The Story of the Good Ship Radio Scotland

The story of the Good Ship “Radio Scotland” begins back in the year 1904. That was the year in which the John Brown Shipyards on the Clyde in Scotland built the 90 ft. long, 500 ton, motorless barge LV “Comet“. The “Comet” was constructed under contract to the Commissioner of Irish Lights in Eire for service as a lightship in Dublin Bay.

At the end of some 60 years of service at anchorage as a lightship near the city of Dublin, the “Comet” was decommissioned and towed to St. Peter Port on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Here it was, now under the ownership of entrepreneur Tommy Shields, that the ship was fitted out as a mobile radio station, with studio, transmitters and additional electronic equipment.

The studio was prefabricated at the RCA facility at Sunbury on Thames and two RCA Ampliphase transmitters, Model BTA10 at 10 kW, were shipped from the United States. All of the radio equipment was assembled in a warehouse on Guernsey and readied for installation into the ship. A mobile crane was used to lower the preassembled equipment into the “Comet”.

The studio was installed in what had previously been the Captain’s Cabin when the ship was operating in Irish waters; a 30 kW Deutz power generator was installed; and an aluminium mast 200 feet tall was attached to the stub of the previous wooden mast. One of the main problems associated with the mobile crane and its task of transferring the heavy equipment from the dock into the ship was that the tidal movement at this location at the island of Guernsey varies as much as 30 feet each day.
The “Comet”, still as a motorless barge, was towed from Guernsey up into Scottish waters via the east coast of England. On the way, the tow rope broke and it took two days to reattach the rope.

The new stationary location for the “Comet” was 3-1/2 miles off the Scottish coast near Dunbar, approximately 25 miles from Edinburgh. The target date for the initial broadcast from the “Comet” under the identification slogan “Radio Scotland” was scheduled for the last day in December 1965. This advertised time was barely achieved, only just 10 minutes before midnight, though this inaugural broadcast was on the air at reduced power.

The inaugural broadcast was heard at a good level in nearby Edinburgh and across the open waters in Scandinavia, though the signal into Glasgow and the west of Scotland was quite poor. The signal into all of the mainland areas was improved significantly a couple of weeks later, on January 16, when a special part from the United States was installed, thus enabling full power operation.

The initial mediumwave channel was 1241 kHz, though this was modified to 1259 kHz after the specialized American part was installed in 1966. Though there were two mediumwave transmitters at 10 kW each aboard the “Comet”, and a locally made combining unit had been installed, yet usually only one transmitter was on the air at any one time.

On February 10, still in the same year 1966, the radio ship “Comet” was flooded during a storm. A Coast Guard ship came to the rescue with a bilge pump that removed this undesired intrusion.
As with so many of the pirate radio ships around the British Isles and associated areas back then, Radio Scotland aboard the LV “Comet” underwent its share of troubles. Due to a poor signal in the more heavily populated areas of Glasgow, arrangements were made for the motorless ship to be towed to the western side of Scotland.

Again, this motorless ship was towed for the 1,000 mile voyage around the northern coast of Scotland, from its stationary location off the east coast of Scotland (Edinburgh side) to a new location off the west coast of Scotland (Glasgow side). This voyage took a few weeks and initially they were on the air as they travelled. However, due to the difficulty in replenishing the slowly traveling mini-convoy, radio transmissions were discontinued halfway through the journey.

When they arrived at their new anchorage off the coast at Troon, Radio Scotland returned to the air, and a survey showed that almost half of the total population of Scotland listened to the pirate programming from the good ship “Comet.” However, due to a misunderstanding as to the boundary between the legal coastal waters of Scotland and the open seas, Radio Scotland was taken to court and fined for illegal broadcasting from Scottish waters.

So again, the “Comet” was towed to a new location, this time off the coast of Northern Ireland near Ballywater. On April 9, 1967, the station returned to the air as Radio Scotland & Ireland, though briefly at one stage the identification announcement stated Radio 242.

That didn’t work financially, so again the ship was towed to another location this time the more then 100 mile voyage back to its original location at Dunbar, off the east coast of Scotland for improved coverage of Edinburgh and its surroundings. That was in May of the same year, 1967.

However, the end was on the horizon, and advertising revenues did not cover expenses. Thus, the final epic broadcast of the very popular Radio Scotland ended in the evening of Monday August 14, 1967. The ship was then towed to Dunbar on the coast and offered for sale. When a sale did not materialize, the ship was towed to Methill Harbour in the Fife and all of the electronic equipment was removed.

The “Comet”‘ was then towed to Holland where it was in use for a while as a house boat. Then two years later (1969) it was taken to Ouwerkerk and broken up.

In addition to its shipboard facility, Radio Scotland also maintained an office in Scotland, on Cranworth Street, just off Byres Road in West Glasgow. At one stage, an advertising office was in use in Royalty House on Dean Street in London.

At the end, listeners by the thousands signed a petition to save Radio Scotland, with a request to grant a legal license for a land based station. The petition with 2-1/2 million signatures was presented to the government licensing agency in London, but the request was denied.

A few short years later, entrepreneur Tommy Shields was hospitalized with a kidney problem, from which he never recovered. He died at the young age of 49, with his lifelong dream unrealized.

From: Wavescan N302 – Dec. 7, 2014

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“Wavescan” is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave).