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

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)
Radio Carousel sticker courtesy of Ian Biggar.

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.

Aircheck: Radio Carousel (Navan)

Aircheck: Radio Carousel (Navan)
Image courtesy of Ian Biggar

This is an aircheck of a full day’s broadcasting on Radio Carousel Navan on the 28th of April 1983. The station was one of four in the Radio Carousel network in Counties Louth and Meath and along the border which by 1982 was claiming to cover 30% of Ireland from Belfast to north Dublin. The recording begins at 8am and includes presenters Kieran Murray (who also does news), Tina Anderson, station boss Hugh Hardy on a relay from Dundalk, Mike Ahern (aka Richard McCullen), Robbie Byrne and Nick Butler. The studio was situated in a glass booth in the middle of Navan shopping centre, showing that the days of pirates hidden in sheds and attics were over.

Carousel began broadcasting from Dundalk on the 19th of May 1978 and gradually expanded throughout the region. A 1982 advertising brochure lists four stations in Dundalk (265 metres), Drogheda (215 metres), Navan (210 metres) and Newry (212 metres). There was also a short-lived station in Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan. By April 1988 the Carousel network was being wound up by Hugh Hardy who moved into video production and promotion of live artists. Radio Carousel Navan was the last station on air, closing in June 1988. Hear a panel discussion on the Louth pirates here and the memories of former Carousel broadcaster Ian Biggar here.

Aircheck: Radio Carousel (Navan)
Image courtesy of Ian Biggar.

Radio Carousel Navan announced 210 metres but in fact broadcast on 1386 kHz as well as 95.1 FM. This recording is from the Skywave Tapes Collection. Skywave Radio International broadcast a shortwave station in the 1980s from Baldoyle in northeast Dublin.