Aircheck: Christian Community Radio

St. Andrew’s Church, Westland Row where Christian Community Radio often recorded prayers. Photo credit: Wikipedia/DubhEire/CC0.

This is a recording of one of the more eccentric pirate stations in Dublin in the 1980s, Christian Community Radio which operated from the leafy Merrion Square district in the south city centre. Christian Community Radio was run by the Catholic solicitor Gerry O’Mahony who was a leading campaigner against the liberalisation of Irish society in the conservative 1980s. The recording from sometime in 1985 begins with a quick bandscan down the dial to 90.2 MHz FM, where Christian Community Radio could just about be picked up in our corner of the northeast of Dublin. O’Mahony can be heard leading prayers and then introducing the rosary from a city centre church with a large crowd providing the responses. Even allowing for the weak FM signal the sound quality is very poor but low production standards were one of the hallmarks of the station.

The recording is as much a reminder of the terrible technical standards of some of the pirates as it is of the socially conservative nature of Irish society during that time. Most of the Dublin pirates challenged that status quo but some like Christian Community Radio wanted to maintain it. We’re not sure when Christian Community Radio closed down but an infamous row live on air between O’Mahony and Ireland’s foremost radio broadcaster Gay Byrne late in 1987 may have hastened the station’s demise.

Aircheck: Liberties Local Community Radio

Car sticker for LLCR courtesy of DX Archive

This is a recording of the first day of Liberties Local Community Radio (LLCR) from April 4 1986. The presenter is Paul Barrett and this is aircheck includes jingles and a helpful interjection from Brian Greene who informs us that the FM transmitter on 96.7 was running 50 watts. There’s a change in sound quality half-way through, when it seems the source was switched from FM to the AM transmitter on 1035 kHz.

LLCR broadcast from Weaver Square in the Liberties until 1988 during which time it changed format and name several times. You can hear LLCR jingles here.

Aircheck: Radio Nova from 1985

Jessie Brandon on offshore pirate Laser 558 in 1984. Courtesy offshoreradio.co.uk and Offshore Echoes magazine.

This is an aircheck of Radio Nova from September 29th 1985, featuring legendary American DJ Jessie Brandon who took up a job with the new offshore pirate Laser 558 in 1984. Jessie moved to Nova in 1985 and was one of only a handful of female presenters on the commercial pirates of the era. In this recording she plays ‘the JAM song’, a selection of jingles made by JAM Creative Productions in Dallas, Texas whose clients included Radio Nova. There’s an interesting interview with Jessie in Charlie Connelly’s excellent book Last Train to Hilversum.

The recording also includes a promo for the new ‘Zoo Crew’, presented by Colm Hayes and Bob Gallico, a riotous breakfast show which ran from October 7th 1985 to January 24th 1986. Sybil Fennell is also heard on news but a bitter dispute between Nova and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) had resumed by this time and contributed to the demise of the station in March 1986.

According to Nova fan Kevin Branigan, September 1985 was a pivotal month for the station. At the start of the month, Nova was powerful and untouchable, was giving away £10,000 in cash, still running easy listening station Magic 103 and packing out club night Disco Nova. By the end of September Chris Cary had closed Magic 103, fired the journalists, the NUJ was back on strike and big name DJs were departing for other stations such as the rival Q102. Magic 103 transmitters and studio equipment were sold by Cary to Q102, allowing it to surround Nova on the FM Band and with the help of ex-Nova talent, move into the big league. It was the beginning of the end.

We thank Kevin Branigan and Ian Biggar for help with information and analysis.

Aircheck: Chris Cary on Radio Nova

Chris Cary in a Radio Nova promotional photo. Courtesy offshoreradio.co.uk

This is a recording of Radio Nova boss Chris Cary presenting the European Top 40 on Sunday August 4th 1985. The hits included songs by Sister Sledge, Opus, Eurythmics and Tina Turner while Madonna was at Number 1.

The European Top 40 was broadcast weekly on Nova and compiled from record sales and radio airplay across Europe. The fact that Nova was involved was evidence of its influence in radio circles beyond Ireland. Cary credits Sybil Fennell as researcher and producer of the show.

The aircheck also includes news with Bernie Jameson.

Aircheck: Munster Broadcasting Corporation (Limerick)

An advertisment for MBC from Phoenix Magazine in 1986, courtesy of Eddie Bohan

Limerick really punched above its weight in the golden age of pirate radio prior to 1989. There is some good material online about the Limerick stations including a blog about Big L, Liam Byrne’s radio site, the DX Archive Limerick pages and our own entries featuring Limerick. This recording from July 1986 provides a snapshot of one of the city’s lesser-known pirates at the time, the Munster Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) which despite the grandiose name operated from a tiny attic studio on Catherine Street in the city centre.

