The island was constructed in 1964 at a cost of 9 million guilders by a team of broadcasting entrepreneurs, who used it to broadcast radio and television programmes to the Netherlands under the name Radio Noordzee and TV Noordzee.
The project lasted for just over 4 months, from mid-August to mid-December 1964, before being closed by the authorities. However it gave birth to the TROS, which is now one of the main public broadcasting organisations in the Netherlands.
Radio Noordzee was not the first Dutch commercial radio station. Radio Veronica, broadcasting from the ship Borkum Riff, was already well established, having started in 1960. But the TV station broke the monopoly of the public broadcasters at a time when they could only offer limited fare, and was extremely popular. Looking back, it's hard to imagine how a station that broadcast such programmes as Mr. Ed (the talking horse), Rin Tin Tin and Mr Magoo could have gripped the nation. But, to be fair, they also showed Alfred Hitchcock movies.
The original idea of broadcasting from an artificial platform belonged to one Will Hordijk from The Hague. In 1963 he teamed up with Cornelis Verolme, who owned a shipyard in Ireland, and Pieter Heerema, a shipping magnate from Scheveningen who saw the construction of a TV island as useful practice for his real work: the building of oil platforms, from which he was later to make his fortune. Financing was provided by banking house Texeira de Mattos. The name REM stood for Reclame Exploitatie Maatschappij (Advertising Exploitation Company).
Once the decision had been made to go ahead, events moved quite rapidly. Construction work began at Verolme's shipyard in Cork, Ireland. The platform had working space and accommodation for up to 25 people. The roof served as a helipad, and as the base for a 60 metre high antenna mast. Heerema's Global Adventurer, the first ship in the world to be converted into a crane vessel with a lifting capacity of 300 tons, brought the prefabricated sections over to the Netherlands. She arrived off the coast of Noordwijk on 3 May 1964. As holes for the supports were bored in the sea bed, two Dutch naval ships anchored half a mile away to observe what was happening.
Race against time
It was a race against time, as the authorities had already started preparing legislation. The team had overlooked one vital thing. Radio Veronica was broadcasting from a ship in international waters, and at least for the time being was out of reach of Dutch lawmakers. But fixing REM island physically to the seabed 10 km off the Dutch coast proved to be a miscalculation. The Dutch government persuaded several other countries to support its proposal to extend the national territorial limit of the continental shelf to 11.5 km. This was successful, and changes to the law meant that REM Island was now within Dutch legal jurisdiction.
On 29 July 1964, the first radio test transmission was made from REM Island on 1400 kHz mediumwave. The transmitter power was 15 kW. This was followed by the start of TV tests on 13 August, and the official opening of TV Noordzee on 1 September. Special antennas had to be purchased to receive the broadcasts on VHF Channel 11, but the Dutch public were very enthusiastic, and by October 1964 audience surveys showed that TV Noordzee had 2 million viewers every night. The TV and radio broadcasts were not made concurrently. Radio Noordzee operated between 9am and 6.15 pm, and 15 minutes later the TV station signed on.
To help finance the operation, 7 million guilders worth of shares were issued, and many small investors became minority shareholders. On the date of issue, 13 August 1964, the share price was 20 guilders. Within 10 days, their value had risen to 143 guilders.
But the politicians in The Hague weren't among the station's biggest fans. With almost indecent haste, they rushed through the legislation making the broadcasts illegal. To counter this, a new legal broadcasting society - TROS - was created. By the time the Dutch parliament passed the anti-REM law by a vote of 57-9, TROS already had 150,000 members. The minimum annual fee of one Dutch guilder may have been one of the reasons!
REM, meanwhile, announced that its TV operations had been sold to a British company, High Seas Television. One Eric Bent from Weybridge, Surrey was named as the new owner, having paid the princely sum of £100! TV Noordzee made its last transmission on 14 December 1964. Ownership of REM Island itself was transferred to a Panamanian company.
Radio Noordzee continued broadcasting, but on the morning of 17 December 1964 a flotilla of boats accompanied by police helicopters arrived at REM Island. Dozens of police officers disembarked, and at 7 minutes past 9, Radio Noordzee went off the air.
In 1974, the Department of Public Works began using REM Island as a base for carrying out marine investigations and measurements. However, in October 2003 the authorities decided it is surplus to requirements, and a spokesman said that it has come to the end of its life and will be dismantled. The removal of equipment from the platform will begin in early 2004. A date for the actual dismantling has not yet been fixed, but it will be "within the next three years."
However, there is a chance that REM Island could be saved. Following the government's announcement, there has been a flurry of activity people interested in buying the structure, and possibly using it for broadcasting once again. [Text by Andy Sennitt, Radio Nertherlands Media Network]
Offshore radio stations: Radio Noordzee from 29th July till 16th December 1964, TV Noordzee from 12th August to 17th December 1964
Location: Six miles off Noordwijk, Netherlands.