TRIBUTE TO KEN EVANS

Following several stays in hospital, and period of ill health, Ken Evans sadly passed away on 28 November 2013, aged 86, following a heart attack, at his home in Sydney Australia.  He was a true professional  and kind man, and will be greatly missed by his many friends. lth, Ken Evans sadly passed away on 28 November 2013, aged 86, following a heart attack, at his home in Sydney Australia.  He was a true professional  and kind man, and will be greatly missed by his many friends.

 

 KEN EVANS INTERVIEW

  

 

This interview originally appeared in Offshore Echoís 107 March 1997,
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 world famous.

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 weeks.

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 very spacious.

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 whatever.

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 stepped in.

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

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