Pirate Pioneers: Radio Empathy from 1973

Pirate Pioneers: Radio Empathy from 1973
Radio Empathy QSL card from 1973 (courtesy of John Dowling).

Late summer of 1972 was a busy period for pirate radio in Dublin. Kieran Murray remembered one particular day in September in the first edition of his FRC Ireland Newsletter.

Pirate Pioneers: Radio Empathy from 1973

Of course, such increased activity prompted a proportionate response from the P&T which culminated in the raid on Radio Milinda on December 17th. This pretty much silenced all the free radio stations in the city with the exception of one. Radio Empathy commenced broadcasts in early 1973 from the Churchtown area. The station operated on Sunday afternoons as well as some late-night transmissions on 1378 kHz. Station operator was Ed McDowell (Eoin McDonagh) who was also the main presenter on the station. Regular late night Saturday and Sunday afternoon transmissions continued every week with a power of around 100 watts. The station pioneered the use of FM in the city with broadcasts around 98 MHz.

With such a regular service it was only a matter of time before the P&T took action, which they did on April 4th 1974. The transmitter and studio equipment was confiscated. The resulting court case on October 4th 1974 was reported in the Irish Radio Movement’s Medium newsletter.

Pirate Pioneers: Radio Empathy from 1973
Pirate Pioneers: Radio Empathy from 1973

Ed McDowell would go to to found Capitol Radio which broadcast for the latter part of 1975 and again for three years from 1978. The recording above features Radio Empathy signing off one Sunday in 1973 or 1974 with Ed McDowell. 222 metres is announced which corresponds to 1350 kHz although presumably the actual frequency was around 1378 kHz. There were obviously some technical problems that day judging by the audio. Thanks to Ian Biggar for the text, Roger Lloyd for another gem of a recording and John Dowling for the QSL card, which was for daytime reception in County Carlow.

That concludes our mini-series on the pirate pioneers of the Dublin radio scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s, without whom the 1980s boom would never have happened. Thanks again to Ian Biggar for supplying much of the material and to all others who contributed recordings, images and information.

Pirate Pioneers: trouble brews for Dublin pirate radio in 1972

Pirate Pioneers: trouble brews for Dublin pirate radio in 1972
Radio Dublin QSL sent to Carlow in 1974 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Following a brief period as Static Radio on 225 metres in late 1971 or early 1972, Radio Dublin re-established itself as a regular weekend broadcaster. Broadcasts resumed on 253 metres (1183 kHz) with a power of 50 watts fed into a V-antenna. At this point the station was located in Roger Lloyd’s flat in Crumlin. They were very pleased to get a reception report from a listener in Cheshire for a normal Sunday lunchtime broadcast.

Regular broadcasts were made every Sunday from noon until 2pm with Prince Terry (Roger Lloyd) and Mark T (Mark Storey) each doing an hour. The station served the young people of Dublin who had a penchant for heavier music. However, in the latter part of 1972 trouble first appeared on the horizon for the Dublin free radio stations. A white Volkswagen tracker car was spotted in the vicinity of Radio Galaxy, with the operator Tony Boylan quickly informing the other pirates in the city. The car, along with another, duly turned up in the area fairly close to Radio Dublin, which was forced to abruptly terminate its broadcasts one Sunday.

As a result, the operators of Radio Dublin decided to suspend transmissions on medium wave, with a plan to move to short wave which attracted less attention from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. Reluctantly Radio Dublin made its final broadcast for the time being in October 1972, a wise move considering the raid that followed on Radio Milinda just a few weeks later. We will cover the Milinda story in another post.

This recording, which was supplied by Roger Lloyd, features Prince Terry and Mark T with their goodbye shows. The American jingle package of WDEE ‘the Big D’ is heard throughout. There is also a taped appearance at the end of the transmission from Ken Edwards (Sheehan), the founder of Radio Dublin. We thank Ian Biggar for the text and for sharing this rare recording.

Pirate Pioneers: trouble brews for Dublin pirate radio in 1972
Radio Dublin QSL sent to Hertfordshire in 1974 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Radio Dublin did make some transmissions on shortwave in 1973 and 1974 as the QSL received by Mike Barraclough in Herfordshire shows, as well as sporadic transmissions on 253 metres as illustrated by the QSL received by John Dowling in Carlow.

Pirate Pioneers: Radio Galaxy and Radio Vanessa

Pirate Pioneers: Radio Galaxy and Radio Vanessa
The ‘Milinda 7’ following the court case, L-R: Jimmy McCabe, Ernie Melia, Michael Lynch, Jimmy Lynch, Mark Storey, Ken Sheehan and Declan Meehan (Evening Press, from ‘Radio Radio’ by Peter Mulryan).

The broadcasting history of Tony Boylan (RIP) has been well documented over the years from his first broadcasts in 1945 until the mid-1980s when he sold his equipment and retired to the Isle of Man. The recording above is an aircheck of Tony’s Radio Galaxy signing off from one of its regular Sunday broadcasts. The recording is undated, but is probably from 1969 or 1970 as Tony refers to Radio Dublin as broadcasting on 217 metres. This may well have been during the period of the United Dublin Stations as referred to in Peter Mulryan’s Radio Radio book (1988). Radio Galaxy along with Radio Eamo, Radio Jacqueline and Radio Dublin formed this shortlived network. You can hear a longer recording of Radio Galaxy here.

