Pirate pioneers: Radio Caroline Dublin from 1970

Pirate pioneers: Radio Caroline Dublin from 1970
Radio Caroline Dublin’s studio (photo courtesy of Bill Ebrill).

The renowned British offshore station’s name was popular with other pirates and several Irish stations called themselves Radio Caroline over the decades. The earliest use of the name was in 1969 when Radio Caroline Dublin started transmissions as Radio Romeo using 300 metres medium wave. By the following year the Caroline Dublin name had been adopted and regular transmissions commenced from Dalkey in south County Dublin to the city and beyond.

Pirate pioneers: Radio Caroline Dublin from 1970
Caroline Dublin QSL from 1970 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

The station engineer was Bill Ebrill, who later went on to build transmitters for the likes of Radio Dublin, Big D and Radio Carousel. Caroline Dublin used a VFO controlled transmitter capable of 100 watts and was heard on frequencies between 1320 and 1360 kHz. Regular transmissions were on Friday and Saturday nights at midnight and consisted of pop music and a DX programme. DJs on the station included Mike Walker, Mick Wright and Ronan Collins (now of RTÉ). The station received reception reports from many European countries. In addition to Dalkey, Caroline also broadcast from Shankill, Bray and Terenure depending on the interest of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.

Pirate pioneers: Radio Caroline Dublin from 1970
Radio Caroline Dublin transmitter with scope monitor (photo courtesy of Bill Ebrill).

In late 1972 transmissions became more sporadic due to increased activity from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and the raid on Radio Milinda just before Christmas. Late night broadcasts were suspended but the station did continue on Sunday afternoons. These continued until summer 1973 when Radio Caroline Dublin disappeared from the air.

Pirate pioneers: Radio Caroline Dublin from 1970
Another shot of the Caroline Dublin studio (photo courtesy of Bill Ebrill).

The recording above is undated but is probably from November 1970. It features a professional sounding Mike Walker on a late night transmission followed by the Caroline theme tune before closedown. The studio picture was supplied to the DX Archive by Bill Ebrill and the recording was supplied by Roger Lloyd (Prince Terry). The short recording below is also undated and again features Mike Walker.

Thanks to Ian Biggar and Bill Ebrill for text, images and recordings. You can listen here to an interview with Bill about his pirate memories.

Peter Madison and Tony Allan on Sunshine Radio

Peter Madison and Tony Allan on Sunshine Radio
Early Sunshine sticker (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Sunshine Radio was the first Dublin station to earn the label of ‘super-pirate’ when it launched in September 1980. With massive investment, professional equipment and a powerful transmitter, it shook up the Dublin radio market and the pirate scene would never be the same again.

Peter Madison and Tony Allan on Sunshine Radio
Peter Madison on Radio Nova (photo courtesy of DX Archive).

Peter Madison (RIP) was another talented broadcaster who joined Sunshine in the early days and would later broadcast on other pirates such as Boyneside Radio and Radio Nova. He is heard here at the end of his shift from 1442-1500 on Sunday 19th October 1980 and is then followed by another broadcasting giant, Tony Allan (RIP) from 1500-1525.

Peter Madison and Tony Allan on Sunshine Radio
The original Sunshine studio in 1981 (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar).

The short recording below is of Peter Madison a few days earlier, 16th October 1980, from 1206-1227. Quality is poor due to electrical interference but Peter can be heard telling listeners that he has cycled 10 miles to the studio in Portmarnock!

These recordings from 531 kHz AM were made in Ayrshire, Scotland by Ken Baird. We thank Ian Biggar for sharing them with us.

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.

Tony Allan in the early days of Sunshine Radio

Tony Allan in the early days of Sunshine Radio
Tony Allan at Radio Nova’s official closedown in May 1983 (photo courtesy of Joe King).

Tony Allan (1949-2004) was one of the best-known voices of Irish pirate radio in the decade from 1978-1988 and among the finest broadcasters of his generation. Heard originally on British offshore stations such as Radio Caroline in the 1970s, he did voice-overs, jingles and presentation on many Irish pirates. Tony was among those who joined Sunshine Radio when it went on the air in September 1980 and stayed with the station for the first few months doing commercials and presenting programmes. He left in January 1981 and would later be heard regularly on Sunshine’s great rival, Radio Nova.

Tony Allan in the early days of Sunshine Radio
The original Sunshine studio at the Sands Hotel, Portmarnock in 1981 (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar).

This is a recording of Tony on Sunshine on Saturday 18th October 1980, as heard on 531 kHz AM in Ayrshire in Scotland by Ken Baird. It runs from 1501-1608 and again from 1647-1704. Although there is co-channel interference due to the time of year and the Swiss station underneath, it is quite listenable and Tony’s unique style shines through the ether. The voice of Sunshine boss Robbie Robinson (Dale) can be heard on some of the ads.

We thank Ian Biggar for sharing this valuable recording with us.

2020: 40 years since the launch of Sunshine Radio

2020: 40 years since the launch of Sunshine Radio
An early Sunshine compliments slip with original logo (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

2020 is the 40th anniversary of one of Ireland’s biggest pirate radio stations, Sunshine Radio, which broadcast from Portmarnock on the northside of Dublin from 1980-1988. The first broadcast took place on Saturday 13th September 1980 from the kitchen of Suite 101 in the Sands Hotel overlooking the Irish Sea. The frequency was 531 kHz, announced as 539 metres to rhyme with Sunshine as the correct conversion is in fact 565 metres. Backing the new venture were former Radio Caroline DJs Robbie Robinson (Dale) and Chris Cary who had spotted the opportunities for successful commercial radio in Ireland due to the loophole in the broadcasting laws.

Sunshine’s 100-foot high aerial which had cost £5,000 was sabotaged on the following Monday 15th September, setting back the plans for the station’s launch. The station began broadcasting officially at 7am on Monday 29th September 1980 and among those on air on the first day were Robbie Robinson, Chris Cary and Tony Allan. They would soon be joined by other DJs such as Tony Fenton, Peter Madison, Declan Meehan and Manon Christie who was Robinson’s daughter.  

2020: 40 years since the launch of Sunshine Radio
Sunshine staff in 1980. Clockwise from top left: Declan Meehan, Tony Allan, Timo Jackson, Manon Christie, Robbie Dale, Siobhán Walls, Peter Madison, Chris Cary (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar).

There was talk of a 10 kW transmitter but with the help of an excellent antenna and coastal location, the output of 1 kW travelled well on 531 kHz and reception reports were received from around Leinster, northwest England, Wales and parts of Scotland. Chris Cary left Sunshine in January 1981 and went on to set up Radio Nova. By investing in professional equipment, running high-powered transmitters, pushing FM stereo, employing professional staff and operating a business model, between them the two stations broke the mould of Irish pirate radio. As the Sunshine Radio Review marking the station’s 5th birthday in 1985 claimed: ‘The station’s professionalism soon endeared it to listeners all over Leinster. This was the first “pirate” that didn’t sound deserving of the label’.  

We are delighted to bring you some rare early recordings of Sunshine in the station’s first few weeks, courtesy of Ian Biggar. These were made originally by Ken Baird in Ayrshire in Scotland using a Grundig Satellit 3400 with long wire. Depending on the time of day, there was co-channel interference from a powerful Swiss German station also on 531 kHz but the signal is quite listenable considering the distance involved. Despite the less than optimal quality, these are important historical recordings given the significance of Sunshine in Irish radio history.  

Over the next few days we will bring you a flavour of the weekend of 18th and 19th October 1980 on Sunshine, as recorded in Ayrshire. The first recording is of Jason Maine from 0930-1016 on Saturday 18th October.