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Radio Solent City International: 48m 1977

More on Radio Solent City International: by Gary Hogg.

Radio Solent City International By Gary Hogg

This is the short tale of how I became involved with free radio during the late 1970's. Some of the dates may be inaccurate due to memory failure! I had been listening to Radio Solent City International since it first appeared on shortwave around the middle of 1976, along with several other stations which were active at the time, such as Radio Valleri, Westside Radio, ABC England and Skyport Radio. Michael Jay was obviously the main operator of the station, as he could normally be heard with live test announcements a few minutes prior to the opening of the station on a Sunday morning. As well as presenting a golden oldies show, he mixed the taped programmes together with live on air announcements. All the broadcasts were normally from a fixed location. Big John was also heard a lot in those early days, with a DX programme. The following early history of the station, contributed by Michael Jay himself, was printed in the first issue of Free Radio Waves .

Radio Solent City International

'Radio Solent City first began transmissions in June 1970 using an old ex-army transmitter. Broadcasts were on shortwave between 6.5 and 6.6 MHz. In 1971, a medium wave transmitter was built with a very low power of only 10 watts. At this time the station was operated from a fixed location that had no mains power supply. The method of powering the transmitter was as follows: A 12 volt car battery was kept in a shed situated at the site of the house, and wired to one of the upstairs bedrooms from where the programmes originated. The voltage supply was then used to power a rotary transformer, which in turn powered the transmitter. Until May 1972, Radio Solent City was on the air regularly every Sunday morning for one or two hours, and despite the low power 10 watt transmitter, we built up a steady listening audience of free radio enthusiasts within a fifteen mile radius of the location. This was mainly due to the fact that the station was at the time transmitting along the banks of a river out in the country. Because of this we were able to erect a very high, long-wire antenna, and run our earth straight into the river. Between May 1972 and late 1974, there was a lull in programmes due to a domestic crisis, which almost put Radio Solent City on the map in Fort William, Inverness- shire, Scotland. In 1975 the real boom came from the station, when we obtained a more powerful transmitter and re-opened the station again from a new location in the South of England. The whole of 1975 was devoted to rebuilding the station. At this time another station came into being. Radio Sovereign took to the air on 227m and 186m. During the whole of this year, Solent City and Sovereign worked together developing new and more powerful transmitters of our own design. We were also contacted, quite dramatically, by another station over the air. This was Radio Free Atlantis, and since then we have worked together in an effort to improve the sound of free radio in the south. Over the past four months, events have been very exciting for our station. On 1st August, we put out a test transmission on shortwave, 6280kHz. Response was excellent and we received more reports during this test that in the previous 61/2 years of operation on medium-wave. Because of this we have decided to concentrate our efforts on providing a regular short-wave service. We have received over 100 reception reports and we have now decided to increase power from 15 watts to 50 watts. On the medium wave front, broadcasts are put out over bank holidays, and at random times throughout the year on 227m, with 150 watts. Other stations we have helped onto the airways are, Radio Rock and Radio EL34. Radio Rock broadcast with 15w on the medium-wave, and have recently been transmitting on 6235 and 6275kHz with a 10 watt transmitter. Radio EL34 have recently been inactive; they previously operated with 12 watts on 222m.

I wrote to the station several times and received personal replies, promotional material and QSL cards, the first being an early hand drawn version of the orange pre-printed card. I don't recall the exact details of how I got involved, so some of the dates may be inaccurate, but I believe I had been in contact with a free radio supporter in Carlisle who was selling radio recordings under the name 'Pennine Tapes'. As far as I remember he had been producing a 30 minute show for Radio Solent City, and had in turn been corresponding with a listener, Mark Wynters, who lived locally to me at that time. Mark wrote to me, and we eventually met up and shared free radio information and chit-chat, and later travelled up to Carlisle in June 1978 to meet AB. Judging by the uneasy atmosphere, I don't think that his parents were too happy with his involvement in free radio, but otherwise it was an enjoyable visit. I believe it was after this visit that Mark Wynters began to send a regular 30 minute show to RSCI for broadcast. In early summer 1978, Michael Jay informed Mark that due to personal problems, he would be moving from Newport, Isle of Wight, to Bishop Auckland in County Durham. There would thus be a period of time when he would be unable to broadcast due to lack of locations. The Solent, which the station was obviously named after, was now a few hundred miles from the site! He visited Leeds, I believe on the weekend of 30/31st July 1978 and brought along a transmitter, which was to be left with Mark Wynters for temporary broadcasting. Luckily, we had the use of a site in North Leeds belonging to a drinking pal of mine, and set up everything on the Saturday afternoon. A makeshift studio was installed, and the transmitter tested on 6285kHz. The power was around 80 watts. Michael and Mark both made pre-recorded shows without any problems, but mine was a disaster after a night on 'real ale' at the Eagle Tavern in Leeds, and wasn't completed until 0400. As morning broke, the transmitter was switched on at about 0830 with some test music, and at 0900 Michael Jay went live, announcing the programmes for the day. Programmes went out as planned, and calls were made to various parts of the country, where the signal was apparently booming in. In fact, when the letters arrived at the Kent Place address, there were several from Eastern Europe, apparently the first the station had received. That was the only time this particular site was used. Transmissions then alternated from two sites, one just near Bradford and the other around Bishop Auckland. On the QSL cards, these two sites were referred to as Radio Solent City North East and Radio Solent City South. Due to my location, I very rarely heard the North East transmissions, but normally heard those from Bishop Auckland, the South location. (Which in fact was further north than the North East site!!) I occasionally supplied 30 minute programmes of rock music, usually live concert material from US radio broadcasts, but was rarely at the sites as I was normally recovering from Saturday nights real ale! I tended to travel to Mark's location on a Sunday afternoon when we would exchange the latest free radio information. Mark used to answer many of the letters and had some new QSL cards printed. Believe it or not I do not have one of these in my collection!!

