John Aston

 Interview by Roland Beaney.

 Where and when were you born? - Maidenhead, Berkshire and I still live very near to Maidenhead now. What is your favourite part of the Country? - Anywhere but Maidenhead. I prefer France.

How did you get into radio? - Mark Sloane and I were old friends. One evening down our local over a few pints we discussed offshore radio and decided that it wouldn’t be a bad way to earn a living. Mark’s mother had a pub in Buckinghamshire and one of her regulars {Chris Denning} worked in radio. To cut a long story short, information about a vacancy on K.I.N.G Radio was passed on to Mark, who applied for and got the job. After his first 2 week tour of duty, Mark returned home and informed me that one of the on air staff had walked out.

I was given a phone number for K.I.N.Gs programme director Mike Raven, so on Monday 30th August 1965 I had a 3 hour interview with Mike in London and got the job. Talking of jobs, at that time I was working for SAAB Cars, at their headquarters in Slough, so as it was a bank holiday Monday, I phoned my boss at SAAB that evening and handed in my notice….a months notice... well not quite as I departed on the following day.

So on Wednesday 1st September 1965, I arrived at Whitstable Harbour and boarded the Mallard [KINGS] supply tender and set off towards the forts. It was a really depressing day, overcast damp and misty. As the forts appeared out of the mist, covered in rust and not looking too safe my immediate thought was ‘Oh my God…what have I done.

Anyway the damage was done, so it was now down to learning how to operate all the equipment and become a DJ. During this period K.I.N.G was being re-equipped with a 200 foot high mast and a 10 kilowatt RCA Ampliphase Transmitter. When all the new equipment became operational a meeting with all the staff was held and the situation explained to us. The new station was to be called Radio 390 and would cater for an older audience, for whom the likes of Caroline, London, etc were far too progressive! I must admit that I had hoped that our music policy would be pop orientated.

In rough seas it’s possible to take a supply tender along side a radio ship; however this does not work with fixed structures like Forts. Being a fixed object the boat would get smashed up... So bad weather for nearly a week and no tender brought about not only no supply of food and water, but the life blood of the station - the advertisements in pre recorded tape or script format. When the tender arrived I was on air and minutes later Sheldon Jay, our fort captain rushed into the studio with a script for one of our main advertisers Reveille magazine. This was a weekly publication and the ad only had one day left of air time. My instructions were simple ‘READ THIS WHEN THE RECORD FINISHES!’ As I needed to cue up the next disc, I placed the script between the studio window in front of me and the microphone cable that ran down in front of the window, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Anyway the record finishes and I start to read the ad….I reach that all important point in the script...” AND IN THIS WEEKS REVEILLE YOU CAN READ ALL ABOUT…….” At this point the script fell from the window and went behind the mixer desk and eventually wound up on the floor well out of my reach... So all I could say [not having ever read it before] was YOU CAN READ ABOUT LOTS OF REALLY INTERESTING THINGS IN THIS WEEKS REVEILLE.

So on the 6th October ’65 I departed from 390.

In November ’65 I joined Radio Essex, located on the Knock John Fort. Essex was the smallest of the offshore stations; however it was the first to run 24 hours a day, equipment permitting! In March ’66, I took over as Programme Director replacing Vince Allen. With staff off sick during February and bad weather conditions Vince and I ran the station for about a week, with no other staff. Towards the end of this time with Essex, a typical day for me was to get up around 10pm, cook myself a meal, go on air at 11pm through to 6am, cook breakfast for myself and whoever was on 6am to 9am slot. Compile and read the news…then back on air between 9am to midday... then station admin and ad schedules etc and between 5 and 6 pm back to bed for a few hours sleep.

Now quiet exhausted I left Essex and had a few weeks rest at home. Radio Essex was owned by Roy Bates, who in the summer of ’67 gave up the Knock John Fort [now proven to be within the 3 mile limit] and took over the Roughs Fort off Harwich…but that another story!

Having recovered from Radio Essex’s long working hours I had an interview with Graham Webb and joined Radio Caroline North on the 12th July ’66 working with Graham and David Williams as a news reader. All went well until September, when on the 27th I was made redundant. This was due to drop in advertising revenue, as someone in Parliament had raised the question of outlawing offshore broadcasting and whenever this happened advertisers tended to hold back on running new campaigns.

Seven weeks later I received a call from Caroline House informing me of an increase in advertising revenue that would allow them to expand the news service, so off I went to rejoin Caroline, this time my posting was to the Mi Amigo home of Caroline South. After the Fredericia the Mi Amigo was very cramped and to my mind lacked the stability of the larger vessel. On the night of 27th of February ’67 we experienced a pretty severe storm and on the captains orders we spent the night at deck level in case we had to abandon ship, so the following afternoon our tender Offshore One arrived and I went on shore leave. I had not been impressed with last nights storm and had convinced my self that the MI Amigo was going to sink, so on the train journey back to London I wrote my letter of resignation and dropped it in at Caroline House on my way home. My prediction that the boat would sink was correct, the only inaccuracy was that my timing was about 14 to 15 years out!

After a couple of weeks on shore I then managed to make the mistake of my life by joining Radio 270 on the 17th March ’67. A few weeks before joining 270 the boat encountered very rough conditions and their UK office lost contact with the ship. Unlike the other ships whose crews were Dutch, 270’s boat Oceaan 7 had a Yorkshire Trawler crew. I’m told that in rough conditions trawler men head out into deeper water. This is ok for trawlers; however it does not work with a 150 foot high radio mast fitted. The Oceaan7 was lost for about a week and when she returned to her mooring most if not all of the broadcast crew walked out. The new on air crew were headed by Vince Allen [ex Radio Essex] who brought with him most of the old Essex crew including my self. What a mistake, the Oceaan 7 had one large room with bunk beds down either side, in the middle was a large table for food or television, and I thought the Mi Amigo was bad.

