Monday, 23 November 2020

2RN's 1925 Test Broadcasts Makes One Listener Homicidal another requests a 'Silent Night'

 

Following the Irish Free State Government’s decision that an Irish radio station should be State controlled, as the launch date approached the new station was subject to ridicule, speculation, Government inquiries and shocking revelations. From October 1925 until its first official broadcast on January 1st 1926, the ‘Dublin Broadcasting Station’ created a storm.

Prior to the launch of the state controlled 2RN, the Government of The Irish Free State had considered granting a licence to the Irish Broadcasting Company, the preferred option of J.J. Walsh, the Minister, as he felt a commercial better would better suit his department. The company was to be run along commercial lines without any Government subsidy. The IBC was made up of five partners, The Cork Radio Company, 50 South Mall, Cork City; The International Trading Company Limited, Lapps Quay, Cork City; Irish Developments Limited, 3 Molesworth Street, Dublin 2; Dixon & Hempenstall, Suffolk Street, Dublin 2 and Phillip Sayer Esq., 16 South Andrew Street, Dublin 2.

 

Each of the five companies would invest £30,000 to launch the station with the activities of the station being run by a board of seven directors. The initial licence would be granted for a period of five years. The station was to broadcast every day of the year except Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day although there was some debate in the newspapers as to whether the station should be allowed to broadcast on Sundays. The hours of transmissions were to be from 11a.m. to noon and from 5p.m. to 11p.m. There were to be no news bulletins except those sanctioned by the Government and none of those before seven in the evening. The Government would allow fifteen minutes of advertising per day but no foreign advertisements except if passed by the Government. The Government proposed a radio set licence fee of £1, fifteen schillings of which would be given to the IBC with a hotels licence fee set at £5, four of which would be given to the station. The Government withdrew support and approval for the station when they decided that it would be in the best interest of the nation to have a state-controlled broadcasting service.

 

But the Wireless Committee set up by the Dail to investigate the route to air, itself would be mired in controversy and scandal when letters written by one of its members Darrell Figgis TD were leaked and there were claims of bribery and fraud just as the fledging Irish Free State was getting to its feet after a War of Independence and a Civil War. One of the businessmen behind The IBC was Andrew Belton and he leaked letters to the newspapers impugning the integrity of committee member Darrell Figgis but Figgis suspected the intentions of Belton and exposed him as a ‘crook’. Figgis demanded in the Dáil that a public inquiry should be held which took place but it backfired on Figgis as it emerged he had earlier taken financial contributions for his election campaign from Belton.

 

Seamus Clandillon

In a Dáil debate after his resignation from the committee on January 25th 1924 Figgis declared,

‘I was very greatly surprised at an early stage of the proceedings of the Committee when a document was handed in by the gentleman named Andrew Belton, containing very serious reflections upon me, and marked by a spirit of very acute hostility. I was still more surprised when that document was handed in, not by Mr. Belton, but by the Postmaster-General. I desire to say exactly how I stand in that matter. The Committee has, after mature consideration, touched upon the charges that Mr. Belton has made against me. I have repudiated those charges hotly and with indignation. The Committee have not stated in their ad interim Report what I consider is a material matter, and that is that within three weeks of the formation of Irish Developments Ltd., I severed my connection with it with equal indignation, with considerable firmness, and in interviews of some storm. I have not had, since then, any connection with the company or with persons connected with it, and, further, I have no desire to have connection with the company or with the persons who are running it. My connection with it ceased in October 1922. The company was formed on the 1st August, 1922, and my actions in connection with the company were quite clear and quite public, because immediately after it was formed, I myself caused an announcement to be made in the Press of its formation and my connection with it, which will be found in the Irish Press of August 2nd, 1922, in which I am named as Director. I severed my connection with it and caused a public statement to be made in the Press that I had severed my connection. Since then I had nothing to do with it, and I have no desire to have anything to do with it. I think that will deal with the matter of these charges that have been made by this gentleman, through the agency of the Postmaster-General, against my honour.’

In the same debate the responsible Minister also spoke on the subject,

‘I wish to say, at the outset, that I have the fullest possible confidence in the remaining members of this Committee to do justice, in the first place to the nation, and in the second place to myself, in this all-important subject. The Dáil will appreciate that since the outset of the sittings of the Committee, numerous unfair and unscrupulous attacks have been made on my honour, and the motives which led me and my advisers in my department to come to certain conclusions in regard to broadcasting. Because of the peculiar position I occupy, my hands were tied, and they are still tied, and it is very good of you, Sir, and the Committee, to give me just one brief moment to touch on a point or two which may form the subject of misconception, not so much here at home, where matters are better understood and where one can fairly believe in the justice of his fellow man, but in places beyond. The main principle which I contended for in the long and serious discussions leading up to this White Paper was the establishment of an Irish Broadcasting Station, with no connection whatever with anything outside the country. I should like to make it clear, because of these attacks of the last week or two, that in this respect, at any rate, my judgement has been vindicated. There are other matters which will form the subject of discussion when we come to deal with this subject, and that is the evidence submitted by me in relation to private versus State control. If the evidence of this Committee were made public, as I must say I would have very much favoured, it would remove any misconception on this point. My reasons for State control have been fully explained to the Committee, and it is, perhaps, a bit unfortunate that these reasons are not before the Dáil. They are very fully set out and they speak for themselves.

 

In regard to the controversy between Mr. Belton and Deputy Figgis, my name has been mentioned by Deputy Figgis here, and I think in justice to everybody, in justice to a man who is not here, as well as to one who is here, the matter ought not to be gone into without having all the evidence. I am sure that everybody desires a fair show for all the people concerned in this matter. The question of my right to issue licences prior to the erection of a Broadcasting Station has also been brought into play, and my view-point was fully dealt with before the Committee. I think when the public examine those reasons, they will find that there was some justice in the case which I advanced. This is merely a personal explanation, and I only want to say that this subject of broadcasting which has occupied the attention of the Committee for nineteen sittings, and which will continue to occupy its attention for many others, is a subject which occupied my attention and that of the heads of my Department for a period of six months, and has formed a bone of contention in other countries. It is a subject upon which one cannot lightly formulate a judgment. It is necessary to have all the evidence for and against and to weigh that evidence very carefully. All I have to say is, that it would be unreasonable for anybody to come to a conclusion without that evidence, and I believe that for that reason sooner or later the Dáil will find itself compelled—it may do it without either force or compulsion— to publish the entire evidence bearing on broadcasting.’[1]

 It was headline news but finally,

Broadcasting should be a State service purely—the installation and the working of it to be solely in the hands of the Postal Ministry. (Final Report of the Special Committee to consider the Wireless Broadcasting)

The final report was delivered to the Dáil on March 28th 1924.

 

Darrell Figgis was at the heart of the Irish broadcasting debate in the 1920’s but he became a tragic figure in Irish history. Born in Rathmines, Dublin in 1882 he spent many of his early years in India where his father was a tea merchant. He returned to Ireland where he became a journalist and a poet. In 1913 he joined the newly formed Irish Volunteers and with Erskine Childers was one of the chief organisers of the Howth Gunning running exercise in 1914 with the importation of arms from Germany in response to the Ulster Volunteers landing of weapons[2].

