In the recent movie Pirate Radio, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a radio DJ aboard a pirate radio ship.
But, in the 1960s, Vancouver Island resident Gordon Cruse lived the life Phillip Seymour Hoffman portrays, and in the process, helped changed the face of British radio forever.
“I just went travelling to see the world and happened to land in London,” said the 68-year-old retired corrections worker. Little did he know that those travel plans would put him in the middle of a radio revolution.
From 1964 to 1967, Cruse worked as a DJ for the pioneering pirate radio station Radio Caroline. Operated on a ship always sailing in international waters to avoid BBC licensing agreements, Radio Caroline played the sounds of an emerging youth culture – the Beatles, the Stones and Bob Dylan – to British youth who couldn’t get it from the BBC.
“The BBC was just so serious,” said Cruse. “They did their job but they were so formal. We offered what they wouldn’t.”
By 1965, Radio Caroline was enjoying huge success. They broadcasted to nearly 17 million listeners and one of their morning show hosts, Jerry Leighton, spent part of 1966 on tour with the Beatles. Cruse remembers the notoriety well.
“We used to be onboard the ship for two weeks and then get one week off,” he said. “Each time we came ashore there was always a crowd, mostly ladies. And, there was some gathering with stars.”
After leaving Radio Caroline in the summer of 1967, Cruse travelled to Australia for a year and on his way back to his native Saskatchewan, he stopped in Victoria to visit some friends. That visit turned into a five-year stint as the music director at CFAX, a local radio station. He then worked for the government as a youth corrections supervisor for 28 years until his retirement in 2002.
No matter what direction his professional life took him in, Cruse still has a soft spot for radio.
“I still like it all. Campus radio, the CBC. I still listen to some of my old buddies in England,” he said. “I miss radio.”
The legacy of the original pirate radio stations is still felt today. York University professor Rob Bowman, an expert in music and popular culture, believes the significance those stations had on music cannot be properly guaged.
“It is virtually impossible to quantify the importance that pirate radio had on British pop music,” he said. “Pirate radio opened the door to tonnes of great music both for listeners and other musicians.”