We’re delighted to bring you an interview with Tom Breen about his memories of the early years of the Galway pirates from 1980-1984. Following the closure of IRG in 1979, Galway relied on small, low-powered pirates such as Claddagh Community Radio (in the Claddagh just west of the city centre) and Tom’s own Radio Ballybane located in the eastern suburb of the same name. He also recalls another short-lived station calling itself Radio Eyre (named after Galway’s Eyre Square), involving Liam Stenson and others formerly involved with Independent Radio Galway. The Connacht Sentinel reported that Radio Eyre came on the air at the beginning of June 1982.
Tom remembers his involvement with West Coast Community Radio (WCCR) which broadcast from March 1982 until July 1983, first from near Cloonacauneen Castle north of Galway and then from a frozen chicken factory in the eastern suburb of Roscam. WCCR was the largest station in Galway since the closure of IRG and became a full-time operation. It received its AM transmitter from a station called WKRC in Newbridge, Co. Kildare and while quite low-powered (80-100 watts), managed to boost its signal to cover the city and beyond. Tom was also one of those who set up Radio Renmore/Renmore Local Radio, which broadcast on very low power on 101 FM from the Renmore area to the east. Thanks to Ian Biggar for additional information.
Independent Radio Galway (IRG) was arguably the closest Galway got to having a full-time community station during the pirate era. Some of the larger Galway stations of the 1980s provided variety in their schedule and carried community news. However, there was no long-term station embedded firmly in the community radio ethos represented by the National Association of Community Broadcasters which included pioneering stations such as BLB and NDCR.
IRG began test transmissions on the 15th of April 1978 with a full service planned from the 17th of April. Similar to many other similar stations, the pirate venture followed an RTÉ local radio experiment in Galway and in fact planned to use the same frequency, 202 metres (1485 kHz). According to the Connacht Tribune of the 14th of April, IRG was planning a light entertainment service with no news bulletins and a minimal amount of interviews due to a lack of equipment. The start-up cost was only £400 and IRG initially broadcast for just four hours a day from a one-room studio in a shopping centre in William Street in the city centre. In the end the frequency was 199 metres and jingles including ‘199’ were famously sung by the choir of University College Galway (now the National University of Ireland, Galway).
In June 1978 IRG was raided and equipment confiscated by officials of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs but the station soon returned with a standby transmitter. On the 20th of July 1979 the Tribune reported financial problems at IRG and the threat of closure was mooted, with the owners attributing a major loss in advertising revenue to the arrival of RTÉ Radio 2 the previous May. IRG closed officially at 8pm on the 29th of July 1979, thereby ending Galway’s short-lived community radio experiment.
This partially airchecked recording is possibly from two separate undated days in May 1979 from around 11.00am. The presenter is Chris Williams and ‘Auntie Mamie’ dispenses advice to expectant mothers, recommends discipline for children and promotes buying Irish produce. There are references to other presenters Paul Jones (Mike Mulkerrins) and Billy McCoy (Liam Stenson). We thank Ian Biggar for his donation of this recording (originally made by Dave Small, Liam Stenson for information and Joe O’Shaughnessy for the photographs.
Continuing with Part 3 of Leon Tipler’s documentary ‘The Irish Pirates’, we hear more from the Cork radio scene in 1983 and also learn about the Limerick pirates. The hour begins with a visit to the 10 kW South Coast Radio AM transmitter site in Cork in the company of John Lewis. That is followed by a visit to ERI and an interview with veteran broadcaster Don Allen. There is also a rare insight into the earliest days of the Cork pirates in an interview with Con McParland. Tipler then continues to Limerick where he calls into two local stations, Big L and Raidió Luimní. The episode concludes with interviews with Mike Richardson of Big L and the popular John ‘the Man’ Frawley of Raidió Luimní.
This recording is from the Leon Tipler Tapes Collection, donated to us by Steve England.
