Jon Richards has been a familiar voice on Galway radio for 35 years and is currently Programme Director of Galway Bay FM. He cut his teeth in the pirates beginning with WLS Music Radio in 1985 before moving in 1987 to County Sound, first in its home base of Tuam, and subsequently in Galway after it moved into the city in 1988.
In this interview, Jon shares his pirate memories of both stations, including transmitters and studio equipment, programme content and the colourful characters on both sides of the microphone. He recalls many near misses, including falling asleep on air during his first shift and missing a vital lift from Galway to Tuam! Jon remembers fondly his overnight shifts in the pirate days and laments the lack of live nighttime programming on radio today. He also consider the pirate legacy and gives his views on the health of the current radio scene.
We thank Jon Richards warmly for his contribution to this archive. You can listen back here to a feature about Pirate.ie on Galway Bay FM.
County Sound was among the most successful of the Galway pirates, launched on St. Patrick’s Day 1987 in Tuam, 30 kilometres north of the city. It moved into the city centre in January 1988, just across the road from its main competitor, Coast 103. County Sound continued until the 31st of December 1988 and was an unsuccessful applicant for the Co. Galway licence in 1989. We’ll bring you recordings of County Sound over the coming days.
The County Sound jingle package was the same as that of the commercial station of the same name based in Guildford, Surrey, near London. The County Sound theme was written by Les Reed, who as well as being a board member, also wrote ‘Man Of Action’ which offshore radio fans will remember from RNI or Radio Nordsee International in the 1970s. The jingles were produced in Manchester by Steve England, himself an ex-offshore radio DJ, and Alan Fawkes. One of the jingles heard in this clip features Trella Hart, who sang on many of the famous PAMS jingles heard on US and European radio stations in the 1960s and 1970s. We thank Steve Marshall for sharing these jingles with us.
KFM, also known as Galway County Radio, broadcast from 1986 to 1988 from a village west of Galway before moving into the city itself. It was set up by Shane Martin and John Browne in November 1986 and broadcast initially on 99 FM for 12 and a half hours a day, from 7.30am to 8.00pm. The transmitter site was over 130 metres above sea level in Moycullen, a village 12 kilometres west of Galway, and this gave it a large coverage area. An entry from KFM in the Anoraks UK Weekly Report of February the 1st 1987 claimed that the station was covering an 80-kilometre radius and that it would soon be extended to specialist programming and community information. An AM channel was also promised although this never materialised.
By June 1987, KFM was broadcasting 24 hours a day and claiming to cover both Galway City and Co. Galway, including Connemara. The station told Weekly Report that it was aimed at the 20-50 audience and had a minimum of 15 percent programming in Irish and English, reflecting the fact that part of the Connemara is a Gaeltacht area. KFM also produced a bilingual leaflet, in which it announced its intention to seek a licence.
At this stage KFM was on 95, 99 and 99.3 FM and was reported to be listenable as far east as Ballinasloe. There were also reception reports from as far south as Ennis in Co. Clare. In November 1987, KFM moved into Galway City, adding to the competition between the pirates there. Coast 103 were the most successful city station at the time but in early 1988 the Tuam station County Sound would also move into Galway. Like most other stations, KFM closed down on the 31st of December 1988.
This recording of KFM was made from 96 FM on the 24th of September 1988 from 2222-2310 and features Shane Keating on air. There are requests for ‘madly in love’ couples and a mixture of pop music and oldies. Keating was clearly a bit of an anorak: he mentions listening to RTÉ Radio 2 on AM in Birmingham and promises a new programme for DXers, with a special focus on shortwave. We thank Ian Biggar for the donation. This was originally recorded by John Breslin in Co. Clare and being outside the core coverage area, audio quality is fair. Thanks also to Shane Martin for further information.
