In episode #6 of the Pirate.ie podcast, we analyse the politics and economics of Irish pirate radio from 1978-1988. The pirates emerged because of the political failure to develop diversity in radio and became a thorn in the side of the authorities, especially from the early 1980s with the arrival of high-powered, professional operators.
Many stations practised corporate social responsibility in an effort to appear respectable but once they began to attract advertising revenue away from RTÉ, they were raided or jammed. Political instability and ideological differences stymied the development of legislation to regulate the radio sector, with several failed radio bills in the 1980s.
In this episode, listen to Brian Greene and John Walsh explore the politics and economics of the era with the help of extracts from our archive including news programmes, interviews, commercial breaks and advertising promos. This discussion is based on our article published in 2020 in the Journal of Radio and Audio Media.
Generous giveaways are often associated with super-pirates such as Sunshine Radio and Radio Nova in Dublin, but Cavan Community Radio also had several high-profile competitions during its five years on air. In September 1984, CCR ran a competition for a sun holiday for two, inviting listeners to call the station if they heard three songs consecutively, ‘Walk on By’ by Larry Cunningham, ‘When Julie Comes Around’ by the C-60 band and ‘Cavan Girl’ by the Barleycorns. The 20th caller would win the holiday.
This recording was made from 819 kHz from 1242-1257 on 28th September 1984. Ollie Clarke is on air and the holiday competition is being pushed heavily. It is heard twice during the commercial break with one of the promotions featuring the voice of Don Allen.
On Thursday 4th April 1985, CCR began broadcasting promos for another giveaway comprising a holiday and prizes worth £2,000. Four records, ‘You must be Joking’ by Lucky Numbers, ‘Baby don’t go’ by Sandy Kelly, ‘My Own Native Land’ by Pat Woods and ‘Breakaway’ by Ann Breen, would be played in that exact order, only once, between Thursday 4th April and Friday 26th April. On hearing the last beat of the last record, listeners had to phone CCR on (049) 32747 and, if they were the tenth caller, they would win a holiday for two in Spain. Thanks to Seán Brady for this information.
This recording is from the Leon Tipler Tapes Collection, donated to us by Steve England.
Cavan Community Radio (CCR) was an AM station serving the north midlands from 1982 to 1988. This is an edited version of the station’s history kindly provided by Seán Brady.
CCR began broadcasting on 747 kHz AM in the spring of 1982. The catch-phrase, ‘The Big One on 747’, soon became a household phrase in homes all over the north Irish midlands, as well as counties Fermanagh and Tyrone. CCR’s AM signal also reached a wide area of Northern Ireland and attracted advertisers from counties Fermanagh and Tyrone. Programming originated from Farnham Road, Cavan quite close to the AM transmitter site, so there was no need for an FM link from the studio. The music format was a mix of pop and country music. Initially, broadcast hours ran from 0800 to 2000 daily and were later extended to midnight.
On Friday 24th January 1984, CCR moved into new custom built studios and offices, which were situated above the Musicland Record Store on Main Street, Cavan. CCR linked to the 747 kHz AM transmitter with a low powered FM transmitter on 98.1 MHz which was available locally in Cavan town. In May 1984, Dublin’s Radio Nova changed AM frequency, moving from 828 kHz to 738 kHz. As a result, CCR began to experience severe adjacent channel interference and a change of AM frequency was considered essential.
Sometime between May and November 1984, CCR moved from 747 kHz to 819 kHz. The new channel provided excellent signal coverage of counties Cavan, Monaghan and Fermanagh, along with Armagh, Leitrim, Sligo, Longford and Meath until the Dublin station Q102 decided to move from 828 to 819 kHz in early October 1985. The presence of two relatively high-powered stations only 100km apart on the same frequency continued to cause problems for both in terms of coverage area for the remainder of the pirate era. Depending on conditions and transmitter power from either station, CCR could often be heard underneath Q102 heading north from Dublin.
In mid-May 1985, the CCR FM link on 98.1 MHz began to be jammed and the station had to move frequencies. Due to continuous jamming, CCR moved back to their former studios in Farnham Road, Cavan. With this move of premises, the FM link frequency was now lost and CCR became one of a select few Irish pirate radio stations to broadcast on AM only. The late ‘Daffy’ Don Allen, who counted CCR among the many Irish pirates where he worked, named the unknown person blocking the signal ‘Wammer the Jammer’ and even recorded a comedy song about him which he used to play over the airwaves. Don Allen moved to Radio West in Mullingar in September 1986.
