Capitol Radio (220 and later 226 metres) was a mixed-format station broadcasting from Dublin in 1975 and then from 1978-1981. The station had many specialist music programmes as well as news and current affairs and provided evidence, from the beginning of the pirate era, that not all stations played chart hits only.
This news bulletin from 9th March 1979 is read by one of Capitol’s founders, Alan Russell. Stories include a Supreme Court judgement in favour of former Garda Commissioner Ned Garvey who was dismissed by the government in 1978.
It also includes a defence by RTÉ presenter Bunny Carr of the television quiz show Quicksilver, then under fire from critics.
Alan Russell went on to set up stations in Galway in the 1980s. We thank him for donating this recording and the photo.
This is a documentary about local radio in Ireland as broadcast by Dublin station Capitol Radio in May 1979. Presented by one of the station’s founders Alan Russell, it was aired before the local and European Parliament elections on 7th June and includes interviews with Fianna Fáil politicians as heard on Radio Tralee. There are also clips of early Dublin pirates and audio of a raid on Capitol by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs in 1978. We thank Alan Russell for donating this unique recording and for providing the following background to Capitol.
Imagine if you will – a world with no Twitter or Facebook, Netflix or the other internet bells and whistles, no satellite TV or mobile phones. That was the world less than 50 years ago and perhaps one of the reasons radio entertainment was more diverse and popular than today. It was a time prior to independent radio licencing and dozens of stations were operating throughout the country in an unregulated ‘pirate’ capacity, providing local news, entertainment and advertising for local businesses. In Ireland it was a time of social change and crossing the threshold into a new decade, the 1980s.
It’s over 40 years since Capitol Radio – one of Dublin city’s pioneering AM radio stations – closed in March 1981 after three years of daily programming. Capitol had previously broadcast on a weekly basis between July and December 1975 and with assistance from music promoters had aired interviews with musicians and bands, including Phil Lynott, Status Quo, Chris De Burgh and Horslips in their weekly programmes. At the time there was just the one national radio channel – Radio Éireann (now RTÉ) and minimal airtime was provided for contemporary music. RTÉ Radio 2 – now 2FM – was launched in 1979 mainly in response to the pirate stations, which were securing a considerable audience nationally. The station founders Chris Barry, Ed Mc Dowell and Alan Russell had previous airtime experience, Ed having operated Radio Empathy some years before. Another station Director, Tommy Hogarty, secured initial financing from a Dublin publican which helped lease a studio premises.
After carrying out test transmissions in March 1978 Capitol launched daily programmes in April from studios on Bachelors Walk, 100 yards from O’Connell Bridge. Our first aerial was an ambitious quarter-wave dipole which ran from near the Ha’penny Bridge to the roof of our premises and the nearby Bachelor Inn – in exchange for daily adverts! The station frequency was 1358 kHz or 220 metres (later changed to 226 metres) and was heard in the UK and Europe. After the dipole aerial system was repeatedly damaged by nuisance neighbours we changed to an inverted L which was in a more secure area, although we lost the skywave bounce for long distance listeners.
Capitol’s alternative music format was album-oriented and a selective top-40 playlist, with nightly specialist music programmes including jazz, new wave, rock, Irish folk and trad, rockabilly and country and western. From 9pm, free public service broadcasts were aired for the Samaritans, Alone and similar voluntary organisations. Interviews with local singers/authors/celebrities etc. were also a regular feature of daytime programmes. A news service was a later addition, headed by Adrian Horsmann.
This is a recording of Cork’s Capital Radio from 3rd August 1979 featuring Pete Young’s Friday show, which is extended by half an hour because the next DJ is delayed. It was recorded from 1312 kHz, announced as 233 metres, and runs from 1918-2005. Thanks to John Breslin for the donation. One of those involved with Capital Radio, Pat Anderson (Pat Galvin) has jotted down his memories of the early Cork pirates, including Capital Radio and ABC, and we’re delighted to share them here.
My pirate days started with me unplugging my stereo in my flat in Montenotte and getting a blast of radio on that last surge. I realised there was a pirate radio nearby and on looking out my window I could see guys going in and out of the adjoining building. Being an occasional DJ, I became friends with them. They were ABC Radio, a breakaway from Cork Broadcasting Company (CBC). I joined them and ended up becoming the manager as well as doing a rock show after John Creedon (aka Eric Hanson) from midnight until I tired, usually about 4.00am. My DJing wasn’t great but I had the benefit of having a large LP collection (over 1,000) so was able to avoid the repetition that other DJs were stuck with.
ABC was in a bedsit and there was one classical LP. Every time it came on you knew the DJ’s girlfriend had arrived. As I lived next door and had a reel to reel tape recorder I could put on a tape and get 90 minutes before I had to swap sides. One night my girlfriend was not taking ‘no, I have to do a show’ for an answer, so I put on a tape of The Doors. As luck would have it, it was the anniversary of Jim Morrison’s death. Later when some DJ didn’t turn up, I put on a tape of an old show I had done and went off to work. My supervisor had been listening and was angry that I was not at work. Fortunately, the tape was still running so I was able to show him.
At the time the Arcadia Downtown Campus was running. Four bands from Dublin played there one night with U2 and the Virgin Prunes the warm-up acts. After the gig I told Bono that in my opinion they were the best of the lot and asked for their demo. At 20 minutes long I would play it each night while I made coffee or whatever. To Bono’s surprise, the next time people were asking for certain songs. When he asked them where they heard them, I was pointed out and he thanked me profusely.
