ISBN 0948055014, 9780948055010
Published by Pirate Publications
(User Review from Google)
Written by one of the key architects of the Laser 558 operation, Paul Rusling. In it he describes how the project was set up, the radio ship Communicator acquired, equipment installed on board at Port Everglades in Florida and the team of disc jockeys recruited.
The story then follows the voyage across to New Ross in Ireland where additional equipment was installed. The trials and tribulations of the first transmissions on 729 KHz using balloons to hold the antenna aloft.
The book was published in September 1984 when the station was at the height of its success, attracting over 4 million listeners in the UK, according to the BBC. The book quickly sold out, as did a second run and none have been printed since so this has become a collector's item. It's been sold on line for hundreds of dollars.
The book has a full cover front cover with an aerial picture of the radio ship Communicator taken in January 1984 in the Thames Estuary. The pages of 'Lid off Laser 558' are liberally peppered with pictures taken by the author at each stage of the ships conversion to an offshore radio ship, and the key DJs and crew members. Exclusive pictures of the conversions work taken by Paul Rusing, including the technical transmission equipment and the balloon antennas being raised at sea in January 1984, and diagrams of the internal layout of the ship are all included in the book, which was available in hardback and softback editions.
The British Government tried to ban the book on publication, claiming it either advertiused the radio station, or taught people how to launch a pirate radio ship and operate it legally.
The book describes the fascinating background to Laser 558, in what is effectively "a manual of how to put together a pirate radio ship!" A great read for any radio or music business enthusiast.
Laser's mysterious owner
By using only American DJs and supplying from Spain, the station was100% legal. Unlikme neighbouring Radio Caroline Laser's New York management had made a lot of enemies and an investigation by MI6 was soon launched to find out who was behind this new very successful station which was amassing over 4 million listeners in the UK, and a similar number on the near continent.
Newspapers in the UK ran several stories about who the mysterious owner(s) might be, and the Evening Standard "outed" a BBC TV journalist, Roger Parry, alleging his involvement. While many assumed the station was American owned, it was in fact funded by just one very private Irish businessman, who preferred to remain incognito.
His secretiveness appears to have alarmed the establishment, who were persuaded by the licensed commercial radio stations to try and close the station. They were unable to act as the station had been set up to be legal, although some people broke the law to cut costs, which ultimately led to Laser 558's downfall.
Laser 558 was an offshore pirate radio station launched in May 1984, using American disc jockeys. Within months the station had amassed an audience of almost 5 million in the UK (Music Week) and almost as many in continental Europe. The station 's success was due to its powerful signal and the speech policy of "never more tahn a minute away from more music"; at the time UK stations had a minimum 50% speech format. The station was also incredibly popular because of its format of alternating current hits with one 'Golden Oldie' however, poor operational management, a lack of direction and marketing incompetence was endemic.
The UK Government were concerned that because the ownership had been cloaked in secrecy, there was some sinister reason for trying very hard to hide the true source of the funding. A mischeivous suggestion the station might be owned by the IRA was put about by UK local radio executives. In fact the station was funded by just one Dublin based entrepreneur who owned a couple of laundrettes and nightclubs. The British Government launched a surveillance operation to thwart the illegal supply runs to the ship, which was anchored off the Thames Estuary.
This resulted in the ship being starved off the air in Autumn 1985. When all five of the ships generators mysteriously broke down in November 1985 and the crew simply surrendered and sailed in to the UK. A flurry of writs for unpaid bills followed and the ship was seized by the Admiralty Marshall, on the instructions of Paul Rusling's lawyers and the company (Gardline Surveys) who had supplied the ship initially.
Embrionic days of Laser 558
A DJ called John Kenning convinced a rich Irish businessman to fund the station. He recruited Paul Rusling who had been recommended by Broadcast, a weekly trade newspaper in the UK. Paul in turn introduced the project to Roy Lindau, who had previously been involved in Radio Caroline.
Lindau was a marketing executive for Major Market Radio, an airtime brokerage owned by Gene Autry. Lindau was appointed president of Laser's sales company Eurad, but later left owing to disagreements over control, and his failure to sign any of the big advertisers he had promised.
