Tuesday, 23 April 2019

A Century of Irish Radio 1900 -2000

Article of the Book Launch

Book On Sale Here

Ireland, The Coronation and Television 1953


In the mid-1920s before the Irish state broadcaster 2RN took to the airwaves, those who could afford radio sets or were technically proficient to build a crystal set were avid listeners and even though the total with direct access numbered no more than a couple of thousand people, the appetite for radio grew rapidly. This was driven by the overspill from BBC stations on the mainland and from the arrival of 2BE in Belfast.

Some thirty years later a similar appetite was growing for television. Once again from the early 1950’s those who could afford television sets were tuning into BBC TV signals especially from Welsh transmitters. A domestic television channel would not take to the airwaves until December 31st 1961 when Radio Eireann became Radio Telifis Eireann. One of the few people able to afford a television set were publicans who not only able to purchase the expensive television sets, which had to be imported, but also saw an opportunity to increase revenues by providing locals with pictures from BBC Television.

One of the first big television events to gain extensive coverage in the Irish national newspapers was the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday June 2nd 1953. Plans were announced the previous October for transmitters to be opened in Belfast so that the population of the Six Counties could watch the first televised Coronation of a British monarch. But because of the low power of the new Belfast transmitter, the Holme Moss transmitter near Manchester brought in the best signals into the Republic.

According to an advertisement on the front page of the Irish Independent on Friday May 15th
Special arrangements are now being made for a limited number of persons to view the Coronation television programme under, ideal conditions in the Dublin Mountains. All day outing, with transport and excellent catering included in "All-in-Charge," approximately £3-3-0. Please write Immediately for particulars. 

Flavin’s public house in Sandyford were advertising that they were showing the Coronation on the television set and the pub was full for the event. Flavin’s had become renown in the south of the city as the place to watch television. In June 1952 they were advertising that they were showing racing from Ascot with the proviso ‘weather permitting’.  D.P Flavin had purchased what is today The Sandyford House in 1909 and ran a successful business until his death in 1937. The business was continued by his wife Josephine and the pub became colloquially known as ‘The Widow Flavin’. Her daughter married Michael Walsh, who had served his time with the Humphrey family on Moore Street and took over the running of a pub that had become known as the pub of ‘sporting kings’ in 1949. It was Walsh who brought television to the southside venue. The Tuam Herald reported
‘Out at a well-known hostelry at Sandyford in the Dublin mountains, cars were parked hub to "hub, though the television reception was not quite as satisfactory is expected.’

Not alone was their an appetite in Dublin for novelty of television but also for spectacle of a Coronation with all the pomp and ceremony that attends such events this despite the fact that DeValera’s Government was unsympathetic towards the British establishment and that it had been just thirty years since the end of the War of Independence.

In a first for the BBC, this coverage of the Coronation would be its largest outside broadcast project since the channel first aired. Seven and a half hours of live TV coverage with a commentary team led by Richard Dimbleby. According to the Radio Times,
‘It will begin at 9.15 with a sixty minute tuning signal to provide enough time for adjustment to receivers especially set up for the occasion in churches, shops, halls and homes. The broadcast proper will begin at 10.15 and the first pictures will come from mobile units at the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace.’
The Coronation itself began at 11.20 at Westminster Abbey and the live broadcast ended at 5.20 after coverage of an RAF fly past over Buckingham Palace.

But not everyone was happy with the Coronation of the Queen being shown on television. Nationalists in Northern Ireland were deeply suspicious of the anglicizing effect the BBC were having on the province especially in Belfast where a specially low powered transmitter was installed especially for the occasion. The Unionists on the other hand were delighted both because the arrival of TV pictures in the province made them fell more part of the Union and the fact that primarily because of their status only Unionists could afford TV sets. Meanwhile south of the border in Dolan’s public-house on Malborough Street shortly after 1pm, with the pub packed with customers, some watching the unfolding events from London amazed at the wonderment of technology, Gearoid O’Brion from New Street in the south inner city, walked into the pub and smashed the set with a hammer. As he walked back out onto the street, he was arrested by two policemen patrolling outside.

