Closedown of Centre Radio, New Year’s Eve 1988

Closedown of Centre Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
Brian Greene on air and John Walsh in the ‘newsroom’, 31st December 1988.

Centre Radio closed down at exactly midnight on 31st December 1988 in compliance with new legislation which was supposed to silence pirate radio and herald the legalisation of the sector. From what we can establish, Centre was one of just five stations in Dublin still broadcasting that evening, the others being Capitol Radio, Phoenix Radio (Blanchardstown), Dreamtime Radio (a hobby station in Glasnevin) and of course Radio Dublin which defied the new law.

Closedown of Centre Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
Brian Greene prepares to close down Centre Radio at midnight.

This is the final 42 minutes of Centre Radio from 2322 to 0000 presented by Brian Greene. The final song was ‘I want to be free’ by Toyah Wilcox, which was the station’s anthem. Listen right to the end when after the final station ident, the transmitter is switched off and 94.2 FM falls silent.

Closedown of Centre Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
L-R: Eamonn Roe, Tom Berry and John Walsh after Centre closed down.

It was a seriously downbeat New Year’s party at the Mid-Sutton Community Centre in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1989 as the new radio era dawned with only Radio Dublin to disrupt the government’s plans.

Closedown of Centre Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
Brian and John after the midnight closedown.

Brian’s reflections

Centre Radio in 1988 was the end of a run of four years of my youth where I spent every free hour involved in radio. Not just the DJing but the building, planning and keeping stations on air in oases of time blocks where I could put stations on for holidays or breaks or even weekends. Then came Centre Radio 88 and it was a project without end: full-time, on air daily and gaining real community kudos as we put down roots in Bayside.

As an example of the community roots we developed, the following is a true story. We were a 40-watt station. The transmitter on FM was unusual for the era in that it was a valve transmitter. The voltages in a valve transmitter are high tension using transformers. Transformers degrade over time and melt down, or at least the one we had was dying while frying. We badly needed a new transformer and we took to the airwaves with a promo in our programming asking the community to donate a 600-volt transformer to the station. We had the news item added to the Bayside Parish Newsletter (the notice must have looked odd among the usual Novena of Grace and Pioneer Total Abstinence Association dates for meetings notices). Our prayers were answered as a parishioner who read our cry for help, delivered three transformers to our studio and we were grateful for the community spirit in action. It was a good deed from a good Samaritan (I don’t think I can milk any more puns from this story!)

So it was a project without end until Ray Burke TD of Fianna Fáil announced that all pirates had to shut down by December 31st 1988. We unlike most stations took this to mean on the 31st not the 30th (before the 31st). The period from 1978-1988 for pirate radio or free radio, as we called it back then, saw massive development in the sector (see our paper on the topic here). But following Burke’s introduction of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1988, free radio changed forever and its growth was badly disrupted.

Community radio was neglected in the shake out of new commercial radio. The new stations were tame imitations of the former pirates. It would be seven years before community radio had a chance to start. The Centre Radio crew didn’t give up and applied for a licence as Bay Radio Group. Near FM won that licence overlapping our area in a small way. Centre became Radio Caroline Dublin from 1989-2001 (one of the longest running continuous pirates on air in Ireland). The core gang didn’t break up, didn’t leave radio and many are still involved to this day. We just never got to have Bayside Community Radio and it wouldn’t work now. But something different would work.

Centre was a youth radio service but with enough adults and young adults around and some serious radio heads there was never a bedroom radio vibe to the station. The dedication of the crew at the time was massive. We went out with a bang. And stayed on air to the end. The tapes (archived here) remind me of a time when radio was the social media and through study and archive creation both John and I now know that ‘radio was the first social media’ is not a glib throwaway comment but in fact the truth. TV was and still is not as accessible as radio and radio for me was the medium of choice that has the power – and is yet to have its finest hour. We shall overcome. Only The Strong Survive. Catch Us If You Can. Long live free radio.

Closedown of Centre Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
A quiet New Year dawns at Mid-Sutton Community Centre.

