- 20 Apr 20
The grandson of 1916 Rising hero 'The O'Rahilly', he revolutionised both Irish and British broadcasting
The extremely sad news tonight is that Ronan O'Rahilly, the founder of Radio Caroline, has passed away near Greenore in County Louth where the station's original boat was kitted out in 1963, eventually going on to launch from the North Sea at Easter 1964.
Having merged with a rival pirate Atlanta Radio, a second ship, Radio Caroline North, dropped anchor off the Isle of Man with the signal thumping into Ireland. Both the South and North ships continued broadcasting until 1968 when they were forcibly towed away by a Dutch maritime supply company who claimed that Ronan owed them a considerable sum of money.
The station returned from one of the original ships in 1972, but closed in 1980 when the MV Mi Amigo sank during heavy North Sea storms.
Against all the odds, Ronan masterminded another watery comeback in 1983 aboard the MV Ross Revenge.
Caroline's 27 year unlicensed career ended in 1991 following a sustained campaign against it by the British, Belgian and Dutch authorities, which culminated in the former Icelandic trawler being raided and equipment removed.
It now operates as a legal medium-wave and online station featuring several of its old North Sea staff. Read the tribute to their founder at http://radiocaroline.co.uk/#home.html
A flamboyant fixture on London’s King Road for many decades – in addition to his broadcasting interests he managed James Bond star George Lazenby and executive produced Marianne Faithful’s Girl On A Motorbike film – the 79-year-old was brought back to Ireland by his family several years ago when he was diagnosed as suffering from vascular dementia.
Ronan had rebel blood, with his grandfather, Michael O'Rahilly, AKA The O'Rahilly, a leader in the Easter Rising who died in Dublin in April 1916.
His 1960s business partner, Phil Solomon, ran Major Minor Records who, courtesy of judicious Caroline plugging, scored major hits with Tommy James & The Shondells’ ‘Mony Mony’, ‘The Days Of Pearly Spencer’ by Belfast’s David McWilliams and The Dubliners’ ‘Seven Drunken Nights’.
Former Phantom 105.2 man Steve Conway, Gareth O’Callaghan (then Tony Gareth), former Nova boss Chris Cary, Sunshine Radio founder Robbie Dale, ex-Today FM linchpin Tom Hardy and our man Stuart Clark are just a handful of the thousands of people who worked on the seafaring Caroline.
“It’s really sad," Stuart reflects. "Ronan was the proverbial larger than life character; always scheming and planning his next move. He revolutionised commercial radio in Europe with Caroline; gave Stax and Motown some of their first plays on this side of the Atlantic; and in the early '70s formed the Loving Awareness Band who morphed into Ian Dury's Blockheads."
Adds Steve Conway: "Ronan was not just the man who founded the most famous offshore pirate station, he was the man brave enough to use that station to promote and talk about love, understanding and positivity instead of using it to make money. A wonderful leader, and a charismatic human being, I learned many things from him, and owe him big time for five wonderful years of my life. Rest in peace Ronan."
Scroll down for more tributes from Caroline old boys Johnnie Walker, Rosko, Paul McKenna, Keith Hampshire and Tony Blackburn.
Farewell to Radio Caroline founder Ronan O’Rahilly, The man who made the impossible possible and changed radio forever. Thanks Ronan for the incredible experience of being a Caroline deejay and to challenge the Government in 1967. You were an amazing man. https://t.co/xqHC2wW8kU
— Johnnie Walker (@piratejw) April 20, 2020
I am very sad at the passing of my friend the great Ronan O’Rahilly, founder of Radio Caroline. He was such an important person in influencing world events. A personal inspiration and a dear friend, he is definitely someone who changed the world for the better. Rest in peace... pic.twitter.com/IHE9RAAIP9
— Paul McKenna (@ImPaulMcKenna) April 20, 2020