Running an operation which involves breaking the law, even if you think the law may be an ass, will always involve special difficulties. The possibility of being prosecuted for transmitting without a licence was something we had to face every week during those three years on the air. Luckily Kaleidoscope was rarely raided - this was a miracle if you consider how many transmissions we made and the strength of the signal most of the time. There was no doubt that the Post Office (as they were then) were active in pirate tracking operations and we took some raids, but it could have been much worse. We certainly were not hounded every week.
When the Post Office did track us down, it was tempting to save as much of the equipment as we could before it was confiscated, usually by having enough time to do so. We did this with an 'early warning system' of lookouts on foot and in cars that covered the area of the location where the transmitter was situated. Any sign of trouble and we would run off with at least the transmitter, and hopefully, the cassette players and maybe even the heavy car batteries! Sometimes however this was not possible and on two occasions we lost most of the equipment to well planned raids by the authorities.
Replacing confiscated equipment was just a hazard of doing what we did and, as we financed ourselves there being no paid advertising, it was just a case of hands in pockets again. However this was not the main reason for finally shutting up shop and closing down. It was a combination of loosing good staff and moving to a worse frequency that gradually wore down morale.
In October 1973, LBC (London's first legal Independent commercial radio station) and Capital Radio were allocated low AM band channels for two years before the new IBA transmitters were ready (wonderful planning). In 1975 Capital moved to 194m and LBC to 261. Unfortunately 261 metres is 1151KHz just two channels away from 'our' 1133KHz (each channel being 9KHz) this had the effect of blocking out our much weaker signal in many areas where we had been received well. Whereas before, our 40 watts could be heard miles away, we now got reports of "I can't hear you LBC is causing too much interference".
The only answer was to move our frequency. But how do you tell listeners you are moving if they can't hear you? We were bound to lose listeners in the move and knew it. On Sunday 28th December 1975 Kaleidoscope took up its new frequency of 1358KHz to be announced as 226 meters. This was not a brilliant place to be but it was the best of a bad lot given how crowded the medium wave band was.
The staff situation wasn't too good either. People with cars were few and tree climbers who could erect an aerial were even more scarce. In fact after an accident in late '75 where one staff member had fallen out of a tree and fractured his spine, it was considered too dangerous to send people up trees other methods were tried, none too successfully.
On-air people were moving on too. Dave Owen, Denny Tewson, Keith Ross Jenson and Tony Rocket had gone on to new projects and not many new presenters wanted to be at 'the sharp end' of transmissions. The actual team was small (it was never huge), but by the beginning of 1976 things were bad. Some serious thinking had to be done to see if there was a future in what we were doing. After all in the beginning the clarion call was for "Free Radio", at least we now had commercial radio, even if it wasn't quite the all embracing type we had hoped for. Half of the early presenters had moved onto some higher form of radio, be it Caroline (Dave Owen) or ILR (Denny Tewson) and some of us wanted to be involved in legal community based radio.
It was decided quite quickly in early February that our time was up and we should try and quit before either a catastrophic raid or a long lingering death in the outer reaches of the medium wave should occur. Saturday February 21st 1976 was spent recording the final programmes to go out the next day. The final hour tape was cut together that evening and on Sunday, hoping we could at least get out one last good signal we set off for the location at Worcester Park near Ewell in Surrey. The aerial had been put up the previous day by crossbow the only time we used this method and was quite a good one. A small stream ran nearby making the ground ideal for an earth connection. Luckily the final days transmission got out very well (better than many around that time) and the massive response we got from loyal listeners made us sad to be calling it a day, but proud to have been involved in something that had meant so much to listeners and collaborators alike over those past three years.
In the months that followed some of us went our separate ways, others stayed to become the backbone of the team that formed 'Metropolitan Hospitals Radio' which started programmes for patients at The London Hospitals Whitechapel and Mile End on October 6th the same year but thats another story!