The sound of Dublin pirate radio in June 1986

The sound of Dublin pirate radio in June 1986

The Dublin pirate scene was alive and well in the summer of 1986. Radio Nova had closed suddenly in March, to be replaced by Energy 103. Other super-pirates Sunshine Radio and Q102 took advantage of the change to consolidate their positions in the crowded market. Smaller stations continued to chug along serving their own niche audiences or communities while pirates from nearby counties could be heard easily in the capital, particularly on AM.

This airchecked recording captures some of the variety to be heard in Dublin that summer and includes excerpts from KISS FM (Dublin 1), Capitol Radio, Radio Dublin, Q102, Sunshine 101, Energy 103, Bray Local Broadcasting (BLB), Community Radio Fingal (CRF) and Boyneside Radio. It was made on 19th June 1986 and is from the Anoraks Ireland Collection.

Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh (RIP) on Bray Local Broadcasting

Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh (RIP) on Bray Local Broadcasting
Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh (top left) at the launch of Raidió na Life in 1993 (courtesy Saol/Raidió na Life).

We were saddened to learn of the death on 17th November 2021 of Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh, a pioneering broadcaster with Bray Local Broadcasting (BLB) in the 1980s. After developing Irish language programmes on BLB, Rónán went on to be the manager of the licensed Irish language station Raidió na Life in 1993.

BLB was one of the leaders in local community broadcasting during the pirate era and played a key role in the National Association of Community Broadcasters (NACB) which lobbied for licensed community radio. It began broadcasting in 1979 and continued until the closedowns at the end of 1988, making it one of the country’s longest-running pirate stations. As a community station, BLB prided itself on catering for minority groups and audiences served poorly by mainstream radio, including Irish speakers in its catchment area of north Wicklow and south Dublin. Irish was marginal on pirate radio, particularly among commercial stations, but community radio across the country regularly broadcast programmes in Irish. There were also Irish language pirate stations such as Saor-Raidió Chonamara in the Connemara Gaeltacht in 1970 (which led to the establishment of Raidió na Gaeltachta) and Raidió an Phobail in Dublin in 1979.

Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh (RIP) on Bray Local Broadcasting
BLB car sticker (courtesy of DX Archive).

Mar stáisiún pobail, chuir BLB roimhe freastal ar ghrúpaí mionlaigh agus daoine nach raibh freastal mar is ceart á dhéanamh orthu ag na stáisiúin mhóra raidió, ina measc cainteoirí Gaeilge i dtuaisceart Chill Mhantáin agus deisceart Bhaile Átha Cliath. Bhí an Ghaeilge imeallach ar an raidió bradach, go háirithe ar na stáisiúin tráchtála, ach craoladh cláracha Gaeilge ar stáisiúin raidió pobail ar fud na tíre. Bhí stáisiúin bhradacha Ghaeilge ann chomh maith, ina measc Saor-Radio Chonamara i nGaeltacht Chonamara in 1970 (a thug ann do Raidió na Gaeltachta) agus Raidió an Phobail i mBaile Átha Cliath in 1979.

This is an extract from the final half hour (2030-2100) of one of BLB’s Irish language programmes Timchuairt Bhré (a trip around Bray), presented by Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh on 9th November 1983. Rónán went on to present Irish language programmes on the successor licensed station to BLB, Horizon Radio (John Walsh of also worked on those programmes) and he became the first manager of the licensed Raidió na Life in 1993. The recording features Irish traditional and folk music and is followed by the station closedown at 2100.

Seo í an leathuair an chloig deireanach (2030-2100) de cheann de chláracha Gaeilge BLB, Timchuairt Bhré, á chur i láthair ag Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh ar 9 Samhain 1983. Lean Rónán air ag cur cláracha Gaeilge i láthair ar Horizon Radio, an stáisiún ceadúnaithe a tháinig i gcomharbacht ar BLB. D’oibrigh John Walsh ó ar na cláracha sin chomh maith. Ceapadh Rónán ina chéad bhainisteoir ar an stáisiún ceadúnaithe Raidió na Life in 1993. Ar an taifeadadh seo, cloistear ceol Gaelach agus traidisiúnta agus ina dhiaidh sin dúntar an stáisiún ar 2100.

Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh (RIP) on Bray Local Broadcasting
9 Prince of Wales Terrace, Quinsboro Road, Bray from where BLB broadcast in its later years. Horizon Radio was also based here (photo by John Walsh).

This recording is from the Skywave Tapes Collection. Skywave Radio International broadcast a shortwave station in the 1980s from Baldoyle in northeast Dublin. in three minutes in three minutes
Nova’s big giveaway as advertised in the Sunday World, 19th June 1983 (courtesy Alan McSimoin).