The Solent City Raid

On returning from a real ale sampling holiday (again!) in Devon and Dorset in July 1979, I received a frantic phone call from Mark Wynters, informing me that whilst I was away, Radio Solent City International had been raided at the Bishop Auckland site. The following is a report from Free Radio Waves 11, detailing the actions on Sunday 24th June 1979:

'On Sunday July 24th, both Radio Solent City and Radio Capricorn (located in Berkshire) were raided and forced off the air. Solent City was first to go, at 0945BST. Home Office officials (now known as DTI Investigators!!) arrived in two un-marked vehicles and were followed by the Police in a patrol car. They produced a valid search warrant and were allowed into the premises, located in County Durham in NorthEast England. The four Home Office and two Police did not identify themselves, except to say they were representing the Leeds, Yorkshire division of the radio regulatory service. They were shown to a room where the transmitter was located, and found the Mark Wynters DX Programme playing on cassette. In fact they left it on for fifteen minutes and commented on several items:- the fact that they "knew all about" Radio Viking and that they had been listening to Radio BlueSky Airways that very morning in their DF car. Finally they stopped the tape and tested the studio microphone with the words - "This is a PBC test". Satisfied all was working, the transmitter was then switched off. Before everything was dismantled, photographs of all the equipment were taken. While they then took the gear away, deejay/operator Michael Jay was asked: I). Did he know he was breaking the law? ii). If a license was made available, then would he apply for one? He answered both questions in the affirmative. Michael also made a few points clear:- Solent City had always broadcast within the free radio bands and used restricted powers. They had never caused any interference or put out any political programmes or comments.

The total equipment lost was as below: 1 x 100 watt sw/mw transmitter, the studio mixer and twin BSR record decks, a cassette player, records programme tapes and letters. At 1100BST the officials left the house. In all fairness to the raiding team, they did not cause any damage or attempt to remove anything which was not connected with the operations of Radio Solent City'. Speaking later to Michael, it appeared that being a hospitable chap, he had made them tea and coffee whilst they were carrying out the dirty deed. As well as the transmitter, studio equipment and records, the Home Office officials also removed all correspondence and pre-recorded shows. These letters were subsequently read by the officials, and those persons implicated by their own handwriting, in supplying Michael with taped shows etc., began to receive visits from the said officials. Mark Wynters informed me that he had been visited at home and interviewed, and despite not being anywhere near the raided location, was to be charged. He seemed to get the impression that they had also tracked his site down, and had only missed being raided because it was not his week on the air. The officials told him also, that I was to expect a visit, as should others who had contributed pre-recorded shows to the station.

