Border series: Sean Brady on Radio Star Country

Border series: Sean Brady on Radio Star Country
An undated photo of Sean Brady in studio in the early 1990s (courtesy of Sean).

Today’s recording of Radio Star Country features Sean Brady presenting an afternoon show in 1994. With experience on various 1980s pirates in the north Leinster region (Cavan Community Radio and Breffni Radio), Sean later joined Northern Sound Radio, the licensed service for Counties Cavan and Monaghan. He returned to the pirate fold in the form of Radio Star Country, where he spent more than four years. Sean shares his fond memories of that period:

I began hosting shows on Radio Star Country in January 1992, following a stint (May 1990 to December 1991) at Northern Sound. When I was at Northern Sound, Isobel Byrne (RIP), late wife of former Radio Star Country owner, Gerry Byrne, used to listen in and phone me, wondering if I’d like to join Radio Star Country.

When I joined Radio Star Country, the station was broadcasting on 981 kHz from a caravan near Smithboro in County Monaghan, but it did move – I’m not sure when – to Carrigans, Emyvale. I wasn’t informed of the move and drove on a Sunday morning to Smithboro to find the farmyard empty of its radio occupant! The move was related to some sort of family dispute!

I very much enjoyed working for Radio Star Country, as I could play the kind of music I loved, and still do to this day, country music, particularly American country music. I have to admit that station owner Gerry Byrne and I had a few heated arguments as to the amount of American country music I played on-air, but I was adamant that the material I featured was the correct format to adhere to. I spent a lot of time planning my shows, in the pre-internet days, researching country music artists, as I featured them on their respective birthdays. I had a quite extensive country music collection – I still do to this day, although it’s obviously been increased – on CD, vinyl and cassette, and I used to bring at least three carry cases of material with me, along with my handwritten country music notes.

I have to say that, while I was hosting shows on Radio Star Country, between January 1992 and March 1996, sitting in the caravan-based on-air studio, I never thought of, or was fearful of, a raid taking place. Perhaps I was a little naive, but I simply got on with the job in hand, playing the finest selection of country music, which no other radio station in the land was doing. I hosted the afternoon slot between 1.00pm and 6.00pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, and enjoyed it immensely, even though it involved a car journey of 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Although I departed Radio Star Country in March 1996, I’m so pleased to know that the station is still broadcasting today, but I feel that a move in frequency from 981 kHz should have been undertaken – the frequency, which is adequate for daytime coverage, does tend to suffer from co-channel interference at night. I always thought that 954 kHz would have been a more suitable AM frequency to use, as the medium wave band is now more uncluttered.

This recording of Sean was made on bank holiday Monday 29th August 1994 from 1640-1740. Adverts are from Counties Armagh, Monaghan, Down, Tyrone and Derry and there are plenty of stations idents and jingles, many of which are still heard today. The station was sold on by Gerry Byrne in 1992 and a reference by Sean to the religious programme Showers of Blessings indicates an expansion to content beyond country music alone. Sponsored religious programmes have become increasingly prominent on Radio Star Country but, as Gerry Byrne recalls, listeners remain loyal to the station:

Radio Star Country changed ownership a couple of times and has now a number of religious features and gospel programmes. Over the years, it has had steady staff and a large loyal bunch of listeners, among them the late Big Tom who played Radio Star Country in his shed. I moved to London completely in 1992 even though I had been back and forth and began broadcasting with Spectrum Radio London on a Sunday night and later Saturday afternoon.

Today’s tape was made in Scotland from 981 kHz AM and is courtesy of Ian Biggar.

Border series: Patsy Jordan on Radio Star Country

Border series: Patsy Jordan on Radio Star Country
Patsy Jordan (McDonald) pictured in The Impartial Reporter, 2016

This recording of Monaghan border pirate Radio Star Country features one of the station’s best known presenters, the late Patsy Jordan (McDonald). It was made on 19th February 1993 from 0857-1030 and features Patsy on a long shift from early morning until 1pm. Patsy, who was from Newtownbutler in Co. Fermanagh, was a country musician whose band, Patsy Jordan and the Blue Train Line, gained huge success in the 1980s. In an obituary in Enniskillen newspaper The Impartial Reporter, it was stated that on the back of the band’s popularity, Cavan pirate station Erneside Radio invited Patsy to present his own show. That was very popular with listeners so it was natural that Patsy would continue to be heard on Radio Star Country after other pirates left the airwaves at the start of 1989. He died in 2016 and country musicians and radio colleagues were among those who attended his large funeral in Clonmaulin close to the border with Co. Monaghan.

