Radio Kathy

In 1974, as a 15 year old boy, I joined an Island pirate radio station called Radio Kathy. It was set up by Nigel Hayles and Graham Dyer and like me, both huge radio enthusiasts. We would try to operate every Sunday but that wasn't always possible. Our start time was midday and we would run for 3 to 4 hours with a mixture of old and new music programming. The transmitter was, of course, home built and the circuit diagram was given to us by Radio Jackie. It was 15 watts in output and used and 807 valve with an anode cap which always turned blue when we on full power. We also used a 6V6 for modulation and one other which I can't remember.

I remember one transmission day we had inadvertently put the wrong modulator valve in (it was an EL34) and caused a dreadful hissy output. We managed to retrieve the trusty 6V6 and changed it whilst on air and during my programme. I still have a recording of it being changed during Bob Dylan's Lay Lady Lay. To actually do this was no mean feat as our site was out in the country so it entailed a trip into town to effect the change. Speaking of sites, we did have several but our main, albeit overused site, was on the outskirts of Ryde in a village called Ashey.

We were lucky to be at the top of a hill and had reasonable sight to the main access road as well as a splendid view overlooking the Solent and across to the mainland. With only 15 watts, we were amazed to be getting reception reports from as far away as London. The aerial was a wire cut to quarter wave. We transmitted on 222 or 227 metres in the medium wave, we had crystals for both. The site was very good to us in that it had two trees, one very high and the other not so. We would tie a piece of string onto a stone then tie the other end of the string onto one end of the aerial. The stone would then be thrown over the highest branch of the taller tree. This was always performed by Nigel who was extremely adept at this task. I would then pull the string and hence the aerial up to the highest point and we would then tie off the other end to the small tree, thus creating an inverted L aerial. This would then be connected to the transmitter. Power for this would be in the form of two car batteries linked to a rotary inverter. This brought the power up to 240v although I do remember one we had which supplied 490v. We later used a transistorised inverter which was lighter and probably more stable. It did, I remember, produce a very high pitched whistle when it was running, which could be heard throughout the site.

I should also say that the site was, in fact, a field which had a footpath running through it and often we would meet walkers who stopped to have a chat. We would claim that we were conducting atmospheric experiments for the local college. We were never raided. However, we did receive a few visits from journalists and made it into the local papers on more than one occasion. Always exciting when that happened. I have the original articles somewhere. I remember one site we used comprised an old air raid shelter. It was actually more than that in that the structure contained about 5 rooms. We placed the transmitter in one of the rooms with the aerial going through an air vent. Sadly, the site was only used once because the lay of the land was such that we never really achieved a decent signal out of there. Our programmes we recorded the day or night before and put onto cassette. The studio was pretty basic with really just a couple of decks and a mic, although I do recall being able to play something in off cassette if needs be.

On Saturday evening we all went to the local night club and handed out stickers, telling people to listen. The stickers were simple enough with Radio Kathy in bold capitals, then below that, our wavelength and then the line "The sound of the Solent". We all had presenter names. Mine was Bob Price, Nigel was Dave Collins and Graham was Rick O'Sullivan. For a teenager it was a fantastic time to grow up and I will always treasure those memories. We didn't do it for money, fame or fortune, we did it because we all loved radio. The final transmission from Radio Kathy was Easter, 1980. People began to drift away and do other things. Sadly, Nigel took his life 5 years ago and it has left an empty void. I still regret the stations passing and would welcome an opportunity to do it all again. I hope you don't mind me sharing my reminiscences with you,

Rob Townsend