Memories of Cork’s ABC and Capital Radio

Memories of Cork's ABC and Capital Radio
Capital Radio sticker (courtesy DX Archive).

This is a recording of Cork’s Capital Radio from 3rd August 1979 featuring Pete Young’s Friday show, which is extended by half an hour because the next DJ is delayed. It was recorded from 1312 kHz, announced as 233 metres, and runs from 1918-2005. Thanks to John Breslin for the donation. One of those involved with Capital Radio, Pat Anderson (Pat Galvin) has jotted down his memories of the early Cork pirates, including Capital Radio and ABC, and we’re delighted to share them here.

My pirate days started with me unplugging my stereo in my flat in Montenotte and getting a blast of radio on that last surge. I realised there was a pirate radio nearby and on looking out my window I could see guys going in and out of the adjoining building. Being an occasional DJ, I became friends with them. They were ABC Radio, a breakaway from Cork Broadcasting Company (CBC). I joined them and ended up becoming the manager as well as doing a rock show after John Creedon (aka Eric Hanson) from midnight until I tired, usually about 4.00am. My DJing wasn’t great but I had the benefit of having a large LP collection (over 1,000) so was able to avoid the repetition that other DJs were stuck with.

ABC was in a bedsit and there was one classical LP. Every time it came on you knew the DJ’s girlfriend had arrived. As I lived next door and had a reel to reel tape recorder I could put on a tape and get 90 minutes before I had to swap sides. One night my girlfriend was not taking ‘no, I have to do a show’ for an answer, so I put on a tape of The Doors. As luck would have it, it was the anniversary of Jim Morrison’s death. Later when some DJ didn’t turn up, I put on a tape of an old show I had done and went off to work. My supervisor had been listening and was angry that I was not at work. Fortunately, the tape was still running so I was able to show him.

At the time the Arcadia Downtown Campus was running. Four bands from Dublin played there one night with U2 and the Virgin Prunes the warm-up acts. After the gig I told Bono that in my opinion they were the best of the lot and asked for their demo. At 20 minutes long I would play it each night while I made coffee or whatever. To Bono’s surprise, the next time people were asking for certain songs. When he asked them where they heard them, I was pointed out and he thanked me profusely.

We were raided several times and the people raiding us would ask us for requests knowing we would be back on within 24 hours. Some DJs would panic and run out the back and over the wall into the neighbouring property, but one time we sat tight as we realised the cops and Post Office were hitting the wrong flat, only for one idiot DJ told them ‘ah we’re not there anymore, we’re down here’. Interestingly the PO guy said that in Dublin the pirates were doing their job for them by cutting down each other’s antennas and other bad deeds to stop the competition. In Cork we got on OK and DJs would often move from one station to the other.

Memories of Cork's ABC and Capital Radio
Capital Radio magazine from Christmas 1980 (courtesy DX Archive).

Eventually in ABC the more senior DJs started missing shows without warning. Perhaps the novelty was wearing off. Finally, Jim Gibbons, Jim Collins and myself had enough and decided to break away and start Capital Radio, taking nearly all the DJs with us. I was under fierce pressure to return to ABC but I felt it was all about saving face in front of CBC. We initially planned to set up in Oliver Plunkett Street, but the owner changed their mind so we ended up in the attic over the chipper next door to the City Library. In these days before FM became the norm we had to have a long aerial wire tied between two poles mounted on chimney stacks about 50 feet apart. We never asked for permission and usually got away with it but once, one of the lads slipped and the pole lifted him up into the air. He managed to hold on to the pole and get back to safety. The only problem was a slate had been dislodged and was slowly sliding down the roof on the street side. To my alarm I could see an old couple walking right in the line of the drop. I figured if I tried to warn them they would stop and look up so I said nothing and started to pray. Luckily the slate fell far enough behind that they did not notice and we got out of there in a hurry.