On the 12th of June 2020, John Walsh spoke to Keith Finnegan of Galway Bay FM about the recent series about Galway pirates on Pirate.ie. The interview includes a rare jingle from Independent Radio Galway (1978-1979), sung by the choir of University College Galway (now the National University of Ireland, Galway). Keith, now CEO of Galway Bay FM, remembers his own involvement in West Coast Community Radio (WCCR). The interview finishes with a montage of jingles and idents from the Pirate.ie series on Galway.
Many of those at Galway Bay FM cut their teeth in the Galway pirates of the era. Licensed in 1989 as Radio West, one group involved in the successful consortium was the original pirate Radio West from Mullingar. The station changed its name to Galway Bay FM in 1993.
We thank Galway Bay FM for their interest in Pirate.ie and hope that the interview will encourage more people in Galway to come forward to memories and recordings.
We’ve just completed a week-long series of recordings of the pirate stations based in and around Galway City in the 1980s, including Atlantic Sound, WLS, Coast 103, County Sound and Radio Pirate Woman. These were all from the final part of the Irish pirate radio era from 1984 to 1988 with the exception of Radio Pirate Woman which defied the new legislation and carried on into the 1990s and beyond. Like Dublin, Galway also had an earlier wave of pirates which paved the way for the larger commercial stations. Among those were Independent Radio Galway and Atlantic Radio.
Independent Radio Galway, broadcasting in the late 1970s on 199 metres (1503 kHz) was the closest that Galway came to a community radio station. Set up by Tom O’Connor of O’Connor’s television repair shop, it began on April 15th 1978 and was one of major pirates that emerged from the RTÉ local radio experiment of that period. IRG closed on July 28th 1979 following the establishment of RTÉ Radio 2. More information is available here. Surprisingly for a city with a long tradition of the arts and community development, Galway never developed community radio in the mould of well-known stations such as Bray Local Broadcasting (BLB) and North Dublin Community Radio (NDCR). Another early station was Atlantic Radio (no relation to the later Atlantic Sound as far as we know), which was due to begin broadcasting on February 25th 1978. As the report below indicates, they had big plans including transmitters in North Galway and Mayo and a separate city service, Galway Community Radio. The station gave an address in Renmore on the east side of the city.
County Sound was an example of a station situated outside Galway city which moved eventually into the city centre. Another county station, KFM, was set up in 1986 in the village of Moycullen 12 km northwest of Galway. Later it opened a studio in the city centre and announced two FM frequencies, one for the city (99 MHz) and another for the county (95 MHz). AM was planned but never materialised.
There was a remarkable similarity between the design of the KFM rate card and the one used previously by Atlantic Sound!
Other stations included West Coast Community Radio (WCCR) which broadcast from spring 1982 until July 1983 on AM only, with its aerial running along the terrace of Cloonacauneen Castle north of Galway before moving to a frozen meat factory in Roscam on the east side of the city. Among those involved with WCCR were the current CEO of Galway Bay FM, Keith Finnegan. Radio Renmore was a low-powered station (approximately 5 watts) on 100 FM which operated from August 1983 until early 1985 from the eastern suburb of Renmore. Set up by three teenagers, Gary Hardiman, Tom Breen and Brendan Mee, it broadcast during the school holidays and was known as Radio Snowflake at Christmas 1984. Emerald FM was an irregular pirate from Shantalla in 1986 as was WHYT which gave an address in Eglinton Street in the city centre. In 1987 another hobby station, Radio Impulse, was logged mainly at weekends.
Stations in Co. Galway included the very early pirate Saor-Raidió Chonamara which broadcast on two separate occasions in 1970 from Ros Muc, a village in the Gaeltacht area of Connemara. It was a pioneer in Irish language broadcasting and led to the establishment of RTÉ’s Irish language service Raidió na Gaeltachta in 1972. Further to the northwest, Connemara Community Radio came on the air in 1988 in the village of Letterfrack. It is now a licensed station of the same name. In the east of the county, Kandy Radio broadcast from Ballinasloe from 1986 to 1988 and Galway District Radio was a short-lived station in Loughrea.
Thanks to Brendan Mee for background details. We plan to bring you further information about these and other stations, as well as more recordings, in another Galway series in the future.