Nigel Pearson

 Interview by Roland Beaney.


Radio Caroline has a dedicated team of people who give up a lot of their time to raise money to pay the bills for the station. One of these people is Nigel Pearson who I met recently at his home in Manhattan Beach California. He told me how he first found the station as a student in the 1960s and how he moved to the USA and found the station again eventually getting involved with the start of the excellent web streams we have today and then fundraising.


Part 1


His first memory of the station was when his dad, who was a solicitor in Coventry used to bring him home from school for his lunch and they read in the papers about Radio Caroline starting in May 1964. They lived about 130 miles from the ship so he hadnít bothered to try to tune in as he thought it was too far away. Also he wasnít allowed to touch his Fathers radio but this time he decided he would be bold and tuned the radio down and probably found Radio Atlanta before Radio Caroline. He remembers hearing the Chapel of love by the Dixi Cups and fell in love with the whole idea of guys out on a ship somewhere broadcasting music, which we werenít allowed to hear at least in the daytime those days. The whole thing appealed to him, the music the glamour the adventure and the fact that they were outside the law even though they werenít really breaking any laws. The government was up in arms but didnít seem to be able to do anything about it and he found the whole thing completely captivating. He was a 13 year old teenager and the rest of his teenage years were spent listening to Caroline.


When Caroline went off the air he was distraught. By the time RNI started broadcasting from the Mebo 2, he was a law student in London and again like most people was upset when the Government started jamming the signal and called up the phone number the station gave out. He remembers being given an address and going down to Hayes Mews in Mayfair which is where they were conducting the General election campaign. When he got there somebody told him that he was in charge of Hampstead and as it was a marginal constituency they wanted him to deliver free radio posters to every house in Hampstead. When he asked how he would do that, they gave him a phone numbers of other volunteers to call up to get help to deliver the leaflets. He got the A-Z map out, copied it, divided it up, called up 8 people and they all came to his flat and he gave them leaflets showing their section of Hampstead. After that they went on a march and Hampstead became one of the marginal constituencies that went conservative and he likes to think that he played a part that eventually brought commercial radio to the Uk.  


In the 70s he was delighted when Caroline came back on the air and listened pretty much solidly throughout and was distraught when the Mi Amigo sank and he thought that was the end of the story.


Nigel moved to New York with his wife and baby daughter in the summer of 83 and missed the start of Caroline from the Ross Revenge, only hearing it occasionally on a few trips back to the UK throughout the 80s. Like most people he wondered what was really happening. He moved to California in 1987 and got a job as a practising attorney in the entertainment business. When the internet started he put Radio Caroline into a search engine and was amazed to find lots of information about the station. It was 1996, 97 and the Anoraks were speculating that the ship would go back to sea. Caroline already had a website in those days and the next big thing was when the internet streams started thanks to the guys in Holland, then he was sitting in his home in California listening to Radio Caroline again and he couldnít believe his ears. When the guys in Holland went off to stream Radio Seagull, Radio Caroline was left with ďLive 365Ē streaming the output from a Sky Satellite box. This often went off on a Sunday afternoon and returned on Monday morning. He called the station and asked why the stream kept going off over the weekend. The guy gave him a number to call and one morning while he was driving to work Peter Moore was on the line talking to this crazy guy in Los Angeles on a cell phone complaining about the web stream going off. Peter explained that it was because the guy was running the web stream from his office and he locked his office on a Friday evening and if the satellite box got retuned by Sky over the weekend it had to wait until he opened up his office on a Monday before he could retune it back.


At the beginning of 2004 there was a discussion on a Yahoo forum about how we could get a better web stream and a guy called Oliver Hicks came on who said he could supply the streams. Nigel put him in touch with Marc Dezzani who was running the website at that point and with help from Bob Squirrel we had the beginning of the modern day Radio Caroline professional web streams from the stations website. In the summer of 2004 Nigel came over to England and visited the Ross on the passenger cruise terminal and he met up with Oliver Hicks and Bob Squirrel on the ship.  Nigel was remodelling his house and wanted to put stereo speakers in the ceiling and needed to have Radio Caroline in Stereo which wasnít possible at that point as Oliver was streaming the Satellite which was in Mono. They came up with a plan that could get a stereo stream live from the Maidstone studios and that took a lot of e-mailing for several months. Eventually the stereo stream was launched at the end of 2004 and he was then very happy to show off his new speakers in his house with Radio Caroline playing in stereo. 


