ARD (Alternative Radio Dublin) from 1978

ARD (Alternative Radio Dublin) from 1978
ARD’s studio at Belvedere Place in 1978 (photo courtesy of Dave Reddy).

ARD (Alternative Radio Dublin) was an important station in the history of Irish pirate radio, introducing professionalism and diversity to the Dublin radio scene. It was set up by Mark Story, Declan Meehan and Davitt Kelly (RIP) and made its first test broadcast on July 31st 1976 on 217 metres. Rivalry grew between the station and the original Radio Dublin but in his book Radio Radio (1988), Peter Mulryan writes that ARD was separated from the rest of the herd by its professionalism. In 1977, Radio Dublin changed its format and began experimenting with round-the-clock broadcasting, upping the ante further. A split at Radio Dublin caused Dr. Don (Moore) to join ARD and the station moved to 1161 kHz (announced as 257 metres), right next to its rival on 253 metres. Although additional advertising revenue was coming to ARD by the end of 1977, a key boost for the station was commercial backing from businessman Bernard Llewellyn who ran an electrical shop in Phibsboro on Dublin’s northside. In January 1978, ARD moved into a Georgian building in Belvedere Place in the city centre and the station held an official launch on January 23rd.

Following the investment, ARD became more professional and introduced specialist programmes, including a respected news service. According to Peter Mulryan, these shows were expensive and Llewellyn reverted to a more music-based policy in the first half of 1978. Two of the original station founders, Davitt Kelly and Declan Meehan also left around this time. Other frequencies used by ARD were 1152, 1143 and 1134 kHz and the station was an early FM pioneer among the Dublin pirates. It closed down on New Year’s Eve 1979 only to return as Radio 257 on New Year’s Day 1980 from the Crofton Hotel in north Dublin. By autumn that year, the station had reverted to the original ARD name. ARD closed for good in mid-1982 in the face of increased competition in the Dublin radio market.

ARD (Alternative Radio Dublin) from 1978
The AM transmitter on 1161 kHz at Belvedere Place (photo courtesy of Dave Reddy).

In addition to the station’s founders, many talented broadcasters were heard on ARD/Radio 257, including John Clarke, Ronan Collins, Gerry Ryan, Mike Moran, Tony Allan, Paul Vincent, Ian Dempsey, Dave Kelly, Cathy Cregan and David Baker. The station also employed journalists such as Gene Kerrigan and Pat Brennan, both of whom went on to become established names. This airchecked recording of ARD was made between 1215 and 1522 on 23rd April 1978 and features Dave C (Cunningham) and Paul Downey with a lunchtime requests show, followed by Arno St. Jude (Declan Meehan), who announces that the station has to close down temporarily due to technical issues. We thank Eddie Caffrey for the donation of this recording, which was made in Co. Louth.

Pirate Pioneers: Radio Galaxy and Radio Vanessa

Pirate Pioneers: Radio Galaxy and Radio Vanessa
The ‘Milinda 7’ following the court case, L-R: Jimmy McCabe, Ernie Melia, Michael Lynch, Jimmy Lynch, Mark Story, Ken Sheehan and Declan Meehan (Evening Press, from ‘Radio Radio’ by Peter Mulryan).

The broadcasting history of Tony Boylan (RIP) has been well documented over the years from his first broadcasts in 1945 until the mid-1980s when he sold his equipment and retired to the Isle of Man. The recording above is an aircheck of Tony’s Radio Galaxy signing off from one of its regular Sunday broadcasts. The recording is undated, but is probably from 1969 or 1970 as Tony refers to Radio Dublin as broadcasting on 217 metres. This may well have been during the period of the United Dublin Stations as referred to in Peter Mulryan’s Radio Radio book (1988). Radio Galaxy along with Radio Eamo, Radio Jacqueline and Radio Dublin formed this shortlived network. You can hear a longer recording of Radio Galaxy here.

Tony broadcast from Santry at this point and just along the road was a young man called Robbie Irwin, who in turn was friends with Declan Meehan, also from Santry. The two friends had heard Radio Galaxy and sharing a common interest in music and radio, wanted to start their own station. Also entering the picture was Ernie Melia (RIP) from Finglas East who was dating Mary Cummins from Santry, whose brother Ollie was an anorak like Ernie.

The four approached Tony and eventually Ernie bought the 30-watt transmitter complete with a crystal for 1525 kHz (196.7 metres), right beside Vatican Radio. Declan remembers that the rig was built by someone in RTÉ! Ernie brought the rig home to Tolka Gardens where with the aid of a long wire, he erected a very long antenna. Sporadic broadcasts commenced until the friends decided to commence official broadcasts in September 1970 as Radio Vanessa, named after Vanessa O’Callaghan from along the road!

Pirate Pioneers: Radio Galaxy and Radio Vanessa
Declan Meehan with John Walsh at East Coast FM in 2019.

Programmes were pre-recorded in Declan’s house on Shanliss Drive and broadcast from either there, Robbie’s house or Ernie’s place in Finglas. The free radio magazine Newswave reported in early 1972 that ‘Radio Vanessa broadcasts programmes of pop music on 1525 kHz on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-2pm’. DJs on the station were known as Arno St Jude (Declan Meehan), Robbie Ruskin (Robbie Irwin) and Hungry Herbie (Oliver Cummins).

