Radio Star Country, one of Ireland’s longest-running pirates

Radio Star Country, one of Ireland's longest-running pirates
Radio Star Country sticker – note the Northern telephone number (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Radio Star Country is one of the longest-running Irish pirates ever, operating more or less continuously since 1988 to the present day. After a successful 1989 when it pulled in plenty of income in local advertising revenue, Radio Star Country continued unimpeded into 1990. There is a dramatic account of the station in a book by Cathal ‘Ray’ McSherry, A Different Wavelength: The Pirate Radio Days from 2004: ‘My first visit to Radio Star headquarters was unforgettable. After leaving the main road and travelling for twenty minutes, I arrived at an old ramshackle single storey dwelling at the side of a narrow boreen. Cement or breeze blocks filled out the windows. Inside was a bare earthen floor which was more likely to the found the days of the Famine. There was a fireplace minus a grate and in all honesty the whole thing looked so absurd and surreal. It was a spectacle I’ll never forget but this was our “studio”. From here we would defy the powers that be and from here we would broadcast our shows, send out our music and entertainment and silently wonder, or think to ourselves often as not, if we weren’t completely coco-pops. Within this hampered house was a mixing desk, microphones, turntables, and all the paraphernalia of radio pirating. A mast was located two miles away to receive the FM signal’.

Radio Star Country seems to have been largely left alone by the authorities for most of its existence apart from a few attempts to close it down in the early years after the introduction of licensed radio. Its premises in the Bragan Mountains north of Monaghan Town was raided by gardaí and Department of Communications officials on 29th August 1990 and transmission equipment seized but the station was back on air within 48 hours. There is also a report of the station’s FM transmitter being removed by the Department in spring 1991. Sean Brady, who spent four years with Radio Star from January 1992 to March 1996 tells us that there were no raids or visits from the authorities during that period, when the station broadcast from a caravan near Smithboro and then a location close to Monaghan Town. On 17th March 1994, a new FM transmitter on 103 FM was switched on and aimed at Fermanagh and Armagh. On 27th January 2006, the Irish Independent reported that two farmers on the Monaghan/Tyrone border were fined for allowing a pirate station to broadcast from their land. Although the station was unnamed, we presume this refers to Radio Star Country also. Other than these isolated examples, we have no other records of raids on the station.

Radio Star Country, one of Ireland's longest-running pirates
Banner image from Radio Star Country’s website.

This recording was made from 891 kHz from 0917-1002 on 23rd January 1989, just a few weeks after the new broadcasting law came into effect. On air is Isobel Byrne (RIP), the late wife of the former station owner Gerry Byrne. Reception is fair, reflecting the fact that the recording was made in Scotland. We thank Ian Biggar for the donation and for background information. Radio Star Country continues to broadcast on 981 kHz and on its website.

Radio Star Country continues broadcasting into 1989

Radio Star Country continues broadcasting into 1989
Radio Star Country sticker from late 1988/early 1989 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Radio Star Country is one of Ireland’s longest-running pirate stations ever, operating more or less continuously since 1988. It was launched in May that year on 927 kHz and 103.2 FM from the Swan Lake Hotel in Monaghan Town. Along with Radio Dublin, the station was alone in staying on air after the deadline for the pirates to close down on New Year’s Eve 1988. On 891 kHz at this time, it broadcast tapes on 1st January 1989 but soon resumed live programmes. The Anoraks UK Weekly Report of 7th January 1989 commented that ‘Star Country carried many adverts and it was as if news of the legislation had not yet reached that quarter!’

Similar to Radio Dublin, Radio Star Country was issued with notices that its telephones and electricity supply would be cut off after 14 days. In possible anticipation of a raid, Anoraks UK reported on 21st January that it introduced a new sales number in Armagh where it was not illegal to take advertising. The station moved to 981 kHz on 3rd February 1989, which had been vacated by former Monaghan station Hometown Radio. Around the same time, it transferred its studios from Monaghan Town to the transmission site at Emyvale near the border.