When we started Capital, some station in the USA had shot up in the ratings by only playing the Top 20 all day. There was a lot of support for this but I hated the idea and I also felt some vibes that my work as station manager was not appreciated. So when I was asked to set up Radio Sligo I went there for a few months. Meanwhile all hell broke loose in Capital and half the DJs left, so when I returned there was a much warmer welcome. The next move for the station was just a few doors away to 7 Tuckey Street to two attic rooms in a very old building. On one visit to Crowley’s music shop, the owner presented me with a bill for repairs to equipment for £800 which we did not have as we were always scraping by. Fortunately, a general election had been called so we approached Fianna Fáil and said in the interest of balance we felt obliged to tell them that Fine Gael had given us £400 for advertising and asked them to match it. They gave us the cheque for £400 and we then went to Fine Gael and showed it to them so they also coughed up and Michael Crowley got paid.

The first thing I always brought with me to a station was an electric kettle. I developed a trick of bringing it nearly to the boil and then moving it under the DJ’s table as he was about to speak and let the water steam. The DJ would freak out thinking there was a fire. It was weird going to a night club as the girl you danced with would recognise your voice and know quite a bit about you. I found it very disconcerting as I knew nothing of them. The upside was that every gig was free as promoters wanted your good will, and there was a certain amount of free LPs and singles coming our way. I still have some of the press releases inside the record sleeves. Eventually we had to find a new home and rented a house in a red brick terrace at one of the highest points in the city. I can’t remember how that finished but the next variation was Leeside Radio with much of the same crew. It was FM only because by that stage MW was fading out. We sometimes claimed it was stereo but it split mono to fool the receiver. Unlike medium wave, it never gave us any problems. My last foray was as manager only of CCLR. We had a good run with the owner too generous for his own good and paying out more than the station was making.

Evening requests on Cork’s Capital Radio

Evening requests on Cork's Capital Radio
Ken Regis in the Capital Radio studio c. 1982 (courtesy Ken O’Sullivan).

Cork’s Capital Radio began broadcasting in February 1979. The station was a breakaway from ABC which was starting to fragment and eventually closed. According to the Capital Radio magazine issued at Christmas 1980, Peter James, Dave Stewart, Con McParland and Pat Anderson decided that Cork needed a local station that would inform people about what was happening in the city. Con had operated his own small stations in Cork in the early 1970s and had previously been engineer for CBC, Cork’s first full-time pirate station.

The original plan was to locate Capital in Oliver Plunkett Street, but a change of plan meant that the studio was built over a chip shop next to the city library. The aerial was a long wire suspended between two poles around 50 feet apart on the roof of the building. The frequency initially used was around 1323 kHz, announced as 233 metres. Capital broadcast daily from 0800-2000 with a variety of music, although at one point it changed to a strict Top 40 format which caused some dissent amongst the station staff, so the format reverted to the original.

Evening requests on Cork's Capital Radio
Capital veterans at a reunion in 2015. L-R: Dave Stewart (Jim Collins), Chris Edwards (Matt McAuliffe), Ken Regis (Ken O’Sullivan) and Tony ‘T. C.’ Clarke (Tony Whitnell) (courtesy Ken O’Sullivan).

A team from Free Radio Campaign Ireland visited Capital on 2nd September 1979 and reported that the station was now broadcasting from Tuckey Street in the city centre, above a shop. The studio and transmitter were located on the top floor of the building. The equipment consisted of a pair of disco decks and a transmitter using 813 valves and a power output of about 75 watts. The aerial was a long wire supported by two five foot poles. The sound quality was reported as ‘a little below average, but not bad by any standard’. By this time Capital was on the air from 0800-0200 and non-stop at weekends.

The frequency used varied, for example in August 1979 they were noted as 1312 kHz, in June 1980 on 1336 kHz and in December 1980 on 1308 kHz. When DX Archive visited in August 1981, Capital were on 1305 kHz and in January 1982 they were heard in Scotland during the early hours on 1314 kHz.