Part 2


Fundraising Nigel met up with Peter Moore in London and discussed selling souvenirs and they hatched a plan to start selling merchandise. In 2005 when apart from helping to start setting up the web shop he went to Sebourga to meet Mark Dezzani. They came up with a plan to start an ďon lineĒ drive to encourage listeners to join the Radio Caroline support group. The system as it was then worked fairly well but he thought the station could recruit more people if it could do something that had a live nature to it.  He was inspired by public stations in the US which are partly funded by listener donations and have fundraising drives where listeners can phone in to pledge money. So the idea was to do something similar with Radio Caroline. Mark Dezzani was creating a half hour documentary about the sinking of the Mi Amigo and so they decided that this would be the main prize. At the same time his brother was cleaning out his loft and found some reel to reel tapes that he had made when he was a teenager in the 1960s. Nigel remembered that he had recorded the first day that the Mi Amigo came back on 259 meters in April 1966. His brother found them and sent him the reel to reel tapes and Ray Robinson who runs azanorak over there kindly agreed to digitise them using his reel to reel tape recorders. They found a tape of Tony Blackburn sitting in on the Tom Lodge show in April 1966, he was doing a hook up with the Cheeta 2 on 199 meters. Ray also found some tapes of Tony Blackburn on the Cheeta 2 and Mi Amigo so they did a Tony Blackburn special as a secondary prize for people joining. They completed the Tony Blackburn CDs and Ray made copies but Mark had made some more interviews on the Ross during Easter 2005 and he decided that he needed to incorporate these into the half hour Mi Amigo goes down video. After the pledge drive was completed the film wasnít ready to send out and he remembered getting up in the middle of the night on a holiday in China to call Peter Moore and asking him, ďWhat are we going to do? The film is not ready and itís already 3 weeks after the event.Ē They decided to send out the Tony Blackburn CD immediately and the Mi Amigo goes down video was sent out a few weeks later. Nigel thought it was a good documentary and well worth waiting for.


So after they did the first pledge drive they had to keep it going, in fact for the first couple of years they did two a year with another on the August Bank holiday. The year that the station went onto Sky channel 0199 Peter Moore ordered some T Shirts with ďI love Caroline on Sky Channel 0199Ēand they got a lot of new members as a result of the shirts being offered as prizes. Each year since then there have been more donations than on the previous year. Nigel was then able to get some bigger prizes donated by his friends who work in the business and they built it up by giving out 40 more prizes.


The concept comes from public radio station KCRW in Santa Monica where someone who wants to promote their product basically gives it to the station and they give it away during the course of the support group drive. The product gets mentioned many times during the drive in fact they get more mentions for their product than they would have done if they had placed advertising. KCRW give away cars, Mac books and holidays in Australia. Caroline havenít quite got up to that level but it is building up and weekend tickets to the 2011 Fashion music festival in London which were worth over 300 dollars each were given away and they got a lot of promotion from that. This year Caroline was given 5 weekends passes to the Hop Farm Festival and a George Harrison documentary. Nigel said there was a funny story about the George Harrison documentaries because the producer gave us 10 DVDS and asked his assistant to arrange it. Nigel e-mailed the assistant with the address to send the DVDs to and the assistant e-mailed back telling him that she also had 10 box sets. Her boss who was copied in the e-mail asked if these were the box sets worth £65 and she said yes, Nigel thought they were going to withdraw them as they were worth a lot of money but they didnít and they turned up. Nigel said that it was fun organising the drives especially when it all comes together at the last minute and people contribute the prizes. We donít quite know what we are going to have going into it but it always seems to work out well in the end. We have an on line ticker that the DJs have access to and its really overwhelming and satisfying seeing all the money coming in. Nigel said that the DJs have a lot to do with it. It was hard in the early days as in a way we are begging for money but there is an elegant way to ask for money, itís not easy but the presenters have found a way to do it so that it doesnít seem as though we are begging and they can make a joke out of it. I think it comes across well and the listeners respond well. Also the presenters comment on air as a direct result of all the donations coming in. He thinks itís a wonderful way to run the radio station without having to run wall to wall adverts and he feels itís like a big extended family because not only do we see the same people contributing each year but a lot of new listeners. Some people would rather not win a prize as maybe they donít appreciate that most of the prizes are donated. Last year someone won an I Pod and he was very happy with that but this year he waited until the last moment on the last day probably hoping he didnít win another prize, it was a good way to close this year. Nigel said that he undertakes all this fundraising work mostly for his own benefit as he has a vested interest in trying to keep Radio Caroline on the air as he wants to listen over in California. Perhaps thatís a lesson for all of us to do our bit to keep our favourite station on the air. He hopes the station continues for many years to come and he will be able to continue to contribute his time.

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