Interview: Margaretta D’Arcy (Women’s Scéal Radio/Radio Pirate Woman)

Interview: Margaretta D'Arcy (Women's Scéal Radio/Radio Pirate Woman)
Margaretta D’arcy broadcasting on Radio Pirate Woman from her home in St. Bridget’s Terrace Lower in November 1991 (photo courtesy of Stan Shields, City Tribune).

No account of Galway pirate radio would be complete without the unique station set up by the writer and activist Margaretta D’Arcy from her home in the city centre. Women’s Scéal Radio broadcast irregularly from 1987 and was renamed Radio Pirate Woman in 1989 to reflect the new legislation which clamped down more severely on the pirates than previously. The station was set up to oppose censorship, including Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act (which banned interviews with members of Sinn Féin) and the ban on information about abortion. Women of various political persuasions would gather around the table and speak openly about these and other issues of relevance to them. The technical set-up was very basic, with little more than a microphone, tape recorder and and a cheap low-powered FM transmitter with a radius of 3km. Radio Pirate Woman also broadcast cassettes from WINGS (Women’s International News Gathering Service) and featured the voices of women from radio stations around the world.

Interview: Margaretta D'Arcy (Women's Scéal Radio/Radio Pirate Woman)
Margaretta D’Arcy at NUI Galway in 2017, when her papers were donated to the university (photo courtesy of Aengus McMahon)

In this interview, Margaretta D’Arcy, who recently celebrated her 86th birthday, explains her motivation for setting up the station, reading extracts from her book Galway’s Pirate Women: A Global Trawl (1996). She explains how women of very different ideological outlooks spoke on air from around her kitchen table, including the religious activist Deirdre Manifold who had earlier been involved with Independent Radio Galway. Margaretta also explains why she didn’t seek a licence in 1989 and discusses the various successes of Radio Pirate Woman. She doesn’t recall the last time the station was on the air, but it hasn’t been heard for a number of years and we estimate the last date to be c. 2010.

Interview: Margaretta D'Arcy (Women's Scéal Radio/Radio Pirate Woman)
L-R: Sabina Higgins, Mary Coughlan and Margaretta D’Arcy at the occasion of the donation to NUI Galway (photo courtesy of Aengus McMahon).

In 2017, Margaretta donated her papers and those of her late husband, playwright John Arden to the National University of Ireland, Galway. The donation included hundreds of cassette recordings of Women’s Scéal Radio and Radio Pirate Woman. You can hear a recording here. We are very grateful to Margaretta for sharing her memories of her unique pirate radio station with us.

Jingles: WLS Music Radio (Galway)

Jingles: WLS Music Radio (Galway)
WLS compliments slip (courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

This is a jingles package from WLS Music Radio which broadcast from Galway from 1985-1987. WLS was one of the larger commercial stations in Galway during the pirate era. These re-cuts were based on a set from the Chicago station of the same name, which has been on air since the 1920s and continues to broadcast today. The voice of one of the station owners, Don Stevens, is heard before each jingle. We thank Brendan Mee for this donation.

You can read more about WLS and listen to full recordings here.

Full recording: West Coast Community Radio (Galway)

Full recording: West Coast Community Radio (Galway)
WCCR’s studio, presenter unknown , 1982 (photo courtesy of Gary Hogg, DX Archive).

West Coast Community Radio (WCCR) broadcast on 1125 kHz (announced as 265 metres) from February or March 1982 until July 1983. It was the first relatively large Galway station since the closure of Independent Radio Galway (IRG) in July 1979. Some of those involved with IRG set up Radio Eyre in 1982 but this failed after six weeks and otherwise the city had only small, local hobby stations between 1979 and 1982. WCCR’s transmitter came originally from WKCR in Newbridge. Co. Kildare. The aerial was originally installed at Cloonacauneen Castle north of Galway and the station later moved to a cold storage unit in the eastern suburb of Roscam. Output power was initially 80-100 watts but the coverage area would be extended due to technical changes. One of those involved with WCCR was Keith Finnegan, who is now CEO of Galway Bay FM.

Full recording: West Coast Community Radio (Galway)
The WCCR transmitter (photo courtesy of Gary Hogg, DX Archive).

The Connacht Sentinel of 1st of June 1982 reported that WCCR was distributing flyers in housing estates in Galway in a big publicity campaign. Spokesman Gerry Delaney claimed they had a range of 50 miles (80 km) with an aim to increase it to 85 miles (135 km). He said that leading shops in the city were advertising on WCCR. The paper reported that the supermarket chain Quinnsworth had taken out advertising because they had a local promotion and found the radio station ‘handy’.

Full recording: West Coast Community Radio (Galway)
Outside the WCCR studio, 1982 (photo courtesy of Gary Hogg, DX Archive).

This recording of WCCR is from Saturday 23rd of October 1982 from 1942-2009 and features Seán Murphy on air. There are no adverts and one generic jingle just at the end. Audio quality isn’t great and the transmitter seems to drift off channel a bit, but recordings of WCCR are rare so we are delighted to bring you a flavour of this early Galway station. Many thanks to Ian Biggar of DX Archive for the donation. Listen here to Tom Breen’s memories of WCCR.

Full recording: County Sound (Galway)

Full recording: County Sound (Galway)
County Sound broadcast from upstairs in the building on the right, now an auctioneers (photo by John Walsh).

This recording of County Sound is from 101 FM on the 23rd or 24th of July 1988 and features Ciaran Wilson (Brannelly) on air. Charley Anderson of the Irish reggae group Century Steel Band, who are in town for Galway Race Week, is in studio and livens up proceedings. Century Steel Band’s version of the popular ballad ‘The Fields of Athenry’ is played and there’s a competition for listeners to win a 12-inch by the band.

Evidence of the success of County Sound is provided by the large number of adverts, many voiced by Jon Richards, now of Galway Bay FM, who was the overnight presenter. A temporary offshoot of County Sound, Tuam Festival Radio, is also mentioned. Thanks to Ciaran Brannelly for this donation.

Full recording: County Sound (Galway)

Full recording: County Sound (Galway)
County Sound logo courtesy of DX Archive (with thanks to Shane Martin for the enhancement)

Another recording of County Sound gives a sense of this successful Galway station in the final months of broadcasting. Big Sam presented an evening show from 9pm to midnight and again from 6pm to 8pm on Saturdays and Sundays. This recording was made on the 18th of September 1988 from 1818-1906 and includes the ‘Yes/No Game’ which attracts plenty of callers from around the county.

A noticeable aspect of the County Sound recordings is the large number of adverts for businesses in Galway City and County. This tape is no exception, and the first commercial break also includes a promo for a gig by Daniel O’Donnell in Salthill. County Sound closed on the 31st of December 1988 along with most other pirates. We thank Ian Biggar for sharing this recording.