 

During the 1916 Rising, Figgis was in Achill with his wife and although he took no part in the rebellion he was interned by the British. When he was released, he was made Secretary of Sinn Fein and during the War of Independence was jailed yet again. He was drafted in by the first Dáil to join the committee to write the nation’s first constitution. During this time relations between Michael Collins, the then Minister for Finance and Figgis deteriorated. In 1922 he was elected to Dáil Eireann in the new Irish Free State as an independent TD for Dublin County. In June of that year Harry Boland ordered four men to attack Figgis’s home on Fitzwilliam Street. One of those four was future Lord Mayor and stalwart of Dublin’s Jewish community Ben Briscoe. The newspaper headlines screamed ‘Shorn Samson, Unbearding the Lion’ when the attackers cut off half of Figgis’s famous red beard.  In his memoirs Briscoe wrote

"Never a time went by without a bit of fun. Such an occasion was the degrading of Darrell Figgis...You should see him strolling down O'Connell Street in smartly cut clothes, with his red hair gleaming like newly polished boots, and a fine, red, square-cut beard that was his special pride. Now Figgis started making some very detrimental remarks about the IRA. We did not consider him a menace, he was too much the lightweight but he annoyed us with his waspish stings...Some of us held him tipped back on his swivel chair while one man produced a glittering razor. Figgis squealed like a pig ...I think he would have been happier had we just cut his throat.

Even Collins’s fiancée Longford born Kitty O’Shea took delight in the attack

"Poor Darrell Figgis lost his nice red beard. When I read about it, I could imagine you laughing and enjoying it very much. But it was a mean thing for Harry's cronies to do He was lucky it was only his beard."

 

During the attack Millie Figgis attempted to stop the attack and was thrown to the floor. It left her in a fragile state. The couple separated in 1923 and on November 24th 1924 she ordered a taxi from her home on Fitzwilliam Street and went up to the foothills of the Dublin Mountains. Once the cab driver had moved away, she pulled out a Wembley revolver given to her by Michael Collins for her protection in the aftermath of the attack on her home and killed herself.

 

By now Figgis was secretly courting an eighteen years old Irish dancer Rita North from Thomas Street. In early October 1925, Rita revealed she was pregnant. The couple crossed the Irish Sea to London. A London doctor Dr Smerke Zarchi performed an abortion on Rita but after complications from internal bleeding, Rita died. There was an inquest into the young girls’ death and a few nights after the verdict, on October 26th 1925, Figgis booked in to the boarding house of Jane Griffiths in Bloomsbury, London and gassed himself to death. He left ten pounds with his suicide note for the landlady apologising for the inconvenience his death would cause her.

 

Once the Government committee had recommended that the State run a broadcasting station rather than the initially preferred commercial option, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, J. J. Walsh, set about the practical work of setting up a radio station. The Marconi company was contracted to build and provide the transmitter. To secure the safety of this powerful medium, it was announced in June that the transmitter would be located in the grounds of McKee Barracks (formerly known as Malborough Barracks) near the Phoenix Park. Studios were being built on the upper floors of a former warehouse on Little Denmark Street off Henry Street in the centre of the city, linked to the transmitter by a telephone land line.

 

On September 17th, advertisements appeared in the newspapers seeking staff for the new venture.

From November 11th – 14th, the Wireless Exhibition was held at the Round Room in the Mansion House on Dawson Street. It opened at 11am and stayed open to visitors until 10.30pm. There had been Wireless exhibitions in the years previous but with a Dublin station about to come on air, this one was important. The newspapers especially the Evening Herald extensively covered the exhibition. On November 11th  there was a 4 page spread in Evening Herald titled ‘Broadcasting in Ireland’. It reported that there would be broadcasts from the Exhibition, but rather than full radio transmissions, this was conducted via a ‘Marconiphone’ loudspeaker system which aimed primarily at the people on Dawson Street queuing to gain access but it was reportedly heard six miles away[3].

The Schedule of the Broadcasts from the Exhibition


The exhibition was opened by J.J. Walsh who was the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs formerly known as the Postmaster General, a term inherited from the former British occupiers. The exhibition consisted of thirty stands, mostly radio set manufacturers selling their equipment to an expectant public. Walsh said at the opening that in the,

‘formidable list of recent scientific inventions and was likely to become one the most potent and most widespread of all. He hoped that at the next exhibition there would be exhibits from Irish manufacturers of wireless apparatus.’ He added that he hoped ‘within the next month they were opening their own wireless station in the free state and embarking on what was as yet only the partially explored field of wireless in this country’.

He urged Irish citizens the exercise common sense to make the new station a success and not subject it to destructive criticism. National prestige he said was at stake.

J.J. Walsh's Address for the Opening of the Exhibition plus local advertisements

The Evening Herald was a keen supporter of the new medium even publishing scematics that showed its readers how to build their own crysal sets.

 6.45pm Saturday November 14th first test transmissions

‘hallo hallo hallo, aye aye aye, hallo hallo hallo’ were the first words spoken by Seamus O’hAodha. This was followed by

‘Se seo staisiun 2RN Baile Atha Cliath ag triail’ (This is 2RN Dublin Testing)


Seamus Hughes as he was known in English had already survived scrutiny of a Dail Committee as to his credentials to be appointed to the position of station announcer. With accusations of ‘jobbery’ levelled against Walsh, he defended the appointment of Hughes which was begrudgingly accepted by some but not all. [4] The Mansion House was packed as the test transmissions coincided with the final hours of the exhibition, boosting the publicity for the manufacturers and set sellers. There was a sense of wonderment, pride and curiosity in those who heard those first words.

The following Saturday night there were further tests transmissions and Minister Walsh became the first Government Minister and politician to appear on the station. The British ‘Daily Mail’ newspaper reported that the station tests being picked up in Britain. They said that a Kent listener initially believed he had picked up a new frequency for Hamburg Radio but then following a musical item came,

‘This is 2RN, the Dublin broadcasting station. That was good wasn’t it? But we have more treats in store for you, only remember, no licenses, no programme. Further treats followed, an appeal to pay for licenses being sandwiched between each item. The announcer alone is worth the money, for there is none of the almost Civil service restraint which marks his opposite numbers of the BBC.’

The appeal to purchase a licence to ‘listen-in’ can be seen as the first advertisement on 2RN and a sense of desperation that the success of the station depended on the financial resources the Government would provide depending on the number of licenses purchased. A license cost was set at an expensive £1 per year.

 

The following Monday, Walsh officially announced the Civil service appointments to run the station. Seamus Clandillon who for many years had been an Inspector at the National Health Insurance Commission was appointed as a station director. His knowledge of Irish traditional and folk music was a bonus with his abilities widely respected throughout Ireland. He was also a traditional Irish speaker and this was important in the hope that the new station would help in the revival of the Irish native language. Seamus O’hAodha was appointed as the official station announcer. At the time he was the secretary of Cumman NaGaedhael, the Irish language promoters. He was fluent in Irish and French and was respected as a music composer and singer. Vincent O’Brien was appointed the musical director and during tests broadcasts O’Brien and Clandillon performed together and solos to entertain the listeners.

 

The arrival of the new radio station provided a welcome boast to the fledgling radio set sellers especially in Dublin. Hogan's on Henry Street was one of the main dealers and was at the forefront of the publicity. Whenever there was a new developments in wireless broadcasting, Hogan's always was to the fore in newspaper articles. Even when photographs were taken for the newspapers of the new transmitter at McKee barracks, it was Hogan's who were credited with the photograph. 

