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.

Breffni Regional Radio prepares to close down

Breffni Regional Radio prepares to close down
The Breffni Radio caravan from 1987 (photo courtesy of DX Archive).

Breffni Radio was a popular station broadcasting from Cavan from 1984 to 1988 with a number of regional offshoots. This edited station history is based on information kindly provided by Seán Brady.

Breffni Radio began broadcasting in December 1984 from a converted cottage at Drumloman near Kilnaleck in Co. Cavan. ‘Breffni’ is based on the Irish word Bréifne, a medieval Gaelic kingdom in north Leinster and north Connacht. The cottage consisted of one an on-air studio, an extensive record library and a production studio. The technical gear was basic, but served its purpose very well. Breffni broadcast a mix of Irish and American country music, from 7am to 1am. Engineer Gerry Reilly looked after the technical side of Breffni Radio and set up its transmission facilities. For many years the station broadcast with 1 kW output of power on 1170 kHz. In 1985, Breffni experimented with FM and planned to expand into the midlands with a service in Longford.

Breffni Regional Radio prepares to close down
Breffni Central Radio flyer (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Breffni Central Radio took to the air on 10th June 1985 from Ballymahon Street in Longford on 1035 kHz. This new service was intended for reception in counties Longford, Roscommon, Galway and Mayo. The signal was in fact heard over a very wide area, extending from Galway to Cavan. Breffni Central Radio, like its sister station in Kilnaleck, broadcast a mix of Irish and American country music from 7am to 1am. An FM service was introduced on 17th February 1986 from a site on Arkill Mountain near the studio. On 10th March, Breffni introduced split programming, 1170 kHz carrying the usual Irish and American country music fare, with 96.6MHz broadcasting the pop music of Channel 2. Reception was excellent with the station being received as far away as Kildare but Channel 2 was shortlived due to poor demand from listeners. The FM transmitter was later increased to 1kW and covered a wide area.

Reflecting its music policy, Breffni held a number of successful country music awards. In 1986 alone there were two such galas featuring 20 Irish country music artists. There were also successful outside broadcasts from the Oldcastle Agricultural Show in Co. Meath.

Breffni Regional Radio prepares to close down
Breffni badge (courtesy of DX Archive).

In 1987, Breffni purchased a 5 kW AM transmitter from the US but sold it on to another local operator, believed to be KISS FM in Monaghan. Following ongoing coverage problems with 1170 kHz, in March 1988, Breffni moved to 657 kHz giving it stronger local coverage. Bray Local Broadcasting in Co. Wicklow made an official complaint as it was broadcasting on the same frequency. In June 1988 a sister station of Breffni, Galtee Radio, took to the airwaves in Limerick and broadcast the same diet of Irish and American country music. As a result of new broadcasting legislation, Breffni went off the air at midnight on 30th December 1988. The station applied unsuccessfully for a licence and returned for three weeks in November 1989 before being raided.

This recording was made from 95.6 FM from 1457-1544 on 27th December 1988, a few days before closedown. Gerry Boylan is on air and there are plenty of requests and advertising. Many of the ads are voiced by Seán Brady. FM reception is fair with some fading and it appears that this was recorded some distance from the transmitter. We thank John Breslin for the donation.

Bandscan: From 1017 to 1035 kHz including Breffni Central Radio

Bandscan: From 1017 to 1035 kHz including Breffni Central Radio
Breffni Central Radio poster courtesy of Ian Biggar. We’ve never seen a medium wave band stretch quite as far as 2000 kHz!

This recording made by Brian Greene on AM in July 1985 shows how licensed stations were sometimes literally sandwiched between two pirates. The scan begins with Downtown Radio in Belfast, a faint signal as heard in north Dublin on 1026 kHz. Of course ABC Radio in Tramore were on the same frequency but could not be received on the northside of Dublin because of Downtown. Brian then tunes slightly to the left where Capitol Radio can be heard on 1017 kHz, before tuning back to Downtown again. The scan then moves up another channel to 1035 kHz, where a faint signal from Breffni Central Radio in Longford can be picked up, over 120 km from Dublin.

We are not aware of any online recordings of Breffni Central Radio, an offshoot of Breffni Radio in Kilnaleck in Cavan. Breffni Central began on the 10th of June 1985 and was intended for reception in counties Longford, Roscommon, Galway and Mayo. In fact the estimated 1 kW signal on 1035 kHz was heard over a wide area, helped by a 50-ft high mast. This stretched as far as Galway and Dublin, as this recording shows. Similar to the original Breffni Radio, Breffni Central broadcast Irish and American country music but the two stations each had separate services and did not share programming. We thank Seán Brady for help with information and Ian Biggar for the image.

You can listen to an interview with Gerry O’Reilly, who built transmitters for several stations including Breffni Radio, here.

Interview: Gerry Reilly, transmitter man

Interview: Gerry Reilly, transmitter man

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.

In this interview, Walter Hegarty talks to Gerry Reilly, a radio engineer from Co. Cavan. Gerry worked on transmitters for almost 50 stations including Kandy Radio, Galway District Radio (GDR), Hometown Radio, Big M, Erneside, NWCR, CCR, Breffni Radio, Midwest Radio. East Coast Radio (Louth), Melvin Radio, Radio North, Riverside Radio, Boyneside Radio, DCR Letterkenny, Radio West, Rainbow Radio, Star Radio, North Star, KISS FM, KITS, North Atlantic Radio and many more.