Tom Lodge and Radio Caroline

By Kathy Hahn "In the softness of now there's a vast presence. A place where sound caresses and colors, forms touch. To sink into this presence is to expand into the truth. The invitation is to melt into this Now.”   Umi Cashbox Magazine (U.S. and Canada) sits down with Radio Caroline icon and legendary broadcaster, Tom Lodge to talk about the past, present and future of music and radio broadcasting. Tom’s pursuit for freedom eventually led him to the Zen path of Enlightenment. He is now known by the name, Umi (meaning the sea) and lives at his own Stillpoint Zen Community Ashram in Santa Cruz, California. Tom has a new expanded book containing more stories about radio and music people, coming out in November, “The Ship That Rocked The World”, “How Radio Caroline Defied the Establishment, Launched the British Invasion and Made the Planet Safe for Rock and Roll.” For all of you who are not aware of Tom and his story, here is how he made history on the offshore pirate radio ship, rocking the world and forever changing the shape of pop culture as we know it today. Born in Surrey, England and growing up in the war years in Virginia, USA, Tom moved to Canada on his 18th birthday and became a cowboy in Alberta. He almost lost his life while ice fishing on Great Slave Lake, the subject of his first book, "Beyond the Great Slave Lake". Tom recalls  his early life was one big adventure. Growing up listening to radio while in the United States - including a lot of free form radio - helped shape his vision of what radio could  be, when he returned to England. He was heavily inspired by rock ‘n’ roll and country music. Tom cut his teeth in broadcasting at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Yellowknife  (North West Territories)  station in 1957. As CFYK’s first morning show host, he learned programming radio meant playing records he liked, evaluating music on artistic merit, what songs were worthy of exposure and what worked in the moment. [He also founded the Music Industry Arts training program for recording engineers and record producers at London, Ontario’s Fanshawe College]. This free intuitive sense of how music should be played and radio should be programmed would follow Tom as he helped to create one of the mot important radio and communications revolutions worldwide in the history of broadcasting. After stints with the CBC in Canada, Tom was hired by Radio Caroline in 1964 as a DJ and was eventually promoted to Program Director for the notorious offshore pirate radio ship. Tom explains, “Anchored 3.5 miles off Felixstowe in Suffolk, England with our 168 foot mast, we gained immediate attention from passing ships and people on shore. Yes, we were strange. We were a new mark on the ocean horizon. The tall mast made our ship look unique. I felt it had an appearance of grandeur, it was a visual statement, though more so, it was a huge audio statement. We were definitely here. Our music blasted through the barricades of the British establishment's music censorship. We were about freedom. At this time there were still concerns about rock 'n' roll.  Rock 'n' roll seemed to encourage a freedom that was unpredictable, from Elvis' undulating hips, to the sexual implications of the beat. Until that Easter Sunday in 1964 when we went on the air, Britain had only thirty minutes of pop music a week from the BBC Light Programme and an evening of crackling  music broadcasting from Radio Luxembourg; a radio station that played only a one minute taste of each record. And then, suddenly, because of us, there was rock 'n' roll galore. And not only that, we were a bunch of young guys, full of life, and willing to risk everything on the high seas to share this music. Ronan was only twenty-four years old and some of us were younger. In Westminster and Whitehall, there was a lot of head shaking, tut-tutting and finger wagging but the music was our boss, not the British government. Our way was for expression and freedom, for life and fun”. At it’s peak, Radio Caroline had an audience of 24 million listeners. The phenomenon of its success forced changes that led to the creation of BBC Radio 1, Britain’s first pop radio station. Radio Caroline was the heartbeat of the British Invasion, and was often the first place artists such as The Rolling Stones or The Beatles received airplay. Cashbox proudly presents our exclusive interview with Tom Lodge: CB: Where did you get your start in broadcasting? Tom: I got my start in Canada, working for the CBC - first as a morning show host, then as station manager and eventually a foreign correspondent in England. CB: How did you get involved with Radio Caroline? Tom: I was with the CBC as a foreign correspondent in England. While at a pub on Kings Road one night, I heard this awful string orchestra arrangement of some song.  I asked the bartender to please change the radio station to something better. The bartender said, “ That’s the best we have”. Then, from the other end of the pub, a man spoke up in a thick Irish accent and said, “We will soon be changing that, we’ll soon be putting out the finest rock ‘n’ roll music. We have a ship off the coast and in a few days we’ll be on the air”. That person was Ronan O'Rahilly, the founder of Radio Caroline. Shortly after that fateful night, I was on the ship broadcasting. CB: Just what was the impact of Radio Caroline? Tom: While I was Program Director, we became the biggest station in England, with more than 24 million listeners at the peak of Radio Caroline South. Our success forced the de-regulation of British Radio, and led to the creation of stations such as BBC Radio 1, which became the BBC’s new flagship pop music station. In addition, and more importantly, we where the first station to play bands like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds. The Who, Eric Burden & The  Animals and The Kinks. Without Radio Caroline, those bands would never have received the level of exposure or airplay that they did.   “Without Caroline we would not have sold a single record. Tom Lodge was a vital figure in Caroline's most vital times.  