More thrills than skills: A half-life in journalism, part three

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, edited extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More thrills than skills: A half-life in journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

I CAN recall quite clearly first tuning into what was then a truly innovative phenomenon in radio.

It was a Sunday morning in the spring of 1964, and The Observer newspaper had a story on the front page about test transmissions from a so-called ‘pirate’ radio ship, called Radio Caroline, anchored somewhere off the Thames estuary.

Portable transistor radios were, in those days, still a relatively new arrival on the consumer goods shelves and they lacked the power and sensitivity to receive such weak signals.

True enough, I could not receive Radio Caroline from my home in the north of Scotland on a transistor radio but, being the radio aficionado that I was, I connected the RAF communications receiver to a 120 foot-long wire antenna in the garden below.

I worked out the length of aerial required to form a full wavelength and switched on…  I was not altogether sure why at the time, but I felt a very distinct thrill of excitement as I tuned the dial and heard, loud and clear for the very first time: “Good morning, this is Caroline on 199. Your all day music station.”

At the beginning of the 21st century, it’s difficult to comprehend what a world virtually without popular music radio was like.

At the beginning of the 1960s, most of the time there was no pop music at all to be heard on the airwaves. Indeed, some of the time there was no music of any type at all.

In the UK, the airwaves were then the exclusive and unquestioned prerogative of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which still strictly operated under the Reithian principles imposed by its eminence grise in the 1920s and 30s.