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Thursday, 21 July 2022

The Irishman who shaped Scottish Radio with 5MG in 1922

 

Editors Note: On an episode of the excellent podcast BBCentury with Paul Kerensa, which is telling and celebrating the centenary of the BBC (although nothing officially to do with the BBC), an episode looked at the experimental stations in Scotland such as 2BP and 5MG and I was amazed to find that it was a Dublin man who was behind 5MG and so I began to research this important pioneers story. This is it. - Eddie Bohan, Radio Historian

A draper’s assistant, born on the Upper Rathmines Road, Dublin, would become both a pioneer in radio broadcasting in Scotland and pave the way for another giant of global communications, Ryanair, to gain a foothold in affordable air transportation into Scotland. Months before the newly formed British Broadcasting Company (as the Corporation was originally known) launched their official Glasgow radio station, 5SC, in March 1923, Frank Milligan provided the Glaswegians with their own radio station, becoming a pioneer before the arrival of the BBC.


Francis Marshall Milligan was born on July 5th 1883 at 111 Upper Rathmines Road, the eldest son of the seven children of Wicklow born accountant Andrew Mease[1] and Tipperary born Amelia Boardman. After a brief education, he began work as a drapery assistant in Rathmines but in February 1901 he joined the Imperial Yeomanry [2] of the British Army and found himself on the frontlines of the battlefields of the Boer War in South Africa. After being demobbed, he made his way to London and met and fell in love with Elise Adriene Barrett. Elise was better known as Elise Barone (b. London 1883 – d. Scotland 1971) and was an actress starring in silent movies such as ‘Tom Cringle in Jamaica’ in 1913 and ‘A Flirtation at Sea’ also that year. She also appeared in numerous, what became known as, cliff-hanger serials, an early form of soap opera. Her acting career ended when she married Frank in Paddington in July 1913.


The couple made their way to Glasgow, where Frank, having learned about the use of wireless in South Africa, opened a wireless sales business at 23-25 Renfrew Street in Glasgow. Milligan then found a partner to help him expand his fledgling business in George Garscadden, who ran a domestic appliance business at nearby 202 Bath Street in the city. In October 1922, the two men gather the necessary equipment to broadcast on the fourth floor of 141 Bath Street[3]. The Milligan and Garscadden’s station would be known as 5MG (also known as Milligan’s Wireless Station) and broadcast on 440m medium wave. At a of the meeting of the Wireless Club held in the Scout Hall, Southbridge Street on Saturday October 14th 1922, it was revealed that a concert from Writtle[4] would be listened to,

‘Also, a concert specially transmitted for the meeting by the direction of the demonstrator Mr. F.M. Milligan FRGS from his own station.’

The first broadcast from 5MG took place from 7pm on Tuesday October 17th 1922[5].


For their opening broadcasts the station broadcast gramophone records using a ‘Algraphone’. The ‘Algraphone’ was made between 1922 and 1926 by Alfred Graham & Co, who were better known for their Amplion loudspeakers, for whom Milligan was the franchisee in Glasgow. Live concerts began in the cramped studios with Herbert Carruthers on piano and Garscadden’s daughter Kathleen singing. Kathleen later revealed,

‘I and my choir, in which I sang, and my organist Mr Carruthers were invited to that little flat to come and experiment to see if we could send our voices through the air. It was really a comical set-up with cables from the kitchen to the dining room in the little flat, and a microphone like a soup-plate suspended from the ceiling. And we played and we sang night after night, but nothing happened But I'll never forget the night I was heard and my mother heard me in Sauchiehall Street, and of course that was a miracle.’[6]

The station continued to entertain ever evening from 7pm with the Glasgow Herald saying that,

‘The entertainment has been of first class quality’.[7]


While Frank Milligan was creating radio history, he was also looking after a newly born daughter of his own, Madeline Primrose Milligan, born in April 1920. Primrose would go onto have her own stellar career in radio, initially as an impressionist and also on another new medium, television. According to her obituary in the Stage newspaper following her death on August 19th 1999,