Despite the increased risks of pirate broadcasting, 1989 was a bumper year for Radio Star Country. In February, the veteran pirate DJ Don Allen (RIP) joined the station with his popular ‘Country and Western Jamboree’, taking over the breakfast slot. Station owner Gerry Byrne was heard at lunchtime and there were live shows all day with tapes overnight. Advertising revenue was strong and the verdict of Anoraks UK on 11th February was: ‘The station gets ten out of ten for its fighting spirit’. In March, Radio Star Country even advertised for additional sales staff, such was the demand from businesses wishing to buy time on the station.

Radio Star Country continues broadcasting into 1989
Radio Star Country in the Swan Lake Hotel in 1988 (photo courtesy of DX Archive).

Department of Communication officials visited Radio Star Country that month and warned it to close down, which it did for a short time only to return a few days later. The final edition of Weekly Report in September 1989 reported hearing the station all the way from Larne to Malin Head with the signal even audible on a simple receiver in Dublin.

‘Long may they continue’ was Anoraks UK’s closing wish and indeed, Radio Star Country continues to broadcast country music and sponsored religious programmes to this day on 981 kHz and on its website. The AM signal can be heard clearly in north Leinster and across Northern Ireland but is swamped at night by an Algerian station. The first of our two recordings from 1989 was made from 0832-0917 on 23rd January from 891 kHz. On air is Isobel Byrne (RIP), late wife of former station owner Gerry Byrne. There are long ad breaks featuring mostly Northern businesses but the Swan Lake Hotel has a spot also. Reception is fair as the recording was made in Scotland. We thank Ian Biggar for the donation.  

‘Malcolm’s Problems’ on KISS FM Monaghan

'Malcolm's Problems' on KISS FM Monaghan
KISS FM sticker (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

‘Malcolm’s Problems’ was a comedy segment broadcast on the Monaghan super-pirate KISS FM which was on air for just eight months in 1988. It was a regular feature on the show presented by Owen Barry (aka Larkin), who was a familiar voice on stations in the northeast during the pirate era. Owen did all the voices and was co-producer of the inserts along with the late Roland Burke.

'Malcolm's Problems' on KISS FM Monaghan
Owen Larkin in a KISS FM promotional brochure (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

This is the final edition of ‘Malcolm’s Problems’ which was broadcast at 3pm on Christmas Day 1988, just a few days before KISS FM closed down. The station left the air at just after 6pm on 30th December. Despite its short existence, KISS FM shook up the staid radio landscape in Northern Ireland by beaming its powerful signal into Belfast and beyond.

We thank John Breslin for his donation of this recording.

Interview: Gareth O’Connor (KITS)

Interview: Gareth O'Connor (KITS)
Gareth O’Connor in the KITS studio in 1988. Thanks to Gareth for the photo.

We interview journalist Gareth O’Connor about his memories of KITS (837 AM and 101 FM) in Monaghan Town in 1987 and 1988. KITS came on the air towards the end of the pirate era and, like other border stations, gained listeners and advertisers both north and south. Gareth tells us about how he became interested in radio and how a decisive Christmas Day phone call launched his broadcasting career. He also pays tribute to station owner the late Frank McCarthy and discusses the impact of the pirates on Monaghan and further afield.

Gareth went on to work as a journalist with many broadcasters including Northern Sound, Century Radio, RTÉ, 98FM, Today FM, East Coast FM, LMFM and Radio Nova. He has also contributed to temporary station Walk in My Shoes Radio and is a regular on Christmas FM. Gareth currently works as an Executive Producer at Virgin Media Ireland.

You can listen to KITS jingles here.

Jingles: KITS

Jingles: KITS
KITS car sticker (courtesy of DX Archive).

KITS was one of the many ‘border blasters’, stations which popped up along the border during the 1980s and beamed their signals north in the search for advertising and listeners. KITS went on air towards the era of the pirate era on 19th December 1987 and broadcast from Monaghan town on 837 kHz AM and 101 FM. The station closed on 31st December 1988 in line with new broadcasting legislation.

Although less powerful than its audacious neighbour KISS FM – which aimed unashamedly at the Belfast market – KITS had its own strong following on both sides of the border and marketed itself as ‘Ulster’s favourite music station’. Here is its jingle package.