Northeast series: Don Allen interviewed on Radio Carousel

Northeast series: Don Allen interviewed on Radio Carousel
Don pictured at Cork station ERI in 1983 (courtesy Svenn Martinsen).

The late Don Allen was one of the best-known DJs of the pirate era in the UK and Ireland. Arriving in the UK from Canada in 1965, the Canadian drew on his life-long passion for country music to promote the genre on the airwaves and he gained huge followings on numerous stations big and small over the next 30 years, including into the licensed era. This fascinating interview with Don from 1982 was broadcast on Radio Carousel Navan, which he had recently joined. It covers in depth his early radio experience in Canada and the US and the story of his decision to come to Europe after reading an article about offshore station Radio Caroline.

Don recounts the story of his involvement in Caroline from 1965-1968 including conditions on board the ship off the Isle of Man, the annoyance of the Manx government with the decision to outlaw the station, the letters from fans and his friendship with other DJs such as Tony Blackburn, Tony Prince, Keith Skues and Simon Dee. In 1969, Don became programme controller of Manx Radio and drew on his Caroline experience to tighten the station’s sound and promote the personality of the DJ. In the 1970s, he describes how he worked simultaneously for the pirates and the ‘establishment’, dividing his time first between BBC Radio Merseyside and the unlicensed offshore Radio North Sea International.

Ian Biggar, who worked in Radio Carousel at the same time, recalls his memories of this period and of Don:

Don’s appearance at Carousel coincided with my time there. I can remember being in the Dundalk studio and station owner Hugh Hardy mentioned that Don Allen had been on the phone looking for work. Hugh was wary of Don due to his reputation as THE country jock. I clearly remember Don was not allowed to broadcast on the Dundalk station as that was Hardy’s patch.

I remember one morning in Drogheda tuning in to the Navan station and hearing Don on air. What’s more I was following him on the schedule. You can imagine how excited I was heading across to Navan on the bus in anticipation of meeting one of my heroes from Radio Nordsee International. Don was a gentleman and we had many conversations about the old offshore radio days.

I think Hardy had once  again bitten off too much with starting a station in Castleblaney and trying to establish Carousel in Drogheda. So, Don and I were let go on early June 1982. I last saw him in the Drogheda studio in the Boyne Valley Hotel as I was about to catch the train to Belfast for the onward ferry to Scotland. Don asked if I was interested in joining the Voice of Peace off Israel as he had been in contact with them. ‘No need for a demo, if I say your good enough you’re in’, he said. I answered that I was interested but just wanted to take a short holiday in Scotland and would call him.

In the end neither Don nor I went to the Peace Ship. I headed to Cork for the start of ERI and Don went back to Carousel when Hardy’s finances improved. He was there for a few more months, but assume at the same time was planning for Royal County Radio, a rival Navan station.

Northeast series: Don Allen interviewed on Radio Carousel
Screenshot of a VHS interview with Don Allen at Radio Star Country in 1989 (courtesy Miles Johnston).

This interview with Don Allen was broadcast between approximately 1900-2000 on Tuesday 11th May 1982. The presenter is Pádraig Walsh and the tape is from the Anoraks Ireland Collection. This is a studio copy but Radio Carousel Navan broadcast at the time on 1386 kHz, announcing 210 metres. Don Allen’s final pirate was Radio Star Country in Monaghan, one of a handful of stations to defy the 1989 legislation outlawing unlicensed radio. He later took up a post on licensed station Midlands Radio 3 where his Country Jamboree was a hugely popular show up to his untimely death in 1995.