Elisabeth II

Ship details: A 32′ ”cockleshell” cruiser named Elizabeth II

Offshore radio station: Radio Rag (Newcastle University) from 26th to 28th October 1964

In October 1964, an offshore broadcast was initiated to promote Newcastle University students’ Rag Week, an annual event in many universities where students engage in unusual activities to raise money for charity.

Employing a 32′ cruiser named Elizabeth II, the students anchored off the mouth of the Tyne outside the three mile limit off the coast of North Shields.

George Straughan, secretary of the Newcastle Motor Boat Club, was skippering the vessel. Members of the crew were John Taylor, Stefan Pietrzak-Youngs, 21-year-old geological students Dick Turner and Keith Appleton along with 19-year-old Alan Cross, a physics student. They had prepared a tape for the broadcast containing Rag propaganda with news flashes, Rag programme details, music and specially recorded interviews for example with the pop group The Animals.

The station got on the air with the help of an ex-Naval Transmitter from London and a meterological balloon overhead acting as an aerial.

The very first tests on October 26th faced interruptions due to fog and interference from Radio Caroline, prompting a slight adjustment in wavelength for subsequent transmissions from 197 (Caroline’s “199”) to 200 metres. Technical issues with a transformer led to the truncation of broadcasts the following day. Despite these challenges, successful transmissions took place during October 28, 1964.

A student colleague reported that reception was good at Tynemouth Pier when the interference sudsided. This was confirmed by students in lodgings who spoke of good quality in between bursts of Radio Caroline. The next morning, October 28th, Radio Rag was received loud and clear in Newcastle. On November 5 1964, Courier, the weekly Newpaper of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, published a detailed account of the station including them going to London to buy and transport the heequipment. The paper mentioned a reception report from Gayle, near Hawes in North Yorkshire. In addition the programmes were received strongly in Rowlands Hill, and reports came in from as far away as Haxham and Darlington.

In 1965 Radio Rag broadcast again, the student newspaper initially claimed it would be outside the 3 mile limit but the week after said “Britian’s smallest Pirate Radio is now dismantled. Last year transmitting ceased abruptly when all the equipment disappeared overboard – an accident scarcely possible this year if its true whereabouts were known”.

In 1966, Radio Rag announced plans to broadcast with 500 watts instead of 50. Requests were made for a donation of 2 shillings and sixpence, and the broadcasts were promoted in the local press. Regrettably, no further broadcasts were executed. Retrospective articles in the Courier, reflecting on past Rag Weeks, suggested that the discontinuation was a result of pressure from the Postmaster General. (With thanks to Mike Barraclough)

Location: Off the mouth of the Tyne outside the three mile limit off the coast of North Shields