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From an early age, AJ Beirens, who lives and works in Zeebrugge and Knokke-Heist, Belgium,  immersed himself in the English language and culture. He discovered the wonderful world of short-wave and became an avid listener of the BBC's London Calling Europe and many international stations. Later on AJ was greatly inspired by the pioneering style, the jingles and excitement of the emerging offshore radio stations such as Radio Nord, Radio Syd, Radio Veronica, Radio Uilenspiegel, Radio Caroline and Radio London, to name but a few. After finalizing his humanities
at the Xaverians in Bruges, he read Germanic languages (English, Dutch & German) at Ghent University (RUG).

AJ, windswept, leaving the Mebo 2 on "illegality Sunday"

Offshore Radio Antwerpen's concrete vessel Uilenspiegel, after stranding on the beach at Cadzand.

During the hey days of the offshore stations off the Dutch coast, AJ just had to be part of that adventure.  He broadcast (mainly in English) on Radio North Sea International and Radio Atlantis, both anchored in international waters off the Dutch coast.  For Radio Atlantis, AJ taped the weekly Soul show, using the alias Michael O.  On RNI he presented the first offshore dx-programme ever: NSGDX (North Sea Goes DX).  For the station, which operated from the broadcasting vessel Mebo2 (ex-Silvretta), AJ also produced the serialized "History of Offshore Radio" and the UNICEF programme “Our World In Action”.  RNI, owned by Zürich-based Mebo Ltd of Messrs Erwin Meister and Edwin Bollier, was fire-bombed by competitors shortly after AJ joined, in a failed attempt to force the radio vessel inside territorial waters, where it would have been impounded. The perpetrators were arrested however and RNI remained on the air.

 AJ & Radio Caroline manager Peter Moore (left) on the broadcasting vessel Ross Revenge during an assignment for Belgian radio on a sweltering hot August 9th 1997

After the demise of the offshore stations, brought about by Marine Offences legislation, AJ worked for the then Townsend Thoressen Car Ferries at Zeebrugge. For the European Ferries group (now P&O) he was sent to assist at the Invicta Air crash in Basel.   Working for the late Noel Johnston MBE and his wife Eva, and being part of the Wickenden Bros. team, which changed the future of the port of Zeebrugge, proved to be a most rewarding exercise, but "broadcasting" kept beckoning.

No wonder that AJ later returned to radio and set up Radio Nova International in Ventimiglia Italy. In the 80's he spent time in Cuxhaven, Houston, Las Vegas and Dublin, preparing the launch of Radio Paradijs, a new but ill-fated offshore project for the Dutch market. When local commercial radio boomed in Belgium he joined Radio Dynamo (105.8 MHz) and (land based) Radio Paradijs (105.1 MHz) in the well known seaside resort Knokke-Heist. To recount the happy and exciting times experienced at these local stations would probably be too much of a burden on the limited internet resources. The weekly "powwows" forged strong friendships.  For a long time featuring "Mighty 690" programmes flown over from Tijuana-based broadcaster XETRA, brought excitement to listeners and djs alike.  Very memorable were also a live interview with an orbiting shuttle astronaut and the successful attempt by djs Inge Desmedt and Tony Jacobs to broadcast for 100 hrs and 18 minutes, setting a new Guinness Book record for the Benelux.  In the course of 1997 Dynamo was renamed Radio Contact Knokke, as Bart de Graaf prepared the local station for the challenges of the new millennium.

It was also during 1997 and mainly thanks to the internet, that AJ’s life-long affinity with Chinese culture was brought into focus by his frequent contacts with a number of Cantonese speaking friends in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Taiping, and Bangkok.

