Border series: Radio Star Country breakfast show heard in Norway

Border series: Radio Star Country breakfast show heard in Norway
Solsvik in western Norway – listening post was located in white house in centre (courtesy Svenn Martinsen).

This recording of Radio Star Country from western Norway was made almost a year after the Monaghan station defied the new broadcasting laws and stayed on air, one of a handful of Irish pirates to do so. Isobel Byrne (RIP), the wife of station founder and owner Gerry Byrne presents the breakfast programme. There are very long commercial breaks, featuring mostly Northern businesses and releases and concerts by country music stars. The voice of former offshore pirate legend Don Allen (RIP) is heard on adverts and promos remind listeners that Radio Star Country is Ireland’s only country music station.

Border series: Radio Star Country breakfast show heard in Norway
A 1988 photo of Gerry and Isobel Byrne at the Swan Lake Hotel studio (courtesy Andy Carter).

Audio quality ranges from poor to dire with deep fading and is for serious DXers. There is also wobble on the tape in places due to the passage of time. The recording was made from 981 kHz from 0833-0915 on 5th November 1989 in Solsvik in western Norway, using a Drake SPR-4 receiver with a 200-metre Beverage antenna aimed towards the southwest. It is kindly donated by Svenn Martinsen.

Border series: non-stop Radio Star Country as heard in Norway

Border series: non-stop Radio Star Country as heard in Norway
Interview with Svenn Martinsen from Vestnytt, 1996 (photo by Marit Hommedal).

This recording of Radio Star Country was made in Solsvik in western Norway, northwest of Bergen and facing the North Sea. It features non-stop music in early 1989, not long after all the Irish pirates were suposed to leave the airwaves in the new era of licensed radio. The automated programme includes a promo voiced by the late Don Allen announcing the frequency of 981 kHz or 305 metres, to which Radio Star Country had moved a few weeks previously. The Swan Lake Hotel in Monaghan Town is referenced as the station’s address and a number in Armagh is given for advertising. After 25 minutes the tape changes to another recording featuring a male DJ and adverts for businesses north and south of the border. It is not clear if this was recorded on the same day or on another occasion.

The press photo is from the newspaper Vestnytt on September 4th 1996 and shows the donor of this recording, Svenn Martinsen with his receivers ESKA RX33 DX, Drake SPR-4, Hammarlund SP600 JX21 and Autophon E627. The headline translates as ‘Radioactive priest’, reflecting Svenn’s profession. He recalls: ‘I mostly used the Drake SPR-4 for listening to Radio Star Country 981, Radio North 846, North Atlantic 846, 954 and 1116 and other Irish stations’.

Due to the distance between the transmitter and receiver, there is deep fading at various points in the tape, with the Algerian station on the same frequency coming through underneath. The recording was made on 16th February 1989 from 0745-0813 on a Drake SPR-4 receiver with a 200-metre Beverage antenna aimed towards the southwest from the western Norwegian coast. Many thanks to Svenn for the donation.

Border series: Interview with Don Allen of Radio Star Country

Video recorded by Miles Johnston and donated by Rodney Neill.

The legendary pirate DJ Don Allen (RIP) joined Radio Star Country in March 1989. Canadian by birth, Don cut his teeth with the offshore pirates such as Radio Caroline and Radio Northsea International in the 1960s and 1970s, where he became renowned for his country and western jamboree shows. He came to Ireland in the early 1980s and prior to the closedowns of 1988 worked with pirates such as ERI (Cork), Royal County Radio (Meath), Radio West (Westmeath) and Erneside Radio (Cavan). Don’s last station was the licensed Midlands Radio 103 (now Midlands 103) where he hosted a popular country show until his sudden death in May 1995.

This video from 17th May 1989 contains shots of Radio Star Country’s transmission equipment and includes part of an interview with Don Allen, who says he remains a pirate to the core and has no interest in working for licensed radio. Don reports that the Irish and American country format is proving very popular with listeners and advertisers and indeed, around this time Radio Star Country was announcing itself as the only all-country music station in Ireland. By mid-June 1989, Radio Star Country was noted with an excellent signal on 981 kHz, along with many adverts. The final edition of Anoraks UK’s Weekly Report, published in September 1989, stated that Radio Star Country could be heard over a wide area from Larne in Co. Antrim to Malin Head in Co. Donegal, with the signal also audible on a simple receiver in Dublin and over a large area of north Leinster.

We thank Rodney Neill for his donation of the video, which was made originally by Miles Johnston. Thanks also to Sean Brady for assistance with the text.

Border series: ‘305, keeping the country music alive’

Border series: '305, keeping the country music alive'
Radio Star Country sticker (courtesy Ian Biggar).

