This interview originally appeared in Offshore Echoís 107 March
and Offshore Echoís 108 June 1997.
Ask most people about offshore radio, and well known names like Tony
Blackburn crop up. But these and others wouldn't have come to the fore,
without those working in the background - engineers, accountants, typists,
programmers. One of the latter, who was involved with UK offshore radio
right from the start, is Ken Evans. Offshore Echo's Chris Edwards, met Ken
one evening in April 1996 at Melody Radio in London's Brompton Road ‑ just
across the road from a large department store, whose green carrier bags are
Firstly can you tell us about yourself?
I was born in Newcastle, in New South Wales. I came to England in 1962,
which was to be an eighteen month trip to record interviews for one of the
commercial stations in Sydney, called 2GB. I didn't actually work for 2GB,
I'd been working for a station called 2CH , but one of the presenters had
only recently been over here and taken back absolutely wonderful interviews,
so when I suggested to my station about that, they said no. So I approached
one of the others, called 2 GB, and they said yes. So I came over here with
the prime intent to do nothing but travelling and recording interviews. By
one of those strange coincidences - I'm a cricket fan by the way - and early
in May '63 I was at Lords watching a match between Middlesex and Yorkshire.
It wasn't particularly good cricket and there was a very cold wind blowing
across. "Half a six-pence" had just opened at the Cambridge Theatre with
Tommy Steele, so I thought "Ah, I know what Iíll do, Iíll leave here and go
to the first house and see the show."
I walked up to Cambridge Circus and who should be looking in Moss Bros'
windows, but Allan Crawford. I knew him from Sydney; he used to promote
music, and he used to come to 2CH and he'd bring in some latest publication
through Southern Music. But over here he was working for himself and he said
"Come and have a meal!" So we sat down and he talked to me about an offshore
radio station that he had in mind, which he was going to call Radio Atlanta.
I listened to it all; he sounded very enthusiastic about it, and talked
about the absolute limited popular music that was going, which was almost
not existent, just through the BBC and Radio Luxemburg of course.
Then with the emergence of the offshore scene, I said goodbye to everything
else and in December '63 joined Allan Crawford and a team at 47 Dean Street.
That was the birthplace really of offshore radio in this country. When in
July '64 we merged, so it wasn't really all that long. That winter, it was
very cold and that summer, it was very, very hot. Allan Crawford had a music
publishing house, and he made a series of 45's, six tracks to a particular
disc and they went on a mail order situation throughout the country. There
was a label called Crossbow, there was one called Cannon, one called Sabre,
and he would make cover versions of current hits, take well-known singers
such as Danny Street, a quite popular singer of that particular time. All
sorts of people turned up under different names, Maureen Evans was another
singer. So he was making records, publishing music and had this lifelong
dream of putting together a radio station. My purpose then was to start
preparing programmes, I'd been making programmes for a long time, and
compiling the music into order, and getting it together for practice runs.
When did you hear that there was a ship?
He had this all commissioned, he had the rights for the ship, he was to
bring it over from Texas to the port in Ireland which was the property of
Seamus O' Rahilly, father of Ronan O'Rahilly.
To come over, it had to be completely refitted, and then, hopefully,
begin broadcasting in May 1964.
I remember well an afternoon in February 1964, Allan called me down to his
office, which was on the 1st floor, we were upstairs on the 3rd floor, and
said, "I would like you, Ken, to put together some programmes for a group of
people headed by Ronan O' Rahilly, which was involved with a club in Soho
called The Scene". He said, "There'll by a guy, called Simon Dee and John
Junkin the actor."
We had this team of people, they came in, I was to start feeding records and
they would be recording one hour tapes. Allan said they are going to have a
ship of their own, but it won't be ready anything like ours will be. We'll
be on the air first, Radio Atlanta will begin, they'll follow some time
later. We all know what happened of course, they came on the air first, and
they took away all these tapes, probably 40 hours of music, and these would
be used on board their ship, the Fredericia.
Why did he take the ship to Greenore?
At that stage I don't think he had any thoughts he would find himself in
competition with anything else. Ronan, who was always looking for something
new, when he thought of this, being in the night club business, thought it
must be a very good thing, radio, what a wonderful ides, and it became an
absolute obsession with him. These two men were really never destined to
because bosom-bodies, they were extreme opposites, they had their own ideas.
I think with Ronan, he was perhaps a more forward looking man, he was very
much more involved into the development of pop music. Allan was very much
into, I think more the standard side of things, he was a more fundamental
person, whereas Ronan was looking further ahead, I didn't realise it myself
at that time, but thinking back now.
Getting back to the period when the ships were just about emerging, I
remember Good Friday of '64 sitting on Gloucester Road Tube Station, I
opened the paper and there was the announcement that Radio Caroline had
begun. Their ship got on the air fast, and beat Allan Crawford by three
What was the response of the record companies initially?