Part 3 of Leon Tipler’s documentary ‘The Irish Pirates’ is entitled ‘Hello Again’, and features a return visit to Ireland in September 1983. In this episode, Volume 5 of the 8-part series, Tipler begins with a bandscan of Irish AM and FM from Aberystwyth on the west-Wales coast in August 1983. Returning to Dublin a month later, he comments on the improved sound of Treble TR before boarding a train to Kilkenny and Waterford. Kilkenny Community Radio and Suirside Radio are featured in depth and as usual there are several interesting bandscans.
This recording is from the Leon Tipler Tapes Collection, donated to us by Steve England.
We’ve just completed a week-long series of recordings of the pirate stations based in and around Galway City in the 1980s, including Atlantic Sound, WLS, Coast 103, County Sound and Radio Pirate Woman. These were all from the final part of the Irish pirate radio era from 1984 to 1988 with the exception of Radio Pirate Woman which defied the new legislation and carried on into the 1990s and beyond. Like Dublin, Galway also had an earlier wave of pirates which paved the way for the larger commercial stations. Among those were Independent Radio Galway and Atlantic Radio.
Independent Radio Galway, broadcasting in the late 1970s on 199 metres (1503 kHz) was the closest that Galway came to a community radio station. Set up by Tom O’Connor of O’Connor’s television repair shop, it began on April 15th 1978 and was one of major pirates that emerged from the RTÉ local radio experiment of that period. IRG closed on July 28th 1979 following the establishment of RTÉ Radio 2. More information is available here. Surprisingly for a city with a long tradition of the arts and community development, Galway never developed community radio in the mould of well-known stations such as Bray Local Broadcasting (BLB) and North Dublin Community Radio (NDCR). Another early station was Atlantic Radio (no relation to the later Atlantic Sound as far as we know), which was due to begin broadcasting on February 25th 1978. As the report below indicates, they had big plans including transmitters in North Galway and Mayo and a separate city service, Galway Community Radio. The station gave an address in Renmore on the east side of the city.
County Sound was an example of a station situated outside Galway city which moved eventually into the city centre. Another county station, KFM, was set up in 1986 in the village of Moycullen 12 km northwest of Galway. Later it opened a studio in the city centre and announced two FM frequencies, one for the city (99 MHz) and another for the county (95 MHz). AM was planned but never materialised.
There was a remarkable similarity between the design of the KFM rate card and the one used previously by Atlantic Sound!
Other stations included West Coast Community Radio (WCCR) which broadcast from spring 1982 until July 1983 on AM only, with its aerial running along the terrace of Cloonacauneen Castle north of Galway before moving to a frozen meat factory in Roscam on the east side of the city. Among those involved with WCCR were the current CEO of Galway Bay FM, Keith Finnegan. Radio Renmore was a low-powered station (approximately 5 watts) on 100 FM which operated from August 1983 until early 1985 from the eastern suburb of Renmore. Set up by three teenagers, Gary Hardiman, Tom Breen and Brendan Mee, it broadcast during the school holidays and was known as Radio Snowflake at Christmas 1984. Emerald FM was an irregular pirate from Shantalla in 1986 as was WHYT which gave an address in Eglinton Street in the city centre. In 1987 another hobby station, Radio Impulse, was logged mainly at weekends.
Stations in Co. Galway included the very early pirate Saor-Raidió Chonamara which broadcast on two separate occasions in 1970 from Ros Muc, a village in the Gaeltacht area of Connemara. It was a pioneer in Irish language broadcasting and led to the establishment of RTÉ’s Irish language service Raidió na Gaeltachta in 1972. Further to the northwest, Connemara Community Radio came on the air in 1988 in the village of Letterfrack. It is now a licensed station of the same name. In the east of the county, Kandy Radio broadcast from Ballinasloe from 1986 to 1988 and Galway District Radio was a short-lived station in Loughrea.
Thanks to Brendan Mee for background details. We plan to bring you further information about these and other stations, as well as more recordings, in another Galway series in the future.