As part of our ongoing series about the pirate radio of the northeast, we’re delighted to bring you a three-part interview with one of the best known broadcasters on various stations in the region, Kieran Murray. Born in Dublin in 1958, Kieran began his radio career with Radio Dublin before moving on to Big D. The owner of Radio Carousel, Hugh Hardy, arrived at Big D in search of presenters for the new Dundalk station and Kieran Murray was one of those who took up the offer. He was in fact the first voice to be heard on Radio Carousel when it began broadcasting on May 20th 1978. In 1981, Kieran moved to Navan to establish a satellite station of Radio Carousel there and managed the Co. Meath station for some time.
In part 1 of the interview, Kieran describes his early interest in radio and his involvement with Dublin stations before moving to Co. Louth. He pays tribute to Hugh Hardy and shares many memories of the early years of Carousel ranging from the station’s local success to raids by the government and by paramilitaries. The interview also contains technical information about transmission and how the Radio Carousel network operated. The interviewer is Brian Greene.
** Since doing the interview, we can confirm that Kieran in fact first took to the airwaves in 1975 on Capitol Radio in Dublin. He presented a 60-minute programme on a Sunday afternoon, using the name Kenneth Murphy. His brother also presented a programme under the name John Edwards. The transmitter was owned by Chris Barry who lived in Rathmines at the time, not far from Kieran’s home. Kieran remembers that coincidentally, the building next door would become the RTÉ Museum.
The first edition of the FRC newsletter which Kieran produced printed the schedule and information on Capitol. Thanks to Alan Russell for this information and for the copy of the magazine.
In early 1978 and following a split from the backers who were to form Radio Dundalk, a newspaper report appeared stating that a ‘Borderside Radio’ would start transmissions to the Dundalk area. This was apparently the working title for the new radio station that would be fronted by Hugh Hardy. Hugh made a fact-finding trip to Big D Radio in Dublin and ‘poached’ some of their DJs, namely Kieran Murray, Eric Vaughan and John Paul. An initial rudimentary studio was constructed on the top floor of the Dundalk Shopping Centre and an aerial mast built on the roof. All was ready to go, except the station didn’t have a name. Kieran Murray spotted a K-Tel album called ‘Carousel’, containing the song ‘Don’t stop the carousel’ by Roy Taylor and the Nevada. Radio Carousel was born with a ready-made station theme!
The station transmitter was built by Bill Ebrill and installed behind the studio. Power output was given as 350 watts and initial frequency was 1134 kHz, announced as 265 metres. The station remained around this spot throughout its life, although a change was made to 1125 kHz. The station officially signed on air on Saturday May 20th 1978 and immediately established itself with the listening public. Daily broadcasts were initially from 0800-2200 and the station positioned itself as having ‘something for everybody’, from pop to country, golden oldies to new releases, Irish dance music to Tamla Motown and from the big band sounds of Glen Miller to the modern sounds of Horslips and Rory Gallagher. Full national and local news bulletins were broadcast daily at 1.15 and 6.15.
It didn’t take long before the Department turned their attention to Radio Carousel and the station was raided on June 1st, although the transmitter was not located. A further raid on July 7th resulted in the transmitter being taken but Carousel was quickly back on air with a standby rig. The initial listener response to the station was very encouraging. In fact, a petition to legalise Carousel was organised by two local women in Dundalk and gained 23,000 signatures in a very short space of time. The station coverage was not limited to Dundalk and its surrounds, but Radio Carousel had a healthy listenership in Newry, Armagh and other Northern towns. This was obvious from the number of commercials aired from the area. Radio Carousel went from strength to strength in Dundalk, adding an FM outlet on 98.4 MHz in late 1979.
Hugh Hardy always had his eye on expansion and building a network, so Radio Carousel established an outlet in Drogheda. A studio and transmitter were installed in the Boyne Valley Hotel just outside the town and came on air on Sunday February 8th 1980. The station relayed the output from Dundalk, apart from 1100-1200 and 1500-1700 daily when local programmes were broadcast. The station used 1386 kHz and had good coverage of the town and surrounds. However, Carousel did not really establish itself in Drogheda and with competition from Boyneside Radio, it was difficult to get a foothold. The frequency was changed to 1413 kHz around September 1981, just prior to Radio Carousel using 1386 kHz in Navan.
The local programmes from Drogheda became irregular and the main output was simply the relay from Dundalk. Another attempt at local output was made in Spring 1982, but again it was short-lived. Transmissions continued until the latter part of 1982 when the transmitter was switched off. Radio Carousel continued from Dundalk throughout the 1980s on AM and FM with a varying degree of success due to competition from stations like Telstar Radio, as well as Hugh focusing on other ventures.
To the surprise of many, Radio Carousel in the Dundalk Shopping Centre closed in mysterious circumstances. There had been rumours for some time that the station was up for sale, but Hugh Hardy gave the details on the Radio West Anorak Show on 25th January 1987. He explained that Department of Communications officials had visited on the afternoon of Thursday 22nd and ordered the station to cease broadcasting following complaints of interference to mobiles of a licensed operator. The officials would not leave until Hugh gave a commitment to close, which he agreed to do by 2pm on the next day. So after almost 9 years on air, Radio Carousel ceased broadcasting from the Dundalk Shopping Centre at 1pm on Friday January 23rd 1987.