At the beginning, all companies were told not to have anything to do with
these people, it was a totally illegal operation. Anybody found having any
dealings with them would be instantly dismissed. The first person who came
good on this because he could see the importance of it all, was Tony Hall,
who was the Decca representative. He was Head of promotion there, he was
very impressed by what was going on, because suddenly here was a whole new
thing which was plugging into a whole new generation. The first person I saw
come through into the Caroline building in Mayfair was Tony Hall. That
building was absolutely magnificent, it was not that all expensive to run on
a monthly basis, it had blue carpets, it had chandeliers, had panels down
the staircase, the rooms were enormous, there were salesmen, two to one vast
space, you could get lost in the house! Having come from 47 Dean Street,
which was cold in the winter and hot in the summer, suddenly there was this
magnificent house, Caroline House. It looked very glamorous indeed; it was
In 1965 especially, it was becoming more and more sought after by
publishers, by record companies. I won't mention the company and I won't
mention the man concerned, but I do remember on many occasions going down to
Shepherd Market, there was a little coffee shop down there, and records
would be passed to me underneath the table. The person concerned was always
looking over your shoulder wondering if he was being spied upon, he would
tell me about new releases and then he'd gather this off the floor and pass
it under the table and it would land on my lap. There would be perhaps 20
new 45s there; that became a regular occurrence.
What relationship was there with Caroline at that period?
It was a very uncertain period. When I heard that Caroline was already
broadcasting, I said to Allan Crawford "Well where to we stand?" and he said
it's going to take about three weeks before we can get on the air. George
Harris was the name of the engineer, and he had looked at everything and
said "we can be on the air in 3 weeks!" So they had beaten us by just 3
weeks. The reaction there was one of ...they've beaten us to the punch and
they've got of course the full impact of papers who kept calling everything
Radio Caroline, even though Radio Atlanta was not far behind. It was still
Caroline which was the big fellow. There was great rivalry between these two
men, they both had offices in Caroline House and they took in turns, week by
week, to use the boardroom. It was a very grand room, one week it would be
the turn of Ronan O'Rahilly, and the next week it will be vacated and Allan
Crawford would take over. I went up to the Northern ship in November 1964,
and the plan was to try and make the two libraries uniform.
I was asked to go and try and make some sort of uniformities with the music,
but it was totally impossible and I came back, and said to both O'Rahilly
and Crawford, "It's too early, you may do this in a couple of yearsí time,
but for the moment they brought their own records up there, we've got our
own down here, there are Lena Horne records they've got, Lena Horne we
havenít got. There's Cliff Richardís up there, and there's Cliff down here,
we havenít got them, it was a total mixture. I was programming the stuff
that was going out on the South ship, the boys wanted to play their own
records! I remember Keith Skues when he arrived, had only recently returned
from Kenya and he had brought his enormous collection back from Nairobi. He
was bringing records in and he was a bit distressed when he found he
shouldn't be playing his records, all had to be programmed, so I said
"Keith, you tell me what you want to play on the air and we'll make them up
into a completely well balanced hour of music" which I did. Came September,
I was brought back into Caroline-house to work from there and build the
library in London, to try and get to the record companies, and they were
coming to the party.
What happened after Radio Caroline?
I left Radio Caroline on the 27th January 1966. I'd enjoyed it all, but when
I was asked to take charge of the news, it was either take charge of the
news, we're paying you too much money, or that's it. Fate stepped in, fate
has always been very good to me, I'm just one of those lucky people, I don't
win lotteries, or competitions or whatever, but I always seem to be in the
right place when something is happening. I had a lunch date arranged with a
man called Brian Hutch who worked for the Noel Gay organisation, the music
publishers. This was two days after I left and Brian said to me "Ken, I've
just heard that there's a position available with EMI Radio Luxembourg". At
this stage Luxemburg were putting out regular half hour and hour programs of
recordings of EMI, Decca and Philips records.
Geoffry Bridge was managing director of EMI at the time and Geoffrey Everitt
was MD of Radio Luxemburg. Brian Hutch rang EMI and said "I think we've
found the man for you to work as a producer in Luxemburg." I've never been a
producer in the total sense of the word, I've been a programme-builder, I've
done interviews, but you don't say "I don't know, this isn't my territory",
you go straight into it!
That was in the morning when we had lunch, the next morning I saw Geoffrey
Bridge, he said: "It's fine by me!". He rang through to Luxembourg and in
the afternoon I saw Geoffrey Everitt and he said "When can you join?". I
said "Immediately, what about Monday?" He said "Fine!", so I then joined Ray
Orchard in February 1966 and we worked together as a team there, producing
the half hours and hours of people like Jimmy Young, Alan Freeman, Sam
Costa, Tony Blackburn a little bit later, Muriel Young. Mike Raven came
over, he was another one on the Atlanta team. EMI supplied the records that
they wanted played and stipulated 14 records to an half hour.
From 1st February 1968, record companies would have no more half hours or
hours on Luxemburg. They could buy time, but they could be all fitted
together, so you might have for example, Diana Ross on Tamla Motown through
EMI, followed by the Alan Price Set on Decca, and then a record from maybe
The Stylistics - that's a little bit later of course- but a Philips record,
all mixed in. The record companies could buy time, they could buy so many
records over the week.
Where were you working?
