Interview: Kieran Murray (Part 1)

Interview: Kieran Murray (Part 1)
Kieran Murray in the Radio Carousel studio in Dundalk (photo courtesy of Kieran Murray).

As part of our ongoing series about the pirate radio of the northeast, we’re delighted to bring you a three-part interview with one of the best known broadcasters on various stations in the region, Kieran Murray. Born in Dublin in 1958, Kieran began his radio career with Radio Dublin before moving on to Big D. The owner of Radio Carousel, Hugh Hardy, arrived at Big D in search of presenters for the new Dundalk station and Kieran Murray was one of those who took up the offer. He was in fact the first voice to be heard on Radio Carousel when it began broadcasting on May 20th 1978. In 1981, Kieran moved to Navan to establish a satellite station of Radio Carousel there and managed the Co. Meath station for some time.

In part 1 of the interview, Kieran describes his early interest in radio and his involvement with Dublin stations before moving to Co. Louth. He pays tribute to Hugh Hardy and shares many memories of the early years of Carousel ranging from the station’s local success to raids by the government and by paramilitaries. The interview also contains technical information about transmission and how the Radio Carousel network operated. The interviewer is Brian Greene.

** Since doing the interview, we can confirm that Kieran in fact first took to the airwaves in 1975 on Capitol Radio in Dublin. He presented a 60-minute programme on a Sunday afternoon, using the name Kenneth Murphy. His brother also presented a programme under the name John Edwards. The transmitter was owned by Chris Barry who lived in Rathmines at the time, not far from Kieran’s home. Kieran remembers that coincidentally, the building next door would become the RTÉ Museum.

The first edition of the FRC newsletter which Kieran produced printed the schedule and information on Capitol. Thanks to Alan Russell for this information and for the copy of the magazine.

Full recording: Radio Carousel Northern Ireland

Full recording: Radio Carousel Northern Ireland
Big O aka Oliver McMahon in the Radio Carousel Northern Ireland studio at the Carrickdale Hotel c. 1986 (photo courtesy of Eddie Caffrey).

In addition to the main station in Dundalk, at its height in the early 1980s, Radio Carousel had three satellite stations in Drogheda, Navan and right on the border. Radio Carousel Northern Ireland broadcast from Carrickcarnon on AM and FM, all aimed at capturing the northern market. A 1982 leaflet claimed that the Northern Ireland coverage area was ‘north to Belfast, west to Armagh City, Portadown, and Craigavon. The newest of Radio Carousel’s satellite stations which effectively covers 3/4 of Northern Ireland with a strong signal on the 212 medium wave. For four and a half years we have been aware of the vast listenership that Radio Carousel has in Northern Ireland’. In 1986 the northern service was broadcast on 1071 kHz but it moved to 1260 kHz in 1987.

This recording was made from 1260 kHz on 21st April 1987 from 1115-1200 and 1208-1253. The first presenter is Stevie Mack with Irish music and requests and he is followed by Carousel boss Hugh Hardy’s Country Call programme. There are plenty of advertisements from Newry, suggesting that this is the northern service which then relays Country Call from Dundalk. Radio Carousel Dundalk was ordered to leave the air in January 1987 following claims of interference by the authorities and closed its studio in the town’s shopping centre. The northern and Navan stations continued but programmes from Dundalk resumed from February. This was the beginning of the end for Carousel and by early 1988 only the Navan station was broadcasting as normal.

Full recording: Radio Carousel Northern Ireland
Radio Carousel rate card from the original Dundalk station (courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

Audio quality is fair as the recording was made on the move from AM. There is a sense of a station in decline with a stale style, erratic audio levels on advertisements and references to ‘medium wave and VHF’ at a time when many stations were plugging ‘FM stereo’. Some presenters from KLAS, Hugh Hardy’s easy listening station in Dublin, can be heard voicing ads including a very young John Walsh of Pirate.ie. We thank Gary Hogg for sharing this recording.

Interview: Hugh Hardy (Radio Carousel)

Interview: Hugh Hardy (Radio Carousel)
Radio Carousel owner Hugh Hardy complete with cowboy hat in 1980 (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

The owner and operator of the Radio Carousel network was country music impresario Hugh Hardy from Omeath in Co. Louth. He presented the popular lunchtime Country Call programme which was relayed from Dundalk to the other satellite stations at the height of Carousel’s operations. Hugh lived in Dublin and commuted to Dundalk but in November 1986 he set up KLAS, an easy listening station aimed at the Dublin market, in a garage complex at the back of his home.

