Broadcasting in Sweden, as in so many other countries, has a history
of largely unchallenged State Monopoly. In March 1961, however, this status
quo was challenged when one of Europe's first offshore radio stations
anchored in international waters off Stockholm and began to beam a new type
of programme into Sweden. This is the history of that station ; 'Radio Nord'.
Wavelength : 495 metres MW
Location : From the mv 'Bon Jour'. Later renamed 'Magda Maria'. Anchored in
international waters off Stockholm.
Owners : The 'Radio Reklam Produktion AB'
Hours of transmission : 24 hours
In November 1959, following the success of 'Radio Mercur', a Swede
named Jack Kotschack and two Americans, Gordon McLendon and Bob Thompson set
about bringing commercial radio to the Swedish capital.
Their initial task was to find a suitable ship and a salvage tug. The
vessel was found in Kiel, West Germany. The ms Olga was a small cargo boat,
built in 1921 by 'Deutsche Werke AG'. An originally schooner some 98 feet
long. In 1927 her length was increased to 134 feet and engines were
installed. She was given the name 'Olga', replacing her original name 'SS
On 31st May 1960 she entered the Norder Werft in Hamburg to be
converted into a radioship. The hold was converted to contain studios,
transmitter hall, crew and radio staff quarters. It was intented to erect
two 125 foot masts to carry a flat top antenna looped between them. However
in the end only one was used. Work did not progress as quickly as has been
hoped. Then an even bigger problem arose. Under a law passed during the time
Hitler was in power, it was illegal to install, repair or operate a
radiostation without government permission. A letter was sent to the
shipyard by the German authorities on 10th August 1960 reminding them of the
law. The 'Bon Jour' as the Olga had been renamed left Hamburg for Copenhagen
where she docked in the free port. It was here that the mast was erected and
the transmitters installed. Two 10 kW 'Contintal Electronics 316B' crystal
controlled transmitters were flown in from the USA. 6.000 loose parts had to
be assembled !
All of the operations from the very beginning were supervised by a 73
year old engineer named Dr Pepke. Captain Kaj Hallonsten acted as his
At last everything was ready and at 6.00 pm on 20th December 1960 the
'Bon Jour' left Langeline, Copenhagen bound for her anchorage near to
Stockholm. Everything was ready for the station to be on the air by
Christmas. This was not to be as, during her trip, it was noticed that the
stays on the mast were working loose. The 'Bon Jour' dropped anchor off the
island of Gotska Sandon to repair the damage. 23rd December 1960 the
captain got the ship under way once more and some time later anchored at
what she thought was the correct point. The transmitter was switched on, a
blue flash came from the arial and everything went dead ! The fishing boat
Dannette spent all day looking for the radioship after she had failed to
find her at the correct anchorage. With the special Christmas programme
tapes still on board she continued the search on Christmas Eve and
eventually found the 'Bon Jour'.
On Christmas Day 1960 the crew abandoned the ship as they feared the
mast was going to collapse in the heavy seas. A pilot boat took them into
Sandhamn. The following day a salvage tug picked up the crew and took them
back to their ship which was still in one piece. 27th December 1960 the 'Bon
Jour' was towed into Sandhamn. A new captain was appointed , John Johansson.
The ship arrived in Stockholm but left again very quickly to avoid any legal
problems. She made for Abo in Finland and entered the Crichton Fulcan
shipyard for repairs. The Finnish Government put pressure on the shipyard
owners to refuse the work and the 'Bon Jour' had to leave and anchor in
Chalk Harbour. The director of the shipyard did not like letting customers
down, and sent men to carry out the repairs.
4th February 1961, the 'Bon Jour' was under way again anchoring on the
6th off Orno. A gale blew up and to enable the engineers to carry out final
checks prior to broadcasting, the ship set off again in search of calmer
waters. A crack was heard from the mast and it was discovered that the
insulators had broken, so once more the 'Bon Jou' limped into port arriving
at the Finnboda shipyard in Stockholm on 7th February 1961. New insulators
were fitted and a thorough check made of all equipment. This done and in
order to carry out a full check, the transmitter was turned on for a few
seconds at a time and one night a three hour test was made with the ship
still anchored in the centre of Stockholm.
No one could suspect that the transmissions came from the 'Bon Jour' as
the Swedish authorities always sealed the transmitters each time the ship
entered national waters. However the crew had discovered a method of
bypassing the seals...
