Border blasters: Radio Star Country thrives in 1989

Border blasters: Radio Star Country thrives in 1989
Isobel Byrne (RIP) in the Radio Star studios in 1988 (courtesy Andy Carter).

Having defied the new broadcasting laws that came into effect at the end of the 1988, Radio Star Country entered 1989 on a high. The Anoraks UK Weekly Report of 7th January commented that ‘Star Country carried many adverts and it was as if news of the legislation had not yet reached that quarter!’ On Friday 27th January, the station announced on-air that it was going to move AM frequency, from 891 kHz to 981 kHz. This latter frequency had been used by Hometown Radio in Castleblayney, County Monaghan until Saturday 31st December 1988. Radio Star Country moved frequency on Friday 3rd February 1989 at 3.37pm and station owner Gerry Byrne was heard on air.

Similar to Radio Dublin which also defied the new laws, Radio Star Country was issued with notices that its telephones and electricity supply would be cut off after 14 days. In possible anticipation of a raid, Anoraks UK reported on 21st January that the station had introduced a new sales number in Armagh where it was not illegal to take advertising.

Border blasters: Radio Star Country thrives in 1989
Isobel Byrne (RIP) in the Radio Star Country studio in 1988 (courtesy Andy Carter).

Despite the increased risks of pirate broadcasting, 1989 was a bumper year for Radio Star Country. In February, the veteran pirate DJ Don Allen (RIP) joined the station with his popular ‘Country and Western Jamboree’, taking over the breakfast slot. Station owner Gerry Byrne was heard at lunchtime and there were live shows all day with tapes overnight. Advertising revenue was strong and the verdict of Anoraks UK on 11th February was: ‘The station gets ten out of ten for its fighting spirit’. In March, Radio Star Country even advertised for additional sales staff, such was the demand from businesses wishing to buy time on the station.

This recording was made from 0832-1002 on 23rd January from the old frequency of 891 kHz. On air is Isobel Byrne (RIP), late wife of former station owner Gerry Byrne. There are long ad breaks featuring mostly Northern businesses but the Swan Lake Hotel has a spot also. Part 1 above runs from 0832 and Part 2 below from 0917.

Part 2 from 0917.

Reception is fair as the recording was made in Scotland. We thank Ian Biggar for the donation and Seán Brady for assistance with the text.

Border blasters: Radio Star Country continues into 1989

Border blasters: Radio Star Country continues into 1989
Radio Star Country sticker from 1988 (courtesy Ian Biggar).

Welcome to our special series on Monaghan station Radio Star Country, one of the longest-running Irish pirates ever. The country music station has been on the air more or less continuously since 1988 to the present day. It broadcast initially on 927 kHz, then 891 kHz, and finally (and today) 981 kHz. This first post concentrates on the period from the launch of the station until the end of 1988 when the vast majority of pirates closed down. 

Radio Star Country’s first test transmission took place on Wednesday 11th May 1988 at 1.30pm on 927 kHz AM (324 metres medium wave) and 103.2 MHz FM (locally), and consisted of continuous country music. The station was broadcasting from the Swan Lake Hotel in Monaghan Town, and announced a telephone number of (047) 81179. The man behind this new venture was Gerry Byrne, who had also worked on Telstar Community Radio (Dundalk), Big M Community Radio (Castleblayney) and Northern Star (Monaghan).

In early June 1988, Radio Star Country moved their FM frequency slightly to 103.3 MHz and also added 96.3 MHz. A number of local advertisements were noted, including one for the Swan Lake Hotel. News was noted on the hour, along with a new telephone number of (047) 82394 for requests. In late July 1988, the County Monaghan area suffered severe weather conditions. Radio Star Country suffered some damage, although its transmissions on 927 kHz continued and the signal increased in strength. It was strong during daylight hours, and at night when BRT Radio in Belgium vacated the channel. In early October 1988, Radio Star Country changed AM frequency from 927 kHz to 891 kHz and, as a result, found itself nestled between BBC Radio Wales on 882 kHz and BBC Radio 2 on 909 kHz.  However, the signal on 891 kHz was vastly improved.

Radio Star Country founder Gerry Byrne shares his memories of the first year of the station and into decision to continue into 1989:

I had in my head the name Radio Star for a radio station long before Radio Star was actually launched. Previously I had worked on Radio Carousel, Telstar and the small Skyline Radio and then fortunately or otherwise on Big M in Castleblayney. I always threw myself 120 percent into anything I did back then and I did the same in Big M, none of which was appreciated. I met my first wife Isobel there and we got married but the station owner Frank Morgan changed my time on air so myself and Isobel left. We then went to Northern Star to join other guys who had split away from Big M: Gerry Callen, Martin Maguire, and an English DJ Ian Acres. We started selling advertising, Isobel especially, but we didn’t get the money we were owed and we knew there was no point in continuing there.

