Airchecks: North East Radio

Airchecks: North East Radio
North East Radio’s mobile studio (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

North East Radio (NER) was a short-lived station in Dundalk in 1979-1980. We thank Ian Biggar of DX Archive for the recording and for writing this account of the station’s history.

As it became clear that the days of Radio Dundalk were numbered, a man called Gerry Duffy began looking for investors for a new station in the town. Seeing the prospects of local commercial radio, it did not take too long before some local businessmen were willing to invest in the project and provide secure financial backing, along with Dr. Don Moore of Dublin pirate radio fame. Studios were built in the Imperial Hotel and aerial masts erected on the building roof. A transmitter was obtained, built by Declan Kane from Dublin, who had done similar work for ARD. The rig was allegedly running some 800 watts of power.

The station went on air in October 1979 on 1196 kHz (off channel), announced as 257 metres. From the start the station broadcast nonstop, 24 hours a day with slogans like ‘North East Radio – the station that never sleeps’ and ‘Your slice of heaven on 257’. NER was set up in direct competition to Radio Carousel which by this time had become rather stale. It was hoped that the new station could gain a share in the lucrative advertising market in the area. Listeners found the programming a refreshing change from Carousel and the station’s future looked bright. Crispian St. John, a well known broadcaster on the offshore stations Radio Nordsee International and Radio Caroline joined NER, as well as local talent such as Owen Larkin, Alec Fennell and Daire Nelson.

Airchecks: North East Radio
The NER aerial at the original Imperial Hotel in Dundalk (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

However, as 1980 progressed, technical problems beset the station. Disagreements between station staff and the engineer caused the latter to depart. This left the transmitter in the hands of the station staff, resulting in a deterioration of audio quality. Meantime management-staff relations were growing sour, as a result of presenters claiming they were not being paid for work done.

In June 1980, FRC Ireland reported that a mobile CB operator just outside the hotel caused the NER transmitter to blow up. This put the station off air for almost a week while the damaged transmitter was repaired. Eddie Caffrey also recalls an incident where a staff member attempted to change the off-channel 1196 kHz crystal for the new channel 1197. Because the individual did this while the rig was switched on, it caused damage. The station engineer constructed a new transmitter employing parts of the original rig with parts of the standby transmitter.

While this combination of transmitters worked satisfactorily, it produced some harmonics on the trawler band. Anglesey lifeboat radio in north Wales noted interference to their transmissions and the source was named as North East Radio. In fact, in the August 1980 issue of Short Wave News, two DXers in England reported reception of NER on 2394 kHz, the second harmonic of the fundamental 1197 kHz. An official complaint was sent to the Irish Department of Posts and Telegraphs and they in turn contacted NER. The station was given 24 hours to sort out the problem. The staff decided to switch the transmitter off until the problems could be fixed.

Airchecks: North East Radio
The late Alec Evans (Alec Fennell) in the NER studio (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

Meantime the hotel owners were growing unhappy with the presence of the station and the financial backers were becoming disillusioned. In late August 1980 the hotel indicated that NER would have to vacate the studios and remove the twin 100-foot aerial towers within a week. We don’t have an exact date of closure of North East Radio, but assume it was sometime during August 1980. It was a sad ending to a station that started with such positive prospects.

The recording consists of airchecks of the station on 31st January 1980 and features Dara Nelson, Crispian St. John, Gerry D., Phil Llewelyn and Alec Evans. There is a fresh sound with plenty of ads, professional links and station idents voiced by Tony Allen.