Caroline 452

Last month, I had an entire post about one of the composers of the music of my teenage years, the brilliant Thomas Dolby.

One of the peppier and very 80s-ish songs of Mr Dolby was a little forgotten single called “Radio Silence.” Here’s the official video, which was attached to that other great 80s product, the movie Weird Science:

One of the catchy bits about this shamelessly poppy song is the refrain, “Caroline 452”, which most people assumed was a reference either to an old telephone exchange number or a robotic girlfriend. I just found out, however, that the reference –and indeed the entire song– is about pirate radio, which makes this song more than just a snippet from my youth, but a touchstone to a specific moment in technological history.

As one fellow writes:

“Radio Caroline was my constant companion when I was studying in London. I found it by chance, not knowing in 1986 that ‘Caroline 452’ was a reference to pirate radio (yeah, I was completely oblivious.) Tuning in stations on my new radio (after going out to buy the right plug end for it – a really weird shopping experience for an American) I heard: ‘This is Radio Caroline – *ding ding* – broadcasting from the North Sea at 558 Khz.’ My jaw just about hit the floor. I immediately made the mental connection (looking up at Dolby on my wall.) Ah, I miss the fine folks on the Ross Revenge. (That was 86-87.)”

And as Colm Smyth tells us:

“Prowling through my music collection and listening to Thomas Dolby this evening, I am reminded that long before Morpheus’ beamed a hacker signal into the matrix from the Nebuchadnezzar, long before URLs and certainly before podcasts, Radio Caroline broadcast their pirate signal from not one but two floating ships into the UK and the south of Ireland.”

Sounds pretty renegade to me. I like it. As another commenter put it, “Radio Silence” reminds us of a time when command of the airwaves was limited to a privileged few, but a handful of daring rebels could break the information monopoly with a little help from technology and the cooperation of thousands of their listeners. In many ways, this attitude was a precursor to the pioneering libertarian spirit that created the Internet, and that still struggles to wrest control of the ‘Net from the censoring hands of the Money Men.

Radio Caroline started broadcasting in 1964, and apparently has achieved legal status today. Apparently it has moved from broadcasting from a sinking offshore vessel to being part of the global empire of satellite broadcasting. Oh well. The hippies became yuppies, and now even Johnny Rotten shills for butter.

I leave you with a rarer (and better) version of Dolby’s “Radio Silence”. To complete the unabashed geekotry, this one comes with unofficial Dr Who imagery. Honestly, watch the whole thing. The random images get sort of mesmerizing in the last half: