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Wednesday, 5 January 2022

1972, Irish Pirate Radio, Calendar of Events 50 Years Ago

 


With the greats efforts of pirate.ie, radiowaves.fm and the Irish Pirate Radio Archive at Dublin City University, so much of the golden era of Irish pirate radio (1978-1988) is being preserved, digitized and archived. This follows on from the excellent work carried out by the DX Archive in archiving Irish pirate radio history. But by 1978 pirate radio was not a new phenomenon. A half a century ago in 1972, the activities of pirate radio stations across the island of Ireland exercised the journalists of the day, the authorities and most importantly the listeners, who found pirate radio to be entertaining, informative and a unique way of rebelling against the status quo. So, what happed in 1972? Here is a calendar of events.

January 5th 1972

The first reports of Armagh Resistance Radio began to appear in the newspaper in the North. A nationalist pirate radio station described in February as being located in Lurgan, Reports of the station’s broadcasts were still being reported in the Belfast Newsletter in September.

Armagh Resistance Radio broadcast on medium wave and was believed by the British Army to be located in the Slieve Gullion area of Armagh, having begun broadcasting over Christmas 1971. The station was reported to be broadcasting advice to listeners about the ‘Rent and Rates’ strike that was taking place as a form of resistance to British rule in Northern Ireland at the time.  The station was picked up in many of the border counties and included requests for Republican internees. In January 1972 a similar station was heard calling itself ‘Radio Free Armagh’ broadcasting on 240m. Reporter Barry White writing in the Belfast Telegraph wrote that when he heard the station as the track ‘The Old Fenian Gun’ faded the chant on air was,

‘Who do we want free? Every last internee’.

The station was still being reported as being on the air from the Lurgan area in September 1972[1].

January 22nd 1972

The first newspaper reports of a new Dublin station, Channel 70, appeared in the Evening Herald. The station broadcasting on 224m (later 227m) but the station had been sporadically on the air since 1970. Channel 70 was one of the stations that formed the United Pirates of Dublin in the 1970’s. Channel 70 used a 150watt transmitter to broadcast on Tuesday’s midnight to 1AM, Saturdays from midnight for 30 minutes and Sunday afternoons from 1970 until 1973.



April 2nd 1972            

Radio na Gaeltachta is officially opened by the President of Ireland Eamon DeValera from their headquarters in the Gaeltacht area of Galway. The station followed on from the pirate station Radio Saor Connemara, which had been on air agitating for an all Irish language radio service two years earlier. A number of those who operated the pirate station were in top positions at the new State funded service.

April 2nd 1972

The Official IRA station Workers Radio, on 232m (later 242m), began broadcasting on Easter Sunday April 2nd 1972 operating from the Falls Road Belfast. The station would air the Republican song ‘The Belfast Brigade’ as their signature closedown. Just two weeks after going on air the station was abruptly closed when members of The Provisional IRA raided the house where the station was located and the man and woman on air were warned not to interfere with the transmitter’s destruction or they would be shot. The Official IRA claimed the house was owned by a pregnant woman. The station had made a name for itself by broadcasting requests for Republican prisoners in Long Kesh prison who had been interned.

The Workers Radio studio in Belfast
May 3rd 1972 

The first broadcasts of the Official IRA’s station Radio Saoirse was heard in Dublin on 218m. The station was broadcasting anti-EEC referendum propaganda and began each broadcast at 6.30pm and 7.15pm with the Henry Joy McCracken quote ‘the rich always betray the poor.’ Saoirse was an anti EEC station that broadcast for the duration of the referendum campaign in 1972. The newspapers reported that it had been set up by the Official IRA, who had been denied access to the State airwaves. The first test broadcast was heard on Monday May 1st and then every second day until the referendum on May 10th. The station began each transmission with a quotation from the 1798 rebel Henry Joy McCracken ‘the rich betray the poor.’ The station, which translated as ‘Freedom Radio’, was set up with the assistance of Tony Boylan.

June 20th 1972

This was the first broadcast of the loyalist pirate station in Belfast known as The Gnomes of Ulster Radio also known as GNU Radio.

June 25th 1972

The free radio fan magazine ‘Script’ reported that test transmissions from Liberty Radio began on June 25th 1972 but unlike many of the political pirate stations Liberty broadcast on 6815khz short wave. In November 1972 the World DX Club magazine ‘Contact’ reported that the station was ‘located in a block of flats in Northern Ireland’ which was most likely the Divis flats in Belfast as 1969 there were very few Blocks of flats in Northern Ireland. The Divis flats briefly housed a station that broadcast on medium wave in 1971 identifying itself as Radio Divis. Liberty Radio was heard up to early 1973[2].  Another non-political station that played a homage to the offshore pirate radio station Radio Caroline[3] was Belfast located Radio Caroline International. According to DX Archivist Ian Biggar,


“Radio Caroline International broadcast around 1333 kHz[4] and was most active in 1972, for example heard on Wednesday 22nd November with a test transmission from 0000-0030, saying they would be on regularly in a couple of weeks. Programmes commenced just after midnight on various nights of the week with music ranging from Irish C&W to Top 20 pop. They used a mailing address in County Louth and their signal was clearly received some 200 miles from the transmitter, albeit using a good radio and external aerial.”