17 Catherine Street, Limerick today. MBC broadcast from the attic.

MBC was linked to earlier Limerick stations Radio Vera and Radio Munster. A corporation it wasn’t, and it certainly didn’t broadcast to the whole of Munster, although there were some ads from Tipperary and they claimed to have three FM frequencies covering Limerick, Clare and Tipperary. There was nothing remarkable about the music on MBC – it was the usual diet of the Top 40 – but it was a presenter calling himself Will Rogers who made an impact during our short visit to Limerick in 1986. He did a lunchtime show and also voiced most of the ads and jingles in one of the stranger mid-Atlantic accents of pirate radio in the 1980s.

Aircheck: remix of Gay Byrne Show announcing legalisation of radio

This recording is a remix of the Gay Byrne Show on RTÉ Radio 1 from 17 October 1988, the day that the newly-established Independent Radio and Television Commission published advertisements for the first independent radio licences designed to put the pirates off the air. Byrne seems dismissive of the initiative which would of course threaten his show’s dominance in the market, and appears to be imitating a folksy but clumsy pirate radio presenter. His kitsch portrayal of an amateur local pirate is part of Byrne’s theatre of the mind and evokes stereotypical illegal broadcasters of an earlier era. 

Gay Byrne’s voice, remixed by Brian Greene with Queen’s Radio Gaga, was broadcast on Centre Radio in Bayside, Dublin 13 at the end of 1988 up to the closedown.

RIP Gay. Your voice was part of the soundtrack of our youth during the pirate era.

Aircheck: Pirates co-operate in charity marathon

Image courtesy of DX Archive

In 1986, three large pirate stations – Sunshine Radio in Dublin, ERI in Cork and ABC in Waterford – co-operated to jointly organise a 250-mile maxi-marathon between the three cities.

Here are two promos – the first from ERI and the second from ABC – voiced by Mark Byrne of Sunshine Radio. They are fascinating on so many levels: co-operation between pirate stations, a campaign backed by big commercial sponsors and funds raised going to a major charity, the Central Remedial Clinic.

This is a good example of how the archive can give us a more global view of what was happening in the 1980s. Listeners to each station did not know that all three stations were involved but the archive can tell us that. The level of co-operation surpasses what exists today between stations in the same large radio groups.

It also reminds us that despite often fierce local competition, stations from different parts of the country were willing to co-operate for charitable causes. No doubt they also had an eye to the impeding legalisation and wanted to position themselves as socially responsible.

Aircheck: Magic 103

Image courtesy of DX Archive

Magic 103 (103.5 FM and initially also 1521 kHz AM) was set up by Radio Nova in 1985 and was one of many examples of Chris Cary’s innovation in splitting AM/FM services to expand programming. Magic, which began broadcasting on April 29th, was a mostly easy-listening and talk service in contrast to the chart music format of Nova.

‘ABC Network News’ was broadcast on both Nova and Magic, and the journalists also presented programmes on Magic. This airchecked recording is from the early days of the service – we estimate it to be May 1st 1985. Dave Johnson (aka Andrew Hanlon) is both presenter and newscaster. He reads out a request from a listener in Co. Down, evidence of how far the FM signal travelled on a relatively uncrowded band. Sound quality is variable on this recording and some of it may have been recorded from AM.

Magic 103 was short-lived and closed in September 1985.

Aircheck: Christian Community Radio

Dublin had a number of Catholic pirate radio stations during the 1980s. The Irish Christian Broadcasting Service (ICBS) broadcast mostly pre-recorded programmes on 1071 and later 981 kHz from Chapelizod from west Dublin. A more conservative outfit was Christian Community Radio operated by Catholic solicitor Gerry O’Mahony from Merrion Square in Dublin 2. O’Mahony was a leading campaigner against the liberalisation of Irish society in the 1980s and used his station to oppose gay rights, abortion and divorce. In 2008 he was banned by the Archbishop of Dublin from distributing leaflets in churches as part of a ‘prayer crusade’ against the Lisbon Treaty being debated at the time. Mr O’Mahony died that year aged 90.

Christian Community Radio is listed on 1512 kHz AM and 90.2 FM by Anoraks Ireland in November 1986. By July 1987, it was on 90.2 only. Sound quality and production standards were poor, the programmes consisting mostly of recordings of prayers and masses. The proximity of the Christian Community Radio frequency to a BBC Radio 1/2 transmitter on 90.1 MHz from Belfast prompted complaints from listeners and brought greater notoriety to the station. In October 1987 Gerry O’Mahony was interviewed on Ireland’s most-listened to radio programme, the Gay Byrne Show on RTÉ. He argued that the BBC signal was freak reception and even claimed brazenly that he had been licensed to broadcast. We’re not sure when Christian Community Radio closed down but there is no mention of the station in Anoraks Ireland lists from early 1988 and it is possible that the nationwide publicity provided by Gay Byrne sounded its death knell.