Sure enough, in a scene described later by my mother as 'out of The Sweeney', several days later, a GPO van skidded to a halt outside our house, the doors swung open and out jumped two GPO officials. (We had recently moved house, and the officials had gone to the old one. I often wonder how the new owners responded to this intrusion!) They turned out to be a Mr Fox, and another chap who appeared a little embarrassed as we had met before after complaining about TV and FM interference at a previous residence. My mother took an instant dislike to Mr Fox, who with foot holding the front door open, was asked what would happen if he wasn't allowed in. He replied they would come back with a warrant, force their way in and turn the place over. What they would be looking for, he never said. I appeared in the front room, and Mr Fox, obviously the 'man in charge', said 'I suppose you know why we are here?'. There was little point in denying corresponding with Michael Jay, as they produced letters I had sent to him, implicating myself. Even so, I didn't think I had anything to worry about, as I could prove I had been 400 miles away at the time of the raid, and presumed I couldn't be charged for illegal broadcasting. We all sat in the front room, and I answered their questions. My mother began to get agitated, and pointed out to Mr Fox , how strange it was that they had managed to track down the station, which only operated occasionally, when they had failed to find the source of genuine daily radio and TV interference we had complained about a year previously. As expected, there was not much response to this statement. After the initial interview, I asked if it was OK if I went to the toilet. 'As long as you don't disappear through the toilet window.' Was the reply. Apparently, they had been interviewing another station operator and he had escaped by this method! When I returned, they began probing me for information about other stations, in particular Radio Mercury, who operated on 6260kHz at the time. 'I suppose they come from the South of England' like most others.' I answered. 'No', said Mr Fox, who obviously knew more than he was letting on, "They come from a bit further North than that", and didn't pursue it any further. At the end of the interview, my mother had another go at them about their failure to track down the TV interference, alleging that they were covering up what was being transmitted from a telecommunications tower, a short distance from our previous home in Leeds. Mr Fox denied everything, saying it must have been our aerial that had moved. It did seem strange however, that at exactly 8PM every Thursday night, BBC2 should suddenly be totally wiped out for several hours!! We later discovered that the house was below a direct beam between two telecommunication towers. The 'simple' post office tower, was now surrounded by a 10 foot high spiked fence, remote control cameras, had a double gate and dogs in the compound - and they weren't trying to cover anything up - what a laugh.!! The pair left shortly after, leaving a card with an address in Park Square, Leeds and a telephone number, should we require any information. As far as I was concerned the matter was now closed. However, to our dismay and disbelief, both Mark Wynters and I also received summonses some weeks later, along with those expected for Michael Jay. Mine were so vague it was unbelievable. If I remember correctly I was charged on two counts, once for aiding and abetting on a specific date, (not the date of the actual raid!) and unbelievably the other was for operating a station on a date unknown. Our solicitor proceeded to investigate the matter, and phoned the number given to us by Mr Fox, to find exactly what I was being charged with. At the number supplied he was told that there was no one called Mr Fox there, and that there was no 'PO Investigation Department' either - very mysterious. Eventually, after a number of 'dead end' enquiries, the solicitor contacted the Clerk to the Court at Bishop Auckland, from where the summonses had been issued, in an attempt to obtain more information. The Clerk was told the problems, and how it was making it very difficult to build a defence case. On attempting to contact the said Mr Fox, the same result occured. It was only when the case was almost thrown out, he was told that Mr Fox had been in an accident whilst 'in the line of duty'. We later found out that whilst attempting to apprehend a CB-er (it was still illegal in those days), he had been knocked down and suffered severe breaks of the wrist. It was also this 'lucky break' which presumably stopped any interviews of others involved in the station. The court appearance finally came and we arrived at Bishop Auckland Magistrates Court on Monday 21st October 1979. A young Jonathan Marks, who then lived locally, arrived on a moped to view the case. He was working for the Austrian Radio at that point, and was also producing a series of documentaries about radio for a charity organisation, H.A.P. We were duly interviewed after the case. Once in court, the Post Office Solicitor arrived, one Anthony Brentnall (he looked like Ronnie Corbet ) flanked by a couple of Mafia looking types in dark glasses and great coats. In the middle of burglaries, assaults and drunken cases came the Radio Solent City International case. The chief magistrate almost fell asleep whilst the evidence was being given, and cut short the technical pieces to ask why the interviewing officer was not present. In court it was stated that 'Mr Fox had met with an accident in the line of duty and was unable to attend'. The technicalities went over the top of the magistrates, although in fairness to the Post Office, it was stated that there were never any reports of interference from the station. After a brief recess, the fines were given out - I expected to be cleared of all the charges, having not been present during the raid, but ended being fined on one charge of 'aiding and abetting'. I think this may have been the first time ever that anyone had been fined on such a flimsy charge. Michael was fined 120 with 40 costs, totalling 160 for operating the station. In addition Mark was fined 60 with 40 costs and finally, I ended up with a 20 fine with 40 costs. Following the case we went our own ways, and although there was a report of the station going on the air again, I cannot confirm this. I certainly never heard Radio Solent City International again. My interest had started to turn towards the Irish radio scene, which was beginning to flourish during 1979. I also began getting involved in the Merseyside free radio scene, but that is another story.

Gary Hogg April 1997