We started with just recorded tapes playing over and on 20th May 1988, Radio Star began broadcasting live from the office of a furniture factory and we moved into the Swan Lake Hotel in Monaghan Town. The name was then changed to Radio Star Country to underline the country slant to the station. The early days were very tough and at one point I became ill as a result of the pressure. We were plodding along and both very worked hard and reached the end of the year. We had Tony Hughes, a well-known singer and musician and a stepson of mine Michael Hopkins using the surname Byrne. It was a tumultuous time generally because as you know the new broadcasting law came in but we decided to stay on air when the rest went off air except for Eamonn Cooke in Radio Dublin. We hadn’t anything to lose and the rest should have done the same instead of stupidly thinking they would get a licence. After staying on air, we gathered a huge audience and hence a huge amount of advertising. Other station presenters included Don Allen (RIP), Ray (Cathal) McSherry (RIP), Pio McCann (RIP), Doreen Mullen (RIP), Sean Brady and Tony West (Burke), who had been with us from before 1989.

Our first recordings are of Radio Star just after the deadline of New Year’s Eve 1988, when the station defied the new legislation and carried on regardless. The recording above was made from 891 kHz and features Gerry Byrne on 1st January 1989 from 1413-1505. It’s very much business as usual with little fuss about the historical nature of the broadcast. The second tape below is from 1025-1228 on 2nd January and consists of pre-recorded music. One track calls for Radio Star to be kept on air, in keeping with other country music songs supporting the pirates in 1988 and 1989.

Recording from 2nd January 1989.

Both recordings were made in Scotland and suffer from co-channel interference and fading due to the time of year and distance from the transmitter. Our thanks to Ken Baird for the audio, to Sean Brady for the text and to Ian Biggar for his assistance with the series. Radio Star Country continues to broadcast to this day on 981 kHz AM and online.

Sunday afternoon on Waterford’s ABC

Sunday afternoon on Waterford's ABC
Selection of ABC car stickers (Anoraks Ireland Collection).

Although largely playing chart music, this recording gives a sense of some of the diversity of weekend programming on Waterford station ABC. It includes Russ Padmore presenting the American Top 40 and Billy Power with a country music programme. News at 6pm is also read by Russ Padmore and there are plenty of adverts for local businesses and national brands. Russ is clearly burning the candle at both ends because he is to return at 1am for the night shift. He is now a journalist with BBC World Service. Billy Power went on to present a country show on rival Waterford station Crystal City Sound.

Sunday afternoon on Waterford's ABC
Original label from Anoraks Ireland Collection – note incorrect times and wrong name of country presenter.

Our tape was made from 1026 kHz AM from 1735-1820 on Sunday 5th May 1985 and was recorded in Kilkenny, some distance from the transmitter. It is from the Anoraks Ireland Tapes Collection, donated to us by Paul Davidson.

Ronan Collins and Ian Dempsey on ARD

Ronan Collins and Ian Dempsey on ARD
Ian Dempsey in the ARD/Radio 257 studios at the Crofton (courtesy Noel Hiney)

This is a selection of adverts, promos and clips from popular Dublin station ARD in 1979, including part of the station’s final day before relaunching as Radio 257 at the beginning of 1980. Included is a promo for a phone-in show presented by Ronan Collins who went on to become a household name in RTÉ. Part of Ian Dempsey’s final show on ARD is heard on 31st December 1979. There are also clips of Sylvia on the final day and of Dave Cunningham on the new Radio 257.

This recording was made by Kieran Murray from both FM and AM and is from the Anoraks Ireland Tapes Collection, donated to us by Paul Davidson.

James Dillon in the early days of Big D

James Dillon in the early days of Big D
Big D sticker (courtesy Bill Ebrill)

This is a recording of the founder of Big D, James Dillon, in the early days of the station in May 1978. The Big D song by fellow DJ John Paul is heard, as is the station’s former theme tune, Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees, James explaining that it was used on test transmissions. There are requests for listeners around the city, a live-read advert and a promo for a classical music show on Sunday morning.

We have no times for the recording but an edit is heard near the start. It was made from 1115 kHz (announcing 273 metres) by Alan Hilton, presumably in Co. Wicklow. Thanks to Ian Biggar for the donation.