For British teenagers who fell in love with rock and roll, the 50s and early 60s were tough times. The conservative government and liberal songwriters’ union had all but conspired to keep young Brits from even hearing the new youth oriented music genre that was sweeping the globe. The BBC declined to cater to this rowdy generation, while the songwriters’ union had a rule in force that kept the BBC from playing any record more than once a day, regardless of its popularity.
To hear the hit records, kids like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ray Davies and others had to listen to Radio Luxembourg at night, when its broadcasts could be heard in England. But this too was unsatisfactory; record labels such as EMI were buying those nighttime shows, but with the provision that only half of any song could be played. The labels thought that if the kids heard half a song and liked it, they’d be more likely to go out and purchase the record.
In 1964, led by the Beatles, the British Invasion conquered America. The irony was that it wasn’t being heard in Britain. London may have been swinging, but it wasn’t to its own music.
That sorry situation would lead to the rise of the Pirate Radio Ships, most notably at first Radio Caroline and Radio Atlanta. Anchored in international waters off the coast of England, these two ships broadcast rock and roll songs in their entirety. However, their station formats were sloppy, nothing like the Top Forty format at Dallas’ KLIF, which then controlled 45 percent of that city’s daytime listening audience. But the fact that illegal radio stations were cutting in on the BBC’s action with kids in England was big news. And in early 1964 the Wall Street Journal ran the story.
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