Live broadcasts were made from Declan’s house in 1971 and the station continued broadcasting into 1972, adding a late night show after midnight on 1335 kHz (226 metres). By the second half of 1972 Vanessa had disappeared with Declan and Ernie becoming involved with another station Radio Milinda, which was infamously raided on December 17th. Following the end of Vanessa, the transmitter was used by Radio Valleri on 1525 kHz starting in July 1972 for two months before technical problems put it off the air. The transmitter remained at Declan’s house and made a brave appearance on air on Christmas Day 1972 as The Voice of Free Radio on 1525 kHz. This followed the increased activity from the P&T resulting in the Radio Milinda raid the previous week. Ernie eventually collected the transmitter and as far as we know, it was never used again.

The recording below features a programme broadcast on Radio Vanessa on 1335 kHz with Ken Edwards (Ken Sheehan), the founder of Radio Dublin. Neither Declan nor Ken can remember this being broadcast. It was supplied by Roger Lloyd (Prince Terry) and is undated, but probably from 1972.

We thank Ian Biggar for supplying the text and sharing these recordings. Listen here to Declan Meehan being interviewed by Pirate.ie about his earliest radio memories.

More Jason Maine on early Sunshine Radio

More Jason Maine on early Sunshine Radio
Early Sunshine car sticker (courtesy of Ian Biggar)

Today we bring you another recording from the first few weeks of Sunshine Radio, the station which broke the mould of Irish pirate radio when it launched officially on 29th September 1980.

The recording runs from 0953-1006 and again from 1013-1041 on 19th October 1980. It’s a cold and sunny Sunday morning and Jason Maine is in a relaxed vibe. The early Sunshine slogan ‘the dance station of the 80s’ is heard intermittently. This was used until around Christmas when the format changed to Top 40 and oldies. There are ads voiced by Tony Allan for the Sands Hotel where Sunshine was based and Tamango’s Nightclub next door. Jason also announces thousands of pounds’ worth of prizes in the coming week, a sign that Sunshine meant business.

More Jason Maine on early Sunshine Radio
Declan Meehan in the Sunshine studio in 1981 (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar).

This recording was made from 531 kHz by Ken Baird in Ayrshire in Scotland and co-channel interference can be heard from the Swiss German station underneath. Many thanks to Ian Biggar for sharing it with us.

Full recording: Radio Nova

Full recording: Radio Nova
Sybil Fennell, Declan Meehan and Bob Gallico when Nova closed down officially in May 1983 (photo courtesy of Joe King).

Radio Nova was renowned for many things including its powerful signal, slick formatting and innovative content. Another aspect which drew attention to the station and boosted its audience were the regular cash prizes which were occasionally very generous. On 30th August 1983, Nova gave away £6,000 in cash, a fortune in the cash-strapped times, to Dolores Carney from Trim in Co. Meath. This recording was made from 1857-1930 that evening and features part of the ‘Dublin Today’ talk programme which of course gives prominence to the giveaway, replaying the moment when Dolores heard that she had won and her subsequent interview with Declan Meehan.

The presenter is Sybil Fennell, one of the best known newsreaders on Nova and interestingly, the recording gives an example of how Nova sometimes split its service between AM and FM in order to maximise its audience. On this occasion, ‘Dublin Today’ was broadcast on 828 kHz AM only, while 88 FM carried a rock music show. It’s hard to believe that this was just five months after Nova was raided and shut down by the authorities but by August 1983, Ireland’s biggest pirate station was back with a vengeance.

This recording is from the Skywave Tapes Collection. Skywave Radio International broadcast a shortwave station in the 1980s from Baldoyle in northeast Dublin.

Full recording: Radio Nova (Dublin)

Full recording: Radio Nova (Dublin)
L-R: Sybil Fennell, Declan Meehan and Bob Gallico on 19th May 1983,the day of Nova’s official closedown (photo courtesy Joe King).

This is the well-known recording of Radio Nova on the morning of the infamous raid on the 18th of May 1983. Gardaí and officials from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs arrived at about 9.30am and requested that both Nova and KISS FM cease transmission at once. Keys were sought for the transmission site and just over an hour later, the plug was pulled. Nova returned at about 4.15am the following morning but on lower power and at lunchtime the station announced that it would close officially at 6.00pm that evening.

Full recording: Radio Nova (Dublin)
Crowds at Herbert Street in anticipation of the 6pm closedown on May 19th 1983 (photo courtesy Joe King).

This recording from 819 kHz AM begins on May 18th during the 10am news with Bob Gallico. After the news, DJ Declan Meehan asks station owner Chris Cary to come to the studios in Herbert Street immediately. During the following 30 minutes, Declan makes several references to the fact that Nova may go off the air and back to back jingles are played during records. Bob Gallico joins Declan throughout the hour for live versions of their inimitable two-handers, responding to unfolding events. At the same time another DJ Tom Hardy was bringing the P&T officials to the transmitter site in Rathfarnham in order to put Nova off the air. During out interviews with former Nova staff, many recalled their memories of the 1983 raids including Tom Hardy and Dennis Murray. Declan Meehan recalls his Nova days here.

Full recording: Radio Nova (Dublin)
Some of the crowd at Herbert Street for the Nova closedown on 19th May 1983. Photo courtesy of Gary Hogg/Ian Biggar.

This recording is courtesy of DX Archive where more information about and recordings of the 1983 raids can be found.