Remembering The Big-L : Radio London 50 Years On

Earlier this year we celebrated Radio Caroline which first went on the air at Easter 1964. Radio Caroline was Britain’s very first offshore pirate radio station but it was not as popular nor was it as profitable as Radio London which was first heard with test transmissions on 5th December 1964.

Radio London was the most popular and profitable of all the 60’s U.K. offshore radio stations. It gained many millions of listeners and, despite being on the air for only 32 months (closing on 14th August 1967) the Big L, Radio London left behind an enduring legacy as the first station to bring format radio, ID jingles and regular news bulletins to Britain. Radio London also provided the model, and a lot of the DJ talent (e.g. Tony Blackburn, Pete Brady, Dave Cash, Kenny Everett, John Peel, Keith Skues, Ed Stewart, …), for the BBC’s new pop music service, Radio One which started in September 1967.

Philip Birch was Radio London’s Managing Director but in the words of Gordon Sheppard, Big-L’s promotions manager: “Philip Birch WAS Big L … The real financial brain, the controlling wizard that made it all work. … He put together that terrific team: Ben Toney, Alan Keen (Sales & Programme Controller), Eddie Blackwell and Dennis Maitland (Advertising Managers), Mike Stone (Press & Publicity). … In pirate offshore radio (1964-1967), Philip Birch stands taller than most. He put together that amazing team and has to have pride of place.”

In 1980, several years after Radio London had closed, Philip Birch gave an extensive interview recounting Radio London’s history. The recording also includes many original Radio London jingles, its famous Big-L theme tune and the voices of Paul Kaye, Dave Cash, Kenny Everett, Mark Roman, and other Wonderful Radio London voices.

Here are a few more useful Big-L Radio London links:
1. OffshoreRadio.co.uk recently updated its site and mark the Big L’s 50th anniversary with a six-part Radio London Story.

2. If you’re interested in pics, there are plenty to see here from Martin Stevens collection.
And here are more pictures by Gerry Bishop, Hans Knot and John Platt.
Plus more fascinating Big L pics here.

3. On 23rd December 2014 Chris and Mary Payne who jointly run the Radio London website, organised a 50th anniversary celebration on a floating pub on a ship moored on the river Thames in central London. Those attending included Big L DJs Duncan Johnson, Pete Brady, Keith Skues, Ed Stewart, Ian Damon as well as engineer David Hawkins and the m.v. Galaxy’s steward Mitch Philistin, who having crossed the Atlantic ocean with the ship in 1964, worked throughout all of Radio London’s life.

4. Radio London’s first Programme Director, Ben Toney, tells his fascinating story of “The Amazing Radio London Adventure“.

5. And to listen again to the Big-L, Azanorak has one of the biggest online collections of recordings to download for free. From test transmissions in December 1964 to close-down in August 1967, listen once more to Pete Brady, Earl Richmond, Dave Dennis, Paul Kaye, Tony Windsor, Dave Cash, Kenny Everett, Duncan Johnson, Tony Blackburn, Keith Skues, John Peel, Ed Stewart and many more.

6. Listen to DJ Keith Skues’ potted history of Radio London which he presented over the air on Big-L on 23rd July 1967, a couple of weeks before the station closed. This abridged version lasts about 31 minutes and includes jingles, the Big-L “Sonowaltz” theme and other well known Radio London promotions. Note that this recording is in .mp3 format within a password-protected .zip file. After downloading the .zip file to your computer, please contact us to obtain the password which you’ll need in order to unzip the file.