Northeast series: Radio Rainbow International (1985-1986)

Northeast series: Radio Rainbow International (1985-1986)
Eddie Caffrey with the Radio Rainbow International transmitter (photo courtesy of Kieran Murray).

Radio Rainbow International was a high-powered shortwave pirate operated by Boyneside Radio DJ and engineer Eddie Caffrey from the summer of 1985 until the end of 1988. It was first logged by Anoraks UK in the west midlands on 21st July 1985 on 6240 kHz with a strong signal and continued to be heard regularly on Sunday mornings from 1000-1300 for the next three and a half years. In contrast with other shortwave pirates from Ireland operating on low power, Radio Rainbow International put on a transmitter of more than 1 kW with plenty of compression and modulation. Reception reports were received from all over Europe and from as far away as Russia. As well as Eddie Caffrey, other Boyneside DJs Jim Agnew and Kieran Murray were also involved, with Kieran presenting a popular weekly FRC show giving the latest news about the Irish radio scene. In an interview with Pirate.ie, Kieran described Radio Rainbow as the ‘Radio Nova of shortwave’, such was its large coverage area.

Northeast series: Radio Rainbow International (1985-1986)
Radio Rainbow logo as seen on a QSL from 1986 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

As well as shortwave, Radio Rainbow broadcast on 1521 kHz AM with up to 1 kW output and there were also local FM broadcasts. From 1987 onwards, the station relayed the output of other pirates such as WLR in Scotland and Radio Sovereign in London. In 1988, Eddie Caffrey also relayed another UK station, Radio Fax, on 6220 kHz by day and 1611 kHz by night from another transmitter in the Drogheda area. You can hear an interview with Eddie about his involvement with shortwave stations here.  

The recording above is part of Kieran Murray’s FRC show from 6th April 1986. Below is a recording of Jim Agnew from August 1985 reading out a reception report from West Berlin.

The second clip below is of a Radio Rainbow jingle and multilingual station idents in French and German.

We thank Eddie Caffrey for sharing these recordings.

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)
Telstar Community Radio flyer from 1981 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Today we bring you the history of Telstar Community Radio from the Dundalk area. Thanks to Ian Biggar for the text, and to Eddie Caffrey and John Gartlan for additional information.

After the sudden closure of North East Radio (NER), it is not surprising that another radio station was being planned in Dundalk. The station was pretty much ready by mid-September 1980, although due to circumstances did not come on air until 1st November. Telstar Radio began daily transmissions announcing 250 metres, which was an actual frequency of 1197 kHz. Programmes were broadcast from 0700-0000 with several of the full-time staff of seven coming from NER. The station broadcast seven daily news bulletins, including a late round-up at 2330. The music featured was varied including pop with a fair smattering of country. There were specialist programmes in the evening covering genres like rock and traditional.

The station was located above The Wine Tavern on Park Street where two studios were located. The station’s first transmitter was a 500-watt unit built by Eddie Caffrey. This, along with a 100-foot tower, was located on the Blackrock Road. Coverage was stated as ranging from Drogheda to Newry, taking in towns such as Carrickmacross, Ardee and Armagh City although the range was compromised by the presence of BBC Radio 3 on 1197 kHz from Enniskillen. Later Telstar’s transmitter was replaced by a commercial Eddystone 1kW unit.

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)
Telstar Community Radio rates card from 1986 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Transmissions continued with a 50-watt FM transmitter added on 88.5 MHz and Telstar built a good following, even luring the well-known Ray Stone away from Radio Carousel. Ray went on to take up the position of station manager.

However, Telstar Radio was delivered a blow just before Christmas 1981 when it was issued with an order to close by Dundalk Urban Council. The main problem was the lack of planning permission for the 100-foot mast on the Blackrock Road. The station had also moved its studios to this location earlier in the year.

Ray Stone told a local newspaper that 19 full- and part-time staff would be out of work. It may have seemed that the station was finished, but with sheer determination they returned to the air in February 1982, now with studios located above the Brake Pub in Blackrock near Dundalk. A new AM tower was erected on land on the Ardee Road between Dundalk and Knockbridge.

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)
The Brake Pub in Blackrock, Co. Louth (photo by John Walsh).

The station was back to a regular service and regaining its listener base. However, in early 1986 it became known that Telstar was for sale. A buyer was found and by May 1st the sale was complete and the station moved back into Dundalk town to purpose-built studios on Earl Street. Staff like Ray Stone and Alec Fennell remained with the station. Around this time, Anoraks UK monitored the station for a day, but unfortunately described the programming as bland. In August 1987, Telstar appeared on a second medium wave frequency of 1170 kHz from a site in Castlebellingham. This was short-lived as the coverage was not great and by the end of September the transmitter had been switched off.

