The sound of South-West London, 1969 - 1985.
One of the longest-running and best-known unlicensed radio stations, Radio Jackie first took to the air on 19 March 1969 on 194m medium wave. It was founded by Mike Knight (Nick Catford) with Mike Hayes, Dave Owen, Roger Allen, Tony Simms and Eddie Lloyd. The station was named after Jackie Kennedy – whose daughter had been the inspiration behind the naming of Radio Caroline.
After initial broadcasts from houses and flats, Jackie decided that these regular locations were going to attract the attentions of the authorities, so they became the first station to move transmissions to open spaces. While it meant that they couldn't broadcast live and no longer had access to mains electricity for the power-hungry valve transmitters of the day, it did make operations considerably less risky. The equipment could be set up in the undergrowth with an aerial between trees, while station staff could be on lookout from a distance, ready to either whisk the equipment away if they had enough warning of the arrival of the Post Office investigators – or to simply leg it if they didn't.
Gradually Radio Jackie refined its mobile broadcasting, at one time even making use of a pram to house all the heavy equipment. From initial broadcasts in Sutton's Nonsuch Park, for a long time they could be found every Sunday in a corner of Beddington Sewage Works. Transmissions moved to 227m, where they would continue for most of their part-time pirate life. In 1971 they also experimented with VHF transmissions every Saturday night, at first on their own and then as part of the London Transmitter of Independent Radio group. At this time the authorities found it hard to track VHF transmissions, but when they could they rapidly wiped them off the dial and in 1973 Jackie were back to AM-only broadcasts.
1975 saw Radio Jackie disappear from the airwaves for most of the year. Several of the staff had jumped ship to Radio Kaleidoscope, while founder Mike Knight was caught in a raid at another station and sentenced to 28 days in Pentonville Prison because of his previous four convictions. After their return the format of the station began to change, positioning Radio Jackie as The Sound of South-West London and with more content for their broadcast area – though mostly confined to local listings.
Programmes continued regularly every Sunday into the eighties, with hours gradually expanding to cover the whole day. The station was helped by reduced activity on the part of the Post Office investigators after 1977, who avoided Jackie after engineer Mike Barrington was physically assaulted by the PO's Eric Gotts during a raid and successfully took him to court. Gotts was given a conditional discharge for 12 months but had to pay £350 costs; he unsuccessfully appealed but kept his job.
1983 marked a major change in the station as – more confident of the limits of the authorities' current powers – they embarked on 24-hour broadcasting. Engineer Tony Hollis became the main shareholder and managing director of the station while Dave Owen returned from a job in Independent Local Radio and became joint programme controller. Offices and studios were set up in Worcester Park, a more professional transmitter and aerial system installed in Cheam and Jackie registered as a proper business with PAYE-enrolled employees. There was even a Radio Jackie shop.
Weekdays at this time saw Mark Lawrence on breakfast, then Ron Brown, Rob Randall, drivetime with Dave Owen and in the evening Geoff Rogers. Specialist shows included big band music every Friday night, Bob Halfin's Memory Lane with music from the thirties to the fifties every Saturday night, oldies with Mike Knight every Sunday afternoon and Les Adams' remix show on Sunday nights. A young Dave Pearce and Paul McKenna also passed through the station. Jackie was very successful in attracting local advertisers, in the spring of '84 was offering packages of 13 ads every day for a week for £225.
After the introduction of the 1984 Telecoms Act, Radio Jackie seems to have known it was living on borrowed time. On Friday 1 February the new Radio Investigation Service launched separate raids on Radio Jackie's offices and studios and at the transmitter site. They stripped the premises of every last piece of equipment and all the paperwork that was needed to prove individuals' involvement in the station. Concluding that they could not continue operating in the way they had before and that if they didn't then it would not be Radio Jackie, the station decided to close down. They came back on the air using makeshift equipment and prepared for a final farewell on Monday 4 February 1985. Hundreds of listeners turned up outside their offices at Central Road, Worcester Park to say goodbye, with programmes also going out on a VHF transmitter from the same location to ensure they could not be taken off. Even then the DTI couldn't resist raiding the medium wave transmitter site in the last minutes of the broadcast.
Members of Radio Jackie continued campaigning for a licence. When in 1996 the Radio Authority finally advertised one for South West London they applied, only to be beaten by Thames Radio. When Thames ran into financial difficulties Jackie bought the loss-making station for £1, returning as Radio Jackie in October 2003, restoring live broadcasting and local news bulletins.
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Read more about Radio Jackie in the new book London's Pirate Pioneers.
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