When tests began, they were not met with universal approval. Letter writers to newspaper complained that the new transmissions were blotting out their enjoyment of broadcasts from England especially the Daventry transmitter. They suggested that the 2RN frequency be moved. One writer in the Irish Independent who signed themselves ‘polyglot’ wrote,

‘I, for one, shall not renew my licence if the Dublin wavelength crowds out the English and foreign stations as it did during recent tests’[5]

Another letter writer offered a solution,

‘I would suggest a "silent night" once a week in order to give valve users an opportunity to receive other stations. If the Dublin station can relay the English concerts now and then we cannot grumble.’

Another letter writer who signed themselves ‘cats whisker’,

‘I regret that I cannot join in the grand chorus of praise of our new broadcasting station. On Saturday night the reception was, no doubt, clear but the matter broadcasted was of the most trumpery description even for a test performance. Selections from ‘Muritania’ no matter by whom played, fill me with homicidal thoughts and to the ultra-refined lady vocalist pronouncing the word ‘vale’ as if it meant the flesh of the calf made me weep aloud’

 

In an editorial in the Irish Independent, as the pace of tests intensified, it commented,

‘The Dublin Broadcasting Station will be formally opened within a few weeks, and we believe, and hope, that its influence will be the seeds of a welcome revolution in the social life of Ireland, more especially of rural Ireland. The new science, although still in its infancy has immense possibilities as a powerful factor for entertainment and instruction.’

‘If the young people in the rural parts have too often drifted into the ways of intemperance, have taken their politics too seriously and too narrowly, or have succumbed to the temptations of the dance hall, it was sometimes because they saw no other attractions, no other relaxation for the hours they called their own. Fortunately, the evil of intemperance Is being steadily wiped out; the Bishops and the priests have done much to check the craze for the foreign dances; and the obsession of politics is slowly giving way to saner thoughts on economic questions. A widespread favour for wireless and be it noted that no technical knowledge is necessary for anybody installing a receiver will, we are convinced, go a long way towards completing our social regeneration, and towards making life in the country districts so much brighter that the eyes of youth will not be dazzled by the lights that call them to the great cities or to the emigrant ship.’

Throughout December the number of tests and their length increased including the relay of 2LO from London using landlines from Wales and from Belfast. As the interest built up to the big launch, Ireland was now about to take to the airwaves. Their first outside broadcast was of a concert held at the nearby La Scala Theatre with listeners enjoying the fact that they were able to hear the applause of the audience. The station was originally planned to begin officially broadcasting in time for Christmas on December 20th but delays in completing the renovation work at the studios on Little Denmark Street put the officially opening back until January 1st 1926.

The sensational story of the first day’s broadcast from 2RN to come shortly.





[1] Historical Dáil Eireann Debates

[2] A Century of Irish Radio 1900 - 2000

[3] Evening Herald November 11th 1923

[4] Historical Dail debates

[5] November 27th 1925

SOURCES

Wireless World Magazine

Practical Wireless Magazine

The Irish Newspaper Achives

The British Newspaper Archives

The Welsh Newspaper Archives

The Dail Historical Debates

American Radio History Website


Saturday, 21 November 2020

2BP, Ireland's First Licensed Radio Station in 1923, 'A New Terror of Existence'

Just three months after the end of a bitter Civil War that itself had followed on from a prolonged War of Independence, the first licensed radio station took to the airwaves in Dublin. History shows that 2RN, the original RTE Radio, officially went on the air on January 1st 1926 but in August 1923, the first Irish radio station, 2BP, was entertaining Dubliners until the new Irish Government suddenly intervened and shut it down without warning or explanation.

On August 15th 1923 an advertisement appeared in the Freemans Journal newspaper stating,

‘The Postmaster General invites applications from Irish persons or firms who are prepared under license from him to undertake the establishment and operation of a ‘Broadcasting’ station in Dublin for the supply to the public by means of Wireless Telephony of concerts, lectures, theatrical entertainments, speeches, weather reports etc, No applications will be considered which has not been received on or before the 20th August.’

On the same day in the Irish Independent one of the first advertisements of its kind appeared in the newspaper,

The newspapers were daily talking about ‘wireless’ and speculation was mounting as to how a station would be opened by the new Free State. Newspaper adverts by wireless set dealers were announcing that, ‘we can give immediate delivery of the cosmos’.

 

 In advance of the Dáil tackling radio broadcasting, in August 1923 the Marconi company, who had hoped that they would be chosen to run a commercial broadcasting service in Ireland, applied to the Post Master General J.J. Walsh, for a temporary license to broadcast programmes for the during of the famous RDS Horse Show. The plan required a studio, transmitter and an aerial to be erected at the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire and receivers set up in the RDS for visitors to ‘listen-in’ to this novel attraction.

The annual RDS Horse Show was a major showcase event in the capital and in 1923 it took on added significance as this was the first show held since the creation of the new Irish Free State. The show would be held from August 14th – 17th and while the sale of horses and the show-jumping events took centre stage, the Irish Art Industries Exhibition would be held alongside the main events. This was a showcase for producers and manufacturers to sell to the thousands that would attend.

Some of the stands from the 1923 RDS Exhibition

Once permission had been received, the Marconi Company dispatched Louis Wilson to the city to set up the operation. A studio with a piano forte was established on the ground floor of the hotel, a transmitter was imported from the UK, where it had been successfully used in London and Glasgow and an aerial erected in the bell tower of the hotel. The receivers were originally placed in the West Hall of the RDS in Ballsbridge but when test broadcasts were carried out, nearby telegraph lines were causing severe interference and the receivers were moved outdoors to the Industrial Fairs exhibition area.

(c) The RDS Archives 

With the exhibition officially declared open, on Tuesday August 14th 1923 it was time for the radio station to begin broadcasting. Just after 11a.m., a voice, ‘clear and distinct’ greeted listeners,

‘2BP speaking.’

 

2BP was a call sign that the Marconi company had previously used when carrying out radio broadcast experiments. 2BP was first used in London at a Motor Show. According to Jonathan Hill in his book ‘Radio Radio’

 

In November at the Olympia Motor Show, Marconi’s and Daimler carried out experiments intending to exploit the commercial possibilities of car radio. An experimental receiver was mounted adjacent to the back seat of a limousine to pick up programmes sent from a temporary Marconi transmitter (call-sign 2BP) set up in Olympia for the duration of the show’

 

The broadcasting station, proving its mobility, was then transported to Glasgow, where on 415m medium wave on January 23rd 1923, the next 2BP went on the air. The station continued to broadcast until February 3rd 1923. The studios were located at a Daimler garage on Hughenden Road, Kelvinside. According to Scottish radio archives,

‘2BP was the call-sign of Scotland's first broadcast radio service, a temporary station established in Glasgow in January 1923 by the Marconi Company and the Daimler Motor Company. It was necessary for the purposes of promoting Daimler-Marconiphone car radios at the Scottish Motor Show of January 1923, given that the British Broadcasting Company's own station in the city, 5SC, would not be launched until March of that year. Recognising the pent-up local demand for a regular broadcasting service, 2BP's sponsors decided to extend the programme for the benefit of those who had invested in domestic receiving sets. With a regular, published programme schedule, it qualifies as Scotland's first radio station.’[1]

1923

According to Tim Wander’s book ‘2MT, Writtle, The Birth of British Broadcasting’ some of the radio callsigns assigned to the Marconi company included 2BN used for general testing. 2B0 Writtle later to be changed to 2MT, 2BP was assigned to Marconi publicity broadcasts and 2BQ also used for general testing. Their 2BP transmitter broadcast in Dublin was to be found on 390m medium wave.