John’s reflections

It was an emotional time then and the recording still stirs plenty of feelings as I listen back decades later. On New Year’s Eve 1988 I had gone full circle: two-and-a-half years previously I had first cut my broadcasting teeth on the predecessor to Centre Radio, Big Beat Radio, set up by Brian and others in June 1986. I was also involved with Centre from its earliest days and went on to work at KLAS, an easy listening station playing music for my grandparents but luckily located in the same housing estate as I grew up. It was to Centre that I returned at the end of the pirate era, as we worked day and night to keep the station on air throughout Christmas 1988 and right up to the final evening. That marked my final pirate broadcast but the free radio spirit never left me and it is a pleasure to keep it alive through this archive.  

We were just kids having fun and nobody lost their job or fell on hard times as a result, but looking back now, there’s no doubt that radio got me through my teenage years, helped me work out who I was and kept me out of trouble – how ironic, given that what we were doing was illegal! What replaced the pirates was but a pale imitation of the golden era of 1978-1988 and the government was particularly neglectful of the community sector of which Centre Radio formed a part. But Centre and other stations gave me a great start in radio and on the back of my experience, radio and television journalism became my trade and I earned my crust from it throughout the 1990s. I’m delighted to be still involved through my local community station Flirt FM in Galway, but will never forgot the excitement of those heady teenage pirate years in 1980s Dublin.

Closedown of Midwest Radio, New Year’s Eve 1988

Closedown of Midwest Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
The final record played on Midwest is handed by Chris Carroll to Denise Moran (photo by Michael Connaughton).

Midwest Radio was one of the west’s most popular radio stations, coming on air initially for just a few months at the end of 1978 and returning full-time from November 1985. Set up by dancehall promoter Paul Claffey and local DJ Chris Carroll, it was based at the Midas Nightclub in Ballyhaunis and played a popular diet of Irish and country music.  

Closedown of Midwest Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
Paul Claffey with Midwest staff and friends at the farewell concert (photo by Michael Connaughton).

The station agreed to close on 30th December 1988 in case of any breach of the midnight deadline on New Year’s Eve. According to a history of the station, Magic and Madness: The Midwest Radio Phenomenon, the station’s single phone line went into meltdown when Paul Claffey announced the closure date a few weeks before Christmas. In a sign of its huge popularity across Mayo, local TD Jim Higgins was among those who led a campaign to allow Midwest to continue beyond the New Year’s Eve deadline.  

Closedown of Midwest Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
The packed Midas Nightclub for the farewell concert on 30th December 1988 (photo by Michael Connaughton).

A final farewell concert at the Midas was arranged for the night of Friday, 30th December. From 10am when it opened its doors, crowds of fans descended on the nightclub from across Mayo and such was the traffic chaos that Gardaí had to ask Midwest to stop advertising the event. The final programme was presented by former Garda John Duggan who had begun his pirate career when still a serving member of the force.

Closedown of Midwest Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
Directors of Midwest Radio at the IRTC hearing in Galway for the Mayo licence, 3rd March 1989 (photo by Michael Connaughton).

Over a thousand people packed into the Midas for Midwest’s final concert which included country singers such as TR Dallas, Declan Nerney and Kevin Prendergast. Paul Claffey paid tribute to Midwest presenters and behind the scenes staff, inviting them all onto the stage to rapturous applause. Some of the musicians credited Midwest with their success, mentioning how it and other pirates such as Breffni Radio in Co. Cavan had showcased country music when it was ignored by RTÉ. There were also confident predictions that Midwest would be back and although most of the pirates lost out in the new regime, Midwest returned as a licensed station on Monday, 24th July 1989. The station continues to be highly successful to this day.  

This recording is of the final hour of Midwest live from the Midas, made from 98.6 FM from 0056-0158 on 31st December 1988. We thank John Breslin for the donation and James Laffey for the photos.

Centre Radio prepares to close, New Year’s Eve 1988

Centre Radio prepares to close, New Year's Eve 1988
No smiles from Brian Greene and John Walsh as they prepare for closedown on 31st December 1988.