Despite the coverage issue, at this time plenty of commercials were being aired and the station identified itself on air as ‘professional radio throughout the midlands and the northwest, CCR on 819 kHz’. The station had outside broadcasts including live commentary of the 1986 St. Patrick’s Day parades in Cavan. It also introduced a radio bingo game in association with Donagh Football and Social Club in Co. Fermanagh. Cavan Community Radio left the air on 819 kHz for the last time at on Saturday 31st December 1988.
The recording above was made from 98.1 FM from 1310-1341 on 21st September 1984. Ollie Clarke is on air and there is a promotion for a holiday giveaway. Ollie also worked with CCR, Channel 2 (Breffni Radio’s short-lived pop music service in Kilnaleck, Co. Cavan), Erneside Radio and Radio West. He has broadcast on licensed stations Northern Sound and Spirit Radio and is now a volunteer with Christmas FM.
This recording is from the Leon Tipler Tapes Collection, donated to us by Steve England.
Q102 shook up the Dublin scene when it came on the air on the 23rd of January 1985. In contrast to Radio Nova which had been plagued by union problems for some time, Q102 marketed itself as ‘Irish owned and operated’ in the early years. The station attracted big names or launched many radio careers and was one of Dublin’s most successful pirates of the 1980s. It broadcast initially on 828 kHz AM and 102 FM, later adding 103.5. In October 1985 it moved to the clearer channel of 819 kHz, causing problems for Cavan Community Radio which was on the same frequency.
Among the successful initiatives was the ‘Eye in the Sky’ traffic news service, broadcast by station manager Mike Hogan from a helicopter circling Dublin. The helicopter was piloted by Ciaran Haughey, son of the Fianna Fáil leader and future Taoiseach Charles Haughey. ‘Eye in the Sky’ was sponsored by Fiat Ireland, and gave commuters an up-to-the-minute morning traffic report four years ahead of a similar service on RTÉ. This recording from 0815-0900 on the 23rd of January 1986 (the station’s first birthday) is of the breakfast programme presented by Greg Gaughran with traffic reports from Mike Hogan and Gary Hamill (Seán McCarthy) on news.
In March 1988, Q102 bought the equipment of its rival Energy 103 after its sudden closure and took over all its frequencies, giving it prominence on the AM and FM bands. In June 1988, the station was relaunched as ‘Super Q’ by the American radio consultant Bill Cunningham who had transformed the sound of Sunshine previously. It broadcast until the 30th of December 1988. You can read more about the history of Q102 and hear further recordings here.
This recording is from the Skywave Tapes Collection. Skywave Radio International broadcast a shortwave station in the 1980s from Baldoyle in northeast Dublin.
Royal County Radio was set up in Navan, Co. Meath on the 8th of October 1982 and was a rival station to the popular Radio Carousel which broadcast from the town’s shopping centre. RCR was set up by ex-Carousel staff including the legendary Don Allen (RIP) who had worked on Radio Caroline North and Radio North Sea International. The station used the old Southside Radio transmitter from Dublin and moved around the medium wave band, starting on 254 metres (announcing 244 metres as in the flyer) then moving to 301 metres (999 kHz although they were slightly off-channel on 1000 kHz), before settling on 355 metres (846 kHz). An FM transmitter on 96.8 was added later. A report on an Irish tour by Anoraks UK in May 1984 describes RCR as going downhill as many presenters had left to join the new Cavan Community Radio, and the Navan station seems to have closed that summer.
This short recording is from 846 kHz and starts just before the midday news with Lynsey Shelbourne (Dolan). Don Allen’s voice can be heard on promos and presenting. We estimate the date as sometime in the spring of 1983, as Don left RCR to go to ERI in Cork in April. One of the best known voices on rural Irish pirate radio in the 1980s where he presented many country music shows, Don died in 1995. Thanks to Ian Biggar for his detective work which allowed us to piece together this information. This recording is from the Skywave Tapes Collection. Skywave Radio International broadcast a shortwave station in the 1980s from Baldoyle in northeast Dublin.