 

The Marconi company had proved their abilities to set up and exhibit the new modern technology of radio broadcasting and it was a coup that Dublin would be their next location.

Once the announcer had greeted listeners ‘2BP speaking’, he introduced the first act.

‘The next item on the programme will be a piano forte solo by Miss Clarke Barry’.

Miss Clarke Barry was the daughter of a well-known Dublin orchestra leader John Clarke Barry, who happened to be performing on the grounds of the RDS as his daughter mastered the new medium. Another daughter, Billie, would go onto found the Billie Barry Acting School which was for many decades associated with a variety of shows staged at the Gaeity Theatre.

 

Other acts to appear included James Cranfield, the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society whose lead soprano May Doyle entertained and music discs were provided by Pigott and Co, Dublin. According to the Irish Independent journalist who was amongst the reporters given a sneak preview of station studios in Dun Laoghaire,

‘These demonstrations were for the purpose of bringing home to the Irish people the wonderful strides made in England in this branch of scientific invention and giving them an insight into the methods adopted by the British Government, which controlled broadcasting and prevented the state of chaos which prevailed in America by reason the fact that everybody there is allowed to transmit.

He (Louis Wilson) explained the powers of the instrument being used and said thousands of people with 30 miles of the broadcasting station could listen in by means of a crystal machine at the cost of a few pounds.’

The radius of 2BP from their transmitter site in Dun Laoghaire

While the broadcasts from Dun Laoghaire entertained during the morning for anyone who could listen between 11am and noon, visitors to the RDS in the afternoons were treated to the broadcasts from the stations in Manchester and Newcastle between 2.30pm and 5pm. While Wilson looked after the transmissions from Dun Laoghaire, Frank Clark, also from the Marconi headquarters in London, looked after the reception at the RDS.


The broadcasts proved extremely popular not only in the RDS grounds but around the city. Listeners at Dixon and Hempenstall’s shop on Suffolk Street and Hogan’s Wireless store on Henry Street gathered in large numbers and were also able to tune into the 2BP broadcasts. The novelty of hearing performances through the ether was causing quite a stir. As artists performed in front of the Royal Marine Hotel microphones, the Government of the new Irish Free State were suddenly getting cold feet after allowing a commercial company access to the Irish airwaves. This came at a time when the Dail’s appointed ‘Wireless Committee’ were discussing the merits of whether an Irish station should be State controlled or in the hands of commercial companies.

 

According to Louis Wilson, the Marconi engineer he said in a letter to the Irish Independent published on the 17th under the heading ‘Abandoned by Order’ referring to the previous day,

‘Owing to a request we received from the Postmaster General we were obliged today suddenly to abandon the wireless demonstrations we were giving on behalf of the Dublin Horse Show. The request took us completely by surprise and through of course we had to accede to it, I regret that the suddenness should have resulted in any disappointment to visitors to Ballsbridge. Equally I do regret that several ladies and gentlemen who so kindly came, as arranged, to Dun Laoghaire to assist us in our efforts to demonstrate to the Irish public the possibilities of broadcasting should have been inconvenienced.

 

Your Dublin artistes, amateur and professional have placed us under a deep debt of gratitude. Indeed since our arrival, we have received on all sides nothing but kindness and willingness, perhaps I should call it eagerness, of all of whom we called to assist us will be forever remembered by my colleagues and myself. It was for most of us our first experience of Irish hospitality, we shall never forget it.

 

It may interest your readers to know that amongst the artistes who have assisted us we have discovered several who possess ideal voices for wireless transmission and this fact it will give me great satisfaction to report to the broadcasting authorities in London. I feel that if such a programme as we gave for instance this morning could be transmitted from London, it would be enthusiastically received by our listeners.’ [2]

 

Wilson seemed to suggest that if the Marconi company could not gain permission to broadcast in Ireland, that Irish artists could travel across the Irish Sea and perhaps transmitters based in the UK could broadcast back into Ireland similar to how the offshore pirate ships did in the 1960’s.


2BP only broadcast for two days but it’s power and the power of radio had demonstrated to the Government that careful consideration would have to be given as to how and who should run an Irish broadcasting service. One newspaper commentator at the time wrote,

 

‘There is least one benefit of science from which we in the Saorstat are at present immune, and that is broadcasting. Broadcasting in England has added a new terror of existence. You cannot escape it from it anywhere, Ig you call into a café in the morning for a cup of coffee, you will hear it, harsh, metallic, worse than the worst gramophone, worse even than the tinniest orchestra, At lunch you cannot escape it, not at dinner. In the barber’s shop or the Turkish Baths (once a haven of rest) it will grate on you.’[3]

SOURCES

The RDS Library and Archives

The National Archives Ireland

The Marconi Company Archives

The Irish Independent

The Freeman’s Journal

“MT Writtle by Tim Wander

The Irish Newspaper Archives

The British Newspaper Archives



[1] 'Scotland's first broadcasting station', The Courier, 25 January 1923, 

 

[2] Irish Independent Letters Friday August 17th 1923

 

[3] Freeman’s Journal correspondent September 1st 1923




Friday, 20 November 2020

Was 'Radio Listowel' the pioneer of a pirate radio boom?

 

There has been much written as to the origins of the unrivalled success of the golden era of Irish pirate radio, which is generally regarded as 1978 to 1988. In 1988, new legislation paved the way for the introduction of legal commercial independent radio across Ireland. The 1926 Wireless Telegraphy Act had been exposed as toothless when it came to tackling the proliferation of pirate radio. Towns and villages across Ireland found that illegal broadcasting was easy and cheap access to the airwaves. It gave a voice to small communities, causes, and provided an avenue for advertising firms to sell advertising space to their clients and target. The era of pirate radio created an industry but it had not created the need, that was already in place across Ireland. It has been described as the period when radio added colour to a black and white society emerging from a generation whose lives were shaped by Civil War politics.

 

From January 1st 1926, the Irish State created a monopoly in radio broadcasting with the opening of 2RN later to become Radio Eireann. It was Dublin centric, with studios in the capital and it was not until the 1930’s that technology allowed them to travel outside Dublin. The apparent failure of 6CK in Cork, due mainly to financial constraints, seemed to indicate to rural Ireland that radio was broadcasting from Dublin to Dublin. Whether it was the excitement of hearing a local artist, or a local accent on the national airwaves or the sense of abandonment, very quickly the notion of a local radio station aimed at local listeners, delivering local interest programming and speaking for them not to them, began to take root.

