Saturday, 28 July 2018


At Midnight on December 31st 1987, the new Wireless Telegraphy Act came into force and began to regulate the chaotic Irish radio airwaves. It brought about an end to a golden era of pirate radio in Ireland that ultimately had created a radio industry that still flourishes today. According to the latest JNLR figures (July 2018) 3.1 million Irish people listen to the radio everyday for an average of 4 hours per day. That's 85% of the entire population of Ireland listening to the radio.

From the very earliest radio experiments by Marconi which were conducted in Ireland to today's State radio and legal independent radio sector Ireland has a colourful radio history. During the 1916 Easter Rising the rebels led by Padraig Pearse launched their own wireless station and they began to broadcast communiques declaring the Rising had begun and that a new Republic had been declared. Ireland had become the first nation in the world to be declared by radio, by pirate radio.

Throughout the decades up to 1988 Ireland officially had a State broadcaster originally known as 2RN, the Radio Eireann and as it is today allied with a television service Radio Telifis Eireann (RTE). To compete with this monopoly and to cater to an emerging younger, liberal and rebellious population from the late 1960's, pirate radio began to fill a void.

From 1960 to 1988, thousands of pirate radio stations went on air in every city, town, village and even parish. Some were hobby in nature, some were community orientated while many began known as the super pirates, with powerful clean signals playing a diet of pop music and commercials making many of them quite financially successful.
The South Dublin County Library 

Many of these stations are now just pleasant memories but their paper and audio trails still exist and are an important  part of Ireland's radio and social history. They demonstrate a changing society and how the illegality of pirate radio can sit sometimes very comfortably with state institutions such as Revenue, Unions such as the NUJ and politicians.

Pirate radio has at times being of a political nature and the first man to die on hunger strike following his conviction for pirate radio broadcasting Sean McNeela died in 1940 having operated a station that broadcast IRA propaganda. Sinn Fein stations in the 1980's contributed to the election of a number of Maze hunger strikers which prevented a Charles Haughey led Fianna Fail government getting back into power.

RTE, TV 3 and some of the commercial and community sector are awarded grants from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) to conduct archiving and it would be remiss of us as a nation to allow the wealth and depth of the pirate radio archive to be lost for future generations of scholars and radio listeners.

In May 2018, after months of gathering materials I launched the Irish Pirate Radio Exhibition at the South Dublin County Library to show some of the memorabilia and to let visitors discover the history of pirate radio (and television) in Ireland. The exhibition includes pop up banners, rate cards, car stickers, mugs, court summons and even an FM pirate radio transmitter built by Sean McQuillan in a biscuit tin for the writer Pat McCabe (The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto) for his station Radio Butty.

The Waterford Central Library

The exhibition then traveled to Waterford Central Library and is currently on at Dungarvan Library on the Quayside. On August 7th it will move to the Granary in Limerick City. The hope is to create real interest in the history of Irish pirate radio and to create momentum for the creation of an archive and perhaps most importantly for any project to generate funding whether through grants or donations.
The Dungarvan Library, Waterford

Stay tuned to our facebook page 'Dublin's Pirate Days' for details of the exhibition visiting somewhere near you.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Radio Brexit - Broadcasting All Over Ireland NOW !!!

 A hard border, a soft border and Brexit is filling news programmes and column inches in the newspapers. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has dominated political discourse for the past eighteen months but a frictionless border has always been surmounted by one industry - the airwaves.

The border blasters of the 1980s traded across the border. Stations set up in the Republic aimed their transmissions across the border into Northern Ireland to capture some of the lucrative advertising spent.

So here are some of the stations that have been part of the Radio Brexit Network - Border Blasters

Extracts from the book 'A Century of Irish Radio 1900 - 2000'

In the 1980's the Irish Government began to receive complaints from the British authorities and those in Belfast regarding a new phenomenon ‘border blasters’. High powered transmitters were located in the Republic on the south of the border with programming and advertising rates aimed into Northern Ireland.  These stations also attracted the wrath of the authorities at the European Broadcasting Union who complained that the Irish Government were doing nothing to close these stations and demanded that they take immediate steps to prevent these stations broadcasting their illegal signals across a border into another nation. This seemed ironic as the same organisation turned a blind eye to the likes of the U.S. who funded Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe who beamed their propaganda signals into Russia from Europe.

The Government assured their European counterparts that legislation was being prepared. But instead the national station became the criminal in the eyes of Europe. RTE had been granted the long wave frequency of 254khz by the European Broadcasting Union. In 1984, Chris Cary made an audacious attempt to use the frequency to set up a powerful station to broadcast into the British mainland. Radio Exidy with a transmitter located at Clogherhead, County Louth carried out test transmissions but pressure from the Irish Government forced him to abandon the plans. In 1986 RTE announced it intended to use the frequency and in 1988 announced a partnership with Radio Luxembourg to launch Radio Tara Limited with RTE owning 20% of the company. The station would broadcast into Britain as Radio Luxembourg did as in 1988 Britain had no national commercial radio stations. A thousand foot mast and powerful fifty kilowatt transmitter was installed at Clarkestown County Meath. Studios were built at Mornington House at the nearby village of Trim and cost almost six million pounds to put on the air. The station was not popular with the locals who protested and took unsuccessful High Court challenges to stop the station. But just after 8am on September 1st 1989 Gary King became the first voice heard on Atlantic 252 and Tears for Fear’s hit ‘Sowing the Seeds of Love’ the first song played. The station became a success with DJ’s like Charlie Wolf, Hollywood Haze and Pizzaman. By 1995 and with Radio Luxembourg 208 now closed (1991) the station was announcing four million listeners and net profits of £2.5m but the arrival of national commercial stations in Britain especially on the better quality FM, the future of longwave was limited. In January 1989, sabotage was suspected at the transmitter site and a very strong local campaign against the sitting of the high powered transmitter and its possible health risks in Trim saw the station going to the Supreme Court but the campaign faltered

