Border blasters: Sean Brady on Radio Star Country

Border blasters: Sean Brady on Radio Star Country
An undated photo of Sean Brady in studio in the early 1990s (courtesy of Sean).

Today’s recording of Radio Star Country features Sean Brady presenting an afternoon show in 1994. With experience on various 1980s pirates in the north Leinster region (Cavan Community Radio and Breffni Radio), Sean later joined Northern Sound Radio, the licensed service for Counties Cavan and Monaghan. He returned to the pirate fold in the form of Radio Star Country, where he spent more than four years. Sean shares his fond memories of that period:

I began hosting shows on Radio Star Country in January 1992, following a stint (May 1990 to December 1991) at Northern Sound. When I was at Northern Sound, Isobel Byrne (RIP), late wife of former Radio Star Country owner, Gerry Byrne, used to listen in and phone me, wondering if I’d like to join Radio Star Country.

When I joined Radio Star Country, the station was broadcasting on 981 kHz from a caravan near Smithboro in County Monaghan, but it did move – I’m not sure when – to Carrigans, Emyvale. I wasn’t informed of the move and drove on a Sunday morning to Smithboro to find the farmyard empty of its radio occupant! The move was related to some sort of family dispute!

I very much enjoyed working for Radio Star Country, as I could play the kind of music I loved, and still do to this day, country music, particularly American country music. I have to admit that station owner Gerry Byrne and I had a few heated arguments as to the amount of American country music I played on-air, but I was adamant that the material I featured was the correct format to adhere to. I spent a lot of time planning my shows, in the pre-internet days, researching country music artists, as I featured them on their respective birthdays. I had a quite extensive country music collection – I still do to this day, although it’s obviously been increased – on CD, vinyl and cassette, and I used to bring at least three carry cases of material with me, along with my handwritten country music notes.

I have to say that, while I was hosting shows on Radio Star Country, between January 1992 and March 1996, sitting in the caravan-based on-air studio, I never thought of, or was fearful of, a raid taking place. Perhaps I was a little naive, but I simply got on with the job in hand, playing the finest selection of country music, which no other radio station in the land was doing. I hosted the afternoon slot between 1.00pm and 6.00pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, and enjoyed it immensely, even though it involved a car journey of 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Although I departed Radio Star Country in March 1996, I’m so pleased to know that the station is still broadcasting today, but I feel that a move in frequency from 981 kHz should have been undertaken – the frequency, which is adequate for daytime coverage, does tend to suffer from co-channel interference at night. I always thought that 954 kHz would have been a more suitable AM frequency to use, as the medium wave band is now more uncluttered.

This recording of Sean was made on bank holiday Monday 29th August 1994 from 1640-1740. Adverts are from Counties Armagh, Monaghan, Down, Tyrone and Derry and there are plenty of stations idents and jingles, many of which are still heard today. The station was sold on by Gerry Byrne in 1992 and a reference by Sean to the religious programme Showers of Blessings indicates an expansion to content beyond country music alone. Sponsored religious programmes have become increasingly prominent on Radio Star Country but, as Gerry Byrne recalls, listeners remain loyal to the station:

Radio Star Country changed ownership a couple of times and has now a number of religious features and gospel programmes. Over the years, it has had steady staff and a large loyal bunch of listeners, among them the late Big Tom who played Radio Star Country in his shed. I moved to London completely in 1992 even though I had been back and forth and began broadcasting with Spectrum Radio London on a Sunday night and later Saturday afternoon.

Today’s tape was made in Scotland from 981 kHz AM and is courtesy of Ian Biggar.

Border blasters: Patsy Jordan on Radio Star Country

Border blasters: Patsy Jordan on Radio Star Country
Patsy Jordan (McDonald) pictured in The Impartial Reporter, 2016

This recording of Monaghan border pirate Radio Star Country features one of the station’s best known presenters, the late Patsy Jordan (McDonald). It was made on 19th February 1993 from 0857-1030 and features Patsy on a long shift from early morning until 1pm. Patsy, who was from Newtownbutler in Co. Fermanagh, was a country musician whose band, Patsy Jordan and the Blue Train Line, gained huge success in the 1980s. In an obituary in Enniskillen newspaper The Impartial Reporter, it was stated that on the back of the band’s popularity, Cavan pirate station Erneside Radio invited Patsy to present his own show. That was very popular with listeners so it was natural that Patsy would continue to be heard on Radio Star Country after other pirates left the airwaves at the start of 1989. He died in 2016 and country musicians and radio colleagues were among those who attended his large funeral in Clonmaulin close to the border with Co. Monaghan.

Border blasters: Patsy Jordan on Radio Star Country
Radio Star rate card from 1992 (courtesy Sean Brady/Ian Biggar).

