John Sales remembers getting cold in the interests of Big L!

An interesting fact about the Radio London Christmas Broadcast 1997/1998 was that there wasn't meant to be one!!!

A meeting had already taken place at East Anglian Productions' headquarters in Frinton during November and, so I understand from some who attended the meeting, the general consensus of opinion was that it wasn't a good idea to have another broadcast due to lack of preparation time, and people's other commitments over the Christmas period, etc. Being a regular caller to the JayBee Newsline, I had already heard John Burch announce that there was not to be a second Big L RSL during 1997 after all.

However, the next thing I heard was that, with the agreement of the Radio Authority there was, after all, to be a broadcast coming from London with an allocation on 1503 kHz. This was all very sudden and a complete turn-around from what had previously been announced. As far as I was concerned this was really excellent news; there hadn't been a Big L broadcast for 30 years and then there were to be two within a couple of months of each other. Fantastic news!!!!

During the summer of 1997 I had been able to hear the Radio London transmissions very well indeed at my home near Southend in Essex. However, knowing that the station was now to be situated in St. Katherine's Dock in London by the side of Tower Bridge, I was now concerned that I might not be able to hear the signal at my home location. During Frinton 1997 I had constructed a frame aerial which I found made the already good reception of the signal even better; would this piece of equipment be as successful in helping me to hear the transmissions from the Ocean Defender? Time would tell.

On the night before the commencement of the licence, being the anorak that I am, I set off for London along the well-trodden A13 being determined to hear the rebirth of the station clearly and not risking not being able to hear the signal at home. I had reached the Royal Albert Dock by about ten minutes to midnight and, on finding a suitable place to park, I tuned my car radio to 1503 kHz and waited.

At the appointed hour my efforts were well rewarded with the sound of "Big Lil" and I knew that the station had, for the second time in a year, successfully come on air. My location was only a few miles downriver from St. Katherine's Dock and the signal was very strong; if only the signal could be still heard at home!

I remained at my location by the dock for about one and a half hours, during which time I took the trouble to phone the ship with a reception report. Wonderful Radio London was being wonderful once again! I did explore the local area by driving around but didn't on this occasion actually venture as far as the ship. Being the month of December it was too cold to keep the car in one place for too long; I had to keep some warmth in the heater. Didn't have this problem down in Frinton during the summer!

Hearing the voices of Ray Anderson and Chris Elliot once more brought back all the very happy memories which I had from the Frinton broadcast. The setting was different but it was still the same station with the same people. Truly wonderful!

I decided that I had better see about heading for home since I had to go to work later in the day. Ray decided to put on the Wonderful Radio London Story triple CD to provide overnight programming and, since I already have this material in my collection, I decided that this was the time to depart. I headed back to the A13, still listening, of course, but unfortunately the signal strength dropped considerably without my having travelled very far at all.

It is very difficult to listen successfully to weak stations on the medium waveband during the hours of darkness due mainly to the "skip effect". [This is when distant stations interfere with local transmissions. Ed.] It would, therefore, be impossible to know for sure until the following morning whether listening to Radio London at home would be possible or not. I would have to wait and see.

The following morning I did try to listen but there was barely any signal there at all. I tried using the frame aerial which had performed so well during the summer broadcast but things weren't much better. Oh dear, how very disappointing. I did find that by driving to a higher location, particularly by the Thames Estuary, the signal strength did improve considerably. The Chalkwell Park area was particularly good but I couldn't stay there all day. Even then the strong continental stations started breaking through at about 2.45 p.m.; it gets dark very early at this time of year. What a pity it was that I couldn't move my house into the park!

The fact that I could not hear the signal at home, in the main, accounted for my making several visits to London during the 28 day broadcast, the first of which was on Christmas Eve 1997. I was very pleased to be able to meet both Ray and Chris once again and, since things were visitor-wise very quiet that afternoon, we were able to have a good chat and catch up on a number of happenings which had occurred since the end of the Frinton broadcast earlier in the year. I was taken on a tour of the ship which included the engine room and also the facilities of the Earthkind organisation who had very kindly provided their ship, the Ocean Defender, for the duration of the broadcast.

Later in the afternoon, since at the time nobody else was around, I had the opportunity to answer the phone a couple of times; one of the calls happened to be from a certain John Ross-Barnard who, so I understand, had previously been approached by Ray with a view to helping out with the news items during the broadcast! I had the pleasure of meeting John in person for the first time during one of my later visits to the ship.

It was a sad fact of life that, during the Christmas holiday period, the station were desperately short of broadcasting staff. So acute was this problem that, at one time, Big L was being referred to (rather unfairly, in my own opinion) as "Radio Ray Anderson", since whenever one tuned in during this period the only person who was ever apparently heard on-air was Ray, usually with Chris Elliot reading the news, with perhaps a swap over of job functions throughout the day. It does have to be said that, particularly during this period, Chris and Ray certainly did carry out the lion's share of all the various tasks, broadcasting included, and I take my hat off to both of them for this very reason. They worked unbelievably hard with the determination to make the broadcast a success.

During the 28 day RSL I made several visits to the ship, usually at weekends, and had the pleasure of meeting many Radio London supporters, some of whom I had also met the previous summer down in Frinton. Some of the names I can recall were Dr. John and Brian who I had a very long talk with while they were being served by Pauline and Jenni in the RL shop, Geoff Rogers of Susy Radio fame who was very kindly putting the broadcast on to the Internet in Real Audio, and Peter Herring who took so many wonderful photographs. As I have said already, there really were many, many more than these, so I can only apologise to those who I met whose names have escaped me. I haven't included the crew and those who I considered to be crew because that would just become a very unmanageable list of names, many of whom are mentioned elsewhere on this website, anyway.

Of course, I had spent many happy days down in Frinton during the previous summer but I shall have to tell that story at some future date.

John Sales & Radio London 1999

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