"I was always in there, trying," she once told me. "Then one day I 'plunked' school to go to Glasgow and audition for a bigger contest at the Empire." That show, Brian Michie's ‘Youth Takes a Bow’, is part of history because of two teenagers who competed with Primrose. They were Eric Bartholomew and Ernest Wiseman, remembered today as Morecambe and Wise. The girl from Prestwick (where she lived for most of her life) had savoured an early taste of showbusiness, running around her father's embryonic radio station. Those years were recalled when she featured prominently on the BBC Scottish Home Service as a leading member of the Jimmy Logan/Stanley Baxter comedy series ‘It's All Yours’. Primrose joined in with all the show's gags, sketches and catchphrases. The series still well-remembered was an early landmark in a career that embraced music hall, seaside summer shows, revue, drama productions and a tour to North America with plays from Glasgow's Tron Theatre. Primrose also worked in films in London and, in-between the performing jobs, as a fashion show compere. More recently, in her sixth and seventh decades, 'Primmie' enjoyed the fun of team camaraderie in the studio and on Loch Lomond-side location, playing Mrs Woods, a villager of fictional Glendarroch, in popular Scottish soap Take High Road. She also took cameo roles in Rab C. Nesbitt and other TV series.”[8]


In early 1923 there was a buzz created into city as a second temporary station took to the airwaves when Marconi on behalf of the Daimler motor company launched a brief station 2BP to promote the sale of in car radios. On March 6th 1923, the BBC station 5SC came on the air in studios above Garscadden’s shop on Bath Street and using much of the equipment that had brought 5MG to the airwaves. 

The 5SC studios on Bath Street
Kathleen followed her father’s footsteps and the now experienced Kathleen Garscadden and Herbert Carruthers would join the new station, Carruthers as musical director and Kathleen as a singer and entertainer known on air as Auntie Kathleen. Lavinia Dervent writing in Dundee Courier[9] recalled,

‘The BBC under Lord Reith kept such a tight hold on the purse strings that the habit was difficult to break and employees hesitated before requisitioning even a new pencil. Yet, in spite of such restrictions, Auntie Kathleen in her day was a power in the land and will always inhabit a special niche in the annals of broadcasting, along with Uncle Mac (Derek McCulloch) who operated from London. For many years Kathleen's was the best-known voice in Scotland, eagerly listened to in cot and castle. She provided wholesome entertainment for myriads of young listeners—for old ones, too’.

Kathleen Garscadden died in Glasgow on February 20th 1991.

Kathleen pictured outside the original 5SC studios in Glasgow

The Milligan’s, once their station was closed and competition increased in the radio sales, moved to Prestwick where Frank was appointed the Provost of Prestwick.  A Provost is the convenor of the local authority, the civic head and the lord-lieutenant of one of the principal cities of Scotland. In that position, after the end of the Second World War, he pushed hard for the former air base at Prestwick to adapted as an international airport. His persistence was rewarded and in his role as Provost was on hand to meet and greet famous celebrities including Princess Margaret in 1950 as she holidayed in Scotland and Queen Juliana of the Netherlands who stopped off as she made her way to the United States. Prestwick Airport also made global headlines when it is one of the few places in the UK where Elvis Presley landed.


Frank Milligan died on November 1st 1956[10].



 



[1] Ancestry.com

[2] UK Military Records, Kew Gardens

[3] Scotland On Air

[4] 2MT

[5] The Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser

[6]Carrocher in Conversation', BBC Radio Scotland, 3 April 1980.

[7] Glasgow Herald December 1922

[8] The Stage August 26th 1999

[9] February 19th 1990

[10] The Stage trade newspaper.


Sources:

The Irish Newspaper Archives

The British Newspaper Archives

Ancestry.com

World Radio History

Scotland on the Air

B B Century & Paul Kerensa

Wireless World Magazine

Google Maps

RadioSix.com

British Pathe News

UK Archives Kew Gardens

BBC Scotland



Sunday, 12 June 2022

A Personal Thanks to the Irish Pirate Radio Archivists

 


As I reach a milestone birthday on June 13th, let me indulge my passion by reminiscing about a journey that began five years ago also this month. On June 7th 2017, I organised a meeting upstairs in Brannigan’s pub off O’Connell Street to find common ground with fellow Irish radio anoraks with a view to the setting up of a possible pirate radio museum. A year later I embarked on a nationwide tour with an exhibition to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the 1988 Wireless Telegraphy Act and the creation of independent commercial and community radio and television. The exhibition had a two-fold ambition, firstly to draw attention to the significant role in both radio and social history terms that pirate radio had contributed to the broadcasting landscape in Ireland and secondly to seek up the avalanche of value archives that remained in private hands. These archives from many of those who worked in pirate radio, would assist to draw a more complete picture of the impact illegal broadcasting made on the Irish radio landscape.


