Perspectives on the Olga Patricia stations[1].

by Derek Burroughs, jr.

Not for any publication until November 13th, 2006.

 

"SRE-Swinging Radio England. Broadcasting 4 1/2 miles off the Frinton Essex coast on 227 metres, 24 hours a day. In excess of 50000 watts of power, SRE-First and Foremost is BOSS!"

 

In this connection "First and Foremost" thanks to the Grey and the Pierson family, Roger Day and Rick Randall for everything and for the invitation to this reunion.

 

Thanks also to you great "Boss Jocks", be it of the 1st, 2nd or 3rd waves. Together with Britain Radio presenters and those of the other stations, you did extremely well.

 

You are most missed from the airwaves!

 

"This is the start of something BOSS", the slogan said. I hope this little speech may be at least a "Boss" Word with some

 

"Perspectives on the Olga Patricia."

 

We all know the official story. Radio England failed because it was too American, etc.

 

But this may be a myth. By careful gathering of facts from documents, press reports, recordings, and interviews, it is possible to find at least indications of a deeper story, which I will only hint at this evening.

 

The main players are not only Don Pierson and Bill Vick. They have important roles in the drama, of course. In the greater picture Don was the founder of 5 of the 6 Texan stations that operated in the North Sea from 1964-1967. Bill Vick on his side was designated by the investors to be the twin stations' Philip Birch, with Vick's company Peir-Vick doing the same job as Big L's Radlon Sales.

 

One player that was to be very decisive for the project was Continental Electronics Manufacturing Company Inc. of Dallas.

 

Another very important player was Radiovision Broadcast International Ltd., (17 Berkeley Street, London, W1)the radio advertising arm of Pearl and Dean, who handled cinema advertising. RBI had been formed as late as January, 1966 to assist with ABC TV and radio station marketing in the UK and the Continent.(ABC-the ITV operator?)Peir-Vick Ltd. alias Bill Vick had given them an exclusive contract for advertising sales, and on June 17th they threw a very large party at the Savoy for would-be clients, with 250 guests.

 

A third important player is Herbert W.Armstrong of the "Worldwide Church of God" of Pasadena, CA with the "World Tomorrow" program broadcast on Britain Radio and later on Radio 355. Its political-religious message may have worried the British Government.

 

Then there are the WWI investors. They were seemingly 2 different groups, from Abilene and Wichita Falls, but also from Western Texas, the Midland-Odessa region. They had different opinions on key persons and the way to go. Of the investors, the late Pierce Langford III seems most important. He also had connections very "high up."

 

Also Radio Veronica and Radio London may be in the picture in different ways.

 

When we ask: What happened to the Olga, all those players tend to link to that question!

 

With that in mind, let me only give you a quick rundown of the main facts.

I do not have all the answers, but would like to invite you to help answering the main questions that arise and tell what you know of what happened.

 

On February 10th, 1966, Continental installed radio equipment aboard the vessel "Olga Patricia", later known as the "Laissez Faire" costing 315,000.00 Dollars. Continental retained a claim to this equipment.

 

In the spring of 1966, Pierce Langford III, of Wichita Falls, having previously invested in Radio London, now learning that a new radio ship was being prepared by World Wide Investments Inc. for use off the coast of Great Britain as an unauthorized broadcasting station, contributed 50,000 Dollars to the promoters of this new venture. Thereafter, from the to time Langford and four of his associates made additional contributions to World Wide and others connected with the broadcast operation.

 

As you know, there were numerous problems with the equipment. In the beginning the transmitters only ran on 1/4 power, and by September 1966, the two stations only were able to use 27 kW each, and here the designation ERP is used, which may mean a much lower actual transmitter power. In addition, there is the fact that as the Olga was on the high seas, the salt water would create an immense “rocket platform” for even low-powered radio signals. A good example of this is Radio 390, Red Sands, which used only 10 kW, but easily had the strongest signal of all the pirates.

 

At the end of September, representing World Wide, Mr. R.F.Burget, wrote to Continental describing the problems that had arisen due to the falling down of the antenna and later, what could not be called a commercial signal.

 

On October 7th, there was a very stormy meeting in Abilene with the result that Don Pierson was booted as Project Manager. So he was kicked out for the second time, just as he was from Radio London 2 years earlier. Present at the meeting was a RBI representative from the UK who gave verbal assurance of the contacts of P&D and projected an absolute minimum sales volume of 15% of station capacity!

 

The events that followed are not clear, but some facts have been established:

 

Radiovision Broadcast International Ltd by this time had prepared a report suggesting Dutch programming on one of the Olga channels. The name should be Radio 227 as Radio 390 and 270 already had shown numbers could work as a good brand. This because of ad agencies locking in their 1967 budgets at that time, and there was no other Dutch competitor. Radio Veronica, that one should go head-to head with, had more advertising then it could handle, it was said.

