Northeast series: Radio Rainbow International (1987-1988)

Northeast series: Radio Rainbow International (1987-1988)
The Radio Rainbow International transmitter (photo courtesy of Kieran Murray).

Today we bring you more recordings from Radio Rainbow International, Eddie Caffrey’s high-powered shortwave pirate which broadcast from the Drogheda area on Sunday mornings from 1985-1988. Radio Rainbow could also be heard on 1521 kHz AM and on FM locally. There was no mast at the house, so the antenna cable was extended by attaching a stone to it and throwing it up over a power line at the bottom of the garden. Sometimes the transmission arrangements of the pirates were not for the faint-hearted!

Northeast series: Radio Rainbow International (1987-1988)
The Radio Rainbow ‘antenna system’ attached to a power line (photo courtesy of Kieran Murray).

One of those involved in Radio Rainbow was Kieran Murray who also worked in Boyneside Radio along with Eddie and had been with Radio Carousel previously. Kieran presented a weekly FRC show on Rainbow with news and information about the exciting world of pirate radio in Ireland and abroad. The recording above is an extract from one such programme in April 1987. The second recording below is from January 1988 and features a relay of John Dean (aka Colin Strong) presenting his own free radio show on the Scottish pirate WLR (no connection with the Waterford station).

In its later years, Radio Rainbow regularly relayed UK pirate stations which were facing harassment by the authorities. We thank Eddie Caffrey for sharing these recordings.

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)
Telstar Community Radio flyer from 1981 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Today we bring you the history of Telstar Community Radio from the Dundalk area. Thanks to Ian Biggar for the text, and to Eddie Caffrey and John Gartlan for additional information.

After the sudden closure of North East Radio (NER), it is not surprising that another radio station was being planned in Dundalk. The station was pretty much ready by mid-September 1980, although due to circumstances did not come on air until 1st November. Telstar Radio began daily transmissions announcing 250 metres, which was an actual frequency of 1197 kHz. Programmes were broadcast from 0700-0000 with several of the full-time staff of seven coming from NER. The station broadcast seven daily news bulletins, including a late round-up at 2330. The music featured was varied including pop with a fair smattering of country. There were specialist programmes in the evening covering genres like rock and traditional.

The station was located above The Wine Tavern on Park Street where two studios were located. The station’s first transmitter was a 500-watt unit built by Eddie Caffrey. This, along with a 100-foot tower, was located on the Blackrock Road. Coverage was stated as ranging from Drogheda to Newry, taking in towns such as Carrickmacross, Ardee and Armagh City although the range was compromised by the presence of BBC Radio 3 on 1197 kHz from Enniskillen. Later Telstar’s transmitter was replaced by a commercial Eddystone 1kW unit.

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)
Telstar Community Radio rates card from 1986 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Transmissions continued with a 50-watt FM transmitter added on 88.5 MHz and Telstar built a good following, even luring the well-known Ray Stone away from Radio Carousel. Ray went on to take up the position of station manager.

However, Telstar Radio was delivered a blow just before Christmas 1981 when it was issued with an order to close by Dundalk Urban Council. The main problem was the lack of planning permission for the 100-foot mast on the Blackrock Road. The station had also moved its studios to this location earlier in the year.

Ray Stone told a local newspaper that 19 full- and part-time staff would be out of work. It may have seemed that the station was finished, but with sheer determination they returned to the air in February 1982, now with studios located above the Brake Pub in Blackrock near Dundalk. A new AM tower was erected on land on the Ardee Road between Dundalk and Knockbridge.

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)
The Brake Pub in Blackrock, Co. Louth (photo by John Walsh).

The station was back to a regular service and regaining its listener base. However, in early 1986 it became known that Telstar was for sale. A buyer was found and by May 1st the sale was complete and the station moved back into Dundalk town to purpose-built studios on Earl Street. Staff like Ray Stone and Alec Fennell remained with the station. Around this time, Anoraks UK monitored the station for a day, but unfortunately described the programming as bland. In August 1987, Telstar appeared on a second medium wave frequency of 1170 kHz from a site in Castlebellingham. This was short-lived as the coverage was not great and by the end of September the transmitter had been switched off.