Radio Carousel Dundalk closed on Friday 23rd January 1987 after a surprise visit from officials of the Department of Communications who complained about interference to mobiles and directed the station to close down. Carousel left the air the following day at 1pm but its other stations in Navan and at the border continued.

Interview: Hugh Hardy (Radio Carousel)
An advertisement for one of Hugh Hardy’s programmes in the Sunday World from 1985 (Alan MacSimoin Collection).

This recording features a renowned interview with Hugh Hardy on the Radio West Anoraks Programme on Sunday 25th January. The weekly show was always unpredictable and relied heavily on rumour and hearsay, as station owner Shaun Coyne openly admitted. The recording opens with a heated argument between Hugh and Shaun with both trading accusations. Hugh then explains the reasons for Carousel Dundalk leaving the air and announces that given the success of KLAS, he is to concentrate on the easy listening station from then on. Both station owners compare notes about their experience of presenters down the years, with Hugh Hardy recounting how one of his newsreaders resigned live on air the previous week. The other presenter Don Allen tries to get a word in from time to time without much success but the interview ends amicably.

Radio Carousel Dundalk would in fact return in mid-February 1987 but by early 1988 both the Dundalk and border stations were in decline, leaving only Radio Carousel Navan. Hugh Hardy did not get involved in the licensed stations after 1989 but developed his video production business instead. He died in 2008.

There is a strong whiff of the drama of 1980s pirate radio in this recording: pirates encroaching on each other’s frequencies, RTÉ ordering pirates to move, stations being forced to close down and rumours circulating about those working in the business. We thank Ian Biggar for sharing this recording.

Feature: Radio Carousel history

Feature: Radio Carousel history
Radio Carousel staff in 1981. Information below (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar).

This is a feature programme about the first five-and-a-half years of the Radio Carousel network, broadcast in December 1983. It was compiled by Kieran Murray who was the first voice to be heard on the station on 20th May 1978. There are also interviews with station founder and owner Hugh Hardy, information about listenership surveys and extracts from shows featuring presenters such as Dave Scott (Joe Reilly), Mike Ahern (Richard McCullen) and Tina Anderson. Kieran describes the satellite stations in Navan, Drogheda and on the border and there are also extracts from news programmes and outside broadcasts. Hugh Hardy’s interview with BBC Radio Ulster following the 1983 raids on Radio Nova and Sunshine Radio is included. The programme also includes a flavour of Radio Carousel Dundalk’s 5th birthday on 20th May 1983 and of Radio Carousel Navan’s 2nd birthday on 22nd October 1983.

Feature: Radio Carousel history
Kieran Murray in the original Radio Carousel studio in 1978 (photo courtesy of Eddie Caffrey).

Kieran Murray announces the programme as a two-hour special but this recording contains only one hour so is presumably an edited version. A full version of the station’s theme tune ‘Don’t stop the carousel’ by Roy Taylor and the Nevada is heard at the end. We thank Eddie Caffrey for donating the recording.

Full photo information

Back row: Richard Crowley, Kieran Murray, Shay Breslin, Ray Stone, Hugh Hardy, Dave Scott, Mike Ahern, Frank Mitchell.

Front row: Shane Mullen, Hugh Sands, Penny Palmer, Tony Farrelly.

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)
Radio Carousel sticker courtesy of Ian Biggar.

In early 1978 and following a split from the backers who were to form Radio Dundalk, a newspaper report appeared stating that a ‘Borderside Radio’ would start transmissions to the Dundalk area. This was apparently the working title for the new radio station that would be fronted by Hugh Hardy. Hugh made a fact-finding trip to Big D Radio in Dublin and ‘poached’ some of their DJs, namely Kieran Murray, Eric Vaughan and John Paul. An initial rudimentary studio was constructed on the top floor of the Dundalk Shopping Centre and an aerial mast built on the roof. All was ready to go, except the station didn’t have a name. Kieran Murray spotted a K-Tel album called ‘Carousel’, containing the song ‘Don’t stop the carousel’ by Roy Taylor and the Nevada. Radio Carousel was born with a ready-made station theme!

The station transmitter was built by Bill Ebrill and installed behind the studio. Power output was given as 350 watts and initial frequency was 1134 kHz, announced as 265 metres. The station remained around this spot throughout its life, although a change was made to 1125 kHz. The station officially signed on air on Saturday May 20th 1978 and immediately established itself with the listening public. Daily broadcasts were initially from 0800-2200 and the station positioned itself as having ‘something for everybody’, from pop to country, golden oldies to new releases, Irish dance music to Tamla Motown and from the big band sounds of Glen Miller to the modern sounds of Horslips and Rory Gallagher. Full national and local news bulletins were broadcast daily at 1.15 and 6.15.

