‘The Smurf’ on the Cork Broadcasting Company

'The Smurf' on the Cork Broadcasting Company
Pat O’Rourke aka Smurf at CBC, August 1979 (courtesy of Lillian O’Donoghue)

One of the popular DJs on the Cork Broadcasting Company (CBC) was Pat O’Rourke, also known as ‘The Smurf’. His show had a big following, with many listeners writing in with requests and dedications.

This recording is a partial aircheck and begins at 1000 on Friday 15th June 1979. As ever the mailbag is full and it takes Pat a while to read out the letters between records. The show is a great example of how pirate radio made close connections with its listeners and built up a strong local following.

Thanks to Lillian O’Donoghue for the recording and photos.

‘It was fresh, very risky and a bit of novelty’: the early days of CBC.

'It was fresh, very risky and a bit of novelty': the early days of CBC.
Alan Edwards of CBC in May 1979 (courtesy Lillian O’Donoghue).

Brothers Noel and Trevor Welch were both DJs with the Cork Broadcasting Company (CBC) and remained involved with radio in Cork during the pirate era and beyond. They co-authored The Jolly Roger: Pirate Radio Days in Cork, which was published in 2015. In that book, Noel remembers that pirate radio ‘struck a blow for pioneering DJs everywhere when stations first hit the airwaves in Cork in the late 1970s. It was fresh, very risky and a bit of a novelty. We hadn’t heard anything like it before. The pirates of the airwaves set the tone for pop radio in this country’.

'It was fresh, very risky and a bit of novelty': the early days of CBC.
Noel Evans (Welch) of CBC in January 1979 (courtesy Lillian O’Donoghue).

Noel responded to an advert seeking DJs placed by CBC in The Evening Echo. He was working with the Echo at the time and remembers how the advert almost jumped off the page at him. Noel had worked previously in nightclubs but had no radio experience and even lacked the basic equipment to record a demo tape. He had to borrow his uncle’s radio-cassette player and recorded a demo spinning his favourite vinyl singles. Once offered a slot at CBC he had to keep his radio hobby a secret at work because of the suspicion between local press and pirate stations.

This recording of CBC features Noel Welch (known as Noel Evans on air) and Alan Edwards. The recording starts at around 1925 on 15th June 1979 and is partially airchecked. Audio quality is poor due to the age of the cassette and the fact that this was recorded on a tape recorder held up to an AM radio. Thanks to Lillian O’Donoghue for the recording and photos.

Early Cork pirate radio: the story of CBC

Early Cork pirate radio: the story of CBC
Pete Andrews (O’Neill) and Lillian McCarthy, 21 August 1979 (courtesy of Lillian).

We are delighted to launch a new series on the history of early pirate radio in Cork, due to a large donation by Lillian O’Donoghue. Lillian McCarthy, as she was then known, was a dedicated fan of the Cork pirate scene and a regular visitor to the city’s station. She has donated many hours of tapes and hundreds of photographs to our archives and we will feature these in coming months, beginning with a mini-series on the Cork Broadcasting Company (CBC). 

CBC began broadcasting on 14th January 1978 announcing 230 metres. The station was first located in the suburb of Montenotte and claimed a radius of about 10 miles. It was set up by music shop owner Don Walsh (known also as DJ Daniels), Dublin-born DJ Stevie Bolger who had moved to Cork to work for a nightclub, and engineer Con McParland who looked after the transmitters. Con McParland had operated Radio Sundown International in the city in the early 1970s. It is possible that the first transmitter used by CBC was the former Sundown one.

The book The Jolly Roger: Pirate Radio Days in Cork by Noel and Trevor Welch described how CBC shook up the Cork radio landscape: ‘CBC had an instant, astonishing impact on Cork’s social scene. Its arrival on the airwaves electrified local youngsters who were desperate to listen to their favourite pop and rock music. If RTÉ was perceived as “stuffy” and conservative, CBC was exciting, brash and willing to try new ideas’.

Early Cork pirate radio: the story of CBC
John Craig, Mark Bell, Tony Allen, Geoff Harris and Pat O’Rourke, 1 August 1978 (courtesy Lillian O’Donoghue).

