on the 495 metres as all publicity and jingles already had advertised the fact that the station was on 495 metres.

Not only a fishing boat tendered the radio ship, also a light plane was used to drop a canister containing programme tapes and other messages astern of the 'Bon Jour'. An ingenious system of ropes and hooks ensured that the canister was safely gathered by the crew on board. Only once was a canister lost. So good was the system that a large whipped cream cake even arrived undamaged !

The Swedish government put pressure on Nicaragua to withdraw the registration of the 'Bon Jour'. Now registartion was obtained from Panama. To enable this to take place, the ship's name had to be changed to 'Magda Maria'.

Official programming commenced at 10.00 am on 8th March 1961. All went well till 2nd December 1961. A storm began to gather from the South West and gradually got worse until on the 6th a 70 mph gale was battering the 'Magda Maria'. The anchor began to drag and by 11.00 am the anchor was not holding at all and the ship was drifting. The engines would not start, but programmes still continued as normal until 5.00 pm when the news broadcasts had to cease as every man on board was needed to help keep the ship afloat. Then it was discovered that the anchor had gone, but as luck would have it the engine had just been got going. The crew had no idea of their position so they ran North with the storm making just two knots. At midnight broadcasting stopped as they feared they were entering Swedish waters. One of the stays on the mast broke and the next morning the 'Magda Maria' entered Sandhamn.

The law relating to confiscation was not enforced as it was decided that the ship would have been wrecked if she had stayed at sea. The usual procedure of sealing the transmitter was observed. By 8th December 1961 repairs were completed and the 'Magda Maria' made her way through a thick fog back to her anchorage. Broadcasts were recommenced and for three weeks the seals were not removed from the transmitter, so proud were the crew of the fact that they had discovered a method of bypassing them !

Programmes were broadcasted live from the ship and also pre-recorded in Stockholm. From 6.00 am to 9.00 am the newscasters on board presented the programmes, as they did the 1.00 pm to 2.00 pm spot, at other times tapes were used but towards close down more programmes were presented live.
News was broadcast on the hour from 8.00 am to 9.00 pm. First, the news was relayed by radio telephone from Stockholm, but this service was stopped by the Post Office. After this news was gathered from other stations on two receivers.

In March 1962 a jammer appeared without warning at the same time each evening. Complaints were made to the Swedish Telegraph Board. They denied being responsible, but the jamming stopped.

On 29th March 1962 the Swedish Parliament introduced a bill proposing the outlawing of offshore radio. Being passed in May the law was to take affect from the 1st August 1962. Nevertheless Radio Nord didn't give up immediately. Plans were being made to introduce a light music service on FM to supplement the Top 40 format of the medium wave transmissions. Commercials were to be broadcast simultaneously over both stations. It had been hoped to start this service in July 1962 but the forthcoming law caused this plan to be given up. As a prospective purchaser had been located the station closed down on 30th June 1962.

In its short life 'Radio Nord' experienced both disaster and success. It survived ice, storms, threats of seizure and technical difficulties which face a shipborne station, to be closed down by government legislation after having built up a huge following within Sweden, (an audience of 24% !).
After staying at anchor for some days, the ship left the Baltic and headed into the North Sea, arriving at El Ferrol in Spain on 2nd August 1962.

Not only did 'Radio Nord' become a pioneer of radio in Sweden, but it was also one of the pioneers of offshore radio in Europe and, to a large extend, provided inspiration which led to the radio ships which later anchored off British and Dutch coasts.


This Historical look at Radio Nord was researched and compiled by "RadioVisie/Jean-Luc Bostyn." in Belgium.

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