County Sound went on the air on St. Patrick’s Day 1987 from Tuam, 30km north of Galway City on 98.5 FM. In January 1987 it moved to Prospect Hill near Eyre Square in Galway City, just across the road from rival station Coast 103. After the move, County Sound broadcast to Galway on 101 FM, on 96.4 FM from Abbeyknockmoy in the east (from where it covered the county) and on 98.5 FM to the town of Ballinasloe. The Galway market was highly competitive in 1988 with both Coast and County Sound dominating, ahead of the smaller KFM. Radio West from Mullingar, which had been rebranded as West National Radio 3, also had AM and FM relays in the city. On the 30th of September 1988, the local City Tribune reported on a row between County Sound and Coast 103 over use of FM frequencies. When Coast began broadcasting on 100.1 FM, County Sound Managing Director Benen Tierney accused them of jamming County Sound on 101. This was denied by Keith York of Coast who said there was enough space between the two stations. Gardaí were reportedly alerted after Coast alleged that they received threatening phone calls from their competitors.
County Sound closed at midnight on the 31st of December 1988. It was an unsuccessful applicant for the local Galway licence which was awarded in 1989. The successful bid was made by a consortium of local businesses, community groups and newspapers as well as the former Mullingar pirate Radio West which had already gained a foothold in Galway. The new licensed station was also called Radio West and came on the air on the 18th of August 1989. It was relaunched as Galway Bay FM in 1993.
This recording is an aircheck of Ciaran Wilson (Brannelly) on air on the 24th of July 1988. There are adverts for businesses in Tuam and Galway City, many voiced by Jon Richards who would go on to work for Radio West/Galway Bay FM. There is a promo for Tuam Festival Radio on 106 FM, a pop-up station run by County Sound in the town where it originated, from the 26th of July to the 10th of August 1988. There is also a competition for tickets to a Michael Jackson concert. Many thanks to Ciaran Brannelly for donating this recording.
Coast 103 was on air for 18 months in 1987 and 1988 and was the last of the large commercial Galway stations of the era. It emerged from WLS Music Radio and began testing on the 10th of July 1987 as Coast 100. The station was set up by Steve Marshall and Keith York (RIP) who had been involved in both WLS and an earlier station, Atlantic Sound. Coast was located at 24 Prospect Hill, the same address as WLS. It soon moved to 103 FM and added a 1 kW transmitter on 1566 kHz AM. According to the Anoraks UK Weekly Report, the backers were Keith York himself, another pirate station WKLR in Bandon and a number of Galway businessmen.
In April 1988 the Limerick station Hits 954 closed and merged with Coast 103, calling itself Coast Hot Hits and covering Galway, Clare and Limerick. The original Hits 954 AM transmitter was used to relay the Galway signal although there were problems with the antenna and power was never too high. There is poor audio quality on this promo for the new station, voiced by Stuart Clark, recorded from AM in Limerick.
A chain of FM transmitters was installed between Galway and Limerick allowing FM reception to the south almost as far as Cork city and well into counties Kerry, Tipperary. The Galway FM transmitter, with an estimated maximum power of 3 kW ERP was brought to a higher location to allow improved reception to the north into Counties Mayo and Roscommon. The AM signal could be heard in Scotland but FM was the priority in the station’s last year. Coast Hot Hits was one of a number of stations to carry the satellite service Radio Nova International on overnights in 1988. It also made a number of successful outside broadcasts from Limerick and Galway. In the competitive Galway pirate scene of 1988, there was intense rivalry with the other big station County Sound. Coast presenters included Tony Allan, Steve Marshall, Stuart Clark, Brian Walsh, Ger Sweeney and Shane Martin. The station closed at the end of 1988 in line with the new broadcasting legislation. You can listen here to an interview with Ger Sweeney in which he remembers his time at Coast.
This recording, courtesy of Ian Biggar of DX Archive, is from the 1st of November 1988 from 1113-1200 and features Steve Marshall on air with the great Tony Allan’s voice on many ads and promos.
