In September 1981, a Donegal man attempted to rescue his daughter from a compound owned by the Unification Church (the ‘Moonies’) in San Francisco. After they were refused admission, James Canning and about 30 Irish-American supporters tried to break into the building and remove Mary Canning. Drogheda journalist Niall O’Dowd, who worked with the Washington Post, was the only reporter to witness the incident and was contacted by media all over the world for comment.
Knowing that a local man was on the ground, Community Radio Drogheda (CRD) wanted to cover the drama and on his lunchtime show on 16th September 1981, Gavin Duffy interviewed Niall O’Dowd about the incident. No doubt it helped that Niall’s brother Michael was news editor at CRD. Niall O’Dowd went on to become a high–profile figure in Irish America, founding the Irish Voice Newspaper and Irish America magazine as well as the website Irishcentral.com. Another brother Fergus became a Fine Gael TD for Louth.
Community Radio Drogheda broke away from Boyneside Radio in July 1981 and operated a separate service until May 1982 when the two stations merged again. We thank Eddie Caffrey for his donation of this recording, which begins with an ad break before the interview.
Rainbow Radio was one of several Co. Louth stations which placed transmitters beside the border in order to beam their signals into the North. It was set up by former Boyneside Radio North staff ‘Big O’, aka Oliver McMahon and the late Eugene Markey, onetime Chairman of Newry Council. Rainbow began broadcasting on 2nd of August 1987 from a disused pigsty beside a furniture warehouse in Carrickcarnon right on the border. The musical style was country and Irish as was common on many rural pirate stations at the time. Rainbow’s AM frequency was 1152 kHz with about 500 watts of power, using a rig built by Eddie Caffrey of Boyneside Radio. For approximately a year, 96.1 FM was also used.
An advert for Rainbow in the Sunday World Northern Ireland edition in August 1987 (see above) used the slogan ‘the station of the stars’ and listed presenters Big O, Eugene Markey, Tommy Ballance, Leon and Danny Doran and Jeff T. Telephone numbers for Warrenpoint and Newry were given, reflecting the fact that Rainbow was aiming at the south Armagh and south Down market.
Editions of the Anoraks UK Weekly Report from the time mention confusion between Rainbow Radio and another Louth station, Radio Rainbow International, a hobby shortwave operation set up by Eddie Caffrey near Drogheda. Attempts were made to get the new Rainbow to change its name but this was said to be impossible as they had already printed promotional material.
Due to the proximity of the transmitter sites of Radio Carousel, Boyneside North and Rainbow in Carrickcarnon, there were frequent reports of mixing of signals. In December 1987, Weekly Report reported fierce competition between the three stations when new FM transmitters were installed. In July 1988, Rainbow Radio was reported as being audible in Belfast on 96.1 FM, but the station was forced to move frequencies in November when BBC Radio 1 installed a new FM transmitter for Belfast on 96.0. Rainbow moved to 98.5, blocking out the signal of easy listening station CLASS which could be heard from Dublin.
In its final months of existence, Rainbow ran regular outside broadcasts on Saturday and Sunday evenings which were said by Anoraks UK to be very popular. They closed shortly after 3pm on the 31st of December 1988 with the presenters signing Auld Lang Syne.
The recording above is the of the launch of Rainbow Radio on 2nd August 1987 and features Big O and Eugene Markey on air. It was made in Portadown about 45 km from Carrickcarnon and the signal is fairly weak with variable audio levels. The second recording below is of Big O near the end of Rainbow’s existence on 29th December 1988 from 0918-1000. It was recorded from 98.5 FM. Many thanks to Rodney Neil and Ian Biggar for these recordings.
That concludes our series on the pirates of the northeast in the decade up to the end of 1988. Thanks to everyone who contributed, especially Ian Biggar, Eddie Caffrey, John Gartlan, Kieran Murray, Michael Gerrard and Rodney Neil. Click on the tabs ‘Louth’ or ‘Meath’ if you want to hear all the recordings.
Zee 103 was a high-powered FM ‘border blaster’ aiming its signal from Co. Louth into Northern Ireland. This station history has been written by Ian Biggar.
Kiss FM was set up to show that there was a need for local radio in the Craigavon area of Co. Armagh. It commenced daily transmissions on 102.7 MHz from a unit on an industrial estate in Lurgan on 13th March 1985. The station proved popular with listeners, but not with the authorities. After only a couple of weeks the British Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) raided the station and effectively put it off the air.
Following the DTI raid, the team decided the only way to continue was by setting up across the border and aim the signal northwards. According to Anoraks UK, KISS FM was heard testing from Omeath on 103.5 MHz during November 1985, but then seemed to disappear. Meanwhile, a site was found near Omeath and work was carried out to renovate Ardaghy House, an old schoolhouse located just 3km from the border and some 600 feet above sea level. The location provided stunning views of Carlingford Lough and was of course an excellent site for radio transmission. Two studios were built and a mast erected at the side of the building with eight six-element yagis mounted to boost the signal. A 2.5 KW Italian transmitter was installed. You can hear a test transmission of KISS FM from Omeath here.
The station was then hit by what seemed to be a combination of political manoeuvrings and a burglary on site with the loss of much equipment. The internal politics caused some of the team to move on and begin planning an even bigger ‘border blaster’, namely 103.7 KISS FM in Monaghan town. All this caused delays in getting the Louth station on air. The late Frank McCarthy eventually succeeded in preparing the new station to go on air, with major financial backing from a Lurgan-based drinks company.
