Northeast series: Rainbow Radio (1987-1988)

Northeast series: Rainbow Radio (1987-1988)
Advert for Rainbow Radio from August 1987, reproduced from the Sunday World by Anoraks UK Weekly Report.

Rainbow Radio was one of several Co. Louth stations which placed transmitters beside the border in order to beam their signals into the North. It was set up by former Boyneside Radio North staff ‘Big O’, aka Oliver McMahon and the late Eugene Markey, onetime Chairman of Newry Council. Rainbow began broadcasting on 2nd of August 1987 from a disused pigsty beside a furniture warehouse in Carrickcarnon right on the border. The musical style was country and Irish as was common on many rural pirate stations at the time. Rainbow’s AM frequency was 1152 kHz with about 500 watts of power, using a rig built by Eddie Caffrey of Boyneside Radio. For approximately a year, 96.1 FM was also used.

An advert for Rainbow in the Sunday World Northern Ireland edition in August 1987 (see above) used the slogan ‘the station of the stars’ and listed presenters Big O, Eugene Markey, Tommy Ballance, Leon and Danny Doran and Jeff T. Telephone numbers for Warrenpoint and Newry were given, reflecting the fact that Rainbow was aiming at the south Armagh and south Down market.   

Editions of the Anoraks UK Weekly Report from the time mention confusion between Rainbow Radio and another Louth station, Radio Rainbow International, a hobby shortwave operation set up by Eddie Caffrey near Drogheda. Attempts were made to get the new Rainbow to change its name but this was said to be impossible as they had already printed promotional material.

Due to the proximity of the transmitter sites of Radio Carousel, Boyneside North and Rainbow in Carrickcarnon, there were frequent reports of mixing of signals. In December 1987, Weekly Report reported fierce competition between the three stations when new FM transmitters were installed. In July 1988, Rainbow Radio was reported as being audible in Belfast on 96.1 FM, but the station was forced to move frequencies in November when BBC Radio 1 installed a new FM transmitter for Belfast on 96.0. Rainbow moved to 98.5, blocking out the signal of easy listening station CLASS which could be heard from Dublin.

In its final months of existence, Rainbow ran regular outside broadcasts on Saturday and Sunday evenings which were said by Anoraks UK to be very popular. They closed shortly after 3pm on the 31st of December 1988 with the presenters signing Auld Lang Syne.

The recording above is the of the launch of Rainbow Radio on 2nd August 1987 and features Big O and Eugene Markey on air. It was made in Portadown about 45 km from Carrickcarnon and the signal is fairly weak with variable audio levels. The second recording below is of Big O near the end of Rainbow’s existence on 29th December 1988 from 0918-1000. It was recorded from 98.5 FM. Many thanks to Rodney Neil and Ian Biggar for these recordings.  

That concludes our series on the pirates of the northeast in the decade up to the end of 1988. Thanks to everyone who contributed, especially Ian Biggar, Eddie Caffrey, John Gartlan, Kieran Murray, Michael Gerrard and Rodney Neil. Click on the tabs ‘Louth’ or ‘Meath’ if you want to hear all the recordings.

Northeast series: Michael Gerrard of Boyneside Radio

Northeast series: Michael Gerrard of Boyneside Radio
Michael Gerrard in the early days of LMFM where he still presents a show today.

Michael Gerrard was a well-known voice on late-night Boyneside Radio in the station’s later years and gained a large following on his Radio Romance and Night-Time Music slots. Like so many pirate presenters, Michael joined Boyneside when just a teenager and in this interview with John Walsh, he shares his memories of the station with us. After 1989, he went on to work with the local licensed station LMFM.

We also thank Michael for sharing with us two of his final recordings in the run-up to the closedown of Boyneside on 31th December 1988. The first is an aircheck of the final Night-Time Music show on 23rd December.

The second features the final half-hour of Michael’s programme on Friday 30th December 1988, the penultimate day of broadcasting. Some of this has been airchecked.

Both recordings include a farewell message for Boyneside listeners voiced by Eddie Caffrey.

Aircheck: Treble TR Radio

Treble TR was Dublin’s country and Irish music station and broadcast from 1981 until the end of 1988 on 945 kHz and 99.5 FM. This recording is from the 30th of December 1988, the station’s final day of broadcast. It begins just after 6pm with Aidan Cooney referring to the fact that Q102 had just gone off the air. The aircheck also includes a recording of Simon Dee of Radio Caroline fame criticising the Dutch & British governments’ approach to pirate radio and Aidan reminiscing about other Dublin stations. Aidan also talks to two people who had been involved in radio in Wicklow. Bray Local Broadcasting (BLB) had closed down earlier that week.

Aircheck: Treble TR Radio
Image courtesy of DX Archive

Bandscan: who’s still on air on 31.12.1988?

Centre Radio (94.2 FM from Bayside in northeast Dublin) was one of the few stations to remain on air until the final deadline of midnight on the 31 st of December. In this recording Bobby Gibbson (Brian Greene) and Dave Evans (Eamonn Roe) discuss who is still on air in the early hours of the morning of the 31 st . We then hear another bandscan from just before 8.00am and a very optimistic prediction about the availability of new licences in 1989. You can read about the history of Centre here./

Bandscan: who's still on air on 31.12.1988?

Aircheck: Capitol Radio/Nitesky 96

Capitol Radio/Nitesky 96 specialised in indie and alternative music and was one of the last stations in Dublin on air on New Year’s Eve 1988, broadcasting live from Side’s nightclub. This recording is from the 30th December 1988 and features Conor Brooks promoting the listeners’ all-time Alternative Top 30 that was to be broadcast the following day, the final day. The suggested bands and songs give a good indication of Capitol’s unique musical style. The Alternative Top 10 based on listeners’ votes was a popular weekly feature on the station.

Aircheck: Capitol Radio/Nitesky 96
Clippings from Alan MacSimoin collection.