Pirate pioneers: Radio Caroline Dublin from 1970

Pirate pioneers: Radio Caroline Dublin from 1970
Radio Caroline Dublin’s studio (photo courtesy of Bill Ebrill).

The renowned British offshore station’s name was popular with other pirates and several Irish stations called themselves Radio Caroline over the decades. The earliest use of the name was in 1969 when Radio Caroline Dublin started transmissions as Radio Romeo using 300 metres medium wave. By the following year the Caroline Dublin name had been adopted and regular transmissions commenced from Dalkey in south County Dublin to the city and beyond.

Pirate pioneers: Radio Caroline Dublin from 1970
Caroline Dublin QSL from 1970 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

The station engineer was Bill Ebrill, who later went on to build transmitters for the likes of Radio Dublin, Big D and Radio Carousel. Caroline Dublin used a VFO controlled transmitter capable of 100 watts and was heard on frequencies between 1320 and 1360 kHz. Regular transmissions were on Friday and Saturday nights at midnight and consisted of pop music and a DX programme. DJs on the station included Mike Walker, Mick Wright and Ronan Collins (now of RTÉ). The station received reception reports from many European countries. In addition to Dalkey, Caroline also broadcast from Shankill, Bray and Terenure depending on the interest of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.

Pirate pioneers: Radio Caroline Dublin from 1970
Radio Caroline Dublin transmitter with scope monitor (photo courtesy of Bill Ebrill).

In late 1972 transmissions became more sporadic due to increased activity from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and the raid on Radio Milinda just before Christmas. Late night broadcasts were suspended but the station did continue on Sunday afternoons. These continued until summer 1973 when Radio Caroline Dublin disappeared from the air.

Pirate pioneers: Radio Caroline Dublin from 1970
Another shot of the Caroline Dublin studio (photo courtesy of Bill Ebrill).

The recording above is undated but is probably from November 1970. It features a professional sounding Mike Walker on a late night transmission followed by the Caroline theme tune before closedown. The studio picture was supplied to the DX Archive by Bill Ebrill and the recording was supplied by Roger Lloyd (Prince Terry). The short recording below is also undated and again features Mike Walker.

Thanks to Ian Biggar and Bill Ebrill for text, images and recordings. You can listen here to an interview with Bill about his pirate memories.

Pirate Pioneers: the early days of Radio Dublin

Pirate Pioneers: the early days of Radio Dublin
Radio Dublin leaflet from 1972 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Radio Dublin or ‘Radio Baile Átha Cliath’ started as a technical point to point experiment by Ken Sheehan (Kenneth Edwards) in 1966 from his home in Drimnigh in Dublin. At about 10 watts, power was too low to travel further than about a mile but over the next three years, the transmitter was modified and power doubled to 20 watts. A new transmitter was installed in 1969 and regular taped music programmes were broadcast, normally on Sunday afternoons. The above information sheet from 1972 gives a flavour of the early history of the station. It’s interesting to see ‘Big D’ being used, years before the split that led to the breakaway station of that name.

Our first recording above of the early days is undated but may be from 1969. It features Radio Baile Átha Cliath on its early 217 metre wavelength. We’re not certain who the DJ is, nor was Ken Sheehan when he heard the recording. The second recording is of Ken Sheehan himself and although again undated, is probably from 1971. By now Radio Dublin was the station name and the wavelength had changed to the well-known 253 metres. The address given was that of the Brighton Independent Radio Movement in England and was used by most of the Irish pirates of the period. There is a short taped insert from ‘Mark Welby’ who might be Mark T. Storey, later to be very involved in the early pirate scene, and a home-made sung jingle. This is pirate gold at its best!

These unique recordings were supplied by Roger Lloyd (Prince Terry) who was an integral part of the pioneering days of Radio Dublin. Thanks to Ian Biggar for the research and for sharing the recordings with us. You can hear an interview with Ken Sheehan here.

Radio Dublin flies the pirate flag into 1989

Radio Dublin flies the pirate flag into 1989
Brian Greene’s Radio Dublin 253 badge.

Radio Dublin was one of just two stations to continuing broadcasting without interruption into 1989, the other being Radio Star Country in Monaghan. It seems that both stations ran tapes on New Year’s Day but soon resumed live programming and within days other pirates crept back on the air. However, few could match the longevity of Radio Dublin or indeed Radio Star Country, which is still broadcasting today.

The eyes of the press were on Radio Dublin because of its high-profile position in the capital and the defiant stance of its owner Eamonn Cooke, announced during his ‘Station News’ on Christmas Day 1988. This recording of Radio Dublin is one of the earliest from 1989 and gives a sense of the excitement at the station as it carried on in defiance of the new broadcasting law. It was made from 1148-1233 on Tuesday 3rd January 1989 and features Mike Wilsom on air, who has plenty of requests and messages of support from the public. One listener to phone in his support is Kevin Branigan from Stillorgan who closed down his own pirate Kiss 106 on New Year’s Eve. The second recording below was made the same day from 1239-1321. Both were recorded from 1188 kHz in Scotland and are donated kindly by Ian Biggar.