We were raided several times and the people raiding us would ask us for requests knowing we would be back on within 24 hours. Some DJs would panic and run out the back and over the wall into the neighbouring property, but one time we sat tight as we realised the cops and Post Office were hitting the wrong flat, only for one idiot DJ told them ‘ah we’re not there anymore, we’re down here’. Interestingly the PO guy said that in Dublin the pirates were doing their job for them by cutting down each other’s antennas and other bad deeds to stop the competition. In Cork we got on OK and DJs would often move from one station to the other.
Eventually in ABC the more senior DJs started missing shows without warning. Perhaps the novelty was wearing off. Finally, Jim Gibbons, Jim Collins and myself had enough and decided to break away and start Capital Radio, taking nearly all the DJs with us. I was under fierce pressure to return to ABC but I felt it was all about saving face in front of CBC. We initially planned to set up in Oliver Plunkett Street, but the owner changed their mind so we ended up in the attic over the chipper next door to the City Library. In these days before FM became the norm we had to have a long aerial wire tied between two poles mounted on chimney stacks about 50 feet apart. We never asked for permission and usually got away with it but once, one of the lads slipped and the pole lifted him up into the air. He managed to hold on to the pole and get back to safety. The only problem was a slate had been dislodged and was slowly sliding down the roof on the street side. To my alarm I could see an old couple walking right in the line of the drop. I figured if I tried to warn them they would stop and look up so I said nothing and started to pray. Luckily the slate fell far enough behind that they did not notice and we got out of there in a hurry.
When we started Capital, some station in the USA had shot up in the ratings by only playing the Top 20 all day. There was a lot of support for this but I hated the idea and I also felt some vibes that my work as station manager was not appreciated. So when I was asked to set up Radio Sligo I went there for a few months. Meanwhile all hell broke loose in Capital and half the DJs left, so when I returned there was a much warmer welcome. The next move for the station was just a few doors away to 7 Tuckey Street to two attic rooms in a very old building. On one visit to Crowley’s music shop, the owner presented me with a bill for repairs to equipment for £800 which we did not have as we were always scraping by. Fortunately, a general election had been called so we approached Fianna Fáil and said in the interest of balance we felt obliged to tell them that Fine Gael had given us £400 for advertising and asked them to match it. They gave us the cheque for £400 and we then went to Fine Gael and showed it to them so they also coughed up and Michael Crowley got paid.
The first thing I always brought with me to a station was an electric kettle. I developed a trick of bringing it nearly to the boil and then moving it under the DJ’s table as he was about to speak and let the water steam. The DJ would freak out thinking there was a fire. It was weird going to a night club as the girl you danced with would recognise your voice and know quite a bit about you. I found it very disconcerting as I knew nothing of them. The upside was that every gig was free as promoters wanted your good will, and there was a certain amount of free LPs and singles coming our way. I still have some of the press releases inside the record sleeves. Eventually we had to find a new home and rented a house in a red brick terrace at one of the highest points in the city. I can’t remember how that finished but the next variation was Leeside Radio with much of the same crew. It was FM only because by that stage MW was fading out. We sometimes claimed it was stereo but it split mono to fool the receiver. Unlike medium wave, it never gave us any problems. My last foray was as manager only of CCLR. We had a good run with the owner too generous for his own good and paying out more than the station was making.
The late 1970s was a key period of growth for pirate radio in Dublin, with hot competition developing between Radio Dublin and rival breakaway stations ARD and the Big D. This recording from the medium wave band on 31st December 1979 gives a flavour of how the pirates rang in the new decade that would prove so crucial for Irish radio. It runs from 2351-0035 and switches between ARD on 273 metres, which was due to close down that night, and the Big D on 273 metres.
Paul Vincent winds down ARD in the company of the late Dave C and financial backer Bernard Llewellyn, who explains that the station is closing down in order to apply for a licence. Optimistically, he predicts that local radio will be legalised by June 1980. The late Don Moore, who invited Llewellyn into ARD, is also heard in the background and one of the DJs to say his goodbyes is none other than Ian Dempsey. ARD left the airwaves just after half past midnight but pretty much everyone involved in it – bar Llewellyn – returned in the form of Radio 257 within a few days.
The recording also includes snippets of the Big D’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, including a scratchy phone connection with Dennis Murray who is in the company of drunker revellers in the city centre. We thank Shay Geoghegan for his donation.
Our final recording of CBC is of Alan Edwards on 21st August 1979. It is a partial aircheck of his show from 1930-2130 and begins with Alan thanking Noel Evans (aka Welch) who was on air before him. Of interest are the live-read and pre-recorded adverts for various businesses including Greg Anthony Fashions, Adam and Eve’s Restaurant and Cork Joinery. Requests include one ‘for the girl in the green blouse from the dancer’ at the Ballyphehane disco and another for ‘Miss Ballinacurra’, a village near Cork. People from Blackrock are asked to ring in requests and they duly do so, followed by listeners in Douglas and then Farranree. The next DJ Conor O’Sullivan can’t make it because he has no transport so Alan announces that CBC is to close down at 2130. At the end of the recording is an advert for the ‘Alan Edwards disco roadshow’, a sign of how pirate DJs relied on gigging around town to make ends meet. There’s also a request for Lillian McCarthy (O’Donoghue) and the recording is followed by two personal messages recorded for Lillian by Alan and Noel. The music is fantastic and Alan is an enthusiastic DJ who clearly has many loyal listeners.
As often happens in the world of pirate radio, there was a split in the CBC ranks which led to Stevie Bolger and Con McParland starting Alternative Broadcasting Cork (ABC) from the same building that originally housed CBC in Montenotte. ABC began testing in July 1978 on an announced 233 metres. This station continued into 1979, but again a split from ABC led to the formation of Capital Radio which was on air until 1982. Stevie went on to work with RTÉ Cork Local Radio. Thanks as ever to Lillian O’Donoghue for the photo and recording and to Gearóid Quill and Ian Biggar for background information.