CNBC memories 1

op . Gepost in Veronica Archief

Borkum RiffBetween december 1960 and the spring of 1961 Radio Veronica transmitted the programmes of CNBC. The programmes of the Commercial Neutral Broadcasting Company were ment to reach the Englisch advertising market. The CNBC deejays were Paul Hollingdale, Doug Stanley, Bob Fletcher and John Michael.

Borkum RiffSome time ago I received an e-mail from some family members in Canada, whom I didn't know I had. Exchanging information I told them about my interest in offshore radio and they replied with a story about John Michael. Michael, who nowadays is hosting a radio and television talk show in Canada, reportedly, had said that he had worked for the first British offshore station, aired from Radio Veronica's first ship, the MV Borkum Riff.

I quickly gathered this would have been CNBC, the "Commercial Neutral Broadcasting Company", the station with which the Veronica organisation tried to reach the South-East of England in the early 1960s. However, the o­nly names associated with CNBC up until now are those of Bob Fletcher, Paul Hollingdale and Doug Stanley. John Michael was not ever mentioned in the books about Radio Veronica. So I contacted him and he sent me the following information.

CNBCJohn Michael's memories
Yes.....going to have to awake my memories. Three of us started the very first off shore radio station to England from a lightship boat in the channel with Radio Veronica. Two Canadians... myself and another guy, and an announcer from Radio Luxemburg. Stan was a guy from Ottawa and Paul was with radio Luxemburg (and went back when we closed up). I was the announcer they hired and sent to Hilversum, and did the voice recordings for the station.They paid for my lodging if I remember and my air fare to Holland and return to London. I stayed with friends of Radio Veronica. We called the station CNBC because the C stood for Canadian and NBC flowed nicely o­n the tongue.

Pirate Radio Station Veronica was owned by a couple of Dutch brothers who owned a sock factory in Hilversum I believe...and we rented from them the hours of 5pm to the following morning, and used their studios to broadcast English programming. The tapes were sent to the lightship boat, and we were the first very first Pirate Radio Station. Others followed suit and Pirate Radio was born. But we were the first. There is a long story as to how we failed. The venture failed after a year...but it gave everyone the idea of how to do it and what real radio was like. They copied our format and radio Caroline was born.

New transmitterBorkum Riff
Here's the full story of the closedown. The engineer and his son ran the lightship boat. My tapes were recorded every day and sent to the boat each evening. The transmitter was poor (good for Holland lousy for England) and in order to reach London we had to have a new transmitter . o­nce the signal reached London we had been promised the advertising revenue from large advertising agencies and then everything would have been full steam ahead. I was not getting paid, but loved the idea of breaking good radio into England, and worked o­n the promise of the new transmitter. The transmitter could not be landed anywhere o­n the continent nor purchased from any supplier in Europe because the BBC, owned by the government, had blacklisted us, and as they purchased large supplies from Telefunken we could not buy a transmitter in Europe (Telefunken supplied transmitters).

So we arranged to buy a transmitter in USA, and land it o­n an island owned by a woman off the English coast where it could not be confiscated by English customs, some woman who had a first name of Dame somebody. A helicopter would then take it to the lightship boat. Sent the engineer to New York with the money and apparently he took the cash and skipped. He was later found and jailed, but that was the last of the money and the end of our dreams. I got a handshake from Doug, and a o­ne way ticket back to Montreal, arriving with 15 dollars in my pocket and great deal of memories. I later learned that other people had learned from our adventures and started the first Pirate Radio Stations such as Radio Caroline....but we were the first.

Magnificent dream
It was all a magnificent dream brought o­n by the desire to show Europeans the radio they had at that time was so poor. As the o­nly announcer, I guess I never got into the radio record books, and I never knew what happened to the other people involved. I understand Paul Hollingdale went back to Radio Luxemburg. I went back to Canada and picked up where I left off. During the last 35 years, hosting TV talk show for Columbia Pictures, Hollywood, and hosting my own talk show in the Niagara Peninsular across from Buffalo N.Y. Working o­n four years left o­n my present contract and then.

Doug Stanley's memoriesDoug Stanley
We initially recorded music programs in The Hague, that were then taken to the ship for broadcast. Tests made to determine the strength of the broadcast signal were not strong enough, we discovered, to penetrate the principal area: South East England. We needed a stronger, directed signal and I recommended we purchase a 5KW transmitter from RCA in the United States. The Verwey's agreed. It was going to take three months to order and deliver to the ship. Then the plan changed. The Verwey's were persuaded by a Dutch engineer called Luke (can't remember his surname) that he could build a transmitter as good as RCA's and much cheaper. They agreed.

Photo: Doug Stanley and the Swinging Blue Jeans (Copyright: Hans Knot)

Some time later, Luke told the Verwey's he had installed the new transmitter o­n the ship. A test of its signal strength was arranged by Luke. It took place in an Amsterdam Hotel. The Verwey's were shown a radio in the room that Luke turned o­n. The sound was strong and clear. They were sold and paid Luke the balance of the money he was owed. However, there was no transmitter. The signal the Verwey's had heard came from a direct feed from a tape recorded in the next hotel room. It later transpired that Luke, in fact, was a heating engineer and knew nothing at all about transmitters.

Offices o­n Dean StreetBorkum Riff
Unfortunately, I had already left for London with the promise of a transmitter that would penetrate South-East England. I left Holland and set up offices o­n Dean Street in London. I recruited Paul Hollingdale, with whom I'd worked at the British Forces Network, to assist me. We had a secretary as I recall but do not remember Bob Fletcher or John Michael.The Verwey's, confident of the new transmitter agreed to the setting up of a London office to attract potential radio advertisers for CNBC, the name we gave the new station. We advertised in the UK newspapers the fact that CNBC was broadcasting a strong signal into the South East of the UK. Indeed, we received incredible press coverage for the new station because, at that time, there was o­nly the BBC and Radio Luxembourg at night. Its signal was not very good in the south of England. We told advertisers how to tune in to CNBC.

This is when our problems started. CNBC couldn't be heard in the S.E. of the UK and the signal was inconsistent with a lot of interference. When the Verwey's finally discovered they had been duped they pulled the plug o­n the CNBC office. I tried again to get them to buy an RCA transmitter but they refused. They lost interest in the radio business. With no financial support from the Verwey's we had to close down immediately leaving those involved with us in London without a job. In the meantime, Luke and a lady friend had fled Holland with the Verwey's transmitter money. He was finally arrested in Belgium and given a prison sentence.

FortsBorkum Riff
Because we had received so much publicity for the 'pirate' CNBC I couldn't get a job in broadcasting for more than a year. I was blacklisted, as was Paul Hollingdale but, to a lesser extent as I was running the station, such as it was.I don't recall any plans to have a transmitter delivered to a British island owned by a woman. We did consider placing a transmitter o­n o­ne of the gun forts off the south coast of the UK, o­ne of which was owned by the late Lord Sutch. They were outside British territorial waters. We visited them and decided it wasn't practical to run a radio station from here.

Unfortunately, I didn't keep anything from CNBC days. It was a station that died as quickly as it was born. Others were to have more success than we did. Stations like Radio London learned from our mistakes and realised the potential of the radio market in the UK. Ideally, we should have placed the Borkum Riff of the English coast and bought the RCA transmitter. It wasn't to be. Still they were good times and I have some great memories of those days, trying to provide a wider choice of radio programming than was then offered by the BBC. I guess you could say we were a little too ahead of our time and with no resources to achieve our goals.

Copyright: Jan van Heeren