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)
Leaflet about Telstar’s coverage in 1988 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

In April 1987 a new FM frequency of 89.8 MHz was tried with a high-powered FM transmitter running 150 watts. However, interference was caused in the local area meaning the rig had to be switched off and did not return. The link transmitter to the AM site was moved from 88.5 to 88.3 as the former channel suffered interference from an RTE transmitter on Three Rock Mountain. Telstar continued broadcasting right through until an emotional closedown at 1pm on Saturday 31st December 1988.

Above you can hear the Telstar Alfasound jingles package from January 1987. We thank John Gartlan for sharing this. The two recordings below are from the early and final days of Telstar and are courtesy of Ian Biggar. The first is from 1350-1448 on 13th August 1981 and features Mark Sommers followed by Shane Mullen. The second is from 0915-1230 on 17th December 1988 and features Eamonn Duffy followed by the late Alec Evans (Fennell).

Telstar Community Radio audio from August 1981.
Telstar Community Radio audio from December 1988.

Northeast series: Boyneside Radio jingle compilation

As part of our northeast series, we’re delighted to share a video of Boyneside Radio jingles and photos of the station over the years. This was compiled by Kieran Murray who spent many years working on stations in the northeast, including Boyneside. Kieran’s website of pirate memories was sorely missed when it went offline but is now hosted here on Pirate.ie.

For more recordings featuring Kieran, including our extended interview with him, click here.

Northeast series: Michael Gerrard of Boyneside Radio

Northeast series: Michael Gerrard of Boyneside Radio
Michael Gerrard in the early days of LMFM where he still presents a show today.

Michael Gerrard was a well-known voice on late-night Boyneside Radio in the station’s later years and gained a large following on his Radio Romance and Night-Time Music slots. Like so many pirate presenters, Michael joined Boyneside when just a teenager and in this interview with John Walsh, he shares his memories of the station with us. After 1989, he went on to work with the local licensed station LMFM.

We also thank Michael for sharing with us two of his final recordings in the run-up to the closedown of Boyneside on 31th December 1988. The first is an aircheck of the final Night-Time Music show on 23rd December.

The second features the final half-hour of Michael’s programme on Friday 30th December 1988, the penultimate day of broadcasting. Some of this has been airchecked.

Both recordings include a farewell message for Boyneside listeners voiced by Eddie Caffrey.

Northeast series: Boyneside Radio raid (1987)

Northeast series: Boyneside Radio raid (1987)
Drogheda Local News, 17th April 1987 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

After the merger things ran pretty smoothly for Boyneside Radio. The advertising log was healthy and the station was really establishing itself as one of the leading regional radio stations in Ireland. However, like a bolt from the blue all that changed. On the afternoon of Monday 13th April 1987 an official from the Department of Communications, along with three Gardaí, entered the station premises on Mill Lane. The staff were told to close all transmitters, cease broadcasting at once and never return to the air. The official said that interference was being caused, but refused to elaborate further.

The only transmitter that was thought might have caused the alleged interference was the FM link on 99.1 MHz, as this was the only transmitter located in a built-up area. This was taken out of service and replaced with a known and tested clean transmitter. In the meantime, unofficial contact had been made between a station representative and a head official in the Department. It was arranged that the official would check on the morning of Wednesday 15th if there was still interference. However, on that day at 1407 the raiding party arrived consisting of six Gardaí, one detective, and two Department officials. During the raid a local newspaper photographer had his camera snatched by a Department official. This was covered in the next issue of the paper (see above).

The officials then proceeded to remove all equipment from the studios as well as the FM transmitter and compressor. They used cutters rather than disconnecting the equipment. The station was instructed to switch off all transmitters and never return or another raid would take place.

Northeast series: Boyneside Radio raid (1987)
The former Boyneside studios on Mill Lane, Drogheda (photo by John Walsh).

The officials left and headed back to Dublin. Meantime Boyneside Radio was back on the air by 1730 from a secret location. Programmes were pretty much as normal, although initially some technical breaks were experienced. By the end of April 1987 the station was back in the usual studios on Mill Lane and things returned to normal.

The recording above is of an interview with Eddie Caffrey about the incident on the Radio West Anorak Hour on the following Sunday, 19th April 1987. The recording below is of Boyneside shortly after the raid on 23rd April 1987, featuring automatic music from 0620-0700 and Mike Ahern (Richard McCullen) on the breakfast show from 0700-0936. It was made in Blackpool by Gary Hogg and the station’s output sounds perfectly normal. Of interest to DXers is the skywave propagation in the first hour when ERI in Cork, also on 1305 kHz, can be heard clearly at times. Many thanks to Ian Biggar for these recordings and for the research.

Boyneside Radio, 0620-0757, 23.04.87
Boyneside Radio, 0757-0936, 23.04.87

Boyneside Radio continued to provide a service to the people of the north east until finally closing at just after 3pm on Saturday 31st December 1988.