Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Dutch MW pirate who has been on air since 1953

If you are a regular listener to Dutch MW pirates there will be some names you are very familiar with - Barones and Casablanca, for example. They are often on air, they are very well known on the scene and have been going for more than 40 years. But which pirate has been going for the longest - and who is the oldest pirate still on air today?

The answer to both questions is the evergreen Karel Doorman. He was born in 1935, made his first pirate broadcast as an 18-year-old in 1953 and can still be heard several times a week at the grand age of 85. He loves the hobby just as much now as he did all those years ago - if not more.

Fellow pirate Radio Avia takes up the story:

Several years ago I wanted to buy a transmitter and I responded to an advert I saw in the town of Emmen. I bought the transmitter but it didn't work, so I took a few photos and showed them around to other pirates and asked some questions about it. I soon found out who had originally built this transmitter - it was Karel Doorman, a well-known pirate named after the Dutch naval officer who was killed in action when torpedoed during the Battle of the Java Sea in the Second World War.

I made contact with this pirate and he couldn't believe I had the very transmitter he had built around 25 years earlier. We arranged a meeting, I took the transmitter to him (the one pictured below) and he recognised it immediately - he told me that he had indeed built it and that over the years it had been owned by many different pirates.

And so my friendship with Karel Doorman began. He told me many stories and that it was in 1953 when he began with the radio hobby at 18 years old. The world was a very different place back then and he did not have much money, so he decided he would learn all he could and build everything himself - not only his first transmitter with an EL41 tube - but other equipment as well.

He had no way of playing music so he took some old bicycle parts, a round wooden plate and invented something to do the job. He had no microphone, but again he used his ingenuity to come up with an alternative - very thin paper, together with a gramophone needle glued together, which vibrated when spoken into and acted like a microphone.

For anybody who regularly listens to the MW pirates, you might well know that 1646 kHz is where you are most likely to hear Karel Doorman. You might hear him playing a few records and talking to other pirates in the area. His signal is often heard at a distance too - several times recently in the UK. He laughs when I tell him this, but I think he must also be proud of such an achievement because building transmitters is what he likes to do most of all.

That determination to succeed and enjoy his hobby could be seen all those years ago. He had a friend who was a military veteran who had served in the Indonesian National Revolution (1945-1949), and he was also a MW pirate. However, th
e lasting effects of war saw him react badly when the authorities arrived on one occasion and he pulled a rifle on them. He ended up with a three-month spell in prison. But even this didn't put off Karel Doorman from following his hobby.

He has no end of stories like this, and he enjoys nothing more than talking about them. There's also the time he had to pull a friend off a transmitter to stop him being electrocuted.

And when he has built a transmitter (like the ones pictured above) he likes to take it apart again and improve things. There's no high power involved here - Karel Doorman is happy with a couple of 807 tubes in his transmitter and getting the very most out of them. And he applies similar attention to detail when it comes to his antenna. 

Everything is tidy in the studio

He might now be 85 years old, but Karel Doorman is still a perfectionist - you can see from the photos that he takes great pride in his work. Everything is neat and tidy - there are no wires everywhere, and it looks safe. Fine work indeed from the oldest active MW pirate in the Netherlands. Karel Doorman has been on air for 67 years with that same name . . . a huge achievement.

A very big thank you to Radio Avia for this look behind the scenes into how Karel Doorman came to be on the air and how his passion for the hobby has kept him going on the MW band for all these years. He's an inspiration to many and I hope to hear him again on the band soon. No doubt it will make him laugh when he learns that his signal has crossed the North Sea once again!


  1. I hope to listen to Karel Doorman for a long time more. Great story, very interesting.

  2. what an amazing story..... fantastic. thanks for sharing. any photos of him, or any old stickers etc you can reproduce??

  3. Great insight and thanks for posting, Dave (wireuk)

  4. Great insight and thanks for posting, Dave (wireuk)

  5. Great insight and thanks for posting, Dave (wireuk)

  6. Thanks for all your kind comments - good to know you enjoying reading about this pioneer of the airwaves!

  7. Great story. Radio is a nice hobby. :-) Once bitten....

  8. Great story, please record him for posterity