Pirate radio still making waves

Pirate radio still making waves

Veteran broadcaster Aidan Cooney worked on many pirate stations in Dublin from the late 1970s including Radio Dublin, ARD, Treble TR, Sunshine Radio and Radio Nova. Since 1989 he has been a presenter on commercial radio and television and is currently heard on Q102 in Dublin.

On the Q102 breakfast show on 24th November 2020, Aidan was brought down memory lane about his pirate days with Irish Sun entertainment editor Ken Sweeney.

The Pirate.ie Podcast #2

The Pirate.ie Podcast #2

We’re delighted to announce episode #2 of the Pirate.ie podcast which explores themes covered in our growing archive of Irish pirate radio.

AM broadcasting, widely used by the pirates up to the end of the 1980s, allowed radio signals to travel far and wide beyond the borders of the state. Even small stations could be carried long distances thanks to the magic of night-time AM propagation but dozens of pirates along the border deliberately beamed their signals northwards. With 50 kW of power at its peak, the Dublin super-pirate Radio Nova aimed specifically at the northwest coast of Britain. Ireland also had many hobby shortwave pirates which could be heard thousands of miles from home.

In episode #2, John Walsh and Brian Greene explore how AM spillover, both accidental and deliberate, brought the Irish pirates to a bigger audience.

Pop-up community radio: STYC Radio

Pop-up community radio: STYC Radio
The Stella Cinema where STYC Radio was based (photo courtesy www.cinematreasures.org)

Because radio technology was so accessible in 1980s Dublin, all sorts of groups could get involved including youth clubs and community associations. Another station which began under the Community Broadcasting Co-operative (CBC) banner was St. Teresa’s Youth Club Radio (STYC) in the Dublin suburb of Mount Merrion.

Following the usual CBC model, STYC Radio came on the air first in August 1983 to coincide with a local festival and was due to return the following summer but never did so. The station was back on 17th August 1986 from the old Stella Cinema under the direction of John Marren and Greg Manahan.

Pop-up community radio: STYC Radio
The demolition of the Stella Cinema in February 2019 (courtesy @brianedempsey / Twitter)

There was a still a link with CBC through the FM transmitter which was supplied by Dave Reddy. Although output was only about 40 watts, the signal on 88 FM got good coverage because of the height of the antenna on the roof of the cinema which was only demolished recently. From 1986 STYC also broadcast on 963 kHz AM using the old Dún Laoghaire Local Radio transmitter, formerly Radio South County from Cabinteely in 1980.

The recording above was made on 24th August 1986 and features the final day of STYC Radio that summer. A giddy presenter at the start has mic problems and is followed by Greg Manahan, one of those running the station. There are references to festival events including a kids’ party, car treasure hunt and double DJ disco that night. It’s an Irish music show and bootlegs of U2 are among the songs played. Given that the destructive storm Hurricane Charley hit Ireland that very night, it was just as well that this was STYC’s final day. 

The short airchecked recording below is also from August 1986 and includes Kevin O’Leary & Ken Kelleher with their punk show followed by Greg Manahan. The voice of John Marren is heard on the advert.

The long recording is from the Skywave Tapes Collection. Skywave Radio International was a shortwave station broadcasting from Baldoyle in northeast Dublin. The shorter clip is shared courtesy of Kevin Branigan. Thanks to Dave Reddy, Paul Murray and Kevin Branigan for background information.

Pop-up radio: Community Broadcasting Co-operative

Pop-up radio: Community Broadcasting Co-operative
L-R Victor Ryan, Mick Nugent and Al O’Rourke at Radio Ringsend (photo courtesy of Dave Reddy).

We’ve recently featured a number of temporary stations run by the Community Broadcasting Co-operative (CBC). CBC was set up by Dave Reddy in 1982 and operated short-term summer stations coinciding with local festivals in Sandymount, Ringsend, Glasnevin, Donnybrook and Mount Merrion. CBC was also involved with pop-up stations in Ráth Chairn, Co. Meath and Wicklow Town, the latter leading to the full-time station WLCB (Wicklow Local Community Broadcasting).

Pop-up radio: Community Broadcasting Co-operative
Letterhead for the Community Broadcasting Co-operative from 1986 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

CBC also sometimes broadcast using its own name, rather than as a specific local station. This recording from 1005-1050 on Sunday, 15th April 1984 is one such example. Al O’Rourke is on air and is full of chat about the morning’s papers and the news of the week. He explains that CBC will soon be operating local temporary stations and lists upcoming broadcasts from Sandymount, Glasnevin, Ringsend and Mount Merrion. Interested community groups or youth clubs are invited to get in touch. The recording was made from 1116 kHz (announcing 270 metres) but Al O’Rourke also mentions that they will be on 199 metres (1512 kHz) later that morning.

This recording is from the Skywave Tapes Collection. Skywave Radio International broadcast a shortwave station in the 1980s from Baldoyle in northeast Dublin.

Pop-up radio: Glasnevin North Community Radio

Pop-up radio: Glasnevin North Community Radio
The caravan in 1982 including Charlie Sheehan and David Baker in the door and Nails Mahoney to the right (photo courtesy of Dave Reddy).

The Community Broadcasting Co-operative (CBC) also ran a pop-up summer station in Glasnevin between 1982 and 1988 to coincide with the local community festival. Mick Nugent, who was also heard on other CBC stations, was in charge of the Glasnevin operation and it moved between different locations over the years. These included what was then the Nugent family home on Willow Park Grove, a caravan outside the local shops on Ballymun Road and Cuilín House, a Council-owned building in Albert College Park.

Dave Reddy of CBC told us that broadcasts on all stations were on 1512 or 1530 kHz with the exception of 1984 when frequencies on or around 1116 kHz were used. The original transmitter was stolen and never recovered but a new one was used from 1985 with the help of engineers Peter Gibney and John Thewlis. Output was about 100 watts and FM was added later in the decade. As FM reception improved, the AM transmitter was left in Sandymount at Dave Reddy’s house and linked to the FM signals from the various CBC stations.

Pop-up radio: Glasnevin North Community Radio
Flyer from 1986 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

This airchecked recording of Glasnevin North Community Radio was made between 1815-1850 on 27th June 1983. We don’t have confirmation of the frequency. It features some well-known names in Irish radio history including Aidan Cooney who worked on several pirates including Radio Dublin, ARD, Treble TR, Sunshine Radio and Radio Nova. Since 1989 he has broadcast on commercial radio and television and is currently a presenter with Q102 in Dublin. The other familiar voice is Aidan Stewart (aka Leonard) who also began his pirate career in the late 1970s and joined RTÉ in 1991. He is currently director of the digital station RTÉ Gold.

Pop-up radio: Glasnevin North Community Radio
The Glasnevin North Community Radio AM transmitter (photo courtesy of Dave Reddy).

The recording was made originally by the late Peter Madison. Thanks to Gary Hogg for the audio and to Dave Reddy and Mick Nugent for background information.