On this tape of one of Patsy’s shows, there are copious adverts from Down, Tyrone, Armagh, Cavan and Antrim including Belfast. Plenty of requests are received from both sides of the border and even from the Isle of Man and various local country music singers are promoted. The recording was made from 981 kHz AM in Scotland by Gary Hogg of DX Archive. Thanks to Gary for the recording and to Ian Biggar for assistance with the text.

Border blasters: Don Allen on Radio Star Country

Border blasters: Don Allen on Radio Star Country
Screenshot from 1989 video about Radio Star Country by Miles Johnston (courtesy Rodney Neill).

Although Radio Star Country was warned by the Department of Communications to close down in February 1989, it would be almost 18 months before the station was raided in August 1990. According to Simon Maher’s Free Radio News (August 1990), Radio Star Country was raided on the morning of Wednesday 24th August, when several Telecom Éireann vans along with Garda back-up arrived at the medium wave site just outside Monaghan town. Staff at the station were monitoring 981 kHz when they heard the transmitter go off the air. They looked towards the site where they could see the raid taking place. The FM link transmitter was quickly switched off and studio equipment removed. The station staff then had a conversation with the raiding party before they left with all the transmitting equipment. Radio Star Country returned on Friday morning 31st August.

Former owner Gerry Byrne shares his memories of that time: The licensed station for the area Northern Sound began its broadcasts in 1990 and they were forever complaining about Radio Star Country. They couldn’t figure how to be a success and blamed Radio Star Country for their own lack of ability to be a success. The Department of Communications took the transmitter in August 1990, but we were back on air the next day. By coincidence on the next night someone damaged Northern Sound’s mast. I believe there was another raid on an FM transmitter a couple of years later.

Free Radio News (November 1990) reported that Radio Star Country received a prohibition notice in early October, which meant that their electricity (and in some cases phones) would be cut off in 14 days. In the case of Radio Star Country, it was the power to the transmitter site that was to be cut as the Department of Communications had not established the whereabouts of the studio. In view of this threat, the station searched for an alternative site and a suitable one was found. The power supply was cut around 4pm on 19th October. The station was off the air for around 35 minutes before returning from to the air from the new site and normal programming resumed the following day. The Northern Standard newspaper reported on 13th December 1990 that Gardaí searching the Carrickroe area for a pirate radio station found poteen instead at a site in Bragan. On 13th June 1991, the paper reported that Peadar Keenan of Bragan, Carrickroe was fined £25 after pleading guilty to making a premises available to a pirate station. Acting on a tip off, Department of Communications officials had located Radio Star Country on August 22nd 1990 and had disconnected the electricity supply. The defendant said he did not own the equipment and that it was owned by a Frank McCarthy who had asked him to use his land. Keenan said he did not know it was illegal; he had been approached in 1987 or 1988 and asked to put up a mast on the land.

This recording of Radio Star Country was made in July 1990, a month before the station was raided. On air with his American country show is veteran pirate and offshore DJ Don Allen (RIP), who is in flying form. Don’s voice is heard on a promo: ‘Super Star Country from Co. Monaghan, the only 24-hour country music station in Ireland’ and a Northern number is given for requests. As ever there are plenty of adverts from both sides of the border, many voiced by Don, and a community noticeboard is aired just after 5pm.

The recording was made in Scotland from 981 kHz on 3rd July 1990 between 1642-1759. Signal strength is good but a hum is audible during links. Thanks to Ian Biggar for the recording and for assistance with the text. Don Allen’s Country Jamboree was a hugely popular show on the licensed station Midlands Radio 3 and was much missed after his sudden death in 1995.

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

Border blasters: '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 blasters: '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.

Drivetime on Big D

Drivetime on Big D
Big D sticker (couresty DX Archive).

This is a recording of the evening drivetime show on Dublin pirate Big D as it began to decline towards the end of 1981. Aidan Cooney is on air from the studios in South Richmond Street in the city centre and takes calls from listeners entering a quiz. The voice of the late Tony Allan is heard on some of the adverts, but commercials are relatively thin on the ground given the time of day. By this time, the Dublin radio market had been shaken up by the arrival of the larger and more professional Sunshine Radio and Radio Nova and the days of pioneering 1970s stations such as Big D were numbered. The station would be relaunched as Big D Automated in 1982, playing continuous music only, but it was gone by the end of the year.

Drivetime on Big D
Original label from Anoraks Ireland Collection.

The recording was made on 21st September 1981 from 1116 kHz, announced as 273 metres. Part 1 above runs from 1747-1832 and Part 2 below from 1840-1925.

Part 2 from 1840.

Audio quality is fair with variable levels and increasing co-channel interference as darkness falls. Our tape is from the Anoraks Ireland Collection, donated to us by Paul Davidson.