On June 16th, the Evening Herald reported
‘I do not Intend to pay any compensation. Mr, Dolan should look to the British Legion for compensation if he wants it" said Gearoid O’Brion, New Street Dublin, a mechanic who was convicted In the District Court today of maliciously damaging a television set in the licensed premises of Hugh Dolan, 97 Marlborough St, on the day of the Coronation.
O’Broin was fined £5 and ordered to pay compensation. Justice O'Donnachada. gave O’Broin a month to change his mind about paying compensation and said a sentence of two months would be imposed if compensation amounting to £27-15-0 was not paid within the time. In an unsworn statement O’Broin said that if there was any criminal offence it was "the Jingoism of men like Dolan."
"As Protest"
" My action,' he said ‘was not taken through malice, but as a protest against the denigrating Influence of this type of thing." The Justice said, ‘You may have such sentiments and feelings, but this is not the way to express them’. Mr. H. Dolan said that on June 2 there were about 150 people in the bar, some of whom were watching the Coronation on the television set at the end of the bar. He noticed the light on the sot go out and saw a man coming down the floor putting something in his pocket.
Called Guards
Witness called Guards who were outside the premises. John Flanagan said that when the set was smashed, he saw something wrapped In newspaper in the defendant's hand. On the way out, O’Brion shouted: "Get out of my way Ireland is still-free.". Det. Officer W. Klrwan said he was on duty outside Dolan's public house. Mr. Dolan came out of the public house and pointed out the accused who was walking down the street. He was arrested and taken to Store Street station and when searched a hammer was found in his jacket.

In the following days newspaper, The Herald had to run a clarification,
"Damage Done to Television Set
In our report of proceeding against one Gearoid O'Broin in our Issue of yesterday, Mr. Hugo Dolan (referred to as '"Hugh Dolan") of 7 Marlborough Street, was reported as having stated in evidence that there were about 150 people In the Bar. some of whom were watching the Coronation on the television at the end of the Bar. Mr. Dolan did not say that anyone was watching the Coronation on the television, and Mr. O’Donoghue, another witness in the case (not reported by us) stated in reply to Mr. McLoughlin. Solicitor, prosecuting, that nothing was to be seen on the television screen. Moreover, the sentence imposed on O'Broin was three months imprisonment, and not two months as reported by us.

Meanwhile the citizens of County Meath on the other hand were reported to have had mixed results when trying to watch the coronation. According to the Maeth Chronicle the reception at Messers McDonagh and Kelly on the Market Square were poor but on the higher ground around Slane, reception was far better. McDonagh and Kelly were advertising at the time that they were selling Pye television sets for £57-10s

Monday, 1 April 2019

The Introduction to 'A Century of Irish Radio 1900 - 2000' by Eddie Bohan on Sale Now


A CENTURY OF IRISH RADIO  1900- 2000

1.               The Introduction
2.               In the Beginning
3.               Rebel Radio
4.               The Fledgling Twenties
5.               The Evolutionary Thirties
6.               The Troublesome Forties
7.               The Flat Fifties
8.               The Swinging Sixties
9.               The Sensational Seventies
10.            The Revolutionary Eighties
11.            The Celtic Tiger Nineties
12.            Northern Ireland Legal and Illegal
13.            Appendix

While every attempt has been made by the author to be as accurate as possible, because of the nature of some illegal radio broadcast activities some of the facts are open to interpretation and are open to correction for future editions. Contact theirishbroadcastinghalloffame@gmail.com


The history of Irish radio broadcasting in the twentieth century is one of invention, innovation, creativity, world’s firsts, criminality, fraud and death yet with a little sprinkling of humour. From the very early experiments of Marconi, to the momentous events of the 1916 Easter Rising and the first embers of propaganda broadcasting, the playing of the music of the savages, the delivery of local deaths announcements on radio to wartime broadcasts, paramilitary broadcasts and pirate radio, Irelands radio colourful radio landscape has one hell of a story to tell. The following pages is full of political intrigue, state and church interference, law breaking, madness and sadness as the Irish airwaves have created, reflected and reported social, political and economic change in Ireland for over a century.

In times of war and strife it was a consoling constant companion, in peace it helped drive the agenda of change, created debate and as news delivery fragments with a tsunami of technological advances, radio has maintained a unique, dominant position to shape Ireland in the twenty first century at home and abroad.    
From the single goal of independence and the launch of a broadcasting monopoly, this small island nation on the edge of Europe in the Atlantic has evolved into a multi cultural society with a multitude of radio stations. Many of the stories that follow are full of endeavour, hilarity, violent threats and challenges to the state. The ingenuity of using discarded scraps to create living breathing transmitters, the launching of border blasters and the hundreds of broadcasters both legal and illegal who have been contributing to the natural resource of the ether and Irish solutions to Irish problems.