 

In urban cityscapes, the need for an alternative was driven by a younger generation of listener seeking to hear music and less chatter. Global influences especially from the United States began to dominate infiltrate the insular attitudes of DeValera’s Ireland. The increased appeal and access to cheap transistor radios allowed amateurish, hobby radio stations with home-built transmitters to battle with the State broadcaster for listeners. But once this demand had been created, larger, professional operations began to dominate the increasingly cluttered airwaves. In rural Ireland, Radio Eireann believed it was satisfying the nation’s social, agricultural, and sporting needs but for growing younger listener outside Dublin, the national station seemed out of touch. For those listeners lucky enough to live on the Eastern side of Ireland, there was a choice of radio to be listened to as an alternative to Radio Eireann. Radio Eireann’s output was attempting the impossible, to appease all demographics across the whole country, whether you were an urban dweller or lived in rural Ireland. For the growing younger generation enjoying the explosion of new pop music including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, access to hearing their choice of music was limited to Radio Luxembourg, Radio Caroline[1] or from 1967 BBC Radio One.

 

Radio became increasingly popular after the Second World War but Radio Eireann was still hampered by both a lack of financial support from the Government and comparisons being made to the services available from broadcasters outside the jurisdiction. Listeners liked the immediacy and intimacy of radio in their homes. From its very first broadcast, Radio Eireann was a victim of its limitations whether it was financial, technical or in content. It struggled to connect on a personal level with those outside Dublin, not helped by a lack of transmitter power until 1933 when a powerful transmitter was installed in Athlone providing coverage across Ireland.

 

The first inclination that there was a need and desire for neighbourhood radio came from the local community festivals that blossomed in the thirties. Towns and villages across Ireland created festivals, some successfully continuing up to the present day, like the Rose of Tralee Festival, to generate business for local traders and to act as the impetus for social gatherings for those living in hinterlands outside the town. The idea of a local voice was planted in the minds of Kerry locals in the 1930’s as the regional newspapers carried a weekly article, supposedly to be the transcript of broadcasts from a fictional ‘Radio Listowel’. A March 13th 1937 headline in the Kerry Champion informed reader that there was ‘Another Broadcast from the capital of North Kerry’. The use of the ‘Radio Listowel’ moniker demonstrated that the locals felt ignored and isolated from the wireless broadcasts of Radio Eireann and that somehow their village was insignificant on the airwaves. Up to the launch of the Athlone transmitter, listeners in Kerry probably had a better chance of hearing an Irish voice on a powerful east coast based US radio station rather than from Dublin. Once listeners tuned into Athlone’s transmitter carrying programmes made in Dublin, the lack of a Kerry accent, deemed by some Posts and Telegraph civil servants as not being understandable for the regular listener, infuriated the Kerry natives, as many letters to the local newspapers and radio review journals demonstrated.  

 

These articles were hugely popular not just in North Kerry but throughout the county but more importantly when locals were referring to ‘the newcomers programme’ or ‘The Children’s Hour’, they were referencing ‘Radio Listowel’ not the national station.

In one article in September 1937 ‘Radio Listowel’ wrote,

‘Listeners, I have to crave your pardon once again. Owing to telephonic communications being disrupted during the recent snowfall and owing to the fact that Radio Listowel is not long in being the main heads (headlines) are all that have arrived here. I am in a quandary now as to what to do about it. I would not wish to disappoint my unseen audience for millions, but I have no way out of it. What shall I say to you to fill the news time?

‘Wireless Pirate (butting in), ‘cannot you play them a record or something. As your news items were de-tailed or perhaps ‘beheaded’. The very thing, a gramophone recital. I shall now give my listeners a gramophone record.’

The writer continued,

‘This is Radio Listowel Hallo, everybody! Continuing our weekly programme from this station you shall now hear one of our latest "record." You must welcome the gramophone when all other sources of musical supply fail.’

 




When the author spoke of an audience in the millions[2], it illustrates an already apparent appetite for local radio and an understanding of the power of the medium. He is also demonstrating that music radio is as important as the ‘talk’ radio of Radio Eireann. When the writer references a ‘wireless pirate’, he is legitimatising illegal broadcasting as a way of delivering its message. Up to that period ‘a wireless pirate’ was usually the term attached to those who failed to purchase a radio receiving license but in this context the writer would have been aware of the illegal broadcasts that emanated from Limerick and Waterford cities in the mid-1930s. He was creating a perception that a ‘Radio Listowel’, a local voice would be important to Listowel and it would entertain and inform better than the State broadcaster.

 

There was a growing sense of them and us, between those who listened to Radio Eireann and those who were turned off by it. There was rarely a mention of Listowel on Radio Eireann and this led to a feeling of isolation and abandonment[3]. There was no immediate coverage of local news and debate, the natives relying on the weekly newspaper to bring after the fact news reports. In April 1937, the writer in referring to recent boxing results,

‘The Kerry Champion beat Radio Listowel in giving the results in the last issue. I might also add that the ‘Kerry Champion’ in its issue of the week before beat Radio Athlone by having news of an important appointment, that of the State Solicitor, first.’

The ‘Radio Listowel’ newspaper articles continued throughout World War Two and provided the belief that radio could be more than just the sound of distant rumblings.

 

The logical next step for a ‘Radio Listowel’ was more in line with the traditional sense of a radio station that we know today, with regular programming coming from a radio studio, yet the only piece of equipment not in use was a transmitter, which of course would have made it illegal. For many locals a ‘Radio Listowel’ would fulfil a growing need for the local community to be connected and to be genuinely proud of their ‘station’. This new type of ‘Radio’ service was to be delivered through a public address system. Loudspeakers were attached to telegraph poles and wired back to a studio based in the town. For Listowel this unique solution to local ‘broadcasting’ can be traced back to 1959, when the organisers of the Harvest Festival in Kerry opened their first ‘Radio Listowel’. It ‘broadcast’ through a public address system from a studio located in the home of the Kenneally family, who ran a local travel agency. Michael Kennelly was a prime organiser of the festival, that coincided with the Listowel Races, which attracted thousands of visitors to the town. Each year extra loudspeakers were added to the town’s streets, financed by local advertising which was relayed over the system. It was an immediate success and as the 1960s began, the organisers extended the ‘broadcasting hours’ outside the Harvest Festival to include Christmas, which of course allowed local businesses to advertise to the locals shopping in the town. It created a unique atmosphere as shoppers walked through the streets doing their Christmas shopping with music, requests and local businesses advertising filling the air. ‘Radio Listowel’ also went on air a couple of days before St. Patricks Day, mostly in support of the local public houses who relished the opportunity to advertise their music promotions and events.

In 1968, local newspapers proudly reported,

‘With the introduction of that unique and valuable possession called "Radio Listowel," which on many occasions relayed loving messages from parents to their children abroad, Listowel claimed the honour of being the only town in Ireland with such a permanent apparatus.’

 

Despite the fact that the station did not ‘broadcast’ and would not allow for ‘listeners’ from anywhere outside the range of the loudspeakers, locals were still delivering requests to the station’s studios to offer messages dedicated to their loved ones abroad. In the 1950’s the county was afflicted, like much of Ireland, by widespread immigration to the UK and the United States. It did not matter that these relatives would never hear the dedications directly, those who missed their absent family members heard it and these requests provided reassurance to them at least that those who had left had not been forgotten. News of that request being heard was often carried in a letter from neighbours that their names were heard on the streets of their ancestral home. It provided a glimpse of the power of radio to connect, there was a sense of connection and excitement by merely approaching the station and having a request played and even if it was only those who delivered the request, heard it, it did not detract from its importance.