Radio Star Country, one of Ireland’s longest-running pirates

Radio Star Country, one of Ireland's longest-running pirates
Radio Star Country sticker – note the Northern telephone number (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Radio Star Country is one of the longest-running Irish pirates ever, operating more or less continuously since 1988 to the present day. After a successful 1989 when it pulled in plenty of income in local advertising revenue, Radio Star Country continued unimpeded into 1990. There is a dramatic account of the station in a book by Cathal ‘Ray’ McSherry, A Different Wavelength: The Pirate Radio Days from 2004: ‘My first visit to Radio Star headquarters was unforgettable. After leaving the main road and travelling for twenty minutes, I arrived at an old ramshackle single storey dwelling at the side of a narrow boreen. Cement or breeze blocks filled out the windows. Inside was a bare earthen floor which was more likely to the found the days of the Famine. There was a fireplace minus a grate and in all honesty the whole thing looked so absurd and surreal. It was a spectacle I’ll never forget but this was our “studio”. From here we would defy the powers that be and from here we would broadcast our shows, send out our music and entertainment and silently wonder, or think to ourselves often as not, if we weren’t completely coco-pops. Within this hampered house was a mixing desk, microphones, turntables, and all the paraphernalia of radio pirating. A mast was located two miles away to receive the FM signal’.

Radio Star Country seems to have been largely left alone by the authorities for most of its existence apart from a few attempts to close it down in the early years after the introduction of licensed radio. Its premises in the Bragan Mountains north of Monaghan Town was raided by gardaí and Department of Communications officials on 29th August 1990 and transmission equipment seized but the station was back on air within 48 hours. There is also a report of the station’s FM transmitter being removed by the Department in spring 1991. Sean Brady, who spent four years with Radio Star from January 1992 to March 1996 tells us that there were no raids or visits from the authorities during that period, when the station broadcast from a caravan near Smithboro and then a location close to Monaghan Town. On 17th March 1994, a new FM transmitter on 103 FM was switched on and aimed at Fermanagh and Armagh. On 27th January 2006, the Irish Independent reported that two farmers on the Monaghan/Tyrone border were fined for allowing a pirate station to broadcast from their land. Although the station was unnamed, we presume this refers to Radio Star Country also. Other than these isolated examples, we have no other records of raids on the station.

Radio Star Country, one of Ireland's longest-running pirates
Banner image from Radio Star Country’s website.

This recording was made from 891 kHz from 0917-1002 on 23rd January 1989, just a few weeks after the new broadcasting law came into effect. On air is Isobel Byrne (RIP), the late wife of the former station owner Gerry Byrne. Reception is fair, reflecting the fact that the recording was made in Scotland. We thank Ian Biggar for the donation and for background information. Radio Star Country continues to broadcast on 981 kHz and on its website.

Radio Star Country continues broadcasting into 1989

Radio Star Country continues broadcasting into 1989
Radio Star Country sticker from late 1988/early 1989 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Radio Star Country is one of Ireland’s longest-running pirate stations ever, operating more or less continuously since 1988. It was launched in May that year on 927 kHz and 103.2 FM from the Swan Lake Hotel in Monaghan Town. Along with Radio Dublin, the station was alone in staying on air after the deadline for the pirates to close down on New Year’s Eve 1988. On 891 kHz at this time, it broadcast tapes on 1st January 1989 but soon resumed live programmes. The Anoraks UK Weekly Report of 7th January 1989 commented that ‘Star Country carried many adverts and it was as if news of the legislation had not yet reached that quarter!’

Similar to Radio Dublin, 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 it introduced a new sales number in Armagh where it was not illegal to take advertising. The station moved to 981 kHz on 3rd February 1989, which had been vacated by former Monaghan station Hometown Radio. Around the same time, it transferred its studios from Monaghan Town to the transmission site at Emyvale near the border.

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.

Radio Star Country continues broadcasting into 1989
Radio Star Country in the Swan Lake Hotel in 1988 (photo courtesy of DX Archive).

Department of Communication officials visited Radio Star Country that month and warned it to close down, which it did for a short time only to return a few days later. The final edition of Weekly Report in September 1989 reported hearing the station all the way from Larne to Malin Head with the signal even audible on a simple receiver in Dublin.

‘Long may they continue’ was Anoraks UK’s closing wish and indeed, Radio Star Country continues to broadcast country music and sponsored religious programmes to this day on 981 kHz and on its website. The AM signal can be heard clearly in north Leinster and across Northern Ireland but is swamped at night by an Algerian station. The first of our two recordings from 1989 was made from 0832-0917 on 23rd January from 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. Reception is fair as the recording was made in Scotland. We thank Ian Biggar for the donation.