 

There were press reports of the format change from October 13th, and "Radio Holland" promos on air on 1322 kHz from October 14th. Johnnie Walker "jumps ship" after his nighttime show on October 15th. Roger Day has earlier described the mood among the remaining "Boss Jocks" around this time and it is amazing that Roger and the others managed to put up such excellent programming in the last month of SRE.

 

Press reports in the UK and Holland for the coming weeks repeated the story in varying versions, even saying Radio Holland would be on a different frequency. Radio England would continue during nighttime on "227". In the "Return of the Seven" promo in these last weeks of SRE "Radio 227" is billed as "The International Giant" and "SRE Country".

 

In London, there is now a Press Conference on October 20th. It is not fronted by Vick, who seems to be in Texas, but by Jack Curtiss, who must have had a very difficult task doing it alone, because the decision of a change, as he already has said, was taken by the owners.

 

And then comes the change, and the appearance of-Radio Dolfijn on November 14th. What has happened here? Why not Radio 227? And why MOR? At the Gooiland Press Conference in Amsterdam, broadcast on "227" on November 14th, several names are mentioned as having been considered, even put to a poll, like Radio de Lage Landen, Ameland, Albatros and Piet Hein. And Dolfijn. Who came up with that? But neither 227 or Holland are mentioned! Two indications of what really happened are found in

#1: a letter from November, where Vick is authorized by the owners to negotiate with Veronica!

#2: in the fact that "Dutch representative of Radio Dolfijn", Basil van Rensburg, in January 1966 was an employee of RBI!

 

We cannot know for sure if there is any connection, but also Radio London was going Dutch as this time. Only in the Summer it had planned to buy out Radio City Shivering Sands to create UKGM(LGM?) to compete with Britain Radio.

 

Being pressed from all sides, did Vick receive an offer, from a Dutch, or maybe an UK corner he was not able to withstand?

 

However, it soon became clear that Radio Dolfijn was not a success. And in a letter to Don Pierson of January 1st, 1967, where the Midland-Odessa investors are saying they represent the majority opinion, Don is reinstated as Project manager  and asked to undertake the following:

 

1.Put independent sales reps in the Holland market immediately on a commission basis and under Don's direction.

2.Format change of Radio Dolfijn to Top 40.(The foregoing is top priority, but also Don was to)

3.Put independent sales reps in the UK market immediately on a commission basis and under Don's direction. P&D must re-double their efforts. End of exclusive sales representation by P&D.

4.Pop format on Britain Radio 3-6pm, and from 10pm until morning.

 

The selling of the ship is also a factor which I will come back to.

 

Between the lines, Vick is asked to see the situation, as already at the Abilene meeting on October 7th, the "majority of the joint venturers agreed to a trial operation under different director". This does not seem to have been implemented, as Vick continues. But maybe Ted Allbeury was approached already by this time, but for the time being rejected the Texan offer? In an interview with Steve England the old colonel seems to indicate he’d had several invitations before he joined in early 1967.

 

The West Texans now in early January point to Pearl and Dean has had more than enough time to present results. They cannot understand why Radio London is enjoying profits at near maximum levels and the Olga results are so meagre. They also show to the fact that the popular stations at home are Top 40! Very much similar thoughts as Don's initial plans with Big L and SRE.

 

You know what happened, Don was only able to put through some of this. Johnny Dark’s program comes in on BR on Sundays(as a sort of new version of SRE's "Rock n' Roll Revival Hour"), as does Jack McLaughlin's "Nightbeat", both from late January. Ted Allbeury finally succeeded Vick, who claimed in the Dutch Press he was a "schlachtoffer", but now only was left with liquidating Peir-Vick, which happened on March 11th.

 

It is amazing under these circumstances that Phil Martin and the other BR djs managed to put up such excellent programming in the last months of that station.

 

As you have already heard, Langford and his associates gradually took more control over the operation. Some of the investors from his part of Texas may have been sceptical to Don, but clearly tolerated him now as all the investors now had a common agenda, namely to recoup some of the losses and sell the ship.

 

Langford then sent Vincent Murphy to London to investigate the situation. But on February 28th, 1967, when he played back Britain Radio's 845 kHz signal over the phone to Langford in Texas, the station went dead, the radio mast having been damaged for the second time.

 

The repairs in Zaandam followed for the next fortnight and now Langford suddenly appears in Holland and is smilingly pictured in Dutch Press with Ted Allbeury's 2nd in command, John Withers and who else but-Basil van Rensburg!

 

The agenda seems to have been do as well as possible radio-wise for the last months up to the implementation of the MOA, but also to sell the Olga as quickly as possible. At the end of May an "upbeat" Dolphin format on 1322 and the 390 format on 845 was axed and the Olga stations finally found its niche, and I feel it is quite a paradox that this was effected by the half-brother of John Withers, Tony Windsor, TW, who Radio London sent off on the middle of February. As you have understood, the selling process was to be Don's task. It seems he also was to sell the Galaxy.