I was working in London, at 38, Hertford Street, and that was where the
studio was. EMI would send their records down to me and I listened and them
made them up to a programme. They had a representative called Neville
Scrimshy come down and he would oversee everything to make sure that they
were getting their full wack. Twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, I would go
up to EM I and talk to various people involved there: Rex Allfield, Colin
Burn, Roy Featherstone, Ron White, and see if they had any complaints, if
everything was going out; as far as I know they were totally happy. When
February 1968 came along and there weren't going to be any more EMI half
hours and hours, I was very fortunate to be taken into Luxemburg full stop.
So I became the programme librarian, and pluggers gradually came through and
there was that new group of people who were beginning to emerge.
One thing that didn't really happen: the deejays were permanently based over
there in the Grand-Duchy: Barry Aldis, Don Wardell and the team of people
who were there at that time, and rarely were they seen in London. When they
did it was usually when they had their annual leave and they came to the
London office. Interviews when they had to be done, I was called upon to do
them, so I had the mixture of listening to music, to recommend music,
sending records over to Luxemburg and then going down to the studio and
recording interviews which were sent over to the Grand Duchy itself. That
sped up more and more when Alan Keen took over; Geoffrey Everitt who've been
with Radio Luxemburg from immediately after the war, 1946/7, left in August
1970 and Alan Keen came in as first the general manager and then as managing
director. Alan had been with Radio London, he was a music publisher before
that. He had a lot of experience, a lot of know-how about business and about
radio. He was brought in and he was very much on my side; we got along fine,
he said: "Ken, we've got to have names going out!" I had even a little
programme of mine, which was called "The Star's horoscope Show" and each
week, each Monday night at 8 o' clock a particular personality was
discussed; it was a bit like Desert Island Discs. I would interview and ask
somebody like David Gates, David Bowie, whoever was around that time
available to come in and they'll discuss the starsign and their favourite
record. Of course it was all leading up to the new record, the tour or
In 1972 we decided to do an all-night Tamla Motown special, it started at 7
o'clock at night and went to 2 o'clock in the morning, we played nothing but
Tamla Motown all night. Another night we had a Presley-night, playing
nothing but Presley. It was to get press. Alan was very, very media
conscious. "Let's do something, let's do this, let's get publicity!".
Luxemburg needed advertising, it needed press.
Where did you go from Luxembourg?
I was with Radio Luxemburg from '66 through to '77 and music was changing. I
Iiked it the way it had gone through the 60's and part off the 70's. But I
began to realise that as music was getting heavier with the emerge of people
like Richie Blackmore, Rainbow, etc. Here was a new area of music and I
didn't understand that much. I thought I've got to leave, and then fate
I had known lan Ralphini, who was the head of MGM records, who had formed
his own record company called Anchor, linked to ABC in America, called
Anchor-ABC over here. Ian invited me to go up to the Hilton one evening, to
have a drink with him. When Ian said to me "I'd like you to come and join my
record company!" I was really taken aback and 1 wasn't prepared for it. He
said "I want a PR to visit known artists, you know music, you get along well
with people!" So I had to think about it, and thought "Yes, I must do this!
I've got to leave, I've got to go into a new direction, otherwise it'll
leave me totally behind and eventually be flat on my face!"
I joined Ian Ralphini on 1st June 1977. But things were happening at ABC in
America, they were having to run down their operation over there. The ABC
company had cinemas, they had theatres, they had the record company, they
had papers, they had just about every type of area in show business you
could think of. But it was becoming too expensive, so they decided to
dispose of that. First everything was fine through 77 into 78, then I began
to hear slight rumours that things went quite as they should be. I said to
Ian "I heard a rumour that you'll leaving ", and he said "Ken, Iíve to tell
you it's true, yes, I'm going to go and work in America" ABC still had a lot
of very big artists, Steely Dan, Don Williams, when they came to this
country my job was to squire them around. People like George Hamilton IV,
we'd lay on a car, there would be a dinner arranged. In the building in
Wardour Street there was a special dining room; we had our own cooks, and
meals would be served. I used to invite producers from the different radio
stations, Radio 2, Radio 1, Capital, newspaper people, a lunch or dinner for
maybe 12 - 16 people. It was to get people to come into the Anchor building
to get Anchor known, but it was just after I arrived that all the rumbling
started happening in America. So I continued through until Ian left and
right at the beginning of 79 the question was "Who is going to take over and
what is going to become of the London operation of Anchor records?"
I was appointed Managing director and I had a contract. I haven't mentioned
one of the biggest successes that Anchor-ABC had in this country, was The
Floaters "Float on" which went on to number one. I was appointed managing
director, but I was only in charge for no more than two months, and the call
came from America "we're closing down the record side of things", and the
ABC-Anchor outlet UK-wise was sold up to MCA.
So it was a case of packing up and moving on. I got a call from a man I had
met on a number of occasions, head of Radio 2 Geoffrey Alan, and he said
"would you come and have lunch with me," He said "We'd like you to do some
freelance for Radio 2!" I was so excited, I had made enquiries about the
BBC, when I first arrived in this country, when I was told "No, they'd
rather have a young man who just completed a course in Oxford, somebody who
doubled in the various aspects of radio.
COMPLETE ORIGINAL INTERVIEW WITH PICS