This three-minute clip gives a sense of the variety of content in the archive. It covers stations big and small, in Dublin and elsewhere, playing mainstream pop or featuring specialist programming. The first segment features Ireland’s best-known pirate Radio Nova and its ‘Dublin Today’ programme on 30th August 1983, the day of the giveaway. in three minutes
ICBS flyer from the station’s later years (courtesy Ian Biggar).

The second segment is from the Irish Christian Broadcasting Service from 3rd September 1983, just four days before a divisive referendum about inserting a ban on abortion into the Irish constitution. The presenter announces an interview with a US campaigner. in three minutes
BLB car sticker from c. 1986 (courtesy DX Archive).

The third segment features a promo for community radio broadcast in 1987 on Bray Local Broadcasting south of Dublin. Among the voices is the then Minister for Communications, the late Jim Mitchell, whose party did not favour community radio. BLB was a leading member of the National Association of Community Broadcasters. in three minutes
Boyneside Radio North’s AM mast right on the border (courtesy Eddie Caffrey).

The next segment is a jingle for Boyneside Radio (1978-1988) based in Co. Louth which became a regional station covering an area stretching from Belfast to Dublin. The station had transmitters along the border and an opt-out service aimed at Northern Ireland. in three minutes
John ‘the Man’ Frawley of Raidió Luimní (courtesy Svenn Martinsen).

The next segment features one of Ireland’s best-known pirate broadcasters, the late John ‘the Man’ Frawley opening Raidió Luimní on 20th April 1983. The station broadcast from Limerick for ten years from 1978-1988 and the popular Frawley had listeners over a wide area. He begins by greeting listeners in Irish. in three minutes
Energy 103 flyer signed by Bob Gallico (courtesy DX Archive).

Finally we hear the late Bob Gallico reading the news on New Year’s Day 1988 on Energy 103, a popular professional station that emerged from the ashes of Radio Nova in 1986.

East Coast Top 40 on BLB

East Coast Top 40 on BLB
BLB car sticker from c. 1986 (courtesy of DX Archive).

Bray Local Broadcasting (BLB) was one of the pioneers of community radio in Ireland, broadcasting for almost a decade from 1979 until the end of 1988. It was a leading member of the National Association of Community Broadcasters (NACB) which at its height involved eleven stations around the country all committed to a community model of radio inspired by AMARC principles.

BLB broadcast on 837 and then 828 kHz in its early days but the arrival of Radio Nova on high power in that part of the band in 1981 caused it to move down to 657 kHz. In later years the FM signal on 97.8 MHz got good coverage into Dublin from its high site in Bray. However, in March 1988 Breffni Regional Radio in Co. Cavan moved onto 657 kHz, prompting a complaint from BLB. Such was the world of unregulated pirate radio where competition for suitable frequencies was fierce.

East Coast Top 40 on BLB
The building on Prince of Wales Terrace in Bray from where BLB broadcast (photo by John Walsh).

This is an airchecked recording of part of the East Coast Top 40 from BLB in May 1988. The presenter is Timmy Hannigan and the show is produced by Elaine Keogh. Despite the co-channel interference from Breffni Radio underneath, there’s a tight and punchy feel to the programme and it is a good example of how professional BLB could sound. Among the voices heard on ads and promos are BLB manager Adrian Kennedy and afternoon presenter Daphne Mitchell who worked on other stations such as Radio Leinster. There’s also a promo for the ‘new look BLB’ giving a flavour of the variety of programming heard on this innovative station.

The East Coast Top 40 was compiled from record sales in shops from Dundalk to Wicklow and aired every Saturday from 1-4pm on BLB. Timmy Hannigan became a leading name in Irish DJ and electronic music culture using the name Mr Spring. Elaine Keogh went on to work in licensed local radio and is now a freelance journalist. Many of those involved in BLB worked in the short-lived licensed station Horizon Radio in Bray from 1989. By 1992, Horizon had merged with the south Wicklow station Easy 103. The station eventually became East Coast FM which holds the country licence today.

We thank Barry Dunne for his donation of this recording.

The Podcast #3

The Podcast #3

We’re delighted to announce episode #3 of the podcast which explores themes covered in our growing archive of Irish pirate radio.

The 1980s can be described as the decade that Ireland changed from black and white to colour and pirate radio was very much part of that social change. While many pushed for liberalisation, conservative forces opposed moves towards opening up Irish society and pirate radio reflected such tensions. Larger commercial stations were dominated by men’s voices while women and minority groups were better represented in specialist and community radio. Community radio itself developed a more inclusive model of participation and access and even large commercial stations practised corporate social responsibility from time to time. Religion also played a key role, with several pirates representing Catholic values which were still powerful in Irish society.

In episode #3, John Walsh and Brian Greene explore the social influence of pirate radio during its heyday.