Border blasters: Radio Star Country continues into 1989

Border blasters: Radio Star Country continues into 1989
Radio Star Country sticker from 1988 (courtesy Ian Biggar).

Welcome to our special series on Monaghan station Radio Star Country, one of the longest-running Irish pirates ever. The country music station has been on the air more or less continuously since 1988 to the present day. It broadcast initially on 927 kHz, then 891 kHz, and finally (and today) 981 kHz. This first post concentrates on the period from the launch of the station until the end of 1988 when the vast majority of pirates closed down. 

Radio Star Country’s first test transmission took place on Wednesday 11th May 1988 at 1.30pm on 927 kHz AM (324 metres medium wave) and 103.2 MHz FM (locally), and consisted of continuous country music. The station was broadcasting from the Swan Lake Hotel in Monaghan Town, and announced a telephone number of (047) 81179. The man behind this new venture was Gerry Byrne, who had also worked on Telstar Community Radio (Dundalk), Big M Community Radio (Castleblayney) and Northern Star (Monaghan).

In early June 1988, Radio Star Country moved their FM frequency slightly to 103.3 MHz and also added 96.3 MHz. A number of local advertisements were noted, including one for the Swan Lake Hotel. News was noted on the hour, along with a new telephone number of (047) 82394 for requests. In late July 1988, the County Monaghan area suffered severe weather conditions. Radio Star Country suffered some damage, although its transmissions on 927 kHz continued and the signal increased in strength. It was strong during daylight hours, and at night when BRT Radio in Belgium vacated the channel. In early October 1988, Radio Star Country changed AM frequency from 927 kHz to 891 kHz and, as a result, found itself nestled between BBC Radio Wales on 882 kHz and BBC Radio 2 on 909 kHz.  However, the signal on 891 kHz was vastly improved.

Radio Star Country founder Gerry Byrne shares his memories of the first year of the station and into decision to continue into 1989:

I had in my head the name Radio Star for a radio station long before Radio Star was actually launched. Previously I had worked on Radio Carousel, Telstar and the small Skyline Radio and then fortunately or otherwise on Big M in Castleblayney. I always threw myself 120 percent into anything I did back then and I did the same in Big M, none of which was appreciated. I met my first wife Isobel there and we got married but the station owner Frank Morgan changed my time on air so myself and Isobel left. We then went to Northern Star to join other guys who had split away from Big M: Gerry Callen, Martin Maguire, and an English DJ Ian Acres. We started selling advertising, Isobel especially, but we didn’t get the money we were owed and we knew there was no point in continuing there.

We started with just recorded tapes playing over and on 20th May 1988, Radio Star began broadcasting live from the office of a furniture factory and we moved into the Swan Lake Hotel in Monaghan Town. The name was then changed to Radio Star Country to underline the country slant to the station. The early days were very tough and at one point I became ill as a result of the pressure. We were plodding along and both very worked hard and reached the end of the year. We had Tony Hughes, a well-known singer and musician and a stepson of mine Michael Hopkins using the surname Byrne. It was a tumultuous time generally because as you know the new broadcasting law came in but we decided to stay on air when the rest went off air except for Eamonn Cooke in Radio Dublin. We hadn’t anything to lose and the rest should have done the same instead of stupidly thinking they would get a licence. After staying on air, we gathered a huge audience and hence a huge amount of advertising. Other station presenters included Don Allen (RIP), Ray (Cathal) McSherry (RIP), Pio McCann (RIP), Doreen Mullen (RIP), Sean Brady and Tony West (Burke), who had been with us from before 1989.

Our first recordings are of Radio Star just after the deadline of New Year’s Eve 1988, when the station defied the new legislation and carried on regardless. The recording above was made from 891 kHz and features Gerry Byrne on 1st January 1989 from 1413-1505. It’s very much business as usual with little fuss about the historical nature of the broadcast. The second tape below is from 1025-1228 on 2nd January and consists of pre-recorded music. One track calls for Radio Star to be kept on air, in keeping with other country music songs supporting the pirates in 1988 and 1989.

Recording from 2nd January 1989.

Both recordings were made in Scotland and suffer from co-channel interference and fading due to the time of year and distance from the transmitter. Our thanks to Ken Baird for the audio, to Sean Brady for the text and to Ian Biggar for his assistance with the series. Radio Star Country continues to broadcast to this day on 981 kHz AM and online.