Radio Caroline back on wave of nostalgia

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He made the pledge at the height of the Swinging Sixties when the pirate pop station Radio Caroline was the epitome of anti-establishment rebellion.

And yesterday Johnnie Walker, 50, the disc jockey, was on board the Ross Revenge, the descendant ship of the original, as she came up the river Thames to fulfil his promise to broadcast from the heart of London.

"Twenty-eight years is quite a long time," he said as the 1,400-tonne vessel arrived at West India Quay in Docklands, east London. "I thought we might have done it a bit quicker. But I'm extremely happy."

Radio Caroline was the radical radio station forever dodging the law, broadcasting on the seas just outside British waters. She launched the careers of disc jockeys including Tony Blackburn and Dave Lee Travis, and gave breaks to fledgling pop stars such as Georgie Fame.

Founded in 1964, she claimed 22 million listeners in Britain at her height. But in August 1967 a Labour minister, Tony Benn, made broadcasting on the seas illegal and Mr Walker made his defiant pledge.

"It was like everything was against us," he said yesterday. "It was David and Goliath, but we knew one day Caroline would be victorious."

She is to go on air for 28 days from Friday next week on a special restricted service licence from the Radio Authority. The move was the idea of the youth section of Charter 88, which campaigns for a written constitution and human rights, in a move to publicise its M-power initiative encouraging young people to register to vote.

"We want to remove politics from the Westminster suit idea of sitting around talking earnestly," said Colin Havard, the co-ordinator. "Music is a way of getting to young people."

Also present was Ronan O'Rahilly, the station's self-proclaimed anarchist founder, who seemed moved by seeing it near the seat of power. "It kind of represents the last free thing on the planet," he said.