As such, he deserves a Knighthood." - Pete Townshend, The Who CB: Why was Radio Caroline such a phenomenal success? Tom: Radio Caroline worked so well, because when we went to air, people had never heard anything like this before. We were playing actual music - and it was great stuff! CB: Was there any specific programming policies you had implemented on Radio Caroline, which helped position the station well above any from competition? Tom: Well, at one point we were up against Radio London who had implemented the Drake Format. The Drake Format, if you did not know, goes like this: At the top of the hour your play a song from the top ten, followed by a new release and then one from the top twenty and then a gold record and so on… The programming is based around a set list of songs, played and replayed around the hour. On Radio Caroline, I introduced a different approach. The music we played was never based on a list or chart we had created. Each week, we would set all the records we received into three piles. Records we all liked and believed were real ”sure shot” hits; records only one or two of us  liked and records none of us liked.  Each DJ would then perform their show, un-prepared and would play music that fit into that moment. The DJ had to love his/her own show and be one with the music.  This connection was contagious to the audience.  This was a connection and intimate. A revolutionary concept of pure unbridled intuitive radio programming. There was no charted list based on hard sales or anything of that nature and we didn’t care where the record came from. It was all about the songs. Our DJ’s were in touch with what was current, so they already knew what people wanted to hear, because they wanted to hear it themselves. It was this passion for the music and engagement with the listeners in the community, driven by a love of new music and the whole scene that created the song lists for Radio Caroline’s on-air hosts. At the same time, since our DJs were pro-active in promoting culture and the music scene, they also had the ability to monitor burn-out factors first hand, as they would eventually get tired of playing the same songs at the same time our audience was tiring of the songs. In this sense, they were very much an integral part of the listening audience and music community. CB: The Drake format became quite common in North America and established itself as the dominant format. How did you fare against Radio London and this new regimented format? Tom: We absolutely crushed them. When I had come back to Radio Caroline South after my time on Caroline North, the station had been caught off guard by the Drake format and Radio London had more listeners. That said, quite soon it was obvious the programming that played the best music was what people wanted.  Programming that allowed for freedom of expression and personal input from DJs, empowering them to reach out to the audience was the preferred choice for our listeners, as we ended up with more than 24 million listeners in a short period of time. CB: What specific things made Radio Caroline so successful in defeating the Drake Format? Tom: Radio Caroline’s success was based on her intimate relationship with her audience. At the end of the day, radio is about communication at the most intimate of all levels. Although you might have millions listening, you’re always only talking to just one person. The most effective programming comes from the intimate experience you create, right then and there, in the moment. When you’re forced to play a limited, constant short list of songs and cannot express yourself though music and banter, than the process becomes so repetitive, there is no room for any real “moments”. You don’t actually get a chance to communicate with your listener. As well, all our DJs had strong and engaging personalities, which is key when communicating with someone. If you can create a bond of trust with a listener, then all of a sudden they have this emotional investment with the programming. It’s not just music. It’s a personal relationship they have with the DJ. CB: With radio listenership floundering, and more and more people turning to the Internet and personal devices for music, there is a whole new medium for people to create their own music programming. As someone who built an empire based around the creation of content and programming, what advice can you give to people trying to create new content mediums and distribution channels such as internet radio, and podcasts etc. Tom: Well, I can say communication is the key, and including yourself in the content equation is important. If people are going to listen, it’s because the whole experience is pleasant and because they find there is something they can relate to. If you're going to just repeat the same ten songs every hour, they can do that themselves. You need to strive to communicate with people and foster those moments of personal connection. Then, you don’t have listeners. You have fans and you have friends who become personally tied in to your broadcast and connection. That relationship you create gives them a stake in your content and it makes everything personal. LINKS BILBIOGRAPHY Beyond the Great Slave Lake, (Cassells, 1958) Beyond the Great Slave Lake, (E.P. Dutton, 1959) Success Without Goals,  Tom Lodge (Lloyds Mayfair Group, 1992) Circles, (Lloyds Mayfair Group, 1993) Footprints in the Snow, Umi (Umi Foundation, 2000) The River and the Raven, with Umi (Umi Foundation, 2002) Enlightenment Guaranteed, with Umi (Umi Foundation, 2002) The Radio Caroline Story (Umi Foundation, 2002) The Ship That Rocked The World, (Umi Foundation 2003) God is a Dancer, with Umi (Umi Foundation, 2007) The Diamond Sutra, with Umi (Umi Foundation 2008) The Ship That Rocked The World: How Radio Caroline Defied the Establishment, Launched the British Invasion and Made the Planet Safe for Rock and Roll (to be released in November 2009 by Bartleby Publisher) Discography All Your Feelings are Your Creation (Umi Foundation)