Young Ronan O'Rahilly trucked off to London to seek his fortune. He settled into Soho and London's club land. Ray Charles was his hero. Soon Ronan was operating his own Rhythm & Blues Club. He bought the Rolling Stones their first set of stage equipment and briefly managed them together with his friend, Georgiou Gomalski, before entrepreneur Andrew Oldham snapped them up. But he still had the blues singer Alexis Korner and northerner Georgie Fame as his protégés. He was influential in the early days of Eric Burdon and the Animals even suggesting the name for the band. Live gigs at small venues were a slow way to achieve popularity, but nobody would record his artists. O'Rahilly created his own record label and paid for his own acetates. When presenting these to the BBC he learned that the Corporation only played music by established artists which begged the obvious question 'how to get established.'
At Radio Luxembourg he fared worse, station bosses laughed heartily showing him the programme schedules block booked by the major labels. Independents had no chance of air play at all. The answer? Give up his artists and hope they could be signed by a major label.
'Well,' O'Rahilly told the Luxembourg directors, 'If after managing my own artists I have to create my own record label because nobody will record them and if I then find that no radio station will play their music, it seems that the only thing now is to have my own radio station.' Radio Luxembourg thought this hugely funny and showed him the door.
Soon after, at a party, a girl told Ronan about the station Voice of America which was operating at sea from the official USA vessel the MV Courier. He gleaned information about this operation from the US Embassy and also travelled to visit Jack Kotschack, the owner of the marine station, Radio Nord and the owners of Radio Veronica an efficiently run Dutch offshore radio station. Radio law in the Netherlands was as restrictive as in the UK. In Holland as in Britain the law of the land only extended as far as territorial waters, three miles out from the coast. Beyond that lay international waters where there was no law other than that defined by the flag states of ships. A ship registered to Panama for example, whilst in international waters recognised Panamanian law. If the law of the flag state had no objection to international marine broadcasting then the ship could make broadcasts which were not illegal and could not be stopped. Even Veronica was using precedent created by earlier marine broadcasts made off the Danish and Swedish coasts. The UK however with the young population created by the post war baby boom and with burgeoning youth culture and a new pop industry had untapped potential. This was the breakthrough O'Rahilly needed and he had certain advantages to build from.
He was now mixing in the clubs and coffee bars of Soho and Chelsea with the young sons of very wealthy people. With his upbringing, large sums of money did not faze him. His family wholly owned the Irish port of Greenore, an ideal place to quietly convert a ship into a floating radio station.
He soon became aware that quite separately an Australian businessman Alan Crawford had also identified the potential of marine broadcasting to the UK. Ronan befriended him. Crawford was later to allege that O'Rahilly used his own feasibility studies to further his own plans. Ronan claims that this is absolutely not the case and that the Caroline project was well advanced before he even became aware of Crawford and his parallel business intentions. He also insists Crawford's 'Project Atlanta' ran out of funding and was rescued by his own company. On a fund raising trip to the USA he was captivated by a photograph in Life magazine showing president John F. Kennedy's daughter Caroline playing in the Oval Office of the White House and disrupting the serious business of government. This was exactly the image he wanted for his station. The name had to be Radio Caroline.
With finance in place, the ex ferry Fredericia was purchased and taken to Greenore for conversion. Crawford also accepted the offer to take his virtually complete radio ship Mi Amigo to the same port for final preparation. Whilst ostensibly helping Crawford prepare, Ronan's team took every opportunity to hamper their rivals and inevitably the Fredericia, now renamed MV Caroline sailed first.
Radio studios had been built on the upper decks behind the ships bridge. In the hold were A.C. generators connected to two 10KW medium wave (AM ) broadcast transmitters. The combined power from these was fed to a tall aerial tower near the bow of the ship.
To ensure reasonable co-operation between the two projects it was agreed Radio Caroline was to anchor in the Irish sea, broadcasting to Ireland, Scotland and the North of England. Radio Atlanta from the MV Mi Amigo was to head for the British coast off Essex, from where it would cover London and the South East. In a move that Crawford described as 'the ultimate treachery', Ronan sent his own ship south.
On 28th March 1964, with their words having been pre-recorded since they were too nervous to broadcast live, Chris Moore and the then unknown actor Simon Dee announced 'This is Radio Caroline on 199, your all day music station.'
Then a Rolling Stones record ('Not Fade Away') was played and dedicated to Ronan O'Rahilly. Caroline was on the air! The monopolies of the BBC and Luxembourg were shattered and UK radio was changed forever.