The final two hours of Centre Radio from 10pm on New Year’s Eve were presented by Bobby Gibbson (Brian Greene) with other presenters dropping in to say their goodbyes during the evening. Richard Taylor (John Walsh) and Dave Evans (Eamonn Roe) were also on the final programme and there were plenty of memories of the two years of Centre Radio and reflections on the pirate scene in general.

Centre Radio prepares to close, New Year's Eve 1988
Eamonn Roe (Dave Evans) on the final day.

There was also criticism of the gap that would be left by the closedown of the pirates but optimism that local licensed radio would be on the air within months. This recording is of the second last hour of Centre Radio from 2204-2304 on 31st December 1988.

Interview with Paul Davidson of Anoraks Ireland on Centre Radio

Interview with Paul Davidson of Anoraks Ireland on Centre Radio
Anoraks Ireland card and logo with Paul Davidson’s name.

On its final day of broadcasting on 31st December 1988, there was a serious anorak feel to Centre Radio in Bayside as it looked back at the pirate radio scene and caught up with those who had been involved with it. During his final show, Richard Taylor (John Walsh) interviewed Paul Davidson (Tony Donlon) of Anoraks Ireland who had recorded and documented so much of Irish pirate radio in the 1980s. In the recording above which was made after 8pm, John asked Tony who was still on air in Dublin and got his views about the forthcoming legalisation of local radio.

Interview with Paul Davidson of Anoraks Ireland on Centre Radio
Centre Radio, Christmas 1986. L-R behind: Liam Ward, Brian Greene, Pauline Reddin, Declan Meade, Eamonn Roe. L-R front: Iris Conroy, Peter Walsh.

Earlier at 3pm on December 31st, Brian Greene interviewed Derek Jones and got his thoughts on the final day of pirate radio. Derek was one of those behind the shortwave station Radio Valleri based in Baldoyle, Dublin 13 and in 1986, he got involved with Big Beat Radio also in Baldoyle. Big Beat was a summer youth station which preceded Centre Radio and many of the same young DJs were involved.

Interview with Paul Davidson of Anoraks Ireland on Centre Radio
Derek Jones at Centre Radio, Christmas 1986.

Derek continues to broadcast today and in this extended interview with Brian Greene, he looks back at many happy decades behind the microphone.

More of the final day of Centre Radio, New Year’s Eve 1988

More of the final day of Centre Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
In the studio on December 31st, L-R: Brian Greene, Dave O’Flynn, Tom Campbell, John Walsh, Eamonn Roe.

Today we bring you more recordings of the final day of Centre Radio on 31st December 1988 as the airwaves fell silent to make way for new radio legislation. In its two years on air, Centre Radio was based in youth centres or clubs in Baldoyle and Bayside in northeast Dublin and trained about 80 young people in radio. On the final day, various DJs did an hour each and others dropped in to say their goodbyes. Despite serious sleep deprivation, Brian Greene kept it all going. Behind the scenes was Tom Berry (RIP), who had given the youthful station credibility and kept an eye on output since it moved to Bayside.

More of the final day of Centre Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
Tom Berry (RIP) who was involved in running Centre Radio when it moved to Bayside in 1987.

On 31st December, there was a special news bulletin every hour from 12 noon to 7pm with Richard Taylor (John Walsh) which included features about well-known pirates that were closing down or had already left the airwaves. The first recording above is an aircheck of the hour 1308-1408 with Stephen Davitt (Daragh O’Sullivan) and Andy Callaghan. News at 2pm features Capitol Radio which was also due to close at midnight and Sunshine Radio which switched off on 30th December. You can hear another recording of Daragh O’Sullivan here.

More of the final day of Centre Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
Pauline Reddin and Conal Lawlor on New Year’s Eve 1988.

The second recording below is of DJ Caroline (Pauline Reddin) from 1715-1815. News at 6pm features KLAS/Class Radio. Pauline was Brian’s girlfriend at the time and they would later get married. She presented ‘Music of the Century’, an easy listening show. Centre had a broad range of musical styles from easy listening to punk.