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MEET PIRATE DJ RICK

St. Petersburg's Rick Crandall was the rocker who broadcast from the North Sea.
Published Nov. 24, 2009|Updated Nov. 24, 2009

Half a lifetime ago, Rick Crandall was a rock 'n' roll radio pirate. Today, the St. Petersburg resident is an Internet radio pioneer.

For four months in 1966, Crandall spun records on a rusty freighter in the North Sea, beaming a beat to Great Britain that was banned by the BBC. Crandall lived the renegade life portrayed - not always accurately, he says - in the movie Pirate Radio.

Crandall was the first American DJ hired by Swinging Radio England, transmitting 50,000 watts of music by the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and other rising acts under the radio name "Rick Randall."

"The sex, drugs and silly stuff they did, that's nothing I remember," Crandall, 67, said recently. "Maybe it was going on and I just missed it. Maybe it was (happening) on other pirate radio ships.

"And it never seemed like (the actors) were actually on a ship bobbing in the water. We would play records and that (phonograph) needle would fly off the record when we hit some of those swells. Then it would come right back down again, usually in the groove."

These days, Crandall still skirts radio conventions as creator of Music Tampa Bay (www.musictampabay.com), a Web site begun in 2005 to showcase local musical talent. The library consists of nearly 1,000 songs by diverse acts including Mojo Gurus, Maggie Council and Geri X.

As a former DJ for several Tampa Bay stations - including 1970s rocker WLCY-AM - Crandall understands the need for Music Tampa Bay.

"Local artists always wanted to get their music played on (WLCY)," he said. "We always kind of laughed them off.

"After a while, I started thinking there's something fundamentally wrong with that. Broadcasting is supposed to operate in the public interest, to serve the local community. Yet we never play local artists on the air. I had this uneasiness until it dawned on me to put on an Internet radio station where nobody can tell me what to do."

Like the musicians Crandall spotlights, Music Tampa Bay struggles to be heard.

"I don't have a large audience yet - probably no more than 20 or 30 (listeners) at any given time," he said. "But it's certainly making ripples. Finally, there's a way for this music to be heard. That's all (the musicians) really want."

All that British teenagers wanted in the 1960s was to hear the Beatles, the Who and other pop stars that the state-owned BBC network wouldn't play. Pirate radio ships such as Swinging Radio England's vessel offered the only chances while politicians considered them dangerous to the status quo.

"We weren't technically illegal; we just weren't legal," Crandall said.

As the movie depicts, British officials scrambled for ways to shut down pirate radio ships. In retaliation, Swinging Radio England changed its ship's name from the Olga Patricia to Laissez-Faire to send Parliament a message: Leave us alone.

"Anything to get us run out of the water, which eventually they did," Crandall said.

By then, homesickness had led Crandall back to St. Petersburg, where he had graduated from Dixie Hollins High School in 1960 before entering the Air Force. A string of U.S. radio and television gigs followed until his 2008 retirement.

Memories of rocking the high seas never faded, nor Crandall's pride in being part of rock 'n' roll history that Pirate Radio recalls. "If the pirates hadn't come along in England," he said, "we'd have never heard the Beatles in this country, or the Stones, the Who, or any of the big acts that came over here. I just never imagined all of this would come back at this point in my life."

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.

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ON THE WEB

Pirate radio

Listen to an audio clip of Rick Crandall today and back in 1966 during his pirate radio days at entertainment.tampabay.com.

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