This is the third and final recording of WLS Music Radio in our feature on the Galway pirates of the 1980s. Made on the 9th of October 1986 from 1132-1232, it features one of the best-known pirate radio voices of the era, Tony Allan. Tony worked on many British offshore pirates including Radio Caroline in the 1960s and the Voice of Peace anchored off the Israeli coast in the 1970s. He came to Ireland in 1979 and his voice was heard on pirate station idents throughout the country throughout the 1980s including WLS and Coast 103 in Galway. He also presented on various stations including Radio Nova, voicing the famous closedown promo of 1983. Shortly after the vast majority of the pirates left the airwaves at the end of 1988 due to new broadcasting legislation, Tony and Steve Marshall of Coast 103 set up Quincentennial Radio in Galway. Tony passed away in 2004 at the age of 54 following a cancer diagnosis. There is a tribute to him here.
In December 1986, WLS moved to spacious new offices on Prospect Hill off Eyre Square in Galway. Anoraks UK commented that the facilities were at the standard of any British ILR station of the time. Many thanks to Ian Biggar of DX Archive for sharing this recording.
WLS Music Radio was a successful and professional pirate broadcasting to Galway for more than two years from March 1985 to June 1987. WLS stood for ‘West Local Station’ and was set up by former offshore DJs Don Stevens and Keith York (RIP) who came to Galway from Cork and joined the existing pirate, Atlantic Sound in 1984. WLS was launched around the 17th of March 1985 and broadcast on 846 kHz AM and 104 FM in stereo, later adding shortwave on 6240 kHz.
From the beginning, WLS Music Radio meant business and broadcast 24 hours a day with an hourly news service from 7am to midnight and it wasn’t long until Atlantic folded. The technical set-up was impressive from the start with high quality Gates turntables and Spotmaster cart machines, according to the Anoraks UK Weekly Report in March 1985. There was a setback in May when RTÉ was granted a temporary injunction in the High Court against Don Stevens and Keith York preventing WLS from causing interference to television transmissions in Galway. In advance of the court hearing, WLS had moved to 102.7 FM to avoid interference. They also increased power to 520 watts ERP, claiming to be the largest FM transmitter ever heard in Galway. AM power was increased to 300 watts and reception reports came from as far away as Wales and Devon. By June 1986, Anoraks UK described WLS as ‘one of the best equipped stations in Ireland, with a sound to go with it’ and reported that it had many local and national advertisers. Presenters included Keith York, another former offshore DJ Steve Marshall and a veteran of the Dublin scene, Tony Allan, who joined in 1986. RTÉ claimed loss of £30,000 in advertising revenue in Galway and in June 1986 the High Court granted a permanent injunction preventing WLS from causing interference to television reception of RTÉ 2.
In June 1987 the Free Radio Show on Radio West reported that WLS had gone off the air after an irate investor unhappy with his return arrived at the station and dismantled equipment. WLS presenters could be heard on other Galway stations such as KFM and County Sound. In July, Steve Marshall and Keith York set up another successful Galway station Coast 103 which lasted until the end of 1988.
This recording is from 0850-0955 on the 27th of April 1985, during the early days of WLS. It features Don Stevens on the breakfast show and Laura Landers on news. The audio and presentation style is professional and reminiscent of the larger commercial stations in Dublin and Cork. There’s even a reference to the weather forecast ‘for the bay area’, borrowed from Radio Nova! Many thanks to Ian Biggar of DX Archive for the recording.
We’ve covered the Limerick pirate scene regularly in this archive and there’s no doubt that despite its size, Limerick punched above its weight in radio terms during the pirate era. We’re delighted to bring you an interview with Ger Sweeney who worked in many of the city’s stations from the early 1980s.
Ger began broadcasting when only 13 years old on Raidió Luimní run by the popular character John ‘The Man’ Frawley from 1978 to 1988. Raidió Luimní was a community station with a difference featuring local characters, death notices and all sorts of eclectic programming.
Ger moved to City Centre Radio (CCR) in 1985 where production standards were higher and the emphasis was on pop music. He switched to Hits 954 in 1987, a slicker station featuring many former Radio Caroline presenters. His final stint with pirate radio was with Coast 103 in Galway up to the closedown at the end of 1988. The interviewer is John Walsh.
Ger went on to work in licensed local stations Clare FM and Radio Limerick One. You can hear a documentary about the Limerick pirates here and another interview about Limerick pirate history here.