John S. Platt reporting on RNI 2000
Click on the pictures to enlarge
During April and May the airwaves of the world were again treated to the
sounds of RNI.
This time it was not possible to repeat the offshore event of last August. The lightvessel could have done it but the logistics proved insurmountable. Consequently, we stayed in Harwich moored to the old Railway Pier.
This presented several problems with access to the ship, as the pier is condemned and walking on it is quite dangerous. Having negotiated the pier, it was then necessary to board via an old ladder. At low tide, this meant a precarious assault across a sometimes, 15ft gap between the pier and ship over water 20 feet below. On more than one occasion visitors, having travelled many miles getting to us, decided to forgo a look around the ship and stay alive.
This one problem alone may result in being our last transmission from the ship. The old girl badly needs a refit and it was hoped that some of the profit made on the venture by visitors would go towards a refurbishment. The few people, who visited the ship due to the physical problems of getting onboard, did not provide enough income.
After just one year, she is showing signs of wear and tear, which are evident in the pictures accompanying this article. Another year will probably see the superstructure beyond repair.
The only other access to the ship was via a rather small rowing boat, in which I spent many an hour, ferrying people backwards and forwards. I do not know which was worse, the ladder or the dinghy!
The ladder also generated a time constraint on the broadcast. It was continually getting bent at the bottom. This required cutting the bottom section off with a hacksaw, making the ladder shorter and then shorter again as the time went on. Had the broadcast gone on any longer we would now be
marooned on the ship and starving to death.
The MEBO III started her second RNI broadcast on April 11th with test transmissions on 1575 kHz. These tests were intended to continue until 0600 when Paul Maclaren would open RNI with the breakfast show.
However, the signal strength was very poor and the transmitter was switched off several times for tuning adjustments.
Tests were abandoned at 0130 as the antenna array was making contact with the original ships mast, causing it to detune. After correcting the problem, further test transmissions were made from around mid-day.
Further problems arose with the new studio mixer resulting in it picking up RF from the transmitter; the station left the air at around 1530 hrs. Ray Anderson's ex-Laser 558 mixer, used during last summer's broadcast, was brought to Harwich but sea conditions were to rough to transfer it to the
RNI opened at 0600 on Thursday morning with Paul Maclaren presenting the Breakfast Show.
The studio had one important addition this year, i.e. an on-air light. Unfortunately, it looked as if it had been stolen from some roadwork's however, it was red and did have the words "On Air" written on it, in crayon.
The crew were more or less the same as last August but during the weeks on the air all these old faces came and went: Norman Barrington, Paul Graham, Paul Maclaren, Victor Hartman, Phil Mitchell, Clive Boutell, Colin Lamb, Peter Salberg, Graham Vine, Gary Williams, Ray Anderson, Jim Gregory, Dave Gregory, Dave West, Tony Carnell, Tony Currie, Bob Le-Roi, Kevin Turner and myself John Platt. Easter Sunday saw the guest appearance of Andy Archer who was interviewed on Paul Grahams Lunchtime show.
The food this time was far better than when we were off Clacton and we ate some very posh meals. We still did not have enough knives and forks so I took my own with me.
Another problem occurred during the second week. The problem this time was the main studio amplifier failing, which resulted in the presenters only being able to hear the off-air output via headphones, there was now no cueing facility on the desk whatsoever. Therefore we had to cue records by listening to the needle on the record, guessing or in my case using a torch
Despite these problems programmes continued as normal until Good Friday evening when the transmitter started to cause yet another problem and it was decided to close down until proper repairs were carried out. Transmissions resumed on Saturday afternoon however, the signal was not as good as it was previously, this was corrected and everything was back to normal. Whilst off
the air a new crystal was fitted to the transmitter as the old one was slightly off channel and the antenna was connected via a new porcelain feed insulator on the bridge in an attempt to cure some of the RF problems.
The RF problem meant we could only receive RNI on any radio on board, the CD player would not work even when we put it in a Microwave hoping that its shielding would solve the problem, it didn't.
Not only did we transmit on short-wave again via a US based 100 kW Short Wave transmitter on 7415 kHz but this time we were on the Internet via LeConnect.
We received several e-mails from listeners. The furthest on MW was Finland and via the Net from Florida.
We had some very rough weather during the broadcasts and the old girl continually smashed against the pier during one night. The pier damaged the ship but she fought back and returned the compliment with interest.
The major sponsor was Wilkin & Son who make Tiptree Preserves. The Managing Director bravely visited the ship one-day. I complained about the fact that I can not buy Blackcurrant in my neck of the woods and was promised a case, it never appeared! The remainder of the advertisers were local businesses and one from Kent.
The format this year was different to the last RSL. Rather than stick with playing music from a particular month, the presenters were allowed to play anything from the period 1970 to 1974.
I presented my usual rubbish in the early hours of the morning but rebelled completely and played heavy metal. I never received a reprimand and can only assume that nobody was listening.
Most presenters sit in a chair whilst strutting their stuff but not me. I dispensed with it and danced around the studio playing my air guitar or drums. Unfortunately, I accidentally put my foot through the wooden false floor. As I had built it last year, I felt it was my place to wreck it.
The MEBO III was moved from the Railway pier to the Trinity House on the last Saturday.
RNI closed at 6pm on Monday 8th May, and the ship went silent.
It is unlikely the lightvessel will ever go to sea again. She is in need of much tender loving care, so if any of you have a spare £50,000 knocking around, we could use it.
Finally, I need a new job. Does anybody want a cook, boatman, general handyman and heavy metal lightvessel anorak? Thought not.
Keep your fingers crossed and we may, but it's a very slim may, get back on the air again from the old girl, Lightvessel No 18 lovingly known as the MEBO III by us all.
Click on the pictures to enlarge