Airchecks: Northern Radio

Airchecks: Northern Radio
A Northern Radio letterhead (courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

Northern Radio broadcast from 1980 to 1982 from Omeath, just a few kilometres south of the border. We bring you a synopsis of the station’s history written by Ian Biggar.

Northern Radio was set up to serve listeners in the northeast border counties and attract advertisers from those areas. Most of the advertising seemed to come from Newry and Rostrevor. The man behind the station was Marty Donnan, who later went on to work for Downtown Radio and BBC Radio Ulster. Disc jockeys included Andrew Gold and Davy Hamill, both of whom subsequently worked for other stations around this part of the border.

The first note we have of the station is from January 1980 when it was announced as operating on 1278 kHz or 230 metres. However, any logs I have seen of the station have given the actual frequency as 1296 or 1298 kHz. The transmitter was built by Bill Ebrill from Dublin and would give around 300 watts output. The station was located in what was described as a ‘ramshackle caravan’ beside the Park Hotel in Omeath, a location that according to some was not the best for getting a signal out.

Airchecks: Northern Radio
A distant shot of the Park Hotel on a wet day, from the main road (photo by John Walsh).

In the early days Northern Radio seemed to have quite a full schedule, including a country and western programme. The schedule became more erratic with the passage of time, if and when someone turned up to do a programme. Anoraks Ireland visited the station in February 1982, only to find it deserted with a pre-recorded tape running. Northern Radio may have been off the air for a period as in the July 1982 edition of Short Wave News, Paul Davidson notes the station on 1314 kHz and asks: ‘is it back on air?’

On a further visit in August 1982, Paul Davidson was told that programmes were live whenever transport was laid on for the DJs to come from Rostrevor, otherwise it was tapes from 0800-1800. This August visit was probably towards the end of the station’s life because in the October edition of Short Wave News, Paul Davidson reported that Northern Radio had closed. Marty Donnan and other staff joined Boyneside Radio’s new border station which started broadcasting on 1233 kHz in early autumn 1982.

Airchecks: Northern Radio
A sign indicating renovations to the Park Hotel in 2020 (photo by John Walsh).

The recording above is an aircheck of Andrew Gold’s show on 30th January 1980 from 1410-1615. It features ads from Newry and Warrenpoint and Andrew with plenty of chatter, birthday requests, horoscopes and even references to dogs and cattle in and around the studio. As darkness falls, co-channel interference from an overseas station is heard. The shorter recording below is an aircheck from 2nd February 1980 and features Hugh Farrell with news, Des Carson’s country music show and Andrew Gold with music and sports results.

Various presenters on Northern Radio, 2nd February 1980.

Jingles: Radio Carousel

Jingles: Radio Carousel
Radio Carousel advertisement, undated (Alan MacSimoin collection).

Here is a selection of jingles for the Radio Carousel network. The package begins with jingles announcing ‘Radio 265’, referring to the frequency announced, but we are not aware that these were ever used on air. Another refers to ‘Southern Ireland’ but this would have been a controversial term to use, particularly in the border area served by Carousel, and we are not aware that it was used either. The sonovox cuts are a Steve England production.

There are also the more familiar cuts from jingle company CPMG (PAMS) featuring the line ‘with music, news and information, this is your station – Radio Carousel’ and a few jingles from Alfasound with the slogan ‘we belong together…’. The sample finishes with an ident for the well-known Carousel presenter Kieran Murray. Separately below is a message from Waterford Local Radio (WLR) wishing Carousel a happy 5th birthday on May 20th 1983. We thank Eddie Caffrey for sharing these recordings.

Full recording: Radio Carousel Northern Ireland

Full recording: Radio Carousel Northern Ireland
Big O aka Oliver McMahon in the Radio Carousel Northern Ireland studio at the Carrickdale Hotel c. 1986 (photo courtesy of Eddie Caffrey).