 

Throughout the sixties and seventies, towns and villages across Ireland organised local festivals to create an entertainment buzz, to attract visitors and business to their festival. The organizing committees began to see value in the uniqueness of having a radio station. Once the funds were allocated for the installation of a loudspeaker system, the festival radio station was ready to go on air, creating excitement and a sense of pride in their own broadcasts, programming and hearing local voices and artistes entertaining both the locals and visitors to the town. This generated goodwill and for the businesses hopefully repeat business. No business wanted to miss the opportunity and the revenue generated by the advertising was often reinvested in expanding or upgrading the equipment. Local and regional newspapers highlighted these ‘radio’ stations and seemed at ease that some of their advertising revenue would find another outlet. The fact that these stations only lasted a short time on ‘air’ and that they were quite localized in nature, newspapers did not see them as a threat. The stations ‘broadcast’ to a town or village, while the newspapers covered a wider catchment area from a county to a province.

 




These festivals ranged from an accordion festival in Ardee, Co. Louth to the Wild Boar Festival in Kanturk, Co. Cork, from the Brown Trout festival in Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo, to numerous May Day festivals, Christmas shopping promotions and even a local Cheese promotion in Charleville, County Cork. In the early seventies numerous festivals stations like ‘Omagh Festival Radio’, Athlone’s and Carrick on Shannon’s celebration of the River Shannon, Radio Loughshinny and Kilkenny Beer festival radio were all ‘broadcast’ via a public address systems attached to poles in the town or from speakers hung outside the festival office.

 

Following on from Radio Listowel’s lead, the other great Kerry festival, Killorglin’s Puck Fair also saw the town wired with loudspeakers to bring the locals the up to date news of events in the town.

 

In August 1976, the ‘Kerryman’ newspaper reported,

"There was a chance too for the visitors to ' Killorglin to hear themselves over Radio Killorglin. This was a public address system set up throughout the town and hosted by resident D.J. Declan Mangan. People were slow to come forward at first, said Declan, "but, when they realised that they could be heard all over the town, quite a queue formed’"

 

For many towns, the loudspeakers were left in situ on the poles around the streets but they were subject to damage from the weather and it became more and more expensive to replace the speakers and the wiring as the extensions were added to cover wider areas. There was a need for a cheaper alternative to maintain the interest and the success of the wired radio stations.

 

There were many reasons for the explosion of pirate radio in Ireland in the 1970's and 1980’s. Localism as displayed by ‘Radio Listowel’ was one, another main reason was the increased younger population, the children born in the late fifties and early sixties quickly found that their musical tastes were not being catered for by the State broadcaster RTE Radio. For listeners it was also hard to listen to radio when it was not there because in the 1970’s RTE was hit by a number of workers strikes, putting both radio and television off the air. From 1970 to 1978, there had been more than a half dozen strikes that either curtained its transmissions or on two occasions blacked out both radio and television for three weeks at a time. This was particularly hard felt as there was only one radio and one television channel for those with no access to broadcasts from the UK[4].  

 

Mary Kenny writing in the Irish Press on February 2nd, 1970 articulated

‘I knew there was a strike on at R.T.E. because I found myself listening to The Jimmy Young Show on B.B.C. Radio 2 in the mornings, smiling at his chuckly quips and cuddly, presence and painstakingly taking down the abominable recipes and wishing we had something as inoffensively yet cleverly cheerful.’

The star of one of RTE television’s most popular TV shows ‘Quicksilver’, Bunny Carr, speaking at a conference in Cork in 1970 said of local radio,

‘they would be a cement that would keep local communities together by broadcasting both national news and the good local news that would not make the national headlines. Local people talking to local people on a local radio station makes very good broadcasting’[5].

For the younger generation desperate to hear some modern music, found themselves relegated to 45 minutes from Larry Gogan from 11pm, Monday to Friday and nothing at the weekends. This was yet another opening for the advance of pirate radio to deliver the content that the youth of Ireland wanted to hear. A demand created the supply. But a huge amount of credit must be delivered to the corridors of Montrose[6] itself for the growth of pirate radio. Dublin and the East Coast of Ireland was well served by overspill radio broadcasts especially from Britain’s BBC Radio 1 and Radio Luxembourg but as you travelled across the country these signals faded as did the choice for pop broadcasts. Much of rural Ireland had no other choice other than RTE Radio (previously known as 2RN) but in stepped RTE itself. Originally conceived as an attempt to illustrate their ability to deliver local radio, RTE Community Radio would launch in 1975 with Radio Liberties in the heart of Dublin, their first port of call.

 

The concept, originally credited to the then Director General of RTE George Waters, was to take a mobile studio and a transmitter to towns and villages across Ireland, teach locals how to present and produce local programmes for its limited transmission times. This would be all powered through a low powered transmitter on a frequency allocated to RTE by the European Broadcasting Union, 202m medium wave. This medium wave frequency would later be augmented by a FM outlet.

 

Towns would organise a ‘radio committee’ and invite RTE to choose their town for the arrival of the mobile station. For many years, the man tasked with being the go between with RTE and the committee was Paddy O’Neill. Paddy was born near Skibbereen in County Cork and after a brief career as a national schoolteacher he became involved in the Abbey theatre from where in 1951 he joined Radio Eireann. At the station he became a producer, one of his most influential roles as producer of the popular Din Joe’s ‘Take the Floor’. Paddy was also a greyhound enthusiastic both racing them and being involved in the organising of races. Under the alias ‘Paddy O’Brien’ he became Radio Eireann’s greyhound racing commentator later taking up the role of Chairman of Bord na gCon in 1983.

 

Paddy’s role with advancing community radio meant that he travelled Ireland to make initial contact with the radio committees, offer advice, training, and technical know-how. The interest created in these towns and villages showed that there was a demand for a local voice on the airwaves. The committees did not always run smoothly as in 1991 when the Ballina Community Radio Committee was branded 'a snob job' by the Urban Council Chairman, Gerry Moore who led a high-powered campaign to have the Committee broadened to one representing all the people of Ballina. When the Committee input into the Local Radio experiment, planned for Mayo during June, was set-up, the Urban Council, Trades Council, and many other leading community groups were "snubbed", said Cllr. Moore.

 

For younger people in these rural areas, they were often excluded from these daily four-hour broadcasts and there was certainly rarely room for modern music or local recording artists. In 1978 the service was advertised as ‘carrying programmes that will go out on the medium wave and items dealing with matters of health, sport, history, music/drama, education, art, agriculture, planning and development, family finance, youth, poetry/essays, Irish, quiz, as well as news, will be covered’ no music for the youth of the community. They wanted to be involved, they wanted to hear their voices, their concerns and their music and while the ‘community radio committees’ set about organising for the arrival of RTE’s mobile unit, the more astute set out to piggy back on the interest created by the arrival.

 

It was perhaps apt that in May 1975, the Listowel Festival became only the second location for RTE’s 
new mobile radio station after the Liberties in Dublin. It broadcast on 202m medium wave and
 96.6mhz FM twice daily, from 12.30pm to 2pm and 6 to 7 pm in the evening. 
Radio Listowel or Raidio Phobail Liostaí as it was known had travelled the journey 
from a newspaper article to a wired loudspeaker system to its ultimate goal of becoming an
 actual radio station serving the listeners of this small Kerry town[7]. 

