independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Rock ahoy! -- the Dubliner who helped anchor Radio Caroline

Dubliner Steve Conway was one of the last men off Radio Caroline when he was rescued by an RAF helicopter during a storm in 1991.

Having survived the famous 1987 hurricane on the ship, Conway was programme controller on the ship when the anchor chain broke four years later.

"I really thought it was the end of us that time; it was very, very frightening."

The ship, which gave him his love of broadcasting, is now being restored by enthusiasts in Tilbury in Essex, but it was his home for four years, having left his IT job in London to join the ship as a newsreader in '87.

Payment in those days was a moveable feast, he recalls. "When I left the ship on shore leave, I would go and meet Ronan O'Rahilly in a café on the Kings Road in Chelsea. He would pass money under the table to me and it would be in a different foreign currency every time, so you wouldn't know how much you were actually getting until you got to the bank, and of course, Ronan was long gone!"

He says that you were paid "what you needed" for your time off, rather than what you felt you deserved, having spent the previous six or more weeks on a ship 18 miles off coast.

"In those days, mobile phone coverage didn't reach that far off land, so we had no communication with the outside world," he remembers.

While life on board wasn't quite as exciting as Curtis' film might make out, there were moments of drama in between otherwise routine days of sleeping, eating and playing music, says Conway.

In the '87 hurricane, a cable from the 300ft mast to the transmitter came loose, and he had to scramble on deck with another colleague in 110mph winds and reconnect it, to get the station back on the air. "It's a miracle we survived it," he says.

A few months later, the staff had to rebuild the mast which had since collapsed, because they could not bring the boat back into port for fear of it being impounded.

Now safely back on solid ground, Steve works at Phantom FM in Dublin. "I have been at Phantom since it was a pirate; it was the only station that really excited me when I moved home," he says, and adds: "But there is hardly a day that I don't miss Caroline. I watch the sea in all its different states and to me now it's like Tir na nOg -- that time in my 20s that I can just never get back.

"When it's in the blood, you will always have that yearning, even though you know in your heart of hearts, it's over."

Steve Conway's Shiprocked -- life on the waves with Radio Caroline is published yesterday by Liberties Press

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