All pictures and other material on this page were lent to me by Bob Donnelly, former transmitter engineer on the Comet - the pictures and cards have never been seen in public before. My sincere thanks to Bob for allowing me to share this with everyone, and also thanks to Tony Allan for help with identifying many of the jocks in the pictures. The photographs were taken in the last few weeks of Radio Scotlands life, in early August 1967. All images and items remain the personal copyright of Mr Donnelly and may not be reproduced.
Radio Scotland operated from the converted lightship the LV Comet from 31st Decmeber 1965 until 14th August 1967. The 500 ton Comet was built by John Browns on the Clyde in 1904 for use off Dun Laoghaire in Dublin Bay. Designed specifically as a lightship, the Comet made an ideal base for offshore radio as it was intended to be permanently anchored in a stationary location. The strong central mast which had originally supported the navigation light being an ideal base on which to mount the aerial mast. However the lack of engines meant that tugs had to be hired whenever it was required to move the ship. Following de-commissioning by the Commissioner of Irish Lights the ship was taken to Guernsey where she was fitted out as a radio station in the Autumn of 1965 and then towed to international waters off Fife Ness, approx 25 miles east of Edinburgh.
From the East Coast location the station put a good signal into Scandianvian countries, and received a lot of letters from places like Sweeden, Norway and Denmark, but the heavily populated Glasgow and West Coast area suffered a poor signal. After several months on air and various unsuccessful attempts to improve the signal, the decision to relocate the Comet to the West coast was made, and in April 1966 the Comet was towed around the northern Coast arriving in the Firth of Clyde a few weeks later. For the initial part of the journey the station continued to broadcast as normal, but as the tow progressed programmes had to be suspended due to difficulties with supplying the ship and some undisclosed technical difficulties.
After operating from off the coast of Troon for most of 1966, the station was served with a summons for broadcasting within territorial waters, and was fined £80 in March 1967 at Ayr Sheriff court. Following heavy seas, the ship was towed to a location off Ballywater in Northern Ireland and started broadcasting as Radio Scotland and Ireland, but from this point reception through almost all of Scotland was very poor. The Comet then endured another tow, this time by the tug Campaigner, again around the north coast, taking care to stay outside of territorial waters by skirting all the islands, arriving back in the Forth in May 1967 and re-commencing broadcasting.
As with all other UK based offshore stations with the exception of the two Carolines, Radio Scotland ceased broadcasts in the evening of 14th August 1967 prior to the introduction of the Marine, etc. Broadcasting Offences act. A campaign to have Radio Scotland exempted from the provisions of the act had been launched on the grounds that its signal reached into parts of the country where it was not possible to hear the BBC services, but to no avail.
The station had been the brainchild of Mr Tommy Sheilds, former advertising agency man, and part of the start up management of Scottish Television in 1957. A few months after the close of the station he was admitted to hospital with a kidney complaint, but died shortly after an emergemcy operation. It is said by many that his illness was brought on by the seeing the end of his dream of his own radio station.
Richard Park and Stuart Henry both went on to work for Radio One when it launched in 1967, though both left in the early 70's. Richard returned to Glasgow where he became part of the startup team for Radio Clyde in 1973, becoming director of music before moving to Capital Radio in London in 1986 to become director of programming. Stuart Henry went on to Luxembourg where he battled for many years against Multiple Sclerosis which finally took his life in the early 90's. Brian Mckenzie and Stevie Merike both worked for Caroline and RNI during the late 60's and early 70's as did Tony Allan after a brief spell with Scottish TV and Grampian TV. Tony and Brian were later re-united when working for Radio Nova in Dublin during the 80's. Mark West became Mark Wesley and worked for Luxembourg for many years in the 70's and 80's. Jimmy Mack went onto to work for the BBC, for many years presenting on the BBC's version of Radio Scotland which was launched in 1973. Paul Young started a successful acting career and freelance TV work whilst Jack Maclaughlin was a regular fixture on Scottish TV for many years as well as radio work.