July 4th 1972

Radio Free Nick was broadcasting on 245m as a UDA operated station from the Shankill Road area of Belfast.

According to the front page of the Cork Examiner on July 6th 1972

"Radio Free Nick" is the obscure title of latest pirate radio station operated from a location within the Shankill Road ‘No Go area' run principally by supporters of the UDA, reports Walter Ellis. On 245 metres on the medium wave, it broadcasts mostly record requests and appeals to join the UDA. The songs between openly Loyalist numbers like "The Amazing Sash" and "Our Flag’ include ballads by the Irish showbands and artists like, the late Jim Reeves. One unusual appeal - from woman dee jay "Our Sal" was to the people of Ballymurphy and Andersonstown, to take in their Tricolours, she said and fly your Ulster flags instead. You are sons and daughters of Ulster, too"

A Still taken from an ITV World in Action programming featuring Terry Tartan on the microphone with Our Sal standing beside her.

The station broadcast the dates and times of planned protests and mobilisations interspersed with calls to follow ‘Rangers’[5], ‘news from the front’ and rallying the Belfast Protestant community against the spectre of Vatican influence on the province. In an attempt to put the station off the air, a house on Ceylon Street off the Shankill Road was raided by the British Army and some of the station’s equipment was confiscated but they were back on the air within days. No arrests were made.

 

The station was one of the most listened to in Belfast at the time for the loyalist community as they broadcast coded messages and calls for people to man barricades in their area. The station became required listening and while much of their broadcasts were anti-Catholic and anti-Nationalist, they kept their own local community informed. In July 1972 most Protestants and especially Loyalist paramilitaries were getting all their information from Radio Free Nick. At one stage it told all UDA units not to move from their areas until further notice as it announced that an alleged statement asking units to move to Legadoon was false propaganda.

 


On the opposite side of the sectarian divide an IRA pirate station was operating in the Lenadoon area broadcasting public information and requests for the local residents of the Catholic area.

(This history was taken from the forthcoming book

‘The Illegal Voice of Ulster, Sectarian Pirate Radio’.)

July 23rd 1972

Originally calling itself ‘The Voice of Ireland’, Radio Valleri began broadcasting from a garden shed with a thirty-watt transmitter on July 23rd 1972 originally located in Drumcondra before moving to Baldoyle. The station named after the Monkey’s hit was operated by Derek Jones and Mike Anderson. The station originally went on air broadcasting on medium wave from Jones’s shed before moving to short wave. The station continued intermittently until the early 1980’s. This is a history of the station compiled by the DX Archive,

‘Anyone tuning across the 48 metre free radio shortwave band during the 1970's would probably remember hearing the song "Valleri" by The Monkees.  It signified the sign-on and sign-off of Radio Valleri, one of the longest running stations of the decade. The station however wasn't always on shortwave.   Radio Valleri was actually one of the early free radio stations to transmit to the Dublin area. It began broadcasting during the Summer of 1972 on a medium wave frequency of 1525kHz with 30 watts of power.  The station started operating from a garden shed in North Dublin on a Sunday by two young radio enthusiasts, Derek Jones and Mike Anderson.  Radio Valleri first transmitted on Sunday 23rd July 1972 between 12 mid-day and 1pm with a half hour from each of the founding members.  Transmission times were extended as they were joined by Arno St Jude[6] and Edward LeRoy and operated regular Sundays until late September of that year when they closed down due to transmitter problems.  

 

 

At this point, Arno St Jude left to be on Radio Melinda.  The station's next broadcast was in 1973, but this time they had moved to shortwave.  The operators had been persuaded by their engineer to try this band, and a suitable transmitter was built.  The change to shortwave was a great success, with letters being received from listeners all across Europe.  As Ireland did not have a government operated International Service at this time (this had closed decades before), Radio Valleri became the 'Voice of Ireland' on shortwave.  The frequency used during this period was initially 6317kHz, moving to 6260kHz and finally 6210kHz prior to the station closing in October 1974 after a year of Sunday transmissions.    

 

The station returned in Autumn 1975, and regular Sunday broadcasts were made until December, when heavy Post Office activity in Dublin caused a cessation of broadcasts until May 1976.  Following the return in May 1976, Radio Valleri operated for several years on a number of frequencies starting on 6260kHz.  In late 1976 there were reports in the Free Radio press of a new station called Premier Radio about to start from Dublin on 6260kHz.  Although no signals from this new station were ever logged, Radio Valleri moved to 6202kHz in January 1977. (Note: 6260kHz was later used in 1979 by Radio Cill Dara International).