Now the 'Bon Jour' left port on 21st February 1961 and made her
anchorage. Shortly after arriving the first tests went out. The first voice
was that of some Bengt Tornkrantz. After only a few days trouble was
experienced with the condensors and a new visit was made to Finnboda. The
'Bon Jour' was at sea again on 1st March 1961 with tests. The following day
the Swedish Parliament passed a law that any ship entering territorial
waters would have its broadcasting equipment confiscated.
The test transmissions were on 606 kHz, but a loud hum was experienced
at night caused by Radio Lyon (from France) on 602 kHz. It was decided to
move to exactly the same frequency. This proved satisfactory. But as far as
the listeners were concerned 'Radio Nord' was still on the 495 metres as all
publicity and jingles already had advertised the fact that the station was
on 495 metres.
Not only a fishing boat tendered the radio ship, also a light plane
was used to drop a canister containing programme tapes and other messages
astern of the 'Bon Jour'. An ingenious system of ropes and hooks ensured
that the canister was safely gathered by the crew on board. Only once was a
canister lost. So good was the system that a large whipped cream cake even
arrived undamaged !
The Swedish government put pressure on Nicaragua to withdraw the
registration of the 'Bon Jour'. Now registartion was obtained from Panama.
To enable this to take place, the ship's name had to be changed to 'Magda
Official programming commenced at 10.00 am on 8th March 1961. All
went well till 2nd December 1961. A storm began to gather from the South
West and gradually got worse until on the 6th a 70 mph gale was battering
the 'Magda Maria'. The anchor began to drag and by 11.00 am the anchor was
not holding at all and the ship was drifting. The engines would not start,
but programmes still continued as normal until 5.00 pm when the news
broadcasts had to cease as every man on board was needed to help keep the
ship afloat. Then it was discovered that the anchor had gone, but as luck
would have it the engine had just been got going. The crew had no idea of
their position so they ran North with the storm making just two knots. At
midnight broadcasting stopped as they feared they were entering Swedish
waters. One of the stays on the mast broke and the next morning the 'Magda
Maria' entered Sandhamn.
The law relating to confiscation was not enforced as it was decided that
the ship would have been wrecked if she had stayed at sea. The usual
procedure of sealing the transmitter was observed. By 8th December 1961
repairs were completed and the 'Magda Maria' made her way through a thick
fog back to her anchorage. Broadcasts were recommenced and for three weeks
the seals were not removed from the transmitter, so proud were the crew of
the fact that they had discovered a method of bypassing them !
Programmes were broadcasted live from the ship and also pre-recorded
in Stockholm. From 6.00 am to 9.00 am the newscasters on board presented the
programmes, as they did the 1.00 pm to 2.00 pm spot, at other times tapes
were used but towards close down more programmes were presented live.
News was broadcast on the hour from 8.00 am to 9.00 pm. First, the
news was relayed by radio telephone from Stockholm, but this service was
stopped by the Post Office. After this news was gathered from other stations
on two receivers.
In March 1962 a jammer appeared without warning at the same time each
evening. Complaints were made to the Swedish Telegraph Board. They denied
being responsible, but the jamming stopped.
On 29th March 1962 the Swedish Parliament introduced a bill proposing
the outlawing of offshore radio. Being passed in May the law was to take
affect from the 1st August 1962. Nevertheless Radio Nord didn't give up
immediately. Plans were being made to introduce a light music service on FM
to supplement the Top 40 format of the medium wave transmissions.
Commercials were to be broadcast simultaneously over both stations. It had
been hoped to start this service in July 1962 but the forthcoming law caused
this plan to be given up. As a prospective purchaser had been located the
station closed down on 30th June 1962.
In its short life 'Radio Nord' experienced both disaster and success.
It survived ice, storms, threats of seizure and technical difficulties which
face a shipborne station, to be closed down by government legislation after
having built up a huge following within Sweden, (an audience of 24% !).
After staying at anchor for some days, the ship left the Baltic and
headed into the North Sea, arriving at El Ferrol in Spain on 2nd August 1962.
Not only did 'Radio Nord' become a pioneer of radio in Sweden, but it
was also one of the pioneers of offshore radio in Europe and, to a large
extend, provided inspiration which led to the radio ships which later
anchored off British and Dutch coasts.
This Historical look at Radio Nord was researched and compiled by "RadioVisie/Jean-Luc Bostyn." in Belgium.
Do you remember those 'Golden' days of Offshore radio?
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