The ship had only a single studio onboard, consisting of a home built mixing panel, a pair of Garrard 401 turntables and three Ferrograph tape decks. Quite a number of programmes were pre-recorded on land and played out on tape from the ship.
Due to the small size of the ship and the weight of the mast the ship had a tendency to roll quite heavily, which casued a lot of problems with skipping records. Eventually a solution was found by which both turntables were mounted onto a swivelling plate, which was weighted down by a heavy lead weight. This effectively allowed the ship to roll round the turntables, which remained fairly steady relative to the earth!
The transmitters were a pair of 10 kilowatt ampliphase modulated RCA BTA-10J's, combined through a homebuilt diplexer to produce 20kw. However, this arrangement did not apparently work particulalry well, and most of the time only one transmitter was used.
One means of disposing of expired valves from the equipment was to throw them over the side and whilst they bobbed up and down on the waves, throw lumps of metal or other debris at them to try and smash them! I had never previously tried submersing a valve, but with an air-tight vacuum in there, they most probably would float for a long time.
The last live programme from the ship was co-presented by Mark West and Tony Allan as the final six hours or so were all pre-recorded. Most of the stations crew and landstaff were in the Clan Ballroom for the stations closedown party that evening.
On the last day of broadcasting, the crew were photographed throwing the ships entire record library over the side - it was definitely not an eco-friendly operation in those days.
After broadcasting ceased, the ship was towed into Methill Harbour in Fife where the broadcast equipment was removed. After being offered for sale, but with no buyer coming forward the ship was eventually taken to Ouwerkerk, Holland and broken up by Van de Marel shipworks in 1969.
Figs 24-27: Various views of the Comet in Methill Harbour immediately after the tow in before the mast was removed.
As part of the stations publicity package in the early days of broadcasting, a small booklet was produced. The first two pages are shown below - click either picture for a larger view, and links to further pages of the booklet.
- click for more pages.
Radio Scotland was one of the few, if not only offshore station to attempt a "full service" range of programming, instead of concentrating on Top-40 or light music as the other stations did. The "One O'clock gang" comedy show was a legend in its own right, and weekend programmes contained jazz, light music and good-neighbourly chat shows, as well as the equally legendary "MacLaughlins Ceilidh".
The station also held a number of "242 Clan Balls" around the country for listeners to come along and meet the jocks, and hear many (up and coming) bands of the day. The station also operated a succesful Clan-242 fan club, which entitled members to a range of station merchandise, advance notice of forthcoming events, and an occasional station magazine "242".
The stations official signature tune was an arrangement of the traditional "Black Bear", however, in early 1967, the "Carrick Folk Four" wrote and sang their own tribute, simply entitled "Radio Scotland" which, with its catchy chorus of "Radio Scotland playing just for you, so beat the ban, and join the clan, on station 242" was played on a frequent basis to rally support against the forthcoming Marine Offences act.. Check out www.scotstevens.8m.com for the website of Scot Stevens one of the founding members of the Carrick Folk Four.
In the days before computersied coverage prediction, radio stations were keen to hear from listeners, particularly those who sent in reception reports from far away places. The station would normally reply with a QSL confirmation card, which is as shown below. However, quite often technically minded listeners will send in their reports on one of their own QSL cards, or a postcard of their town. Although many websites of radio listeners show their collection of reports/cards received from stations, it is very rare to see the cards as received by the station from its listeners. Click the card below to see a small selection of reception reports which were received by Radio Scotland.
- click to see selection of received reports
And then, as the Marine, etc. Broadcasting Offences Act came into play on the 15th August 1967, the stations staff were informed their services were no longer required.......
.....and Radio Scotland became a part of broadcasting history.
First Draft version (C) June 2002.
Enjoyed the page? Email me - "scotland[at]rossrevenge.co.uk" - sorry but I have to use anti-spam links these days.
My Radio Index page
The Radio Scotland Pages from Big L 266
Comet page on Martin vd Vens Offshore site
My Ampliphase Transmitter pages
My thanks to Chris Payne at www.radiolondon.co.uk for permission to use/modify his tartan background.