Stan YEE Yein Kai from Ipoh (M'sia) now at SBU, London

It's people like Stanley Yee Yein Kai, Derek Chong Shue WengPeter Preeda Wongwantanee and Yeong Kian Ming, who opened a totally new and very satisfying dimension to AJ’s life.  Hardly surprising that he considers it a privilege to be called "gweilo" by his Cantonese friends, realizing full well, that the former Chinese curse directed at the invading "white devils", has in his case been turned into a term of endearment.  In his mind there's no distinction between East and West.  For AJ the world really has become a "Global Village".

The ever smiling hamster lover BeeBoy (Derek CHONG) studying at "Reliance" in KL

You read more about this in “AJ’s Chinese Connection” (under construction).

In fact throughout his life: broadcasting, his interest in the game of basketball, his love of the English language and even his feeble attempts at playing squash have earned AJ many good friends: the Muyllaert clan (Patrick & Lieve, Filip & Ann, Tom, Dennis, Michael), Alain Bonnet, Carine & family, the De Clercq-crowd (Joseph & Georgette, Bart & Pascale), Piet Baete, Wouter Soen, Walter & Vivianne Rappé, Philippe Geschier & Mietje Stroo, Inge Desmedt, the VRT-colleagues, Colin Johnson (BBC Radio Kent), Patrick Desmidt (Internet Black Belt), Rutger Veerman, Wouter Devisch, Claudy Moreno, Lieven Poelvoorde, Fabien De Neve, Robi Claeys, Paul & Pirjoshka & Aram Kudurshian, Robin Adcroft, Andy Archer, Brian & Jean McKenzie, Rob & Nicki Eden, and Robert & Justin Schuitemaker in Howick/PMB.   More about them and other friends in “AJ’s Friends & Family”.

Patrick & Dennis Muyllaert: high spirits in Knokke-Heist

Especially since the untimely death of his parents in 1985 and 1993, having good friends has been what AJ is most grateful about in his life.  AJ's mother, an interpreter in Dessau Süd (Maschinenfabrik u. Eisengiesserei Dessau VEB) and Ostend (US Army) when she was young, instilled the love of languages in him.  As she was born and bred in Beerzel (near Malines) this meant that from an early age AJ had to master her dialect as well, in order to understand the family on mother's side. AJ's father was a fisherman from the age of 14. At the start of World War II the whole family (on father's side) fled to the safety of Penzance on board their fishing vessels.  In Cornwall, Heist born family patriarch Leopold Vantorre (Pol Mussche), because of his uncanny resemblance, was often mistaken for Winston Churchill !

Mum & dad (Maria Ceulemans & Maurice Beirens)

AJ only just realized that in fact all his life he has been part of a probably silly and shadowy group of people who sometimes put their freedom on the line by letting themselves be counted in the fight to bring about freedom of communication. Way back he pestered the British government and even Big-L-member HRH Prince Charles over the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act. He helped pull the Dutch and Belgian governments (by the short and curlies, as
it were) into the modern communication age, by getting involved in offshore and local radio when it was still (most) illegal. And it didn't stop there.  In 1998 he co-operated with Prof. Dr. Srisakdi Charmonman in an attempt to tone down
the new and harsh Thai Internet legislation.
Radio North Sea International's Mebo 2 off Clacton-on-sea

AJ is also the author of "Het Lokale Radioboek",  a 308p publication in Dutch
on local commercial radio. Furthermore, as a  journalist he works on a
free-lance basis for Belgian National and Regional Radio (VRT Radio 1 & 2),
Belgian Television, Focus TV and whenever possible also BBC Radio Kent.

Living in Zeebrugge he did a lot of the Herald of Free Enterprise reporting in
connection with the 1987 ferry disaster.  Finally AJ also runs the ORO
Nieuwsdienst, a news service for local radio stations specializing in coastal and
maritime news.

AJ's interests outside radio: anything Chinese (especially Cantonese -food and language), new English vocabulary and word usage, science fiction (Ben Bova, Edmund Cooper), Afrikaans literature, astronomy, gastronomy and basketball. He also plays squash (badly), and likes the odd Duvel.


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