Radio Scotland (pirate ship)

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Radio Scotland
RS 242 logo med.png
Broadcast area Scotland, Ireland
Frequency 242 metres Template:Frequency
First air date 31 December 1965; 51 years ago (1965-12-31)
Last air date 14 August 1967 (1967-08-14)
Format Varied
Owner City and County Commercial Radio (Scotland) Ltd

Radio Scotland was a Scottish pirate radio station which broadcast at various points off the Scottish coast between 1965 and 1967, with a mix of pop music and programmes of Scottish interest. It was conceived of and run by publicity and advertising executive Tommy Shields.

The Comet

'The Comet' was a former Irish lightship, weighing 500 tons and measuring 100 feet in length.

Fitting out of The Comet

Rigging the aerial mast on The Comet

Work to adapt The Comet for broadcasting purposes was given to RCA, an American company which was not subject to British or European government sanctions and was therefore one of the only available sources of broadcast transmitters to pirate radio stations.

The sound desk was built from scratch by engineer Tony Rock, who had just joined RCA's UK division in Sunbury-on-Thames. The desk consisted of a U-shaped console with a custom-designed mono control panel, Wearite tape recorders and two Garrard transcription turntables on a separate gimbal-mounted table. (Most vinyl discs were largely mono recordings at the time and there was no stereo pop radio.)

When the desk was completed, Tony and his colleague, Stan, flew to Guernsey in the Channel Islands, where the rest of the RCA engineers had been pre-wiring the transmitter and equipment racks in a repair yard warehouse at St Sampson's Harbour, where The Comet was berthed. The studio was installed in the Captain's sleeping quarters, the heavy generators were squeezed into the engine room and, finally, the giant 250ft aluminium mast was lowered into position by the dock cranes.

The sound console was tested at the harbour using two 45 RPM singles — 'Help' by The Beatles and 'Zorba's Dance' by Marcello Minerbi. It was not possible to test the transmitter in Guernsey, however, as there was a Post Office monitoring van parked close to the dock. To avoid the ship being impounded by the government, transmitter testing would have to wait until the Comet was outside the three-mile limit. [1]

The Comet then made its way, under tow, to its final destination off Dunbar.

The DJs

The DJs worked a fortnight on the ship, and a week on land during which they made personal appearances at ballrooms and clubs throughout Scotland.

The Move

Audience in Spain to Scandinavia, but a poor signal in Glasgow and west central Scotland where the main audience was.

By April 1966 Sheilds took the decision to up-achor from Dunbar and relocate the Comet off Troon in the Firth of Clyde, which was a much nicer coast. The DJs onboard during the journey — Tony Meehan, Drew Hamlyn, and Jack McLaughlin — continued to broadcast in very long shifts. It was at times a hazardous journey, including a fire at one point as they passed Peterhead Prison.

The views were terrific as we were towed round. And I always remember we came down the Clyde on a beautiful night and we pitched anchor just off Arran, with a feeling of satisfaction that we'd made this journey despite all the dangers. And somebody came out in a rowing boat from one of the pubs in Arran and we got in and rowed across to have a pint in Arran. That's what pirate radio was really all about![2]

Throughout the summer and autumn of 1966 the ship was anchored closer to Radio Scotland's headquarters at Cranworth Street in Glasgow.

However, the government drew a new line and the boat was within territorial waters at Troon. It had to move and it based itself off Northern Ireland where it became 'Radio Scotland and Ireland'. After three weeks it was on the move again, back to the east coast off Fife Ness. By May 1967 the station was losing money. A listeners' appeal was broadcast but only raised £325.

Clan Balls

Cat Stevens and Gene Pitney appeared at a number of Clan Balls.

242 magazine

Radio Scotland had its own monthly magazine which ran from April 1966 to ??.

It was produced by David Gibson for Town and Provincial Enterprises Ltd, a London-based publisher. It was printed by Bell, Aird and Coghill Ltd, 58 Cadogan Street, Glasgow. Editorial and advertising was handled by Radio Scotland from its Cranworth Street headquarters.

The name of the publication began simply as '242' and was described as 'Radio Scotland's Showbeat Monthly'. By issue 7, in October 1966, the title became '242 Showbeat' with the description 'Radio Scotland's monthly'. By issue 9, December 1966, it was called '242 Showbeat Monthly'.

Cathy Spence had her own regular column of '242 Clan News'. Cartoons penned by DJ Alan Black were frequently published in the magazine, including many of his DJ colleagues.

Political campaign

Shields ran a promotional campaign on Radio Scotland urging voters in the Glasgow Pollok by-election of 9 March 1967 to back the Conservative candidate, Esmond Wright, who duly overturned a Labour majority to win the marginal seat.


  1. I Built Radio Scotland by Tony Rock, Pirate Radio Hall of Fame
  2. BBC documentary

External links

[1] [2] [3] [4]