Ronan O’Rahilly, Pioneer of Pirate Radio, Is Dead at 79


It was on the Saturday earlier than Easter 1964 that Radio Caroline despatched out its opening salvo, the Rolling Stones’ cowl of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” from a rehabilitated Dutch ferry anchored three miles off the coast of England. For British youngsters, used to a bland weight-reduction plan of kids’s packages, 1950s ballads and farm information on the BBC — additionally identified by the nickname Auntie — it was a revelation.

And Ronan O’Rahilly, the roguish Irish entrepreneur and showman behind Radio Caroline, who was then simply 23, made positive that his operation would change into essentially the most well-known of the pirate radio stations run from a ragtag armada of ships moored in worldwide waters when the BBC had a monopoly on the airwaves.

Mr. O’Rahilly died on April 20 at a nursing dwelling in County Louth, exterior Dublin. He was 79. His companion, Ines Rocha Trindade, who confirmed the loss of life, stated he had discovered he had vascular dementia in 2013.

Charismatic, deeply eccentric — he was a dedicated conspiracy theorist and infrequently glided by a pseudonym — and with a aptitude for the grand gesture, Mr. O’Rahilly was at the middle of the music scene in London within the early 1960s, or tried to be. He had left his dwelling exterior Dublin at 17, labored checking coats in a London night time spot, and was quickly operating his personal membership, the Scene.

He managed a number of acts, too, and when he couldn’t get one of his performers’ information performed on the BBC, he started to hatch a scheme to run a pirate radio station from a ship, following the lead of Dutch and Scandinavian operators.

As one story goes, Mr. O’Rahilly named his station for Caroline Kennedy, having been charmed by a photograph of her as a toddler in the Oval Office. Another story proposes that he was inspired by the ideal reader of Queen magazine, a mythical “Caroline” toward whom the editors directed their lifestyle coverage in those days (Queen’s publisher was an early investor in the station). Still another suggests he was inspired by his girlfriend at the time, Caroline Maudling.

It is true that Mr. O’Rahilly was obsessed with the Kennedy family. He had a bust of President John F. Kennedy on his desk — for a time, Radio Caroline’s headquarters were in swanky offices in Mayfair — and sometimes used the name Bobby Kennedy as a pseudonym. In the last decades of his life, he was at work on “King Kennedy,” a documentary about the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King.

Pirate radio of the sort pioneered by Radio Caroline — Top 40 hits, all day long — would go on to be the soundtrack of British and European youth. In the beginning it was a moneymaker, with 20 million listeners and hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenue. Mr. O’Rahilly was no mariner — he suffered from seasickness — and he never spun a record, but he was the station’s handsome frontman and huckster.

In 1967, Parliament passed the Marine Offenses Act, making it illegal to advertise on pirate radio or provide any services to the ships, thereby starving them of cash and supplies and turning D.J.s into outlaws. Radio Caroline’s two ships — the ferry had been joined by a 1920s-era cargo schooner named Mi Amigo — were towed away by the Dutch authorities because Mr. O’Rahilly owed money to Dutch suppliers, and the ferry was sold for scrap to pay its debts.

Then things got really interesting. Mr. O’Rahilly finagled reacquisition of the Mi Amigo, after which he ran the station as a truly renegade operation — the D.J.s were rarely paid, and they all used fake names — to a backbeat of calamity and financial shenanigans as he outfoxed creditors and the authorities.

The Mi Amigo sank in 1980; the five D.J.s on board, as well as the ship’s canary, Wilson — named after Mr. O’Rahilly’s nemesis, Prime Minister Harold Wilson — were all rescued.

The next ship was a German trawler called the Ross Revenge, launched with great fanfare from Santander, Spain. After it ran aground in 1991 off the coast of Kent, Mr. O’Rahilly had had enough of Radio Caroline. (Miraculously, Mr. Moore said, despite Radio Caroline’s many mishaps, nobody died or even sprained an ankle.)

“Any normal group of people would have realized the situation was hopeless,” Mr. Moore said of Radio Caroline’s exploits during the ’80s, “but these were not normal people.”

Aodogan Ronan O’Rahilly was born on May 21, 1940, in Dublin, one of five children. His mother, Marion Philomena O’Connor O’Rahilly, was an American from a wealthy Irish family. His father, Aodogan O’Rahilly, was a well-to-do businessman who sold building supplies and owned the only private port in Ireland for a time, which became a handy resource once Radio Caroline got underway. His grandfather Michael O’Rahilly, otherwise known as The O’Rahilly, was a Republican hero who was killed by the British during the Easter Rebellion in 1916. It was in his honor that Radio Caroline began broadcasting during Easter week.

In 1993, Mr. O’Rahilly married Catherine Hamilton-Davies, a former house model for Yves St. Laurent, whom he met playing snooker at the Chelsea Arts Club. “With his mane of white hair, and Variety in his pocket,” she recalled by email, “he was a Chelsea personality.”

Mr. O’Rahilly and his wife separated but never divorced. In addition to her and Ms. Rocha Trindade, he is survived by three sisters, Nuala Price, Iseult Broglio and Roisin O’Rahilly, and a stepson, Caspian Rabone.

“He was a rogue without a doubt,” said Tom Anderson, a Radio Caroline D.J. who was on the Mi Amigo when it sank (and who rescued Wilson the canary). “But a rogue with a vision. A charming, lovable man. You always forgave him in the end.”



Source link Nytimes.com

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