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)
Leaflet about Telstar’s coverage in 1988 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

In April 1987 a new FM frequency of 89.8 MHz was tried with a high-powered FM transmitter running 150 watts. However, interference was caused in the local area meaning the rig had to be switched off and did not return. The link transmitter to the AM site was moved from 88.5 to 88.3 as the former channel suffered interference from an RTE transmitter on Three Rock Mountain. Telstar continued broadcasting right through until an emotional closedown at 1pm on Saturday 31st December 1988.

Above you can hear the Telstar Alfasound jingles package from January 1987. We thank John Gartlan for sharing this. The two recordings below are from the early and final days of Telstar and are courtesy of Ian Biggar. The first is from 1350-1448 on 13th August 1981 and features Mark Sommers followed by Shane Mullen. The second is from 0915-1230 on 17th December 1988 and features Eamonn Duffy followed by the late Alec Evans (Fennell).

Telstar Community Radio audio from August 1981.
Telstar Community Radio audio from December 1988.

Northeast series: Boyneside Radio raid (1987)

Northeast series: Boyneside Radio raid (1987)
Drogheda Local News, 17th April 1987 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

After the merger things ran pretty smoothly for Boyneside Radio. The advertising log was healthy and the station was really establishing itself as one of the leading regional radio stations in Ireland. However, like a bolt from the blue all that changed. On the afternoon of Monday 13th April 1987 an official from the Department of Communications, along with three Gardaí, entered the station premises on Mill Lane. The staff were told to close all transmitters, cease broadcasting at once and never return to the air. The official said that interference was being caused, but refused to elaborate further.

The only transmitter that was thought might have caused the alleged interference was the FM link on 99.1 MHz, as this was the only transmitter located in a built-up area. This was taken out of service and replaced with a known and tested clean transmitter. In the meantime, unofficial contact had been made between a station representative and a head official in the Department. It was arranged that the official would check on the morning of Wednesday 15th if there was still interference. However, on that day at 1407 the raiding party arrived consisting of six Gardaí, one detective, and two Department officials. During the raid a local newspaper photographer had his camera snatched by a Department official. This was covered in the next issue of the paper (see above).

The officials then proceeded to remove all equipment from the studios as well as the FM transmitter and compressor. They used cutters rather than disconnecting the equipment. The station was instructed to switch off all transmitters and never return or another raid would take place.

Northeast series: Boyneside Radio raid (1987)
The former Boyneside studios on Mill Lane, Drogheda (photo by John Walsh).

The officials left and headed back to Dublin. Meantime Boyneside Radio was back on the air by 1730 from a secret location. Programmes were pretty much as normal, although initially some technical breaks were experienced. By the end of April 1987 the station was back in the usual studios on Mill Lane and things returned to normal.

The recording above is of an interview with Eddie Caffrey about the incident on the Radio West Anorak Hour on the following Sunday, 19th April 1987. The recording below is of Boyneside shortly after the raid on 23rd April 1987, featuring automatic music from 0620-0700 and Mike Ahern (Richard McCullen) on the breakfast show from 0700-0936. It was made in Blackpool by Gary Hogg and the station’s output sounds perfectly normal. Of interest to DXers is the skywave propagation in the first hour when ERI in Cork, also on 1305 kHz, can be heard clearly at times. Many thanks to Ian Biggar for these recordings and for the research.

Boyneside Radio, 0620-0757, 23.04.87
Boyneside Radio, 0757-0936, 23.04.87

Boyneside Radio continued to provide a service to the people of the north east until finally closing at just after 3pm on Saturday 31st December 1988.

Full recording: Radio Carousel Northern Ireland

Full recording: Radio Carousel Northern Ireland
Big O aka Oliver McMahon in the Radio Carousel Northern Ireland studio at the Carrickdale Hotel c. 1986 (photo courtesy of Eddie Caffrey).

