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Caroline dancing

Here’s a charming photo I’d never seen before this week: JFK claps along as his children dance in the Oval Office.

I found it while researching for my new radio history podcast: The British Broadcasting Century. (Your ears on it would be most welcome, whether on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podbean, or other.)

But what could link this family moment in America’s highest office with old British radio?

The answer is well-known to true radio fans (‘anoraks’ – nicknamed after the anorak-wearing fans who’d visit the pirate radio ships. Pirate DJ Andy Archer came up with the name, and I might just be getting him on the podcast soon…).

The first British pirate radio station was set up by Ronan O’Rahilly in 1964, in frustration at a limited radio industry. The only audible stations at the time were the monopolistic BBC, or Radio Luxembourg with their pay-to-play model (record companies sponsored shows to get their artists airplay). 7 million would regularly listen to O’Rahilly’s station. But first it needed a name – both his offshore radio station, and the boat that hosted it off the Suffolk coast.

The above picture gave him the answer.

Two years earlier, O’Rahilly had seen this photo in Life Magazine: A young Caroline Kennedy dancing in her president dad’s office. The playful disruption of government, he called it.

That was just what his new pirate station sought to do. So he named his boat and his station after the girl. Years later in tribute, Radio Jackie would take their name similarly, but after Caroline’s mum, Jackie Kennedy.

We’ll tell some of this story on the 5th episode of the podcast, ‘Arthur Burrows: 1920’s All-Request Pirate’. There’s also an exclusive guest in another pirate radio legend, Emperor Rosko, who also appeared on Radio 1’s first line-up.

Researching, presenting and producing the British Broadcasting Century podcast in lockdown has been a challenge while home-schooling two children. We’ve had some hard days (both wife and wifi went downhill at similar times; both are gladly improving).

Looking at that picture of JFK and his dancing children reminded me that when you work from home – as he did, as I do, as many of us do now – you need to expect frequent visits from the youngsters, and be glad of them.

Caroline (and JFK Jr, also in the pic) playfully disrupted authority, as Radio Caroline then did. There was a time for business, but a time for dancing.

On Father’s Day, I’ll be glad that my children crash the office as much as they do, interrupting the workload with play, dance or wifi queries. I’m no president nor any great authority, but I can have a tendency to think my work matters more than it probably does – especially when it’s this podcast, which barely qualifies as work.

I don’t know how long lockdown will last. I don’t know how long my podcast will last. I do know it takes a lot longer to research, record and edit while school is happening across the room. But bring on the dancing…

If the President could find time to clap along, so will I.

‘The British Broadcasting Century with Paul Kerensa’ is free from all good podcast providers, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify + Podbean. Listen and subscribe now.

History of Broadcasting Paul Kerensa talk - pic

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