Full recording: Radio Carousel Northern Ireland

Full recording: Radio Carousel Northern Ireland
Radio Carousel rate card from the original Dundalk station (courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

In addition to the main station in Dundalk, at its height in the early 1980s, Radio Carousel had three satellite stations in Drogheda, Navan and right on the border. Radio Carousel Northern Ireland broadcast from Carrickcarnon on AM and FM, all aimed at capturing the northern market. A 1982 leaflet claimed that the Northern Ireland coverage area was ‘north to Belfast, west to Armagh City, Portadown, and Craigavon. The newest of Radio Carousel’s satellite stations which effectively covers 3/4 of Northern Ireland with a strong signal on the 212 medium wave. For four and a half years we have been aware of the vast listenership that Radio Carousel has in Northern Ireland’. In 1986 the northern service was broadcast on 1071 kHz but it moved to 1260 kHz in 1987.

This recording was made from 1260 kHz on 21st April 1987 from 1115-1200 and 1208-1253. The first presenter is Stevie Mack with Irish music and requests and he is followed by Carousel boss Hugh Hardy’s Country Call programme. There are plenty of advertisements from Newry, suggesting that this is the northern service which then relays Country Call from Dundalk. Radio Carousel Dundalk was ordered to leave the air in January 1987 following claims of interference by the authorities and closed its studio in the town’s shopping centre. The northern and Navan stations continued but programmes from Dundalk resumed from February. This was the beginning of the end for Carousel and by early 1988 only the Navan station was broadcasting as normal.

Full recording: Radio Carousel Northern Ireland
An advertisement for the Radio Carousel network from the 1988 book ‘Radio Radio’ by Peter Mulryan.

Audio quality is fair as the recording was made on the move from AM. There is a sense of a station in decline with a stale style, erratic audio levels on advertisements and references to ‘medium wave and VHF’ at a time when many stations were plugging ‘FM stereo’. Some presenters from KLAS, Hugh Hardy’s easy listening station in Dublin, can be heard voicing ads including a very young John Walsh of Pirate.ie. We thank Gary Hogg for sharing this recording.

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)
Radio Carousel letterhead courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive.

This is another recording of Radio Carousel Dundalk made on two consecutive days, 30th and 31st May 1985 from 101 FM. First up is a segment from the evening show presented by Dave Scott (aka Joe Reilly, RIP) from 2240 to 2325 on the 30th. The classified ads at 2300 include Bruce Springsteen tickets for the forthcoming concert in Slane, various cars for sale, a JCB driver for hire, roofing services, Kerr’s pink potatoes for sale and a BBC colour television aerial!

This is followed by part of the next day’s breakfast programme presented by Mike Ahern (aka Richard McCullen) from 0815 to 0900 on the 31st. It sounds like a one-man show at times as Mike’s voice can be heard on several ads and he also reads news headlines at 0830. However there is no shortage of advertising and there are requests too, including for children on their way to school.

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)
Radio Carousel’s aerial at Dundalk Shopping Centre published in Swedish magazine DX Gnisten (courtesy of Ian Biggar, DX Archive).

Richard McCullen went on to work in the local licensed station LMFM. Joe Reilly (using that name) went on to work at ERI in Cork and later licensed station Radio Kerry. We thank Gary Camblin for this recording.

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)
Radio Carousel staff from 1981, including Frank Mitchell and Shane Mullen (photo courtesy of Eddie Caffrey)

This recording of Radio Carousel features Frank Mitchell on air from 1645-1728 on 20th May 1983, the station’s 5th birthday. The date is significant because it was the time of the raids on Radio Nova and Sunshine Radio, which caused many other pirates to close temporarily as a precaution. The recording was made from FM and there is interference at times. The channel is also re-tuned on a few occasions during the recording.

A noticeable aspect is the large number of requests from listeners throughout Louth and beyond. There are also competitions to win tickets for nights out in local hotels as well as adverts and notices. Shane Mullen reads sports news at 5.30 and the evening news programme at 6pm is mentioned. It all sounds like a respectable local station offering a mixture of music and information and with no shortage of listeners and advertisers. Frank Mitchell currently works as a weather presenter on UTV and presents on radio station U105. This recording was made by Gary Camblin and given to us by Ian Biggar.

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)
Mike Ahern (aka Richard McCullen) in the new Carousel studio in Dundalk Shopping Centre (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar).

This is another early recording from Radio Carousel made in Dundalk itself on 3rd January 1979 from 1330-1403. Mike Ahern (aka Richard McCullen) is finishing his lunchtime programme and hands over to Eric Vaughan (aka Eric Griffin) at 2pm. The station was announcing 265 metres (1134 kHz) at this time and had moved to a better studio in Dundalk Shopping Centre. There are adverts for the shopping centre voiced by Mike Ahern himself, an ad for a business in Warrenpoint in Co. Down and a request from a listener in Drumiskin south of Dundalk, giving a sense of Carousel’s core coverage area at the time. Both Mike and Eric worked in Carousel and Boyneside during the pirate era and continued in licensed stations afterwards as Richard McCullen (LMFM) and Eric Griffin (C103).

The tape is a bit wobbly in places but has withstood the passage of time relatively well and the signal is strong having been recorded locally. The recording was made by Kieran Murray and was donated to us by Ian Biggar.

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)
Kieran Murray in the original Radio Carousel studio (photo courtesy of Eddie Caffrey).

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.

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)
Radio Carousel sticker courtesy of Ian Biggar.

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.

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)
A QSL letter from Kieran Murray to Ian Biggar in 1978.

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.