Here's a way to one-up all of those snotty, private-island owning celebrities: buy Sealand. You not only get your own private island; you get your own nation. Put that in your balloon and crash it, Richard Branson! Crucify this, Mel Gibson! Throw your baby from that window, Jacko!
For a mere $970 million, you could become the proud owner of this private (yet fire-damaged) English sea fort (pictured, left), located 6 miles off the coast of Suffolk, in the chilly waters of the North Sea (via World Almanac's blog). Before you dive right into this lucrative real esate purchase, read the wiki on buying a private island (WTF?), offered up by some helpful folks on the internet. Bit torrent site The Pirate Bay is seriously interested in purchasing Sealand (no copyright laws), so if they outbid you, you'll have to settle for the Florida Keys (where the singer of 311 is looking to sell his private island).
As I read more about Sealand, I found that many offshore forts in England have strange and intriguing histories involving murder, deception, guerilla fighting tactics, and most importantly, pirate radio.
Perhaps it was due to a lack of good radio on the British mainland, or possibly it stemmed from the countercultural desire to create a geographically-removed utopic society, but the offshore pirate radio phenomenon in waters surrounding England became curiously widespread in the mid- to late 1960s. The sheer number of illegal broadcasting groups at the time was staggering, but top that with the lengths these folks went through to claim the airwaves by vessel and by sea fort. These pirates weren't just lunatics; they were separatist, survivalist lunatics with delusions of grandeur. Below are abbreviated histories of select English radio pirates of the 1960s.
In 1965, pirate radio broadcaster Paddy Roy Bates comandeered an offshore fort in the Thames Estuary by beating the crap out of another group of radio pirates who were presently occupying the joint (though one source claims it was by 'persuasion'), Radio City. Here at Knock John Tower, Bates built his own pirate radio operation, Britain's Better Music Station (BBMS, intially Radio Essex), using an old leftover military generator, abandoned wartime surplus items, and a converted US Air Force radio beacon. The station played "middle of the road" music during the daytime and Top 40 at night, while ads from local businesses provided a source of revenue. After a year at Knock John, Bates was convicted of illegal broadcasting. He quickly packed up and moved to a neighboring offshore fort, Roughs Tower, which conveniently sat just outside of Britain's territorial waters in the North Sea.
At the time Bates arrived, Roughs Tower was occupied by Radio Caroline, yet another group of offshore radio pirates. Again Bates used his powers of 'persuasion,' forcing Radio Caroline to vacate. Their attempt to regain control of Roughs Tower was met by bullets and petrol bombs (click here to read a first-hand account of the incident, as told by Radio Caroline DJ Tom Lodge).
Bates' radio operation at Roughs Tower never came to fruition (due to the passage of the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act in 1967), but when he was dragged to court for firing warning shots at the British Royal Navy, a judge ruled that Roughs fell outside of British jurisdiction. Bates used this precedent to establish his own nation on the former military fort, and with a constitution, renamed the tower Sealand in 1975, bestowing the title "Prince of Sealand" upon himself.
Sealand later had a flag, a national anthem, currency, and its own passport. In the late '70s, Sealand's Prime Minister kidnapped Roy Bates' son, Michael Bates, in an attempted coup. Roy's hired goons put an end to this act of rebellion, and the former PM along with his accomplices were temporarily held as prisoners of war.
Named after JFK's daughter, 20,000-watt behemoth Radio Caroline broadcast music all day long from two ships anchored in international waters outside of Essex and the Isle of Man. They occupied Roughs Tower (aka Sealand), intending to use it as a helicopter landing platform to serve their nearby broadcast vessel. Until Roy Bates entered the picture, that is. Later, Caroline increased power to 50,000 watts, and moved to a more prominent position on the AM dial. Nestled between another popular pirate station and a legitimate broadcaster, competition was stiff. More and more pirate radio ventures were popping up, and the British government was inching toward legislation to silence these offshore stations. Bad blood soon developed between Radio Caroline and co-pirates Radio City, marking the beginning of the end...
Based at Shivering Sands fort, Radio City was probably the closest thing to an offshore freeform pirate station. Initiated by an ex-Radio Caroline DJ who then sold it to his manager, Radio City played a wide variety of music on reel-to-reel. The station even had a few comedy/novelty programs (including a listener complaint show), and income was culled from a couple of evangelical shows. Shivering Sands fort consisted of 7 towers, all connected by a series of catwalks (see picture, left).
In 1965, merger talks sparked between Radio City and Radio Caroline, and at some point Caroline delivered a transmitter to Radio City. These plans for collaboration fizzled out, but Radio City kept the transmitter. Angred by not receiving payment for the piece of equipment, Caroline sent a group of thugs to raid Shivering Sands and shut down Radio City. The breach was successful, motivating Radio City manager Reg Calvert to visit Caroline co-Director Oliver Smedley's home, in an attempt to reclaim control of his fort/radio empire. Calvert pushed his way into Smedley's house, and upon hearing this noise, Smedley grabbed his gun and fired. Calvert died, and this altercation pressured the British government to pass legislation that would forever silence offshore pirates.