In addition to the main station in Dundalk, at its height in the early 1980s, Radio Carousel had three satellite stations in Drogheda, Navan and right on the border. Radio Carousel Northern Ireland broadcast from Carrickcarnon on AM and FM, all aimed at capturing the northern market. A 1982 leaflet claimed that the Northern Ireland coverage area was ‘north to Belfast, west to Armagh City, Portadown, and Craigavon. The newest of Radio Carousel’s satellite stations which effectively covers 3/4 of Northern Ireland with a strong signal on the 212 medium wave. For four and a half years we have been aware of the vast listenership that Radio Carousel has in Northern Ireland’. In 1986 the northern service was broadcast on 1071 kHz but it moved to 1260 kHz in 1987.

This recording was made from 1260 kHz on 21st April 1987 from 1115-1200 and 1208-1253. The first presenter is Stevie Mack with Irish music and requests and he is followed by Carousel boss Hugh Hardy’s Country Call programme. There are plenty of advertisements from Newry, suggesting that this is the northern service which then relays Country Call from Dundalk. Radio Carousel Dundalk was ordered to leave the air in January 1987 following claims of interference by the authorities and closed its studio in the town’s shopping centre. The northern and Navan stations continued but programmes from Dundalk resumed from February. This was the beginning of the end for Carousel and by early 1988 only the Navan station was broadcasting as normal.

Full recording: Radio Carousel Northern Ireland
Radio Carousel rate card from the original Dundalk station (courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

Audio quality is fair as the recording was made on the move from AM. There is a sense of a station in decline with a stale style, erratic audio levels on advertisements and references to ‘medium wave and VHF’ at a time when many stations were plugging ‘FM stereo’. Some presenters from KLAS, Hugh Hardy’s easy listening station in Dublin, can be heard voicing ads including a very young John Walsh of Pirate.ie. We thank Gary Hogg for sharing this recording.

Feature: Radio Carousel history

Feature: Radio Carousel history
Radio Carousel staff in 1981. Information below (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar).

This is a feature programme about the first five-and-a-half years of the Radio Carousel network, broadcast in December 1983. It was compiled by Kieran Murray who was the first voice to be heard on the station on 20th May 1978. There are also interviews with station founder and owner Hugh Hardy, information about listenership surveys and extracts from shows featuring presenters such as Dave Scott (Joe Reilly), Mike Ahern (Richard McCullen) and Tina Anderson. Kieran describes the satellite stations in Navan, Drogheda and on the border and there are also extracts from news programmes and outside broadcasts. Hugh Hardy’s interview with BBC Radio Ulster following the 1983 raids on Radio Nova and Sunshine Radio is included. The programme also includes a flavour of Radio Carousel Dundalk’s 5th birthday on 20th May 1983 and of Radio Carousel Navan’s 2nd birthday on 22nd October 1983.

Feature: Radio Carousel history
Kieran Murray in the original Radio Carousel studio in 1978 (photo courtesy of Eddie Caffrey).

Kieran Murray announces the programme as a two-hour special but this recording contains only one hour so is presumably an edited version. A full version of the station’s theme tune ‘Don’t stop the carousel’ by Roy Taylor and the Nevada is heard at the end. We thank Eddie Caffrey for donating the recording.

Full photo information

Back row: Richard Crowley, Kieran Murray, Shay Breslin, Ray Stone, Hugh Hardy, Dave Scott, Mike Ahern, Frank Mitchell.

Front row: Shane Mullen, Hugh Sands, Penny Palmer, Tony Farrelly.

Interview: Denis Murray (Big D/KISS FM (102.7)/Radio Nova/KISS FM Monaghan)

Interview: Denis Murray (Big D/KISS FM (102.7)/Radio Nova/KISS FM Monaghan)
A sticker for the KISS FM on 102.7 set up by Chris Cary, where Dennis Murray worked from 1982-84. Courtesy DX Archive.

On October 20th 2018 over 100 radio anoraks gathered in the Ballsbridge Hotel in Dublin. The purpose was to meet and record oral history of the pirate radio era. 

John Walsh interviewed Denis Murray about his pirate radio past including the early days of Big D, Radio Nova, KISS FM (102.7) in Dublin and another KISS FM (103.7) in Monaghan.