Radio Star Country has always been a champion of country music and during the heady days of early 1989, it used the tagline ‘305, keeping the country music alive’, a reference to its wavelength in metres, roughly equivalent to 981 kHz. On 3rd March 1989, veteran country music artist Vernon Oxford, who hails from Arkansas, was featured in an edition of ‘Arena’ on BBC2, in which he travelled around Northern Ireland. Vernon Oxford also visited Radio Star Country in the Swan Lake Hotel in Monaghan, where station owner Gerry Byrne interviewed him and offered Vernon the opportunity to sing live on-air. It was at this time, in March 1989, that it was noted that Radio Star Country was enjoying a successful period, with an excellent (daytime) signal on 981 kHz, plenty of advertisements and strongly featured station promos. Around this time also, ex-Kiss FM (Monaghan) DJ John Friday (also known as Lawrence John) was heard voicing adverts on Radio Star Country.

Border series: '305, keeping the country music alive'
Radio Star studio including Vernon Oxford poster (Anoraks Ireland Collection).

On the morning of Friday 17th March 1989, Radio Star Country was noted off-air, apparently as a result of a visit from officials from the Department of Communications. The station was warned that it would be raided and closed down if it did not cease transmissions. Radio Star Country did switch off its transmitter for a time, but returned later.

Ian Biggar, who donated many recordings for this series, shares his memories of Radio Star Country:

In late July 1988, myself and Ken Baird were on a flying visit to Monaghan Town but of course made time to visit the radio stations operating at that time. Radio Star Country was one of the four and was located in the Swan Lake Hotel. It was very much typical of the mid-range stations of the time with domestic equipment in the studio, but generally was a nice little set up.

To be honest, after that visit I probably didn’t listen to the station again as country music wasn’t really my thing and tended to tune to such stations just to check they were there. Radio Star Country had a decent signal at home in southwest Scotland initially on 927 kHz, then 891 and finally on 981 kHz where it remains to this day.

That all changed on January 1st 1989 when the new broadcasting law was introduced in Ireland. I can clearly remember that Sunday morning and tuning across the now deserted medium wave. On 1188 kHz there was just a mess with a distorted relay of World Music Radio. Surprisingly, 846 kHz was silent as it was rumoured that of all the stations, Radio North from Carndonagh was most likely to defy the legislation. However, tuning to 891 kHz I was surprised and pleased to hear that Radio Star Country was on the air. I don’t think I had heard any rumblings about Star remaining on air, but there it was. It was around 10am and a taped programme was running and I can clearly remember one of the commercials wishing the station all the best for its continuation on air. From then on, I probably listened to the station most days whilst driving to work. I would tune between Star, Radio Dublin and Radio North which had returned to the air.

There were times when Radio Star Country was off air and I would always monitor the channel until they returned, which it always did! I remember one occasion in particular after a break that Gerry Byrne announced the station was now broadcasting from County Tyrone. This was for the benefit of the authorities and the station remained located in north Monaghan. I had now developed an affinity for the station. Yes, the music wasn’t to my taste, but the sheer determination to survive appealed to me.

In this recording from March 1989, Gerry Byrne is on air and the ‘305’ tagline is heard. The voice of popular Canadian country DJ Don Allen (RIP), who joined around this time, features on some of the many adverts from both sides of the border. Audio quality is poor on some commercials, possibly due to a dirty cassette deck. There are also community notices, a promo for ‘All-American Country’ coming up at 3pm and information about transport to a country music concert in Dublin.

The recording was made from 981 kHz on 1st March 1989. Part 1 above runs from 1430-1517 and Part 2 below from 1518-1603.

The recording was made by Rodney Neill and is from the Anoraks Ireland Collection, donated to us by Paul Davidson. Thanks to Ian Biggar for the donation and to Sean Brady for assistance with the text.

Border series: Radio Star Country claims coverage of 15 counties

Border series: Radio Star Country claims coverage of 15 counties
Gerry Byrne and Isobel Byrne (RIP) in 1988 (courtesy Andy Carter).

On Monday 6th February 1989, Radio Star Country left the air on 981 kHz as a result of stormy weather and torrential rain causing the mast to fall down. The station returned to the air on the evening of Tuesday 7th February. On the morning of Wednesday 8th February, the station claimed that it was broadcasting from County Tyrone, although by the afternoon, the Swan Lake Hotel in Monaghan Town was mentioned. The reference to Tyrone was no doubt to give the impression that the station was not in breach of the Republic’s new broadcasting laws but Radio Star Country was never in fact located in the North. The previous week it had said that it was broadcasting from its AM transmitter site in Emyvale, Co. Monaghan, close to the border. It was also noted at this time that Radio Star Country’s signal on 981 kHz was reaching into the north-west of the UK much better than its previous efforts on 891 kHz.

This recording was made on 9th February 1989 from 981 kHz and features station founder Gerry Byrne with small ads, a birthday file and star signs. Plenty of adverts are aired for local businesses on both sides of the border, some of them voiced by Don Allen who is to present a show later. There are references to both the Swan Lake Hotel and Tyrone as the station’s locations. Another promo claims that Radio Star Country is broadcasting to 15 counties including all of Northern Ireland and a population of three million people.

We thank Sean Brady for his assistance with the text and Ian Biggar for the donation of the recording. Part 1 above runs from 0819 and Part 2 below from 0905.

Part 2 from 0905.

The tape was recorded in Scotland and features daytime groundwave reception with some electrical interference.