At this point Radio Carousel Navan continued as normal, as well as the Northern Ireland service on 1260 kHz. This was the former Drogheda transmitter which had been installed just inside Co. Louth on the border with Jonesborough, Co. Armagh about a year or so earlier. A studio was installed in the Carrickdale Hotel where live programmes were broadcast by the likes of local personality ‘Big O’ (Oliver McMahon).
By the middle of February, non-stop music was being broadcast on 1125 kHz and it was believed that this could be the return of Radio Carousel from Dundalk, and indeed it was! The transmitter and studios had been installed at the former Radio Dundalk location, the Fairways Hotel on the Dublin Road. Regular transmissions restarted around Monday 1st March 1987. Initially the station relayed the same output as that on 1260 kHz, including Hugh Hardy with ‘Country Call’. Hugh’s intention was to broadcast ‘Country Call’ from the Fairways through the link on 87.6 MHz which would then be relayed on 1260 kHz and 100.67 MHz. While programmes were not being broadcast from Dundalk, the programmes from Carrickcarnon would be re-broadcast. By very early 1988 transmissions from both Dundalk and Carrickcarnon had become erratic and at one point both 1125 kHz and 1260 kHz were relaying Radio Carousel Navan or simply a blank carrier. The AUK Weekly Report of 10th April 1988 reported that both transmitters had disappeared and that seemed to be the end of Carousel operations in Co. Louth.
The recording above is of Eric Vaughan on Radio Carousel from 1415-1455 on 18th December 1978. Audio quality is fair at best because the recording was made in Blackpool without an external aerial. It includes the song ‘Disco Duck’ by Rick Dees who would go on to become a famous DJ on American radio and of course on Radio Nova in Dublin. The voice of Hugh Hardy can be heard on adverts. We thank Ian Biggar for compiling this entry and Gary Hogg for the recording.
We bring you the second instalment in Leon Tipler’s acclaimed documentary ‘The Irish Pirates’, focusing on the period 1979-1982. In this edition Tipler discusses his visits to Dublin in 1981 and 1982 and features recordings of the pirates as well as interviews with those involved. Stations featured include ARD (Alternative Radio Dublin), Radio 257, Radio City, Capitol Radio and Double R Radio. The distinctive sound of Radio Leinster is commented upon and Tipler also interviews Tony Allan, whose voice was heard increasingly on the Irish pirates. While the focus in this episode is on the smaller stations, there is no escaping the fact that the Irish radio landscape is facing a major upheaval following the arrival of Sunshine Radio and Radio Nova. Below, you can also hear the original recording made by Tipler of the talking butcher’s shop in Moore Street as he walks to the Radio City studios in Capel Street.
These recordings are from the Leon Tipler Tapes Collection, donated to us by Steve England.
In May 2020, we were delighted to receive a large donation of cassettes belonging to the late Leon Tipler (1942-2013), a British pirate radio enthusiast and broadcaster who recorded thousands of hours of Irish pirate stations in the late 1970s and early 1980s. You can read a tribute here. We thank Steve England for sending us this important collection, which provides a unique insight into a critical period in Irish pirate radio, the years just before and after the arrival of the ‘super-pirates’ in the form of Radio Nova and Sunshine Radio.
We’ll be featuring this collection over the coming months, but we begin with Tipler’s well-known series of documentaries covering the period 1979-1982, ‘The Irish Pirates’ by Alfasound Tapetrix Productions. These eight hour-long recordings are reference copies from the documentary maker himself and are in high quality audio.
Volume 1 documents Tipler’s first visits to Dublin in 1979 and 1980 and includes recordings of and interviews with stations on the air in the capital at the time.
These include ARD, Big D, Radio Dublin, Radio City, Radio 257, Southside Radio and Capitol Radio. Tony Allan can be heard reading news and presenting a talk programme on ARD. There’s an interview with Robbie Robinson of the new Sunshine Radio about the loophole in the 1926 Wireless Telegraphy Act although Sunshine itself is not discussed until a later episode. Tipler also covers the launch of RTÉ Radio 2 in 1979 which, although forced by the pirates, did nothing to quell the success of the illegal broadcasters. As Tipler says, the best was yet to come.
This is a great recording of the popular Free Radio Campaign programme hosted by Gerard Roe on Dublin station Radio Annabel in the early 1980s. The first part is from May 20th 1984 and was recorded from 1035 kHz AM. It includes an interview with Kenny Everett from a BBC documentary about the offshore pirates, information about the new offshore station Laser 558, news about Radio Caroline, Gay Byrne celebrating 50 years of Radio Luxembourg and the 6th anniversary of Radio Carousel. The second part, probably from a week or two later, features Big D Radio and London pirate Thameside Radio. We’ve done our best with the sound but the AM signal was a bit over-modulated.
There’s another recording of the Radio Annabel FRC here.