Border series: Patsy Jordan on Radio Star Country
Radio Star rate card from 1992 (courtesy Sean Brady/Ian Biggar).

On this tape of one of Patsy’s shows, there are copious adverts from Down, Tyrone, Armagh, Cavan and Antrim including Belfast. Plenty of requests are received from both sides of the border and even from the Isle of Man and various local country music singers are promoted. The recording was made from 981 kHz AM in Scotland by Gary Hogg of DX Archive. Thanks to Gary for the recording and to Ian Biggar for assistance with the text.

Border series: Radio Star Country carries on into 1991

Border series: Radio Star Country carries on into 1991
Letterhead from 1991 showing Armagh address (courtesy Ian Biggar).

The raid of August 1990 did little to dent the success of Radio Star Country, and the Monaghan pirate station carried on unimpeded into 1991, although facilities were basic. The Glasgow Herald mentioned the station in a news feature on the Monaghan/Tyrone border on July 13th 1991, commenting on ‘maudlin country and western’ and ‘repetitive ads for farm machinery suppliers and discount stores’.

Border series: Radio Star Country carries on into 1991
Extract from the Glasgow Herald of July 13th 1991 (courtesy Ian Biggar).

There is a dramatic account of the station during this period in a book by Cathal ‘Ray’ McSherry (RIP), A Different Wavelength: The Pirate Radio Days from 2004: My first visit to Radio Star headquarters was unforgettable. After leaving the main road and travelling for twenty minutes, I arrived at an old ramshackle single storey dwelling at the side of a narrow boreen. Cement or breeze blocks filled out the windows. Inside was a bare earthen floor which was more likely to the found the days of the Famine. There was a fireplace minus a grate and in all honesty the whole thing looked so absurd and surreal. It was a spectacle I’ll never forget but this was our “studio”. From here we would defy the powers that be and from here we would broadcast our shows, send out our music and entertainment and silently wonder, or think to ourselves often as not, if we weren’t completely coco-pops. Within this hampered house was a mixing desk, microphones, turntables, and all the paraphernalia of radio pirating. A mast was located two miles away to receive the FM signal. Cathal McSherry died in 2021.

Free Radio News (January 1991) reported problems at Radio Star Country due to a strong harmonic on 1962 kHz (2 x 981). This was in the amateur radio band and operators could be heard discussing the signal. They were obviously not happy and apparently reported the harmonic to the UK Department for Trade and Industry. The problem was seemingly caused by technical work being carried out at the transmitter site. This continued on and off for a few days before being finally corrected and luckily no action was taken by the authorities.

This tape of Radio Star Country is a rare FM recording made on 11th May 1991 from 98.6 MHz. Station owner Gerry Byrne is on air with the Star Country Top 20 and his voice is heard on the large number of adverts from both sides of the border. Part 1 above runs from 1126 and Part 2 below from 1214.

Part 2 from 1214

Thanks to Ian Biggar for the donation and for assistance with the text.

Border series: Interview with Don Allen of Radio Star Country

Video recorded by Miles Johnston and donated by Rodney Neill.

The legendary pirate DJ Don Allen (RIP) joined Radio Star Country in March 1989. Canadian by birth, Don cut his teeth with the offshore pirates such as Radio Caroline and Radio Northsea International in the 1960s and 1970s, where he became renowned for his country and western jamboree shows. He came to Ireland in the early 1980s and prior to the closedowns of 1988 worked with pirates such as ERI (Cork), Royal County Radio (Meath), Radio West (Westmeath) and Erneside Radio (Cavan). Don’s last station was the licensed Midlands Radio 103 (now Midlands 103) where he hosted a popular country show until his sudden death in May 1995.

This video from 17th May 1989 contains shots of Radio Star Country’s transmission equipment and includes part of an interview with Don Allen, who says he remains a pirate to the core and has no interest in working for licensed radio. Don reports that the Irish and American country format is proving very popular with listeners and advertisers and indeed, around this time Radio Star Country was announcing itself as the only all-country music station in Ireland. By mid-June 1989, Radio Star Country was noted with an excellent signal on 981 kHz, along with many adverts. The final edition of Anoraks UK’s Weekly Report, published in September 1989, stated that Radio Star Country could be heard over a wide area from Larne in Co. Antrim to Malin Head in Co. Donegal, with the signal also audible on a simple receiver in Dublin and over a large area of north Leinster.

