Radio Star Country, one of Ireland’s longest-running pirates

Radio Star Country, one of Ireland's longest-running pirates
Radio Star Country sticker – note the Northern telephone number (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Radio Star Country is one of the longest-running Irish pirates ever, operating more or less continuously since 1988 to the present day. After a successful 1989 when it pulled in plenty of income in local advertising revenue, Radio Star Country continued unimpeded into 1990. There is a dramatic account of the station in a book by Cathal ‘Ray’ McSherry, A Different Wavelength: The Pirate Radio Days from 2004: ‘My first visit to Radio Star headquarters was unforgettable. After leaving the main road and travelling for twenty minutes, I arrived at an old ramshackle single storey dwelling at the side of a narrow boreen. Cement or breeze blocks filled out the windows. Inside was a bare earthen floor which was more likely to the found the days of the Famine. There was a fireplace minus a grate and in all honesty the whole thing looked so absurd and surreal. It was a spectacle I’ll never forget but this was our “studio”. From here we would defy the powers that be and from here we would broadcast our shows, send out our music and entertainment and silently wonder, or think to ourselves often as not, if we weren’t completely coco-pops. Within this hampered house was a mixing desk, microphones, turntables, and all the paraphernalia of radio pirating. A mast was located two miles away to receive the FM signal’.

Radio Star Country seems to have been largely left alone by the authorities for most of its existence apart from a few attempts to close it down in the early years after the introduction of licensed radio. Its premises in the Bragan Mountains north of Monaghan Town was raided by gardaí and Department of Communications officials on 29th August 1990 and transmission equipment seized but the station was back on air within 48 hours. There is also a report of the station’s FM transmitter being removed by the Department in spring 1991. Sean Brady, who spent four years with Radio Star from January 1992 to March 1996 tells us that there were no raids or visits from the authorities during that period, when the station broadcast from a caravan near Smithboro and then a location close to Monaghan Town. On 17th March 1994, a new FM transmitter on 103 FM was switched on and aimed at Fermanagh and Armagh. On 27th January 2006, the Irish Independent reported that two farmers on the Monaghan/Tyrone border were fined for allowing a pirate station to broadcast from their land. Although the station was unnamed, we presume this refers to Radio Star Country also. Other than these isolated examples, we have no other records of raids on the station.

Radio Star Country, one of Ireland's longest-running pirates
Banner image from Radio Star Country’s website.

This recording was made from 891 kHz from 0917-1002 on 23rd January 1989, just a few weeks after the new broadcasting law came into effect. On air is Isobel Byrne (RIP), the late wife of the former station owner Gerry Byrne. Reception is fair, reflecting the fact that the recording was made in Scotland. We thank Ian Biggar for the donation and for background information. Radio Star Country continues to broadcast on 981 kHz and on its website.

Radio Star Country continues broadcasting into 1989

Radio Star Country continues broadcasting into 1989
Radio Star Country sticker from late 1988/early 1989 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Radio Star Country is one of Ireland’s longest-running pirate stations ever, operating more or less continuously since 1988. It was launched in May that year on 927 kHz and 103.2 FM from the Swan Lake Hotel in Monaghan Town. Along with Radio Dublin, the station was alone in staying on air after the deadline for the pirates to close down on New Year’s Eve 1988. On 891 kHz at this time, it broadcast tapes on 1st January 1989 but soon resumed live programmes. The Anoraks UK Weekly Report of 7th January 1989 commented that ‘Star Country carried many adverts and it was as if news of the legislation had not yet reached that quarter!’

Similar to Radio Dublin, Radio Star Country was issued with notices that its telephones and electricity supply would be cut off after 14 days. In possible anticipation of a raid, Anoraks UK reported on 21st January that it introduced a new sales number in Armagh where it was not illegal to take advertising. The station moved to 981 kHz on 3rd February 1989, which had been vacated by former Monaghan station Hometown Radio. Around the same time, it transferred its studios from Monaghan Town to the transmission site at Emyvale near the border.

Despite the increased risks of pirate broadcasting, 1989 was a bumper year for Radio Star Country. In February, the veteran pirate DJ Don Allen (RIP) joined the station with his popular ‘Country and Western Jamboree’, taking over the breakfast slot. Station owner Gerry Byrne was heard at lunchtime and there were live shows all day with tapes overnight. Advertising revenue was strong and the verdict of Anoraks UK on 11th February was: ‘The station gets ten out of ten for its fighting spirit’. In March, Radio Star Country even advertised for additional sales staff, such was the demand from businesses wishing to buy time on the station.

Radio Star Country continues broadcasting into 1989
Radio Star Country in the Swan Lake Hotel in 1988 (photo courtesy of DX Archive).

Department of Communication officials visited Radio Star Country that month and warned it to close down, which it did for a short time only to return a few days later. The final edition of Weekly Report in September 1989 reported hearing the station all the way from Larne to Malin Head with the signal even audible on a simple receiver in Dublin.

‘Long may they continue’ was Anoraks UK’s closing wish and indeed, Radio Star Country continues to broadcast country music and sponsored religious programmes to this day on 981 kHz and on its website. The AM signal can be heard clearly in north Leinster and across Northern Ireland but is swamped at night by an Algerian station. The first of our two recordings from 1989 was made from 0832-0917 on 23rd January from 891 kHz. On air is Isobel Byrne (RIP), late wife of former station owner Gerry Byrne. There are long ad breaks featuring mostly Northern businesses but the Swan Lake Hotel has a spot also. Reception is fair as the recording was made in Scotland. We thank Ian Biggar for the donation.  