Ian Biggar remembers: ‘I visited Cork in March 1982 and Capital Radio was still on the air, but there had been a split which resulted in Leeside Community Radio starting transmissions on 102.3 MHz. Pat Anderson, ex-Capital was the driving force behind that. When I arrived in Cork to work on ERI in July 1982, Capital Radio was still on, but nearing its end. As far as I know, it along with Radio City, it had gone by the end of the summer’.

We bring you two short recordings of Capital, both featuring evening request shows. The first recording above is an undated clip from 1980 featured some of the Teatime Express with Tony Clarke (Tony Whitnell). The clip below is of Seán Murphy and is undated but probably also from 1980.

Thanks to Ian Biggar and Pat Galvin (Pat Anderson) for background and to Pat for the recordings.

Cork’s Big Brother Radio adds AM transmitter

Cork's Big Brother Radio adds AM transmitter

This short recording of Big Brother Radio was made sometime early in 1981 near the beginning of the station’s short run. Big Brother began broadcasting on 88.6 FM but in this recording ‘Philip G’ (presumably founder Philip O’Connor) announces that the station is to add 220 metres medium wave (approximately 1359 kHz) the following Monday. FM broadcasting was still underdeveloped so obviously Big Brother felt that it needed to be AM also. On the same day, the station was to would introduce all-day programming and required additional DJs. The AM transmitter was located at the snooker club in Blackpool but didn’t last long due to a weak signal. Thanks to Pat Galvin for the donation.

Cork’s Big Brother Radio from 1981

Cork's Big Brother Radio from 1981
Alan Edwards in his CBC days in 1978 (courtesy Lillian O’Donoghue).

Long before the reality television series of the same name, Cork had its very own Big Brother Radio. This Cork station lasted for about 3-4 months at the start of 1981 and was operated from a garage on the Blarney Road. Experimenting with an American style, Big Brother Radio was owned by Philip O’Connor who had worked previously with the Cork Broadcasting Company (CBC). The FM signal on 88.6 MHz was in mono only but the signal was good in the city because of where the studio and dipole were located. An AM transmitter at the snooker club in Blackpool relayed the signal but was weak and didn’t last long. The studio was impressive and was nicely fitted out with professional record decks, cart machines and carpet tiles.

This recording of Big Brother Radio was made from 88.6 FM from 1729-1900 on 3rd February 1981. It begins with a sign-off from Captain Peacock who is followed by Alan Edwards. Alan, who had been a regular DJ previously on CBC, announces a competition for a £10 note. Thanks to Lillian O’Donoghue for the donation of the tape and to Rob Allen for background information.

Ken Regis on Cork City Local Radio

Ken Regis on Cork City Local Radio
L-R: CCLR veterans Jill St Clair (Trish Deeney), Ken Regis (O’Sullivan), Rob Richards (Allen) & Eric Hansen (John Creedon) in 2015 (courtesy Ken O’Sullivan).

We’re very grateful to Ken O’Sullivan for his donations of recordings of Cork City Local Radio (CCLR). The first recording was made on 24th April 1983 from 95.5 FM in stereo and features Ken Regis, as he was known on air, with a Sunday afternoon requests show. There’s also a pretty tough competition with a prize of a box of chocolates up for grabs. Some of the recording is airchecked and there’s a bit of wobble on the 40-year old cassette.

The recording below is of Ken Regis on 19th March 1983 from 1555 from 95.5 FM. It begins with adverts for local businesses around Cork and a generic sung jingle. There’s also a radio-related competition and interestingly, the show is being taped for a listener in Galway. Sound quality is fair due to the wobbly cassette.

The final recording features Ken in the early evening of 22nd May 1983 and is again from 95.5 FM. There’s a reference to a petition to support local radio in Cork, a reflection of the raids on Dublin stations a few days previously. Adverts are a mixture of pre-records and live-reads and once again the tape is showing its age.