Radio 270 had an initiation ceremony for new staff, I was scheduled to present the Sunday morning breakfast show, so you would try to go to bed early, sometime between 2:30 and 3:00 in the morning I was woken up by the bunk beds curtains being drawn back to reveal about half a dozen policemen standing there ! With immediate thoughts that Parliament had passed ‘The Marine Offences etc Act’ it was logical to assume that we were all going to be arrested, however this was not so, after a while one of the officers removed a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to me, he then said “could you please play the following records for us tomorrow. As for the police presence, which was simple, 270 was the only station to bring its boat into harbour once a fortnight to top up with water, fuel and food. Our daily needs were supplied by a 38 foot open fishing boat everything else went onboard in Bridlington Harbour.

Whilst on shore leave I received a phone call from Mark Sloane [who was now working on Radio 355] Mark said that Tony Windsor, who had left Big L and was now programme director of Radio 355 would like me to leave 270 as soon as possible and Join 355. I left 270 on Monday 26th of June ’67, having managed to get a lift out to the Oceaan 7 on one of the tourist boats, the skipper was able to get close enough for the crew to throw my belongings onboard. The following day I joined Radio 355 aboard the Laissez-Faire, what a great set up, we had two fifty thousand watt Continental Transmitters, two well equipped studios with automation systems fitted and all of this in one ship with two engines, yes we just about had two of everything. The only thing we lacked was enough time, with the 14th August fast approaching Radio 355 closed down early, on the 5th August.

Around 4 or 5 days before the 355 shutdown we had had a bad storm and as I was leaving the mess room the ship made a quite violent move that threw me into a steel bulkhead, at that point in time I was speaking to someone. One of my front teeth made contact and snapped off exposing the nerve, the ships Captain said I should go on shore to see a dentist, I said no to that as I did not want to miss the shutdown. In the end a compromise was reached and I was dropped off in Felixstowe and taken to the dentist the tender then took me back to the ship I was scheduled to rejoin Caroline North with Mark Sloane, however getting that tooth fixed took rather a long time and by the time I was ready to go Caroline’s offices had moved to Holland and I lost contact with everyone.

How do you compare the different ships - The Mi Amigo rolled too much and the Fredericia was great for accommodation but there was a lot of it above the waterline. The Ross Revenge is a great ship and feels more stable and has a lot more below the waterline which makes me feel a lot more secure,

What's your favourite station other than Caroline? - I mostly listen to Caroline now but sometimes Radio 2.

Who is the most famous person that you have met? - Prince Charles. After MOA I went on to do voiceovers for sales, training films. In 1975 I set up a small business making commercials. There was not enough work and I went on to work in the film industry on special effects with Peter Sellers The Revenge of the Pink Panther. All the Princes came round to visit the studio and we were lined up and the Princes were introduced to us.

What is the best and worst thing about radio today? - The fact that it hasn't improved and the fact that you have to listen to it. I normally put the computer on and put Caroline on my mixer desk and transmit it in FM around the house.

Who influenced you the most? - Too many people, you admire peoples talents and try to admire them for what they do.

What's the most embarrassing or funny thing that's happened to you? - I had been working for Saab aircraft car division and it had been decided that I was to become an assistant works manager and I then rang up the Managing director and asked how much notice he needed for me to leave. He said about a month and then I gave in my notice the next day. I settled the petrol account and went out to do my first 2 weeks on K I N G radio. When I came home I had a message to contact Slough police station. Saabs had been broken into, a cash box taken that had my cheque in it and I was number one suspect. The police asked me where I had been for the last two weeks, and it was very awkward having to explain that I was working for K.I.N.G Radio. In the end the police caught the criminals, as for my cheque, it transpired that because it was late in the day when I paid my cheque in, the box it should have been in had been put in the safe, so my cheque went in the petty cash box. Whilst on K.I.N.G, 390 and Essex I often played requests for members of SAAB staff both in UK and Sweden.

On Radio 270 we were leaving Bridlington harbour one morning and I wondered what the lights were that were coming towards us. We were heading towards the rocks. The Yorkshire trawlerman who was at the wheel had come out of the harbour and he had done a U turn and was heading straight back.

Whilst on the north ship one day, I had just left the studio and happened to look out to sea in the direction of Liverpool, I noticed that there were two small black specks on the horizon. I kept an eye on them and informed Martin Gipps the ships Captain, who observed the situation through his binoculars and various other navigational aids. Captain Gipps said that in his opinion it looked like two naval frigates laying a smoke screen and that they were on a collision course with us. Our immediate thoughts were that the government must have passed a law making us illegal and that the Navy was here to arrest us. However when the two frigates reached the Fredericia they broke formation with one went clockwise and the other anti clockwise. Both vessels were trying to communicate with us via their semaphore lamps, however none of our crew was very good at understanding the messages being sent to us, then all of a sudden the navy Tannoy system sprang into life “Ahoy Radio Caroline could you play the following records for us “

What do you do for your day job and relaxation? - I worked in the film industry working on special effects in films including Aliens, The Empire Strikes back, Jedi, Dune, Jewel of the Nile, Hudson Hawk, Dragonheart, Goldeneye, Fifth Element, Lost in Space, and Enigma. I now do a show for on Mondays.

Who would you like to get stuck with on a desert Island?- It sounds as though you are ending this with a scene from The Boat that Rocked?

What's the most important thing that you learnt about radio?- To make sure that they pay you the cheques.

When did you last go on board the Ross Revenge? - I went on board during the broadcast from Tilbury.

Presenters Menu