In 2000 Radio Luxembourg announced it was pulling out of the UK market and in October 2001 the station was sold to Teamtalk Radio for £2m with the station's last pop broadcast at 5p.m. on December 20th 2001. The last show on Atlantic was presented by Enda Cauldwell. This was followed by a Tribute show produced by Enda Caldwell and Eric Murphy celebrating the station's 12-year history of broadcasting and featuring classic airchecks of each year of Atlantic 252's history. The station then transitioned to automation, and continued broadcasting music without continuity, along with pre-booked commercials, until 12 midnight on 2 January 2002, when transmissions ceased.

One former presenter Robin Banks said:
“I didn’t realise until years later that I was a part of a radio revolution that people still ask me about today. I’m so proud to have been involved with the real and original Atlantic 252. During my time there I can honestly say I worked with the best, Sandy (Beech), Nicksy (Schiller), Dusty (Rhodes), Charlie (Wolf) and a load more who made Atlantic the biggest commercial radio station in the world on Long Wave! It taught me a lot and I realised there was a lot more to this animal called radio than I thought.”

TeamTalk Radio went on the air with live programming on February 25th 2002 but with stiff competition from BBC Radio 5 and Talksport the station folded after a couple of months and the 252 frequency was returned to RTE who relay their Radio One service on the frequency.

Some of the stations that transmitted across the border were
Jukebox Memories  - 864khzAM
Broadcasting in the late nineties, Jukebox Memories said that were located at Clogherhead County Louth broadcasting into Northern Ireland as one of the border blasters. They revealed that on their 864khz transmitter they put out ‘5 kw from a 50m mast’. They also Voice of Evangelism is included in this service of pre-recorded programmes.
Magic 105 – 105.1mhz FM
Began broadcasting on November 15th 1999 operating as a border blaster broadcasting into Northern Ireland. The last broadcast from Magic 105 was on 11 May 2007 when the station's transmitter was seized by the authorities from Bragan Mountain, close to the original Greagh site.
Radio North -  846khzAM & 103mhzFM
Radio North began broadcasting on November 18th 1986 from studios located at Carndonagh, County Donegal. With a number of transmitter locations around the Foyle Peninsula the station aimed much of its broadcasts into Northern Ireland. The station was operated by Frank Callaghan. The station closed in December 1988 in accordance with the new Broadcasting legislation.

In January 1989, Northside Radio came back on the air and continued for two years. Meanwhile Tommy Cunningham had opened North Atlantic Radio broadcasting on 954khz. In 1992 North moved from Carndonagh to Redcastle but their transmitters were causing interference to legal operators within Northern Ireland and moved again to Muff in Donegal. North disappeared from the airwaves but North Atlantic was rebranded as Radio North now broadcasting on 846khzAM.

In 2002 Paul Bentley took over the running of Radio North whose powerful transmitter could be heard in Dublin in 2011. Radio North promoted themselves as a C&W and Irish music station with family values and at weekends their airtime was sold to gospel and Christian broadcasters with the station announced as Gospel 846. Their own website states that,
‘Gospel 846 promotes family values through religious programming and family centered music programs.’
A quarter of a century after Radio North’s first broadcasts the station now broadcasts from studios at Shroove and transmitters located on the Moville Road. The station in various incarnations has been known as Northside Radio, Radio North County, Christian Radio 846, North 2000 and FM103.

The books lists two dozen more stations who maintained their transmitters south of the border but their programming crossed the border through the at time unregulated airwaves.

The Irish Pirate Radio Exhibition heads to Limerick

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Ireland Unified by Radio

The border between the new Irish Free State and Northern Ireland was not to everyone’s liking but radio did not recognize so called hard borders and its signal in the ether was transnational. On December 13th 1927 at 8pm a unique experiment took place that for forty five minutes united the island of Ireland. A comedy revue titled ‘Hip Hip Hooradio’ was staged at the Empire Theatre in Belfast. The show was transmitted live by the Belfast radio station 2BE but in a moment of broadcasting history it was also relayed live and simultaneously by 2RN in Dublin and 6CK in Cork.

The Lord Mayors of the three cities recorded greetings for each other which were aired before the relay. The Lord Mayor of Belfast Rt. Hon. Sir William Turner attended the Empire in person and spoke into the microphone from the stage. The comedy revue was written by Richard Hayward and Gerald McNamara and was described in the pre-publicity as having ‘seventeen scenes of fun and frolic’ performed by the Ulster Players. The show was set in a radio station studio. Some of those who performed in the show were Vivian Worth, Marian Wright, Kitty Murphy, Dorothy Camlin, Jack Chambers, Richard Hayward, Jack Gavin and Kenneth Coffey.