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)
Press advertisement for Radio Carousel, undated (Alan MacSimoin collection).

It didn’t take long before the Department turned their attention to Radio Carousel and the station was raided on June 1st, although the transmitter was not located. A further raid on July 7th resulted in the transmitter being taken but Carousel was quickly back on air with a standby rig. The initial listener response to the station was very encouraging. In fact, a petition to legalise Carousel was organised by two local women in Dundalk and gained 23,000 signatures in a very short space of time. The station coverage was not limited to Dundalk and its surrounds, but Radio Carousel had a healthy listenership in Newry, Armagh and other Northern towns. This was obvious from the number of commercials aired from the area. Radio Carousel went from strength to strength in Dundalk, adding an FM outlet on 98.4 MHz in late 1979.

Hugh Hardy always had his eye on expansion and building a network, so Radio Carousel established an outlet in Drogheda. A studio and transmitter were installed in the Boyne Valley Hotel just outside the town and came on air on Sunday February 8th 1980. The station relayed the output from Dundalk, apart from 1100-1200 and 1500-1700 daily when local programmes were broadcast. The station used 1386 kHz and had good coverage of the town and surrounds. However, Carousel did not really establish itself in Drogheda and with competition from Boyneside Radio, it was difficult to get a foothold. The frequency was changed to 1413 kHz around September 1981, just prior to Radio Carousel using 1386 kHz in Navan.

The local programmes from Drogheda became irregular and the main output was simply the relay from Dundalk. Another attempt at local output was made in Spring 1982, but again it was short-lived. Transmissions continued until the latter part of 1982 when the transmitter was switched off. Radio Carousel continued from Dundalk throughout the 1980s on AM and FM with a varying degree of success due to competition from stations like Telstar Radio, as well as Hugh focusing on other ventures.

To the surprise of many, Radio Carousel in the Dundalk Shopping Centre closed in mysterious circumstances. There had been rumours for some time that the station was up for sale, but Hugh Hardy gave the details on the Radio West Anorak Show on 25th January 1987. He explained that Department of Communications officials had visited on the afternoon of Thursday 22nd and ordered the station to cease broadcasting following complaints of interference to mobiles of a licensed operator. The officials would not leave until Hugh gave a commitment to close, which he agreed to do by 2pm on the next day. So after almost 9 years on air, Radio Carousel ceased broadcasting from the Dundalk Shopping Centre at 1pm on Friday January 23rd 1987.

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)
A QSL letter from Kieran Murray to Ian Biggar in 1978.

At this point Radio Carousel Navan continued as normal, as well as the Northern Ireland service on 1260 kHz. This was the former Drogheda transmitter which had been installed just inside Co. Louth on the border with Jonesborough, Co. Armagh about a year or so earlier. A studio was installed in the Carrickdale Hotel where live programmes were broadcast by the likes of local personality ‘Big O’ (Oliver McMahon).

By the middle of February, non-stop music was being broadcast on 1125 kHz and it was believed that this could be the return of Radio Carousel from Dundalk, and indeed it was! The transmitter and studios had been installed at the former Radio Dundalk location, the Fairways Hotel on the Dublin Road. Regular transmissions restarted around Monday 1st March 1987. Initially the station relayed the same output as that on 1260 kHz, including Hugh Hardy with ‘Country Call’. Hugh’s intention was to broadcast ‘Country Call’ from the Fairways through the link on 87.6 MHz which would then be relayed on 1260 kHz and 100.67 MHz. While programmes were not being broadcast from Dundalk, the programmes from Carrickcarnon would be re-broadcast. By very early 1988 transmissions from both Dundalk and Carrickcarnon had become erratic and at one point both 1125 kHz and 1260 kHz were relaying Radio Carousel Navan or simply a blank carrier.  The AUK Weekly Report of 10th April 1988 reported that both transmitters had disappeared and that seemed to be the end of Carousel operations in Co. Louth.

The recording above is of Eric Vaughan on Radio Carousel from 1415-1455 on 18th December 1978. Audio quality is fair at best because the recording was made in Blackpool without an external aerial. It includes the song ‘Disco Duck’ by Rick Dees who would go on to become a famous DJ on American radio and of course on Radio Nova in Dublin. The voice of Hugh Hardy can be heard on adverts. We thank Ian Biggar for compiling this entry and Gary Hogg for the recording.