Don Walsh is quoted in that book as saying that CBC was set up to try in Cork what was being done already by stations such as Radio Caroline in the UK. The station used sports cars as a promotion in the St. Patrick’s Day parade 1978 but was raided on 22nd March by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and equipment was seized. According to issue 4 of Sounds Alternative, the newsletter of FRC Ireland, CBC were raided on Wednesday 22nd March 1978 whilst broadcasting from 7 Farley Place, Montenotte. However, they returned to the air the following day using a standby transmitter.

An article in the Irish Press dated March 26th 1978 was titled ‘Broadcasting Act challenge by Cork radio pirates fails’. It detailed how Bolger, Walsh and McParland were seeking a declaration that certain provisions of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1926 were unconstitutional and contrary to natural justice. The case was heard by Justice Hamilton in the High Court in Dublin and unsurprisingly failed.

Early Cork pirate radio: the story of CBC
Alan Edwards in December 1978 (photo courtesy Lillian O’Donoghue).

Although announcing 230 metres (actually 1303 kHz), CBC was reported to be broadcasting on 1394 kHz by UK DXer Dave Small who visited Ireland in August 1979. At that time, station operating hours were 0800- 2400, but sometimes they closed early around 2100. The address was 36 St Patrick’s Quay. In issue 9 of Sounds Alternative, an FRC Ireland team reported on a visit to Cork on Saturday September 2nd 1979. They said that CBC was broadcasting on 215 metres (that would tie in with previously reported 1394 kHz). Transmitter power was estimated to be in the region of 100 watts and they were using a long wire antenna supported by two five-foot poles, presumably on the warehouse roof. It was noted that the sound quality was a little below average, but not bad by any standard. An Irish station list published in the December 1979 issue of Short Wave News listed CBC as broadcasting on 1400 kHz. Lillian McCarthy wrote in her photo album that it closed on 8th September 1979.

This recording of CBC was made on 14th and 15th June 1979 and is partially airchecked. It begins with Alan Edwards from around 9pm on the 14th, who ends his show with a preview of the next day’s line-up. This is followed by a clip of Steve Taylor on breakfast on 15th June as well as Conor O’Sullivan and Susan James (O’Connor). At the end of the tape is a clip of Pete Andrews (O’Neill). There are numerous promos for station DJs doing discos around the city and country, a reflection of the strong connection between the pirates and the nightclub scene of the time. Audio is poor because this was recorded on a portable tape recorder held up to a radio – Lillian had yet to get a radio-cassette recorder!

Thanks to Ian Biggar, Rob Allen and Pete O’Neill for their help with background research.

Limerick Broadcasting Company

Limerick Broadcasting Company

Limerick Broadcasting Company (LBC) was a late-1970s pirate based in Limerick City. Information is scant, but the station is included in an update on the Irish scene by John Dowling, published in Sounds Alternative in December 1979, which lists it on 270 metres medium wave or 1110 kHz, so off-channel. The report says: ‘LBC was very cautious when dealing with us and reluctantly allowed us a look around the studios. We were asked not to publicise any information about the station, especially its location’. LBC continued to be logged until the spring of 1981 but we have no further information about it.

This recording of LBC is from 1st August 1979 from 1623-1710 and features DJ Jeff Steele with music and requests. 270 metres and 1110 kHz are announced on air. Only one advert is heard in the entire recording, so it’s clear that LBC wasn’t operating on a commercial basis. The heyday of the 1980s was yet to come, and most Irish pirates were small or part-time operators at this time. There’s a break in audio towards the end but we’re not sure if this is due to a technical issue at LBC or a problem with the cassette.

We thank John Breslin for his donation of this recording.

Ronan Collins on ARD in 1979

Ronan Collins on ARD in 1979
The ARD logo as featured in Kieran Murray’s ‘Offshore Echos’ from 1978 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Many of Ireland’s broadcasters of the future cut their teeth in ARD and Radio 257. This is a recording of longtime RTÉ presenter Ronan Collins, reading the 4pm news on ARD on 7th May 1979. Ronan presented a show every afternoon from 2-4pm, as the daytime schedule below shows.

Ronan Collins on ARD in 1979
Extract from the ARD schedule in ‘Offshore Echos’ magazine in 1978 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

The station was still located at Belvedere Place at this stage. It moved to the Crofton Airport Hotel and relaunched as Radio 257 on New Years’ Day 1980 but reverted to the ARD name later that year. We thank Dave Reddy for his donation of this recording.