 

 Due both to demand and financial constraints, the RTE mobile service rarely visited a location more than once. This left festivals in a quandary, as the success of ‘local’ radio was evident once RTE had moved on. From the mid-seventies. Festival committees, seeing the success of the previous year’s broadcasts, set up a transmitter and began to broadcast themselves. These micro stations included Radio Ceilteach in Falcarragh and Radio Letterkenny Folk Festival both in Donegal. To cultivate that sense of importance of a local radio station, the use of a fictional ‘Radio Letterkenny’ during the popular pantomime ‘Dick Whittington’ staged during the 1955 festive season was talked about long after the staging ended[8]. Letterkenny was similar to Listowel as they installed a public address system to ‘broadcast’ Radio Letterkenny. The Donegal News reported in 1974,

 

‘During the Festival an innovation was Radio Letterkenny, with interviews, requests and records played over a public address system from the Festival Office at Upper Main Street. This was arranged by committee member. Alex O'Donnell, and in charge was D.J. Niall Anthony with Joe Deehan interviewing people along the street.’

The Donegal Democrat in the weeks after the festival signalled some of the flaws in limiting transmissions to a wire and loudspeaker system. They reported,

‘Radio Letterkenny played a big part during the recent Folk Festival, even if at times there were flashes over the ether that could well have done with a bit of editing.’

The success of the public address system during the festival was replicated for the following Christmas season,

‘And the Chamber hopes to introduce special Christmas street music. This will be operated from Mr. Noel Crossan’s premises at Upper Main Street and be largely on the system operated by the Festival Radio Letterkenny in August. It will run from 2 until 5pm daily.[9]

The following year, Radio Letterkenny ‘broadcast’ from studios located at ‘The Sound of Music’ record shop on the Market Square with the newspapers reporting that the business owner Mrs. May Herrity would act as the station disc jockey. In 1979, RTE’s mobile service arrived in Letterkenny and removed the necessity for the loudspeaker broadcasts. It was a tremendous success but in 1980, despite an invitation from the organising committee, the mobile service was unable to return to the Letterkenny festival. Instead of a loudspeaker system or a visit from RTE, Radio Letterkenny for the Folk Festival went on air with a pirate transmitter broadcasting on 192m medium wave. Unlike RTE, who departed the town once the festival had finished, the pirate Radio Letterkenny remained on air to entertain and inform the residents of the Donegal village. By 1981, Radio Letterkenny had moved on from being just a festival radio station when it was reported,

‘Letterkenny Local Radio, which has been on the air since November last, is now extending its range from 4 miles to 12 miles on 252 Medium wave. They will be on the air from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from next week, not the usual 12 noon to 6 p.m., and hope to expand their range to Derry very shortly. At the moment local radio can be received on the South side of Derry on a mains radio with aerials. As the station has no telephone as yet they have request boxes in Fitzgerald’s Music Centre and hope that anyone with a request will avail of these.[10]

 

Radio Charleville in County Cork was originally a location for a RTE mobile visit but when RTE were unable to commit to a secondary visit, in subsequent years the local committee received the assistance of the pirate radio station Big D Radio in Dublin to go on air but in order to perhaps avoid scrutiny from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs as they operated without a license, in 1978 the ‘committee pointed out that this is festival radio not a pirate radio.’

 




 In numerous towns, an official radio committee was formed to coordinate the mobile service with RTE, but there was also an ‘unofficial radio committee’ working in the background. Transmitters were procured, equipment sourced and DJ’s readied. In many towns and villages, they waited patiently for the RTE van to arrive, do their thing and leave. Then within hours or days of that departure the new pirate transmitter was turned on, often on a frequency not far from RTE’s 202m location so that listeners could easily find them. Financial considerations also played a vital role in the creation of a pirate alternative to RTE’s mobile service. Despite its ability to carry advertisements in its first couple of years, the RTE’s Community Radio service carried no ads, it was funded by local donations and business subscriptions, pirate radio would not have the same constraints and the commercialism of radio would make money for those organising the swash buckling operations to the detriment of revenue generation for Montrose. RTE had created a monster.

 

Some of the pirate stations that found their way onto to air once RTE departed, having created that desire and need for a local voice on the airwaves included Claremorris Ham Fair Radio on 199m which was located in the town’s Imperial Hotel. The station broadcast for the duration of the local Ham Fair and was operated by Gerry Delaney, who would later be involved in the pirate station Atlantic Radio. The Claremorris Ham Fair was launched in 1970 and to promote the event Radio Claremorris went on air broadcasting in the morning for two hours and in the evening for a further two hours initially using a loudspeaker system in the town. In 1977 RTE’s mobile radio service took up the baton and broadcast for the festival with more modern studio and technology but when they could not commit to returning to promote the ever expanding festival, the pirate radio station was set up. 

 

 

In September 1978, RTE mobile service visited the County Cork town of Fermoy for a week of Community Radio Fermoy. Shortly after the mobile unit had moved onto another location, the appetite for radio in the town was ignited. Some locals including Jim Byrne and Oliver Tobin purchased a transmitter for £300 and initially from a location above a pub on McCurtain Street Fermoy Radio was on the air broadcasting on 208m medium wave. After six months the station moved to Fred Daly’s house on St James Place. It was an instant success, staying on air every day from 8am to 6pm. After three years on air, Fred Daly received a notice from the council to close the station and after seeking legal advice Fermoy Radio closed.

 

Big M broadcasting on 217mMW was set up with the assistance of Don Moore from ARD in Dublin. Located above a man’s shop on Castle Street, the station began broadcasting on November 23rd 1978. On that first broadcast, the station who was located in an upstairs room, dropped a microphone out the window on a long lead, so that locals on the street could be interviewed. One of the primary backers of the station was the then Senator and music promoter Donnie Cassidy. He was assisted by local man Paddy Fagan. The station closed in the early eighties. Once again thanks to the interest created by the RTE mobile station that was in the town in October, the pirate radio operation quickly followed

 



Another station illustrating that this was affecting communities across Ireland was Radio Carrick on 198m medium wave. In April 1980, RTE’s mobile station had spent five days in the town of Carrick-on-Suir and it created a buzz in the town that Gerry Gannon would tap into, and Radio Carrick went on the air on August 1st 1980. The Munster Express newspaper reported in May,

‘To add further to the unqualified praise and congratulations which have been so deservedly showered upon Community Radio Carrick. which enthralled the people of the town and district in the week from Wednesday 30th April to Tuesday 6th May, would be to gild the lily. Suffice to say that organisers, presenters, participants and others who contributed in any way came up trumps to prove once more the wealth of talent and organisation with which this town abounds.’

RTE had created the need, and pirate radio had satisfied it. In August, the same newspaper was reporting on the new pirate station. It said,

‘Since Radio Carrick (199 metres, medium wave), came on the air two weeks ago, it has built a wide audience and deservedly so for it is professionally organised and presented. Congratulations and best wishes to all involved, notably G. G[11]. and may they continue to entertain and enlighten us for many years ahead in their daily 12. a.m. to 6 p.m. broadcasts.’

The RTE production unit and staff had provided the training for the new breed of broadcaster. They proved that there was a desire for local broadcasting with local news and voices and the pirate station also pushed out the boundaries of broadcasting from the two, two hour slots of RTE to a continuous six hours seven days a week providing continuity of content.