Tony broadcast from Santry at this point and just along the road was a young man called Robbie Irwin, who in turn was friends with Declan Meehan, also from Santry. The two friends had heard Radio Galaxy and sharing a common interest in music and radio, wanted to start their own station. Also entering the picture was Ernie Melia (RIP) from Finglas East who was dating Mary Cummins from Santry, whose brother Ollie was an anorak like Ernie.

The four approached Tony and eventually Ernie bought the 30-watt transmitter complete with a crystal for 1525 kHz (196.7 metres), right beside Vatican Radio. Declan remembers that the rig was built by someone in RTÉ! Ernie brought the rig home to Tolka Gardens where with the aid of a long wire, he erected a very long antenna. Sporadic broadcasts commenced until the friends decided to commence official broadcasts in September 1970 as Radio Vanessa, named after Vanessa O’Callaghan from along the road!

Pirate Pioneers: Radio Galaxy and Radio Vanessa
Declan Meehan with John Walsh at East Coast FM in 2019.

Programmes were pre-recorded in Declan’s house on Shanliss Drive and broadcast from either there, Robbie’s house or Ernie’s place in Finglas. The free radio magazine Newswave reported in early 1972 that ‘Radio Vanessa broadcasts programmes of pop music on 1525 kHz on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-2pm’. DJs on the station were known as Arno St Jude (Declan Meehan), Robbie Ruskin (Robbie Irwin) and Hungry Herbie (Oliver Cummins).

Live broadcasts were made from Declan’s house in 1971 and the station continued broadcasting into 1972, adding a late night show after midnight on 1335 kHz (226 metres). By the second half of 1972 Vanessa had disappeared with Declan and Ernie becoming involved with another station Radio Milinda, which was infamously raided on December 17th. Following the end of Vanessa, the transmitter was used by Radio Valleri on 1525 kHz starting in July 1972 for two months before technical problems put it off the air. The transmitter remained at Declan’s house and made a brave appearance on air on Christmas Day 1972 as The Voice of Free Radio on 1525 kHz. This followed the increased activity from the P&T resulting in the Radio Milinda raid the previous week. Ernie eventually collected the transmitter and as far as we know, it was never used again.

The recording below features a programme broadcast on Radio Vanessa on 1335 kHz with Ken Edwards (Ken Sheehan), the founder of Radio Dublin. Neither Declan nor Ken can remember this being broadcast. It was supplied by Roger Lloyd (Prince Terry) and is undated, but probably from 1972.

We thank Ian Biggar for supplying the text and sharing these recordings. Listen here to Declan Meehan being interviewed by Pirate.ie about his earliest radio memories.

Capitol Radio jingles from 1978

Capitol Radio jingles from 1978
L-R: Chris Barry, Alan Russell and Dave Lee in the Capitol studio in 1978 (photo courtesy of Alan Russell).

Capitol Radio broadcast to Dublin on weekends only for the second half of 1975 and returned on a full-time basis in 1978 from studios on Bachelor’s Walk in the city centre. At first it used its original wavelength of 220 metres but due to night-time interference from Radio Moscow it moved to 226 metres in October/November 1978. Capitol had an eclectic output of music and talk and continued to broadcast until 1981.

One of the station’s founders Alan Russell recalls: ‘In the early days we had a basic studio setup which gradually progressed over the months. Later we had a top of the range Citronic twin deck, built in mixer with LEDS & tape-deck, the only problem was when we modified our transmitter and increased power, the RF feedback made the Citronic decks reverse & generally go crazy. A few filters or carbon rings eventually solved the problem’.

Here’s a selection of Capitol jingles and idents from 1978 including ones for Chris Barry and Ed McDowell, the other station founders. This was before the station adapted and modified the Capital Radio London IDs in 1979. We thank Alan Russell for the information and donation of the recording.

Pirate Pioneers: Channel 70 from 1971

Pirate Pioneers: Channel 70 from 1971
Channel 70 QSL courtesy of Mike Barraclough.

Another pioneer of Dublin pirate broadcasting was Channel 70 which operated, unsurprisingly, from 1970 until 1972. The man behind the station was Jack O’Carroll who previously had operated Radio Jacqueline with Davitt Kelly. Channel 70 started broadcasting in 1970 from Monkstown, Co.  Dublin.

The station broadcast on the crystal-controlled frequency of 1320 khz and with a power of 100 watts into an inverted L, was heard well in Ireland and other European countries. Transmissions normally commenced at 0015 or 0030 early on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday mornings and were popular with DXers. In addition to a DX programme, Channel 70 broadcast music consisting of pop, country and soul, as well as other genres. The station continued into 1972, but had disappeared by the middle of the year.

Pirate Pioneers: Channel 70 from 1971
Channel 70 QSL to Swedish DXer (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Our recording consists of a DX programme and is undated. However, it is assumed to be from around June 1971 as there are references to the recent bomb attack on Radio Nordsee International from May that year. Later in the recording the Channel 70 operator can be heard in a QSO conversation with a station in England. The recording was made by Roger Lloyd (Prince Terry). QSL is by kind permission of Mike Barraclough. Our thanks to Ian Biggar for supplying the text, images and recording.