 

At least from July 1967 it is documented that Don is offering the ship to virtually every country in the world, Iraq, Israel, Norway(!) United Nations. It almost ended ip with Armstrong. By letter, ads in "Broadcasting" and press. The most positive reaction came from the USIA, VOA. After all they had had several radio ships, the most recent being the Courier broadcasting “The Voice” beyond the Iron Curtain off Rhodes. Don also planned a new pirate from the Olga in 1968, namely Radio London off California.

 

On April 18th, 1967, Langford acknowledged the existence of Continental's claim to the broadcasting equipment in writing and assured that the claim would be recognized. Langford and Continental in a business deal had agreed that if the vessel and radio equipment were sold as a package a better sale price could be obtained and it was decided to go for at least 550,000 Dollars.

 

For the Galaxy, the Radio Gloria International project, which was surpassed by Radio Nordsee had appeared, which was why that ship went to Hamburg. The Olga it was decided to return to Miami, but there might have been hope of a buyer in Europe, as in September 15th it is anchored off the Azores, to arrive in Miami a week later.

 

Continental paid a portion of the insurance to cover the broadcasting equipment on the voyage, and, at Langford's request, Continental made an inspection and made an inventory list of the vessel upon its arrival in Florida.

 

On July 18th, 1968, Langford purchased the vessel for 65,000 Dollars at a Marshal's sale earlier ordered by court. He also paid a smaller sum to Merrill-Stevens Dry Dock Co. of Miami who had furnished labor, material and services to the Olga in Spring 1966 to settle their claims.

 

But now complictions arose. Without our knowing the reason, a representative of the company insuring the radio equipment for Continental was denied permission to board the Olga. To secure their interests, Continental went to court on Miami. A decision in this case was made on Jan.21st, 1970.

 

Continental was now given back the transmitters and resold serial #10 of the 317 model to Swazi Radio 1376(845 kHz on the Olga), "Your Much More Music Station" which the Kirsch Bros, were starting in South Africa, and #9(1322 kHz) to TWR Swaziland 1170, starting transmissions in 1981.

 

The Olga without the transmitters remained with Langford.

 

Was the ship used for clandestine work in the Caribbean as Don Pierson indicated in a mid-80s interview?

 

He seems to both have hinted to this for the period before the court case and after, in the latter case as a relay station. But he clearly did not want to have any focus on this question.

 

We will not know until someone steps forward with parts of or the full story.

 

So we have to look in the radio logs of the dxers as well as radio essays from this period.

 

Both Larry Magne of "Passport to World Band Radio" and Alice Brannigan of "Popular Communications" have touched on this theme.

 

At least two regular clandestines were monitored around this time, The Howard Hunt operation on MW/SW, Radio Swan/Radio Americas had been closed at this stage, but Radio Libertad was still active on SW and maybe on MW from early in the 60s with a Miami address. And Radio Free Cuba was even said to operate from a ship in the Caribbean on SW.

 

Regarding operations closer to the US government, the VOA Sugarloaf Key 1040 station was closed in 1965, but VOA Marathon Key, FL 1180 existed from 1962 through the period of interest until it became Radio Marti in the 80s. In one source there is indeed an indication that the VOA used another relay at the time we are interested in. After all, in the 80s they built relay stations on 1580 kHz in Belize and Antigua. Both were heard with local Ids at sign off by this writer.

 

Finally, regarding what happened to the Olga there are leads in what has been said. But it is a difficult story to map. And the following, which is also my final, creates even more questions:

 

From it was built in 1944, the Olga had several identities according to Lloyds Registry:

1.FP263

2.FS263

3.Deal(Doing service in the Korean War, not in Vietnam)

4.Don Carlos

5.Olga Princess

6.Laissez Faire

7.Akuarius II

8.Earl J.Conrad Jr.(Fishing vessel of Zapata Haynie Inc., later Omega Protein Inc.)

 

Where does the Merrill-Stevens document that Grey Pierson had uncovered listing the Olga as being in Miami since Spring 1965 bearing the name ALGR PATRICIA fit in?

 

And where do two ships looking exactly like the Olga spotted in Miami in Spring of 1966 fit in, one called the Titan and one the Star 5-0?

 

There may even have been other ships considered.

 

And the ship you worked on on 1966 and 1967 was indeed called the Olga Patricia, not the Olga Princess.

 

The Galaxy finally sank in Kiel. But “where the heck is the Olga Patricia”[2]? Is it still riding the waves somewhere, is it torn up or at the bottom of the sea?

 

 

©Derek Burroughs, jr., Greenwich, London. May 11th, 2006. Written in connection with the Radio England/Britain Radio reunion, May 12th-14th, 2006, London.

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] For the most parts based on the archive of Eric Gilder.©

[2] Rick Crandall(lyrics) and Keith(Keefers)Hampshire(vocal) 2006 recording© with a new version of “The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, originally recorded in 1976 by Gordon Lightfoot, Reprise Records.©