 

In February 1977 the English magazine 'Free Radio Waves' featured a history of Radio Valleri in its 3rd issue.  6202kHz continued to be used for a time, but transmissions eventually ceased, possibly during mid-1979.  Radio Valleri was next heard during the 1980's on 6400kHz, although the signal was never as strong as it had been during the 1970's. 
July 31st 1972

Radio Saoirse began operating in Derry City beginning each broadcast with the song ‘A Nation Once Again’

September 30th 1972 

Although not operating illegally, Radio Ballinasloe went to great lengths to announce that their loudspeaker system throughout the Galway town for the local festival, was not a pirate radio station.

December 17th 1972

At 11am on September 9th 1971, Radio Milinda (sometimes referred to as Radio Melinda) went on air from about a Youth Club on the Sean McDermott Street area just off Dublin’s main thoroughfare O’Connell Street. The men originally behind the station were Jimmy McCabe who built the transmitter, Jimmy Lynch and Ritchie Kearns.                                                                                   

Soon after the launch two more young men became involved Mark Storey and Declan Meehan both of whom would go onto to work for RTE. With the assistance of a nearby record shop owner on Talbot Street, Milinda began to play the top ten every week, the first station in Ireland to do that.

 

When RTE reporter Kevin O’Kelly reported on a meeting he had with a senior member of the IRA and when in November 1972 he refused to identify his informant, he was jailed for contempt of court. As a result, the RTE authority was sacked and some staff threatened Christmas industrial action and this would leave Radio Milinda as the only radio station on air in Dublin. Milinda announced that the station would be broadcasting twenty four hours a day over the festive period but the authorities had other plans.


On December 17th 1972, almost one hundred Gardai and Department of Posts and Telegraphs officials raided the station located above the Diamond public house. The final song being played was Donovan’s hit ‘Sunshine Superman’. On February 3rd the following year the resultant court case led to the conviction of five of the seven men charged with illegal broadcasting and they were each were fined £2.

 

In December there were numerous newspaper reports of a mutiny on board the offshore pirate radio ship Radio Caroline, anchored in the North Sea. Caroline could be heard at night in Ireland was popular since the days one of its ships was anchored off the Isle of Man. The fact that it was an Irishman, Ronan O’Rahilly who was behind the station made it newsworthy in Ireland. You can read more about Radio Caroline in 1972 here.

 

Sundown Radio initially began broadcasting in July 1968[7] founded by Con McParland. Broadcasting on 230m MW (later 242m), it was originally ‘a mixture of records and good chat, no mention of anything political’[8] and located in a derelict shop on the Old Lodge Road. By 1969 and the rise of tensions in the city the output from the station became more sectarian. The station closed and McParland left Northern Ireland where he moved to Cork and set up another version of Radio Sundown broadcasting on 240m which stayed on air from 1972 until 1975 when a lack of funds led to its demise

 

Reports throughout 1972 reported on a Radio 99 broadcasting from along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. In April 1971, Radio 99 had begun broadcasting on 199m and was set up by four friends to broadcast non-political content with a diet of country and western music. Radio 99 was originally located in a disused house just inside the County Fermanagh border and was on air three hours Saturday and Sunday nights from 9.30pm opening each night with their signature tune Slim Whitman’s ‘What’s the World a Coming To’. The station provided a postal address for requests of 6, Millbrook, Clones, County Monaghan but after just a couple of weeks on air the station was closed by loyalist paramilitaries who intimidated the young broadcasters forcing them to close and move their transmitter south of the nearby border.

 

The station operators moved to Dunsrim near Scotshouse in County Monaghan with studios now housed in a caravan. The transmitter was built by Clones man Sean McQuillan[9] using an ex-army transmitter. The station had three small transmitters two located south of the border and one north of the border across the River Finn. They periodically broadcast over the next four years with a name change to Radio Caroline North, but it would all come to an end on November 21st 1975 when the Gardai raided the station. Three men Owen Smyth (aged 24) Charles Smyth (23) both from Knox, Scotshouse and Andrew Slowey from Cootehill, Cavan were found guilty of illegal broadcasting and fined ten pounds each.

 

Another station reported in band scans as being on the air in 1972 was Radio Six a Dublin 6 based station that operated from 1972 until 1973.

 

The influence of pirate radio in the Republic of Ireland is colourful. It led to political, broadcasting and social change, It added colour to a dark period in Ireland’s history. In Northern Ireland, illegal broadcasting took a different, darker path but they were never the less an important part of the history of Irish radio.

 

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[1] The Evening Herald September 4th 1972

[2] The World DX Club and Ian Biggar (DX Archive).

[4] 225m Medium Wave

[5] Glasgow Rangers FC

[6] Arno St Jude was the on air name of Declan Meehan

[7] Front Page Belfast Telegraph July 30th 1968

[8] The Belfast Memories Forum

[9] In Interviews with the McQuillan Family in Monaghan

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