It was early October 1986 when Anoraks UK reported a big signal on 103.3 MHz with non-stop music tests. Output power was estimated in the region of 150 KW and indeed signals were being reported in Blackpool and Ayrshire in Scotland. At one point the frequency was adjusted to 103.25 MHz. Around 15th October the station began to identify itself, not as KISS FM, but Zee 103.3. A number of long breaks were noted during the tests, believed to be caused by power cuts in the area. Reception reports were requested, firstly to a PO box number in Portadown and then to the station address in Omeath. Testing continued, with Anoraks UK noting that the audio sounded distorted at times.
The station commenced regular programming on 11th November 1986 at 0700 with Donagh McKeown hosting the opening programme. A 24-hour schedule commenced from day one with a full team of presenters including Owen Barry (Larkin), Kenny Tosh and Andrew Gold. Later an hourly news bulletin was introduced during the daytime. The station provided a good stereo signal into mid-Ulster, easily covering Newry, Portadown, Lurgan, Armagh and the surrounding area. Unlike other border stations, Zee 103 programmed mainly contemporary hits, although there were specialist weekend programmes featuring oldies and a reggae programme hosted by Terri Hooley from Good Vibrations records in Belfast.
In the early days the power seemed to vary considerably and the station still suffered from over-modulation at times. However technical issues were soon resolved and the signal became consistent. During January 1987 the station adjusted its name slightly to Zee 103 and began using jingles produced by Henry Owens. In February a promotions team was on the streets of towns in the coverage area, giving away £5 notes to anyone who said they listened to Zee 103, ‘the sound of tomorrow today’. The station also had a £1,000 cash giveaway during the summer of 1987.
The recording above is of a test tranmission for Zee 103 on 4th November 1986 from 103.25 FM. It was made by Ian Biggar in Scotland. The recording below was made by Rodney Neil in Portadown and is of the station’s official launch on 11th November 1986. It runs from 0730-0900 and features the first breakfast show with Donagh McKeown.
Zee 103 built up a good, solid listening audience, mainly covering the younger demographic who were less likely to want country music as prominently heard on most stations in the area. It continued to broadcast 24 hours a day until finally closing at 2359 on December 31st 1988, following the introduction of the Wireless Telegraphy Act. However, on seeing that the likes of Radio Star Country continued despite the new law, Zee 103 ventured back on air on 19th January 1989 and started broadcasting around the clock once again. However following the first raid on Radio Dublin and the uncertainty it brought, station management decided to close and so Zee 103 left the air at 1200 on Tuesday 7th February.
East Coast Radio broadcast for a little over six months from the town of Ardee between Drogheda and Dundalk. According to the Anoraks UK Weekly Report of the 15th of June 1986, an unidentified transmission with a strong signal on 1044 kHz AM was logged 75km away in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone. It was also said to be strong in Dundalk and was picked up without an aerial in Blackpool on the west coast of England. During the test period, RTÉ Radio 2 and BBC Radio 2 were relayed at different times. The station was to be called East Coast Radio and presenters were sought. The station was set up by local promoter Jim McQuillan in partnership with a local DJ. Jim is still promoting and currently manages the band Bagatelle. Former Boyneside Radio presenter Daire Nelson was among those involved. The studio was based in McCabe’s Motors, Main Street, Ardee.
In August 1986, Anoraks UK reported that East Coast was putting out an excellent signal on AM and that its studios were impressively laid out. It was also reported to be broadcasting on 97.7 MHz FM. The AM transmitter was located at a place called Hacklim Funshog just outside Ardee and had been used originally by Radio Meath in Trim and was also tried by Royal County Radio in Navan in 1982. It was on the air for just a week or two before being stolen but was later found in a yard in Kells, Co. Meath. Eddie Caffrey of Boyneside Radio built a 500-watt transmitter for East Coast at the time which ended up being used by a station in Carlow after East Coast’s short life. The AM site was high up which boosted the signal and was used for FM by Big M Radio from Monaghan at the end of the pirate era.
East Coast Radio closed down on the 24th of January 1987. A lack of advertising revenue was suggested but one of its main competitors, Radio Carousel in Dundalk, had gone off the air earlier that month after a complaint of interference by the Department of Communications. This recording was made by Gary Hogg in Blackpool from 1044 kHz from 1125-1225 on 7th July 1986 and some splatter from neighbouring channels can be heard. Chris Clarke is on air with Daire reading news on the half-hour. Thanks to Ian Biggar for sharing this with us and to Eddie Caffrey for additional background information.
Today we bring you more recordings from Radio Rainbow International, Eddie Caffrey’s high-powered shortwave pirate which broadcast from the Drogheda area on Sunday mornings from 1985-1988. Radio Rainbow could also be heard on 1521 kHz AM and on FM locally. There was no mast at the house, so the antenna cable was extended by attaching a stone to it and throwing it up over a power line at the bottom of the garden. Sometimes the transmission arrangements of the pirates were not for the faint-hearted!
One of those involved in Radio Rainbow was Kieran Murray who also worked in Boyneside Radio along with Eddie and had been with Radio Carousel previously. Kieran presented a weekly FRC show on Rainbow with news and information about the exciting world of pirate radio in Ireland and abroad. The recording above is an extract from one such programme in April 1987. The second recording below is from January 1988 and features a relay of John Dean (aka Colin Strong) presenting his own free radio show on the Scottish pirate WLR (no connection with the Waterford station).
In its later years, Radio Rainbow regularly relayed UK pirate stations which were facing harassment by the authorities. We thank Eddie Caffrey for sharing these recordings.