The day the music died 

14 August 2021 tbs.pm/73040

 

Monday 14 August 1967, a wet and gloomy summer’s day and I’m round my next door neighbour’s house where teenage sisters Linda and Elaine are glued to the radio, but for some reason Elaine is crying.

Throughout the summertime I had frequently seen her out in the garden with her faithful portable radio tuned to the ‘pirate’ Radio London (“Big L”) on 266 metres in the medium wave playing out its diet of non-stop pop music. That afternoon though, the mood on Elaine’s favourite radio station was sombre as she explained to me that Radio London was going off the air in just under an hour’s time.

 

Wonderful Radio London Club banner

 

In my youthful innocence I was unaware of the Marine Offences Act that would come into power at midnight, making it illegal for any British subject to work for or advertise on one of the many offshore radio stations which were now rapidly depleting. I just thought that the guys at Radio London had simply had enough and were calling it a day.

 


 

As a seven year old I had no idea of the magnitude and effect of what I was witnessing as I unknowingly heard a programme titled “Their Final Hour”. At the height of the swinging sixties BBC radio barely acknowledged pop music and the evening alternative, Radio Luxembourg, had yet to move over to the all pop format, so stations like Big L and Radio Caroline were the only source. But that was about to end and after 3pm that afternoon there would be no more pop music on the radio ever again.

 

 

“Their Final Hour” contained recorded tributes from Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger, Dusty Springfield and Cliff Richard among others. It was all quite morbid, the world as we knew it really was about to end. At around 2.55pm station managing director Philip Birch made a closing speech ending with the words “As one listener put it, the world will get by without Big L… but I’m not sure it will be a better place,” before the final record, The Beatles “A Day In The Life”.

 

MV Galaxy

 

Then, as the last chord faded came the sentence that remains etched in the memory of everyone who heard it that day; “Big L time is three o’clock and Radio London is now… closing down”. The station’s theme ‘Big Lil’ played out and a few seconds of silence was followed by the sound of dead-air static, the crackle of which gave an eerie finality as the transmitter on the Radio London ship, the MV Galaxy, was shut down forever.

At this point poor Elaine burst into real tears while Linda solemnly re-tuned the dial to Radio Caroline. Unfortunately the mood on 199 metres didn’t improve as Robbie Dale announced that “a sister of offshore radio has just gone off the air for the last time” and that “we are now alone”, followed by a one minute silence as tribute to the Big L.

Good as it was, Caroline didn’t quite have the glitzy jolly appeal and smooth presentation of Radio London. After going into illegality at midnight the playlist on Caroline was never the same either, becoming more influenced by the Dutch advertisers who kept them afloat.

 

A map of the off-shore stations derived from the Illustrated London News in November 1966

 

Elaine’s emotional reaction to the Big L closedown was not unusual among the teenage audience. The demise of Radio London really meant the demise of pop music on the radio. That was it. The End. Well, nearly…

 

 

Six weeks later at the end of September the BBC launched Radio 1 with its roster of DJs selected from the various pirate stations, but in having to share much of its airtime with Radio 2 while relaying many of that network’s shows and closing down at 7pm – a situation that continued for eleven years – it really was a piecemeal service. For the teenage music fan in 1967 pop radio really did die at three o’clock on Monday 14 August 1967.

 

 

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Liverpool, Tuesday 21 September 2021