In addition to the main station in Dundalk, at its height in the early 1980s, Radio Carousel had three satellite stations in Drogheda, Navan and right on the border. Radio Carousel Northern Ireland broadcast from Carrickcarnon on AM and FM, all aimed at capturing the northern market. A 1982 leaflet claimed that the Northern Ireland coverage area was ‘north to Belfast, west to Armagh City, Portadown, and Craigavon. The newest of Radio Carousel’s satellite stations which effectively covers 3/4 of Northern Ireland with a strong signal on the 212 medium wave. For four and a half years we have been aware of the vast listenership that Radio Carousel has in Northern Ireland’. In 1986 the northern service was broadcast on 1071 kHz but it moved to 1260 kHz in 1987.

This recording was made from 1260 kHz on 21st April 1987 from 1115-1200 and 1208-1253. The first presenter is Stevie Mack with Irish music and requests and he is followed by Carousel boss Hugh Hardy’s Country Call programme. There are plenty of advertisements from Newry, suggesting that this is the northern service which then relays Country Call from Dundalk. Radio Carousel Dundalk was ordered to leave the air in January 1987 following claims of interference by the authorities and closed its studio in the town’s shopping centre. The northern and Navan stations continued but programmes from Dundalk resumed from February. This was the beginning of the end for Carousel and by early 1988 only the Navan station was broadcasting as normal.

Full recording: Radio Carousel Northern Ireland
Radio Carousel rate card from the original Dundalk station (courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

Audio quality is fair as the recording was made on the move from AM. There is a sense of a station in decline with a stale style, erratic audio levels on advertisements and references to ‘medium wave and VHF’ at a time when many stations were plugging ‘FM stereo’. Some presenters from KLAS, Hugh Hardy’s easy listening station in Dublin, can be heard voicing ads including a very young John Walsh of Pirate.ie. We thank Gary Hogg for sharing this recording.

Interview: Hugh Hardy (Radio Carousel)

Interview: Hugh Hardy (Radio Carousel)
Radio Carousel owner Hugh Hardy complete with cowboy hat in 1980 (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

The owner and operator of the Radio Carousel network was country music impresario Hugh Hardy from Omeath in Co. Louth. He presented the popular lunchtime Country Call programme which was relayed from Dundalk to the other satellite stations at the height of Carousel’s operations. Hugh lived in Dublin and commuted to Dundalk but in November 1986 he set up KLAS, an easy listening station aimed at the Dublin market, in a garage complex at the back of his home.

Radio Carousel Dundalk closed on Friday 23rd January 1987 after a surprise visit from officials of the Department of Communications who complained about interference to mobiles and directed the station to close down. Carousel left the air the following day at 1pm but its other stations in Navan and at the border continued.

Interview: Hugh Hardy (Radio Carousel)
An advertisement for one of Hugh Hardy’s programmes in the Sunday World from 1985 (Alan MacSimoin Collection).

This recording features a renowned interview with Hugh Hardy on the Radio West Anoraks Programme on Sunday 25th January. The weekly show was always unpredictable and relied heavily on rumour and hearsay, as station owner Shaun Coyne openly admitted. The recording opens with a heated argument between Hugh and Shaun with both trading accusations. Hugh then explains the reasons for Carousel Dundalk leaving the air and announces that given the success of KLAS, he is to concentrate on the easy listening station from then on. Both station owners compare notes about their experience of presenters down the years, with Hugh Hardy recounting how one of his newsreaders resigned live on air the previous week. The other presenter Don Allen tries to get a word in from time to time without much success but the interview ends amicably.

Radio Carousel Dundalk would in fact return in mid-February 1987 but by early 1988 both the Dundalk and border stations were in decline, leaving only Radio Carousel Navan. Hugh Hardy did not get involved in the licensed stations after 1989 but developed his video production business instead. He died in 2008.

There is a strong whiff of the drama of 1980s pirate radio in this recording: pirates encroaching on each other’s frequencies, RTÉ ordering pirates to move, stations being forced to close down and rumours circulating about those working in the business. We thank Ian Biggar for sharing this recording.