Thursday 24 August 2017

Sweet Caroline -- the DJ who anchored the boat that rocked

Tom Lodge, who has died aged 75, worked as a cowboy, used-car salesman, gold miner and a winter fisherman before becoming one of the first disc jockeys on Radio Caroline, where he was credited with introducing a looser, more spontaneous style to the pirate station's output.

Caroline was the brainchild of a 23-year-old Irishman, Ronan O'Rahilly, a former agent, manager and promoter who set out to challenge a BBC radio monopoly which rationed pop to a few hours a week.

Exploiting a legal loophole allowing unlicensed commercial stations to broadcast from international waters, he bought a redundant Danish passenger ferry, Fredericia, rechristened her MV Caroline, and anchored her three miles off the coast of Felixstowe, just outside British territorial waters.

The new station launched on Easter Day 1964 and a few months later merged with another pirate radio station, Radio Atlanta, whose boat, Mi Amigo, was moored off Harwich.

Lodge (who described his experiences in his 2010 book 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) joined Radio Caroline as a DJ in April 1964 and soon became one of the station's most popular broadcasters.

In January 1966 he was on 'Mi Amigo' when she lost her anchor and was washed up on the beach at Frinton. Five DJs, including Lodge and Tony Blackburn, had to be rescued.

At first Caroline's output was relatively staid, with shows aimed at housewives and children home from school. The Beatles were featured, but so were The Searchers and Ken Dodd.

Growing competition from other pirate ships soon forced a change of direction, however, and Caroline began giving more air time to the cutting-edge bands of the day -- The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Yardbirds, Hollies, The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, Cream and others.

It was Lodge, perhaps more than anyone, who set the pace. As programme director from October 1965, he scrapped rigid formatting. His formula was simple: "You will be in tune with the audience if you are the right kind of person."

To that end he hired DJs who were "young, enthusiastic, positive, friendly [and] lived and breathed the music scene".

They were not allowed to prepare for their shows, but were told to collect the records that they might want to play, and place them all around the studio. That way, Lodge explained, they could pick the next record only when the one before was playing, so they "had to be spontaneous and feel their show".

By 1966 Radio Caroline boasted an audience of 23 million, but the station's popularity stoked establishment outrage, and in 1967 pirate radio stations were banned. Yet by the time it went off air in 1968, Radio Caroline had helped bring about a revolution in the British music scene that even the BBC could not ignore.

Pete Townshend of The Who felt that Lodge deserved a knighthood "for the indirect millions he helped guide from the pockets of budding UK pop stars towards the coffers of the Treasury".

Thomas Odoard Marshall Lodge was born on April 16, 1936, at Forest Green, Surrey, England. His father was the writer Oliver WF Lodge and his grandfather, Sir Oliver Lodge, was the physicist who transmitted the first radio signal.

At the age of 18 he left Britain with his guitar and £16 and moved to Alberta, Canada, where he worked as a cowboy in Calgary and as a used-car salesman in Edmonton, before travelling to Hay River in the icy Northwest Territories, where he worked as an ice-fisherman on the Great Slave Lake.

In a memoir, Beyond the Great Slave Lake, published in 1957, he described how he nearly lost his life when he and an American Indian companion were blown out into the middle of the lake on an ice floe. His companion eventually succumbed to the freezing temperatures, but Lodge was saved by some passing fur trappers.

In 1956 he returned to England, where the following year he married Jeanine Arpourettes. The couple went to live at Yellowknife in Canada, where Tom worked in a gold mine before joining the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as an announcer. He became a station manager and then returned to England.

After the passing of the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act, Lodge worked as a DJ for the BBC's newly-created Radio 1, but soon got fed up with the bureaucracy and returned to Canada. There he worked as a DJ on a local radio station in London, Ontario, and, in 1970, founded a training programme for recording engineers and record producers.

Lodge was uncomplimentary about the Richard Curtis film The Boat That Rocked (2009), a fictional retelling of the Radio Caroline years, objecting to its emphasis on recreational drugs. "I hadn't even heard of marijuana until 1968," he claimed.

Tom Lodge's three sons survive him.

Tom Lodge, born April 16, 1936, died March 25, 2012

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