Laser played most of its music from tape cartridges to enable the American management to keep control over content. They had thought the stylus on vinyl records would jump in rough seas. Scientific research lab at the stern of the ship was converted into two broadcast studios plus a newsroom, which contained a Kaypro 4 computer and telex link for communicating with the station's office in New York.
This link was achieved initially by a COMSAT installation on the upper deck, which used the Inmarsat birds; it could access regular telephones, although at $15 a minute was an expensive way of getting messages across. Later the ship used a private marine VHF channel back to its base in Kent.
The broadcast transmitters were a pair of CSI 25 kilowatt AM transmitters, built in Boca Raton, Florida. Usually only one of these was in use at half power, due to the limitations of tuning components in the antenna. This was an "inverted L" array running up to the top of a 100 feet high fore mast, and then across to a similar construction at the stern of the ship. Coverage was remarkably good with the "commercially marketable" core area of the signal travelling around 140 miles over land, which included most of England, all of Holland and Belgium and much of northern France down as far south as Paris.
The audio quality was a little better than most other AM broadcasters heard in western Europe, as the equipment had been set up to modulate with frequencies up to around 8 kHz, whereas the UK for example rolled off treble frequencies at 4.5 kHz. The programme feed was modified by an audio processor made by CRL (Circuit Research Labs) of Arizona, while Radio Caroline (based on another ship nearby) used an Optimod processor.
The extended bandwidth did however lead to complaints from Irish Expatriate listeners in London and elsewhere as it allegedly interfered with RTE Radio(then on an adjacent frequency of 567 kHz). This problem was compounded when Radio Caroline, in an attempt to grab some of Laser's listeners, began a 24-hour pop service on 585 kHz, shortly moving to 576, with a power of approximately 5 kW, so that in England RTÉ's frequency suffered sideband interference from both pirates.
Tobacco giant, Philip Morris, pulled out following pressure from European authorities, although their sponsorship of some programmes continued to be announced. Another early advertiser who left mysteriously were FORD cars; the name Laser was adopted as the station name to help promote one of their models.
The ship sailed forst to New Ross in Ireland in December 1983 for a couple of reasons and then spent Christmas anchored a mile off Margate. After a tip off that the UK authorities were taking an interest in the ship's intentions it was moved to the safety of a mooring in 'international waters', close by the Radio Caroline ship.
After a further series of test transmissions with very low power assured the owner that the ship was still viable and capabnle of generating an audience (ten days test transmissions brought just under 2000 letters from listeners).
Even though he had already invested just over £1 million he agreed to stump up even more and more conventional masts could be sourced. The two new masts were lighting pylons as used on motorways, but those were impounded by the UK's DTI investigators.
Some flimsy steel lattice towers had to be quickly procured and erected at sea. They held up cables which formed an 'inverted L' aerial and the station finally launched in May 1984, as Laser 558.
Test transmissions with the antenna cables held aloft by helium ballooons proved successful achieving near Europe wide coverage. The helium ballooons however were lost due to poor tethering. One flew off and plummeted to earth in Essex while a second lasted for about 12 hours in a snowstorm before escaping too. It was later found in Belgium.
Laser takes to the air
in January 1984
The Communicator was staffed by a team of experienced American disc jockeys, however they were afraid to use the microphone without permission from New York. Paul Rusling however had no such fears and knew this was a historical occasion, so his became the first voice on the air for Laser.
By using only American DJs (it was illegal for British DJs to work on such stations in 1984) and claiming supply tenders ran from Spain, Laser was 100% legal, so could not be touched by the UK.
Surveillance by the UK authorities revealed that Laser was however being supplied clandestinely from Kent and the UK commercial radio stations campaigned to have Laser and Caroline removed claiming the two radio ships were "stealing their listeners". This was ultimately to bring down the entire operation as the UK government found that it could 'starve out' the station by blockading its supplies.
On launch, Laser 558 was an immediate success and during Summer 1984 became THE trendy radio station to tune to, with its non stop music diet of latest hits, Gold tracks and 'hip and groovy' American DJs. The line up that summer was Ric Harris, Jessie Brandon, Dave Lee Stone, Steve Masters, Paul Dean and Charlie Wolf.
DJ Jessie Brandon practicing in the main studio
crossing the Atlantic in the Communicator