When pirates ruled Whitby’s airwaves

David Heselton reflects on his pirate radio days''w140614
David Heselton reflects on his pirate radio days''w140614

“We’re coming to get you.” That was the message from the Home Office, and at Whitby’s pirate radio station it was received loud and clear.

It was 1979 and Radio Whitby was broadcasting illegally on 102 FM every Saturday night from a small bedroom in Rosedale Close.

George Kibble

George Kibble

In doing so it had turned its three presenters into local celebrities, who each risked fines and possible imprisonment.

“We were all radio nerds,” said former DJ David Hesleton. “We broadcast from my bedroom, much to the annoyance of my mother who used to complain about the wires everywhere.”

David worked for Trillo’s and protected his identity by going under the abbreviations DFH.

His friend George Kibble worked at Associated Co-op Creameries and was known on air as George Skinningrove.

A third DJ worked in a Baxtergate electrical shop but wishes to remain unknown (you’ll see below that we probably owe him that much).

Between them, the three men would start a movement, the memory of which is still strong today.

Nowadays David helps run Whitby Memories, a Facebook page which shows old images of Whitby. With a huge following, he now gives presentations to community groups.

David is also involved in charity fund-raising, yet his rebellious streak runs deep and he was chairman of Whitby and District Against Poll Tax.

“In more ways than one I have always been a naughty boy,” he said.

Radio One had launched in 1967, giving youth in the cities a station of their own to listen to the latest popular music. But out here in the sticks, the only service available was the conservative Radio Cleveland.

David explained: “The problem was local radio hadn’t developed enough and there were a lot of communities and towns that felt they were missing out.

“They didn’t have a local radio station that was their own.”

Yorkshire Coast Radio wouldn’t come along until 1993, and anyone turning their radio on in Whitby would find only white noise, unless it was Saturday night. It was 1978 and using a VHF radio transmitter purchased from a dealer in London, the three men had begun to broadcast.

The DJ’s each ran a one-hour show, with their own introductory music. George used the theme to Melvin Bragg’s South Bank Show, while David stole the music from a Hammer Horror film named ‘The Witchfinder General’.

The shows featured a mixture of genres, from George’s Bohemian Classic taste, to the chart music of the day.

But this was three young men who were having fun beyond the reach of the law and they would make prank calls or produce satire based upon well-known Whitby personalities.

One of the victims was councillor Dorothy Clegg, who became Clothy Dogg.

“She was always on about dog mess, it was one of her pet subjects,” David said. “But we weren’t insulting, we just had a little bit of a dig.”

The radio station began to grow in popularity and despite being supposedly anonymous, the presenters found themselves recognised in the streets.

David said: “It was a slice of fame and people knew who we were. They used to stop us all the time in the streets and shops and ask us for shout outs for their friends and family.”

However, under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949, the three men faced serious consequences if the authorities ever learned their identity.

David said: “I was at work one afternoon and I got a call from Keith Morton, who worked for Radio Cleveland. He said ‘Dave, do you know anything about this pirate radio station?’ My knee jerk reaction was to deny all knowledge.”

That afternoon David drove to Middlesbrough and, knowing the route he would take, was able to flag George down at Loftus Bank while on his rounds.

“I said ‘The Whitby Gazette are on to Radio Whitby’,” David said. “But George told me not to worry about it. Then Friday came and it was the front page headline story.”

The Home Office had fired a warning shot across the bow of Whitby Radio pirates.

“George’s mother Nelly put the transmitter into a shoe box and she buried it in the garden. She thought the police would come knocking on the door and arrest us,” said David.

The men were rebels, but they weren’t prepared to go against the Government. So the broadcasts stopped, for a little while.

Occasionally, they would still broadcast, but with the heat on the show went mobile.

The Abbey plain was one option, with the transmitter placed on top of some toilet blocks and the show broadcast from inside David’s Vauxhall Avenger, but time was running out for Radio Whitby and it eventually faded away.

Sadly, George Kibble passed away last November following a long illness. Shortly after his death, David was reminded of the impact the radio station had when he passed a tape recording of a Radio Whitby show.

“They were really good days. The things we used to do. Some people live boring lives but me?

“I was a radio pirate.”

1960s had seen pirate radio from offshore

Radio Whitby was not the only pirate radio station to have served the Whitby area.

For 18 months between 1966 and 1967 Radio 270 was broadcast from the Dutch ship Oceaan V11, anchored off Bridlington Bay.

Stocked with 1,000 sausages, 100 kippers and 500 bacon rashers, the ship’s DJs battled sea sickness on the North Sea, with one presenter throwing up halfway through a show.

However, the Marine Offences Act of 1967 forced the station off the airwaves.


There are estimated to be 150 pirate radio stations still in existence in the UK

Pirate radio in the UK first came to prominance in the 1960s

It was usually broadcast from boats or disused forts located in international waters, meaning they were not illegal

By 1967, 10 pirate radio stations were broadcasting to a daily audience of 10 to 15 million

In reaction to the popularity of pirate radio BBC radio was restructured, establishing BBC Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3 and Radio 4

The 1967 Marine Broadcasting Offences Act officially outlawed offshore stations, but unlicensed radio continued, moving from ships and sea-based platforms to urban areas

The main method employed by pirate stations during the 1960s and 70s involved programming played back on cassette recorders (often powered by a car battery), with a long wire antenna slung up between two trees.

A surge in pirate radio occurred when cheap portable transmitters became available and by the mid-1980s a 50 watt radio transmitter could be obtained for around £200

Since the late 1960s the Government had argued that pirate radio caused interference to licensed broadcasters and could interfere with frequencies used by emergency services.