Following the closure of a Dublin pirate radio station, the engineer who built the station’s transmitter had not been paid for his work.  He enlisted the assistance of another pirate broadcaster to recover equipment he believed was rightfully his. As his policeman father waited patiently outside in the car, the two men illegally entered the property to retrieve the equipment. The station owner arrived at the house brandishing a shotgun this despite the presence of a policeman outside his door. In this bizarre scene from a Hollywood movie, the trespassers were eventually allowed repossess the equipment.

The ether of the radio airwaves carry not only news and entertainment broadcasts but this natural resource also allows pilots communicate with Dublin air traffic control, allows ships to safely berth in Irish ports, allows secure Garda communications to keep our nation safe, provides Irish troops with communications to perform their duties at home and abroad, enables house bound citizens to take a moment out of their lives to listen to Mass from their local churches and truckers communicating along Irish motorways on CB radio.

Important Editors Note:
This is the story of the century 1900 – 2000 and does not include the stories of those stations and broadcasters that have aired since 2000 to present
The Introduction

From 1926 until 1989 broadcasting in the Republic of Ireland was a legal monopoly. On January 1st1926 2RN officially went on air in Dublin transitioning over the decades into Radio Athlone, Radio Eireann and as it is today Radio Telifis Eireann following the addition in December 1961 of a single television channel. In 1989 new legislation broke that monopoly with the introduction of legal commercial broadcasting. Despite a seemingly slow route towards deregulation, Ireland in the early part of the twentieth century and mainly due to its location as an island on the edge of Europe was at the forefront of wireless broadcasting. One of the men who was credited with the invention of radio Guigelmo Marconi used Ireland as a hub to make contact with the expanding world of North America. In 1916 Ireland made a failed bid to free itself from British rule but then a subsequent successful War of Independence and a civil war stifled the development of the radio industry and technological advances left Ireland in its wake.

Ireland had fallen behind most of Europe as radio broadcasting and the associated technology advanced. It would be one of the last countries in Western Europe to open its own domestic radio station and use up the resources of the airwaves. This was all the more unusual as Ireland and those who fought for its freedom had shown innovative and foresight when using the new medium of radio to disseminate their message during the 1916 Easter Rising. The station launched by the rebels was in the truest sense the world’s first pirate radio station and it would later be ironic that pirate radio would dominate the history of Irish Broadcasting.

While wounds from a civil war (1922-23) took many generations to heal, a younger nation emerged and this youthful population demanded more from the national State broadcaster but a lack of leadership within and from Government the choice of listening remained static. The authorities relied on the effectiveness of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and the 1926 Wireless Telegraphy Act to control the airwaves. This Act was used in 1936 to prosecute a Limerick based pirate radio station. During the Second World War, Ireland remained neutral but those opposed to the political settlement with Britain that created the Irish Free State in 1922 sought to aid the Axis powers by declaring war on Britain. The IRA, as their predecessors had done in 1916 sought assistance from Germany and while not officially pro-German the IRA was most certainly anti-British. The Irish Government did not know that German sympathisers were using Ireland as a base to spy on British army and naval movements and that these reports were being transmitted from Dublin to Berlin. The same transmitting equipment was then used to broadcast IRA propaganda to a wider audience. The British were asked to supply detecting equipment and the search for the pirate broadcasters led to the creation of G2 the Irish army’s intelligence department. The broadcasters were caught and imprisoned but one of the men sacrificed his life on hunger strike while in jail.

Technological advances especially after the Second World War allowed experimenters to build cheap yet effect broadcast transmitters. In the late 1950’s political pirate radio stations emerged but these were haphazard and short lived. The freedom of the 1960’s and the creation of global communications made the world smaller but Ireland’s and its leaders especially Eamon DeValera had a very insular protective view of their nation. The grandson of an Easter Rising veteran Ronan O’Rahilly would try to break the dominance of the BBC in the UK with the launch of Radio Caroline. Pop music for the younger generation was now at hand. Inexpensive transistor radios allowed Caroline to go on the move with their listeners while their parents sat around the fireplace with their large Pye or Bush radios afixture in the living room. In the so-called swinging sixties small pirate radio stations began to appear on the Irish airwaves playing American artists rather than showband and Irish traditional music as heard on the State broadcaster. The stations were hampered by a limited radius using homemade transmitters and broadcast sporadically for an hour or two mainly on Sundays.