To direct attention to and to educate a new generation of scholars as to the breadth and depth of these illegal broadcasters. I aimed to gather as much memorabilia both audio and physical of what was seen as a golden era of pirate radio for a decade from 1978. The exhibits consisted of my own personal collection and small collections donated to me including those of the late Alan MacSimoin and Brian Reid in Cork. One of the centre pieces of the exhibition was a pirate radio transmitter built in a ‘USA’ biscuit tin by the late Sean McQuillan in Monaghan which was used by the writer Pat McCabe for his pirate station Radio Butty. The transmitter was generously loaned to me by the family of Mr. McQuillan in Clones, Monaghan.



The response and interest was overwhelmingly positive.  We visited Tallaght (our first exhibition), Cork, Dungarvan, Limerick, Galway, Carlow and at Dublin City University where it became the centre of press attention when one of the candidates in the then Irish Presidential election and former pirate broadcaster Gavan Duffy visited the exhibition. As an amateur radio historian and curator, I realised quickly that the donated material required expert curation, storage and digitisation. With the assistance and guidance of David Meehan and Mark O’Brien at the media and history departments of Dublin City University, the Irish Pirate Radio Archive opened at the Glasnevin based University. This would be a unique archive in a university setting, as pirate radio is a global phenomenon. The media launch took place at a press conference chaired by former broadcaster Stuart Clark at Buswells Hotel in the shadow of the Dail.



This was followed by another unique event held at the Ballsbridge Hotel, an oral history day. Organized by John Walsh of NUIG and Brian Greene of radio.ie, the two men had set up the Irish Pirate Radio Audio Archive through their excellent pirate.ie. Over one hundred of those who found themselves involved in and launched careers through pirate radio attended the event and had their experiences recorded at the hotel. It was helpful that at that time Christmas FM had their studios also located in the hotel and these were used to record the interviews. The authorities at DCU felt that they would be unable both in terms of space and finances to offer a home to the audio element of the donations and that’s where John and Brian stepped in with their pirate.ie website.


Another curator of Irish pirate history is John Fleming at radiowaves.fm. John was an early pirate curator before taking a personal break but returning with a new and improved radiowaves.fm. Like those I have mentioned already, for many anoraks, as fans of Irish pirate radio, our go to fanzine in the 1980’s to keep up with station activities was ‘Anoraks Ireland’ created and run by Paul Davidson. Paul not only amassed a massive collection of photographs, rate cards, press clippings and publicity material from the many hundreds of pirates that at one time cluttered the Irish airwaves, but he also recorded thousands of hours of broadcasts across Ireland. He also accepted donations from ‘listeners’ across Ireland. This was a unique and invaluable connection documenting the diversity and activity of pirate stations.


However, with the pirates closed in 1988 and were replaced by the independent sector, Paul, for want of a better description disappeared suddenly from the scene and this unique collection seemed lost. There were no more fanzines, no more recordings for sale and no further response from correspondence with the Anoraks Ireland address. There was speculation, especially with the advent of the internet and social media, that he had moved house and that the collection was put in a skip, that perhaps he had moved out of the country or worst of all had he passed away without getting the recognition for his contribution to reporting on pirate radio history. At various pirate radio enthusiast gatherings, there would be the question ‘what happened to Paul?’ followed by speculation and a regret that this collection was lost.

 

These discussions took place several times around the oral history event in Ballsbridge and it seemed important that I at least tried to detect what had happened to both Paul and his collection.  What followed, after getting advice from a private detective friend on how to trace missing people, was a detective story worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Eventually my hard work and many dead ends paid off and in Christmas 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, I elicited a response. Paul was alive and well, living still in Dublin but more importantly still had his collection. After numerous telephone conversations, explaining to Paul what we were doing, how important his extensive collection would be, he agreed to donate his entire collection to the Irish Pirate Radio Archive.


I made three trips with my daughter to his residence and collected a treasure trove of material. The physical memorabilia would be heading to DCU in Glasnevin, with the thousands of tapes to be divided and digitised by John & Brian at pirate.ie, John at radiowaves.fm and some by the original Irish pirate radio archivists and a massive resource for historians and scholars, the UK based DX Archive run by Ian, Gary and Ken. These tapes are now being made available to the public, along with background stories and context on the three websites.



As a voluntary effort, this is unique in the protection of invaluable archives in Ireland and immense credit must go to the archivists at the three sites. Media academics and students owe John and Brian, John Fleming and to Ian Biggar and the lads across the water a huge debt of thanks for their honest endeavours in the often time consuming digitization of C60 and C90 tapes sometimes having deteriorated over the many decades since they were recorded. Some of these recordings are now a half century old. But the work doesn’t stop there are we try to gather the strands of a complicated and colourful history of Irish pirate radio together. I acknowledge those amateur anoraks who collected personal archives and memorabilia and managed to keep these safe over the years and have now generously donated them, never easy to part with something so personal. Further donations have come from both North and South of the border. If you or you know someone who might have even the smallest collection of archives, get in touch. We can take them as a donation anonymously or they can be just loaned to us to be digitised. For many, these artifacts and memorabilia are an important part of their lives but it something that should be celebrated and recognised.



