Santa Cruz, CA – By the time Tom Lodge turned 27, he had already been a cowboy, ice fisherman and radio correspondent, so you could say all options were on the table. "I walked into this pub one day and the music playing was Perry Como's What Did Delaware," recounts Lodge, "and I said to the bartender, that's pretty awful music you got and he said well it's the best we've got." It was 1964 and in the United Kingdom the government controlled all the airwaves, so the BBC was pretty much the only option and rock n roll was taboo.
But that was about to change. Another man sitting at the bar spoke up, "he said, don't you be worried about that you. We'll soon be putting out the finest rock n roll. I said, how are you going to do that? We got a ship off the coast. We're going to soon be broadcasting. I said, really? Can I join you?" said Lodge. The man at the bar was Ronan O'Rahilly founder of Radio Caroline, the first commercial pirate radio station on a ship in international waters to broadcast rock n roll into the UK. Tom Lodge became one of Caroline's first DJs.
Blasting music into this rock n roll deprived nation earned Radio Caroline an audience of millions and spawned copycats. Eventually there were ten pirate radio stations operating in international waters, with two from Radio Caroline one in the south and one in the north. Isolated on the ship often for two weeks stints or longer, the DJs didn't have a sense of their popularity until returning to shore where they were greeted by autograph seeking fans. But they weren't popular with the British Government which spent years trying to silence them. Radio Caroline operated under the Panamanian flag. "When the British Government got Panama to rescind our registration, the captain just undid the next flag which was Honduras and put up the Honduran flag, so we were always legal," said Lodge.
As the British Government tried to bring down the radio stations many new music groups got their break thanks to pirate radio. "I remember when the first Who record came on board, "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere." Everybody said, Oh, I don't like that; it's too noisy. I said,"I love it. I'm gonna play it. So I really introduced The Who," said Lodge. "I mean Pete Townsend. I have a direct quote from him. He said, without Radio Caroline we would not have sold a single record that's direct words from Pete Townsend and that's also in my new book." Lodge's new book titled "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" comes out this year. He says it grew out of a need to preserve this piece of rock n roll history.
Lodge left Radio Caroline in 1967 when new law forced British subjects off the air. But like the bands he helped break, his radio career continued off and on for decades. Then in 2007 he handed the reins to his son Tom Lodge Junior who now hosts his own show on Radio Caroline which still operates in the UK. Tom Lodge is now a Zen Master living in the Santa Cruz Mountains.