We thank Rodney Neill for his donation of the video, which was made originally by Miles Johnston. Thanks also to Sean Brady for assistance with the text.

Border series: ‘305, keeping the country music alive’

Border series: '305, keeping the country music alive'
Radio Star Country sticker (courtesy Ian Biggar).

Radio Star Country has always been a champion of country music and during the heady days of early 1989, it used the tagline ‘305, keeping the country music alive’, a reference to its wavelength in metres, roughly equivalent to 981 kHz. On 3rd March 1989, veteran country music artist Vernon Oxford, who hails from Arkansas, was featured in an edition of ‘Arena’ on BBC2, in which he travelled around Northern Ireland. Vernon Oxford also visited Radio Star Country in the Swan Lake Hotel in Monaghan, where station owner Gerry Byrne interviewed him and offered Vernon the opportunity to sing live on-air. It was at this time, in March 1989, that it was noted that Radio Star Country was enjoying a successful period, with an excellent (daytime) signal on 981 kHz, plenty of advertisements and strongly featured station promos. Around this time also, ex-Kiss FM (Monaghan) DJ John Friday (also known as Lawrence John) was heard voicing adverts on Radio Star Country.

Border series: '305, keeping the country music alive'
Radio Star studio including Vernon Oxford poster (Anoraks Ireland Collection).

On the morning of Friday 17th March 1989, Radio Star Country was noted off-air, apparently as a result of a visit from officials from the Department of Communications. The station was warned that it would be raided and closed down if it did not cease transmissions. Radio Star Country did switch off its transmitter for a time, but returned later.

Ian Biggar, who donated many recordings for this series, shares his memories of Radio Star Country:

In late July 1988, myself and Ken Baird were on a flying visit to Monaghan Town but of course made time to visit the radio stations operating at that time. Radio Star Country was one of the four and was located in the Swan Lake Hotel. It was very much typical of the mid-range stations of the time with domestic equipment in the studio, but generally was a nice little set up.

To be honest, after that visit I probably didn’t listen to the station again as country music wasn’t really my thing and tended to tune to such stations just to check they were there. Radio Star Country had a decent signal at home in southwest Scotland initially on 927 kHz, then 891 and finally on 981 kHz where it remains to this day.

That all changed on January 1st 1989 when the new broadcasting law was introduced in Ireland. I can clearly remember that Sunday morning and tuning across the now deserted medium wave. On 1188 kHz there was just a mess with a distorted relay of World Music Radio. Surprisingly, 846 kHz was silent as it was rumoured that of all the stations, Radio North from Carndonagh was most likely to defy the legislation. However, tuning to 891 kHz I was surprised and pleased to hear that Radio Star Country was on the air. I don’t think I had heard any rumblings about Star remaining on air, but there it was. It was around 10am and a taped programme was running and I can clearly remember one of the commercials wishing the station all the best for its continuation on air. From then on, I probably listened to the station most days whilst driving to work. I would tune between Star, Radio Dublin and Radio North which had returned to the air.

There were times when Radio Star Country was off air and I would always monitor the channel until they returned, which it always did! I remember one occasion in particular after a break that Gerry Byrne announced the station was now broadcasting from County Tyrone. This was for the benefit of the authorities and the station remained located in north Monaghan. I had now developed an affinity for the station. Yes, the music wasn’t to my taste, but the sheer determination to survive appealed to me.

In this recording from March 1989, Gerry Byrne is on air and the ‘305’ tagline is heard. The voice of popular Canadian country DJ Don Allen (RIP), who joined around this time, features on some of the many adverts from both sides of the border. Audio quality is poor on some commercials, possibly due to a dirty cassette deck. There are also community notices, a promo for ‘All-American Country’ coming up at 3pm and information about transport to a country music concert in Dublin.

The recording was made from 981 kHz on 1st March 1989. Part 1 above runs from 1430-1517 and Part 2 below from 1518-1603.

The recording was made by Rodney Neill and is from the Anoraks Ireland Collection, donated to us by Paul Davidson. Thanks to Ian Biggar for the donation and to Sean Brady for assistance with the text.