Closedown of Midwest Radio, New Year’s Eve 1988

Closedown of Midwest Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
The final record played on Midwest is handed by Chris Carroll to Denise Moran (photo by Michael Connaughton).

Midwest Radio was one of the west’s most popular radio stations, coming on air initially for just a few months at the end of 1978 and returning full-time from November 1985. Set up by dancehall promoter Paul Claffey and local DJ Chris Carroll, it was based at the Midas Nightclub in Ballyhaunis and played a popular diet of Irish and country music.  

Closedown of Midwest Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
Paul Claffey with Midwest staff and friends at the farewell concert (photo by Michael Connaughton).

The station agreed to close on 30th December 1988 in case of any breach of the midnight deadline on New Year’s Eve. According to a history of the station, Magic and Madness: The Midwest Radio Phenomenon, the station’s single phone line went into meltdown when Paul Claffey announced the closure date a few weeks before Christmas. In a sign of its huge popularity across Mayo, local TD Jim Higgins was among those who led a campaign to allow Midwest to continue beyond the New Year’s Eve deadline.  

Closedown of Midwest Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
The packed Midas Nightclub for the farewell concert on 30th December 1988 (photo by Michael Connaughton).

A final farewell concert at the Midas was arranged for the night of Friday, 30th December. From 10am when it opened its doors, crowds of fans descended on the nightclub from across Mayo and such was the traffic chaos that Gardaí had to ask Midwest to stop advertising the event. The final programme was presented by former Garda John Duggan who had begun his pirate career when still a serving member of the force.

Closedown of Midwest Radio, New Year's Eve 1988
Directors of Midwest Radio at the IRTC hearing in Galway for the Mayo licence, 3rd March 1989 (photo by Michael Connaughton).

Over a thousand people packed into the Midas for Midwest’s final concert which included country singers such as TR Dallas, Declan Nerney and Kevin Prendergast. Paul Claffey paid tribute to Midwest presenters and behind the scenes staff, inviting them all onto the stage to rapturous applause. Some of the musicians credited Midwest with their success, mentioning how it and other pirates such as Breffni Radio in Co. Cavan had showcased country music when it was ignored by RTÉ. There were also confident predictions that Midwest would be back and although most of the pirates lost out in the new regime, Midwest returned as a licensed station on Monday, 24th July 1989. The station continues to be highly successful to this day.  

This recording is of the final hour of Midwest live from the Midas, made from 98.6 FM from 0056-0158 on 31st December 1988. We thank John Breslin for the donation and James Laffey for the photos.

Sunday Night Live on Midwest Radio

Sunday Night Live on Midwest Radio
Paul Claffey (left) with a contestant at Sunday Night Live in 1988 (photo courtesy of James Laffey).

Midwest Radio was one of the west of Ireland’s most successful pirate stations broadcasting initially for a few months at the end of 1978 and returning full-time from 1985 to the end of 1988.

Midwest was set up by local dancehall promoter Paul Claffey in the garden shed behind his parents’ home in Castlerea, Co. Roscommon. The first broadcast was on September 29th 1978 and the event was reported upon in the Evening Herald of that day. The station played pop and rock music and continued until early 1979. At the time, the pirates were taking off in Dublin leading to the establishment of RTÉ Radio 2 on 31st May which was supposed to silence unlicensed radio.

Claffey had worked on the dancehall scene all over Connacht throughout the 1970s and decided to concentrate on developing his business following the first outing of Midwest. Financial problems struck in the recessionary early 1980s and Claffey struggled with his new venture, the Midas Nightclub in Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo. A visiting band suggested that he contact radio engineer Gerry Reilly from Co. Cavan who had installed dozens of transmitters for pirates around the country. Claffey later teamed up with DJ Chris Carroll who raised £1,500 for the transmitter which was installed by Reilly in what he described as a ‘haunted house’ near Ballyhaunis.

Sunday Night Live on Midwest Radio
Midwest flyer from November 1985 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Midwest Radio returned to the air on 1332 kHz from the cloakroom of the Midas Nightclub on Monday November 25th 1985. The station broadcast from 10am to 7pm daily but had just two presenters, Claffey and Carroll, both of whom kept up their regular jobs. The first ad was for a local supermarket but after receiving a large electricity bill in early 1986, it was clear that the station needed a more stable income. Midwest closed down for two days while the presenters hit the road to seek more advertisers. The diet of music was Irish and country, hugely popular in rural Ireland in the 1980s but ignored by RTÉ to its cost.

Midwest grew rapidly and by Christmas 1986, commercial breaks could last as long as ten minutes per hour. In 1987, a second AM transmitter was installed by Gerry Reilly in Kiltimagh on 1233 kHz which brought the station to listeners in north Mayo. This was followed by FM transmitters in Achill Island to the west and Balla in the centre of the county. Claffey also launched a live weekly broadcast of a concert from the Midas, ‘Sunday Night Live’, which proved hugely popular with listeners. Busloads of people came from all over Mayo every Sunday night to get in on the action which included competitions and prizes. Claffey himself was regularly on stage at the Midas, as was retired Garda John Duggan who began his career at Midwest when still a serving member of the force. Duggan presented the final show on Midwest before its closure on December 30th 1988 and the station said its final farewell to listeners at a packed concert at the Midas.   

Sunday Night Live on Midwest Radio
John Duggan presents his final show in 1988 (photo by Frank Dolan).

There’s an excellent account of the station’s history in Magic and Madness: The Midwest Radio Phenomenon by James Laffey and we are indebted to that book for most of the information in this post. Midwest Radio was one of the few pirates to be licensed in 1989 and remains among Ireland’s most successful local stations.

This recording is from 98.6 FM on 20th November 1988 from 2128 to 2217. It features the lead-in to ‘Sunday Night Live’ with Johnny Oosten which includes a fantastic musical tribute to Midwest a month before its closure. This is followed by John Duggan hosting live from the Midas. We thank John Breslin for donating this recording and James Laffey for assisting us with sourcing photos.  

Interview: Gerry Reilly, transmitter man

Interview: Gerry Reilly, transmitter man

On October 20th 2018 over 100 radio anoraks gathered in the Ballsbridge Hotel in Dublin. The purpose was to meet and record oral history of the pirate radio era.

In this interview, Walter Hegarty talks to Gerry Reilly, a radio engineer from Co. Cavan. Gerry worked on transmitters for almost 50 stations including Kandy Radio, Galway District Radio (GDR), Hometown Radio, Big M, Erneside, NWCR, CCR, Breffni Radio, Midwest Radio. East Coast Radio (Louth), Melvin Radio, Radio North, Riverside Radio, Boyneside Radio, DCR Letterkenny, Radio West, Rainbow Radio, Star Radio, North Star, KISS FM, KITS, North Atlantic Radio and many more.