Short-lived Waterford pirate Laser 89

Short-lived Waterford pirate Laser 89
Waterford quays in 1990. Photo credit: By Tom Courtney, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=533302

Laser 89 was a short-lived pirate that broadcast to Waterford City for a few weeks in January 1989 in defiance of the new broadcasting laws. According to the Anoraks UK Weekly Report, it carried out tests between 9th and 11th January and began with lived and recorded programmes on 12th January on 88.6 FM. The station broadcast from above a pub in the Ballybricken area of the city. It was set up by former staff of ABC, an earlier Waterford pirate that closed down at the end of 1988, but DJs from another local station NCR/Crystal City Sound were also involved. Described by Anoraks UK as ‘very slick and professional’, Laser featured some familiar and some new voices and used some of the jingles of the British 1980s offshore pirate Laser 558. The music choice was pop and country with some 12-inches and Laser 89 broadcast from 8am to 8pm daily. Despite only putting out 40 watts of power, the signal covered the city well in stereo. On February 3rd, local newspapers announced that Laser had ceased broadcasting after causing television interference. However, some of the ABC people were reportedly worried that having a pirate on air would sully their application for a licence and decided to pull the plug.

The first recording above is of Ron Lundy from 1316-1401 on Wednesday 18th January 1989. The second below is from Friday 20th January 1989 from 1639-1724 and is labelled Dan Ingram but in is mostly just non-stop music with a few time checks. Lundy and Ingram were popular DJs on New York station WABC in the 1970s and 1980s and must have inspired these Waterford pirate broadcasters.

Laser announces ‘commercial-free music’ for Waterford but no phone number is given out and there are no requests from listeners. We thank Ian Biggar for his donation of these recordings.  

‘Galway’s Super Q’: Quincentennial Radio

'Galway's Super Q': Quincentennial Radio
Quincentennial Radio was based behind Paddy’s Bar near Eyre Square in the city centre (photo by John Walsh)

This is the second of two recordings of Quincentennial Radio, the short-lived Galway pirate that returned to the air on 2nd January 1989 in breach of the new Wireless Telegraph Act. The law came into effect at midnight on New Year’s Eve and silenced most of the country’s pirates including Coast 103, one of the two big Galway stations. However, Quincentennial Radio was essentially a reincarnation of Coast involving many of the same people including engineer Keith York (RIP) and DJs Steve Marshall, Tony Allan (RIP) and Shane Martin. It was located behind the Gallows bar (now Paddy’s Bar) on Prospect Hill, just off Eyre Square in the city centre, where Coast had been located for its final few months.

The recording is of Shane Martin’s show from 1827-1912 on 13th February 1989. It includes liners and promos voiced by Tony Allan, including one that cheekily compares Quincentennial to Millennium Radio in Dublin and Cork Local Radio, both local RTÉ services. There are also community announcements, a letter from a listener criticising another unnamed radio station and a crackly Valentine’s Day phone call from London.

We don’t have an exact date but it appears from Anoraks UK logs that Quincentennial Radio closed down sometime in March 1989 after a warning from the authorities. We thank Ian Biggar for his donation of this rare recording and Steve Marshall and Shane Martin for background information.

Galway’s Quincentennial Radio in 1989

Galway's Quincentennial Radio in 1989
A wintry Eyre Square in Galway near where Quincentennial Radio was based (photo by John Walsh)

Quincentennial Radio was a shortlived Galway pirate that broadcast for about two months at the start of 1989. It consisted of ex-Coast 103 broadcasters Steve Marshall, Shane Martin and Tony Allan (RIP) as well as engineer Keith York (RIP). According to Steve Marshall, Quincentennial – named after the 500th anniversary of Galway City in 1984 – started broadcasting on January 2nd 1989, just a day after most of the country’s pirates left the airwaves. The studio gear was formerly used by Coast 103 and consisted of Gates B77 turntables with Gray Research tonearms, an Alice 828 mixer and a pair of Accessit compressor units for sound processing. Quincentennial Radio began by just playing music and liners by Tony Allan and the first live voice was Shane Martin. Shane remembers that it didn’t have the same feel as Coast 103 as there was no money, no paid ads and no competition: ‘It just felt very empty. The buzz was gone’. The studio was located at the back of the Gallows Bar (now Paddy’s Bar) in the courtyard of Prospect House near Eyre Square, where Coast 103 had been based.  

The Anoraks UK Weekly Report of 18th February 1989 mentioned Quincentennial Radio on 98.4 FM, a frequency chosen to match the city’s quincentennial year in 1984. It was on air 24 hours a day broadcasting a variety of music. The station was logged throughout February and into March but on 22nd April, Anoraks UK reported that the authorities had ‘instructed Quincentennial to cease broadcasting some time ago which they duly did’. After the station closed, it became a training facility for DJs.

Galway's Quincentennial Radio in 1989
The Quincentennial bridge was built in 1984 to mark Galway’s 500th anniversary (photo by John Walsh)

We bring you the first of two recordings of Quincentennial Radio from Monday 13th February 1989. Today’s recording was made from 1738-1824 and features the end of Steve Marshall’s programme. Tony Allan’s voice is heard on liners and there is one ad just before 6pm when Shane Martin takes over. A phone number for requests is given out and the station is referred to a few times as ‘Galway’s Super Q’. We thank Ian Biggar for this rare recording of a short-lived station which defied the new laws in 1989. Thanks also to Steve Marshall and Shane Martin for background information.