Personally, I want to thank all those who have donated to myself, the University directly, to pirate.ie, to radiowaves.fm and the DX Archive. I want to thank the three websites for the tireless efforts to catalogue Irish pirate radio history, a golden era of broadcasting and 73’s.

Please support the wonderful work of 

John at RADIOWAVES.FM

John & Brian at PIRATE.IE

Ian, Ken, Gary at THE DX ARCHIVE

The Irish Pirate Radio Archive at DCU

Friday, 13 May 2022

Pirate Radio Archives - UK Pirate Radio 1980's

 

The depth and wealth of pirate radio archives that were part of the Anoraks Ireland Collection donated to the Irish Pirate Radio Archive at Dublin City University is diverse and important both to pirate radio history and social history. Much of the archives collected by Paul Davidson while he ran the fanzine Anoraks Ireland is focused on Ireland but some of his collection features UK pirate radio, European and American illegal broadcasting and offshore pirate stations. The publicity attached to these stations was conducted in a pre-internet era, when fans sent for ‘newsletters’ by using IRC’s, International Reply Coupons he assist with post.

 

There have been many fan organizations for pirate radio across the world and here is one of the newsletters from Free Radio Service which not only broadcast pirate news on shortwave but also produced this newsletter. That's followed by a Radio Quatro Fact Sheet, the history of Radio Titanic and 'Sounds Alternative' (Not to be confused with a magazine of a similar name produced by the Free Radio Campaign Ireland)








We will continue to bring you some of the archives from the Collection but we will in our next post bring you some of the Irish pirate radio archives. 

You can support our work with the price of a cup of coffee at KO-FI. Every little helps with research site payments and books purchased for future great radio history memories. Use the link button at the top of the blog. 






 

Friday, 6 May 2022

The Anoraks Ireland Collection - Newsline Ireland 1989 & 1990

 

The depth and wealth of pirate radio archives that were part of the Anoraks Ireland Collection donated to the Irish Pirate Radio Archive at Dublin City University is diverse and important both to pirate radio history and social history. Much of the archives collected by Paul Davidson while he ran the fanzine Anoraks Ireland is focused on Ireland but some of his collection features UK pirate radio, European and American illegal broadcasting and offshore pirate stations. The publicity attached to these stations was conducted in a pre-internet era, when fans sent for ‘newsletters’ by using IRC’s, International Reply Coupons he assist with post.


Following the closure of Anoraks Ireland and the ending of Anoraks UK’s updates on radio in Ireland, a new information magazine was launched by Rodney Neill and known as Newsline Ireland. This came in 1989 after the introduction of the new Wireless Telegraphy Act that closed the majority of pirate radio stations across Ireland and their replacements which was independent legal commercial radio with licences awarded by the Independent Radio and Television Commission, now known as the BAI.


 

These are the five issues of the magazine from the Anorak’s Ireland Collection.



































Wednesday, 4 May 2022

The Anoraks Ireland Collection - The Irish Free Radio Movement 1973

 

The depth and wealth of pirate radio archives that were part of the Anoraks Ireland Collection donated to the Irish Pirate Radio Archive at Dublin City University is diverse and important both to pirate radio history and social history. Much of the archives collected by Paul Davidson while he ran the fanzine Anoraks Ireland is focussed on Ireland but some of his collection features UK pirate radio, European and American illegal broadcasting and offshore pirate stations. The publicity attached to these stations was conducted in a pre-internet era, when fans sent for ‘newsletters’ by using IRC’s, International Reply Coupons he assist with post.

 

Although these archives are from the Anoraks Ireland collection, this magazine ‘Medium’ is an early fanzine on DXing in Ireland and pirate radio. This copy is from late 1973. It was produced by the Irish Free Radio Movement with contributions from John Dowling, who was based in Carlow, Ken Sheehan who was a founder of Radio Dublin and Mark Storey who was involved with numerous stations including Radio Milinda and would later work as a producer on RTE 2FM. The magazine contents include a President’s Address, DX reports, pirate news from Dublin including a history of Radio Caroline Dublin.











Page 9 is missing from the Anoraks Ireland Archive