 

In Tipperary, Radio Thurles on 230m was slightly different but its arrival was caused by the interest generated at a community meeting in the town when it was decided to approach RTE to visit the town with their community stations. The small low powered station opened in 1978. The Radio Thurles studios were in an abandoned building attached to a castle ruins in the town and to rub salt into a wound, the station hijacked the station title Community Radio Thurles when they heard that RTE’s mobile service would be in the town in October 1979 forcing RTE to title itself Thurles Community Radio.

 

Having opened the possibility of community local radio, RTE opened further opportunities in 1979 when it was reported in the Connacht Sentinel that the local stations would no longer be taking advertising thus denying local businesses and avenue to promote their products and services. The newspaper wrote,

‘Galway's Community Radio, R.T.E.'s answer to local radio stations, begins broadcasting next week and will score a notable first in the history of radio broadcasting in Ireland. For it was revealed yesterday that the Community Radio, which will broadcast daily at 11.30 a.m. from May 7th to 12th, will be the first non-commercial radio in the history of the state - with absolutely no advertisements during broadcasting hours. And the lack of advertisements from the broadcasting timetable means that RTE will lose a considerable amount of revenue, last year the advertising revenue on Galway Community Radio realised £3,000, a sum which went a considerable way towards offsetting the not inconsiderable cost of putting Community Radio on. The Reason for the ad free broadcasts is that the advertising and sales department of RTE do not have the staff available to canvass for advertisements locally in Galway. Yesterday the P.R.O. for the Community Radio, Mr. Ray Raftery, said that the committee was 'absolutely delighted' with RTE's decision as it meant an extra 24 minutes per day broadcasting time. Said Mr. Raftery: 'While one appreciates that RTE have the right to recoup some of their costs through advertising, the decision not to broadcast ads means that we have more broadcasting time available to us.

'We rang RTE recently to clarify the situation with advertisements and we were told that the Radio would not be carrying ads as the sales and advertising department were too busy with the new RTE 2 radio and just could not spare the personnel to canvass for advertisements locally in Galway.'

The provision of the Community Radio service is seen by many to be the first step in what is likely to be a long drawn out battle between RTE and Galway's local Pirate Radio, Independent Radio Galway in the battle for listeners in the city. A recent survey undertaken by the Commerce Department at UCG which was printed in 'Irish  Business' magazine, estimated that 86% of the population of the city listened to Independent Radio Galway, over 90% of whom felt that the pirates should be given a licence to operate legally. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Pirates said yesterday that I.R.G. would be closing down during the Community Radio's broadcasting hours and would advise its listeners to tune in to the Community Radio. Said the spokesman: 'The reason we began in the first place was that we felt there was a crying need for a local radio in Galway. We felt that RTE were falling down on the job by not providing such a service so we decided to go ahead ourselves. 'While we feel that a week during the year is no answer to the problem we nonetheless don't see the point in the two stations competing with one another so we decided to 'cry off during the Community Radio airtime'. [12]

 

RTE’s mobile service had first visited Galway in 1977 and received widespread local newspaper coverage as ‘Radio Galway’ took to the airwaves. The following year, the pirates were broadcasting to the western city and to illustrate the marked difference between what the State broadcaster was delivering and that of the illegal broadcaster, the pirate was known as Independent Radio Galway.

 

The powerlessness of RTE to satisfy all their listeners demands was outside much of their control but because of this, sectors of Irish society adopted pirate radio as a means to achieve their goals and further causes. While the main driver of the success of pirate radio and the success of the so-called super pirates was the broadcasting of pop/chart music, niche and cause orientated pirate stations replaced delivery from the national broadcaster.  In 1970, Saor Raidio Chonnemara was set up in Galway to challenge the authorities to set up a dedicated Irish language radio station, campaigners believing that RTE failed to broadcast enough of the native tongue. In 1972, Raidio Na Gaeltachta was officially launched in the Gaeltacht. This did not satisfy some campaigners especially in Dublin who set up pirate station Radio na Phobail, to demand an Irish language station for the capital. Other pirate stations launched to fill the gaps left by RTE including local and community stations across the country, religious broadcasters like the Irish Christian Broadcasting Service (ICBS), country and western stations including TTTR[13], rock stations like Capital Radio who provided to the then up and coming U2, easy listening like KLAS, local news and even created a new genre with the broadcasting of death notices that began on Radio Luimni in Limerick.

 



Pirate radio created employment, a renewed enjoyment of the medium of radio, encouraged participation from the general public, gave voice to minorities, encouraged diversity including accent diversity, provided access to the airwaves and to training, provided platforms for artists to achieve global success, it gave businesses an opportunity to succeed with B2C advertising streams and paved the way for the current radio landscape in Ireland.

 

Initially it was the lack of financial resources that prevented Radio Eireann addressing a nationwide audience but because the station was seen as insular to Dublin, local rural committees created a voice and then found the means of connecting with their audience. Local radio created a sense of local pride. By building their own station, it allowed access to the airwaves for local residents and advertisers. A pub in Listowel would find little benefit in advertising on Radio Eireann but by narrowing that reach to Listowel, an advertisement on Radio Listowel was vitally important. It was also important for every pub not to be outdone by another and each publican ensured that they had a radio ad on air in attempt to attract customers. Locals saw the benefit in having a ‘radio station’ and it gave them a sense of power and they had felt abandoned by the national broadcaster. It was never a realistic prospect that RTE could cater for the needs of every town and village wishing to broadcast.  The radio committees believed that the use of a transmitter would deem a station illegal and generate negative press publicity for the festival if it was raided by the authorities. They employed a unique solution to get their station on air.

 

It was however a step backwards if you consider that wireless telegraphy replaced overland telegraph lines but now at these festivals the wireless radio broadcasts were replaced by wired or cabled broadcasts to a town. Just as access to radio receivers had become cheaper and portable, the means of broadcasting, a transmitter also became cheaper to make and it become mobile forcing the authorities into a game of cat and mouse to close the local pirates. This once again replaced the wired broadcasts with wireless broadcasts. There were huge local benefits in genuine local community radio. The inability for RTE to cater for that local desire for access to the airwaves, reducing that to the occasional visit of a short-term mobile service, created the demand. Pirate radio eventually fulfilled that demand with supply and it became the first building blocks to the radio industry that was created by the 1988 new broadcasting landscape.  


[1] Traditionally associated with the North Sea but Caroline had a secondary ship anchored off the Isle of Man from 1965 – 68 which proved extremely popular.

[2] The paper had a circulation of approx. 5,000, being sold both in Kerry and to a wider Kerry diaspora

[3] The Kerryman Newspaper

[4] Via an outdoor aerial.

[5] The Evening Echo September 11th 1971

[6] The location of RTE’s broadcasting studios located near Donnybrook in Dublin 4.

[7] 2016 Population 4,820

[8] The Donegal News January 14th 1956

[9] Donegal News December 7th 1974

[10] Donegal Democrat February 20th 1981

[11] Gerry Gannon

[12] ‘A Century of Irish Radio 1900 – 2000’

[13] Tallaght, Templeogue, Ternure Radio, announced on air as Treble TR and broadcast 1981 - 1988