Border blasters: Radio Star Country in the new millennium

Border blasters: Radio Star Country in the new millennium
Radio Star Country flyer from 2002 (courtesy Ian Biggar).

More than a decade after the new broadcasting laws came into effect, pirate radio continued to be heard across Ireland, although not on the scale of the 1980s. The Monaghan pirate Radio Star Country was among those stations that carried on broadcasting into the new millennium, continuing to attract listeners and advertisers on both sides of the border. In this recording from 2001, there are plenty of commercial breaks and requests from Belfast, Down and Derry as well as nearer to home. An advertising promo gives a number in the North and news from IRN in Britain refers to the foot and mouth crisis that was raging at the time. There is evidence of increased religious influence on Radio Star Country with gospel and religious music, notices for religious businesses and a guide to daily gospel programmes including one by station owner Albert Chambers.

This recording was made from 981 kHz in Scotland on 24th October 2001 from 1105-1205. The DJ is the late Patsy Jordan (McDonald). Thanks to Ian Biggar for the donation.

Border blasters: Country Girl Claire on Radio Star Country

Border blasters: Country Girl Claire on Radio Star Country
2002 reception report from Country Girl Claire to Ian Biggar.

There is relatively little coverage of Radio Star Country in local press in Co. Monaghan after the initial warnings and raids in the early 1990s. One bone of contention locally was the relationship between the small number of pirates that remained on the air and the new licensed local station. The licence for Counties Cavan and Monaghan was awarded to Northern Sound Radio, and there are occasional reports about the perceived threat posed by the pirates to the new independent station. The Northern Standard on 7th January 1993 reported a claim that the pirates were damaging Northern Sound’s revenue. On 28th January, the paper carried a report that a meeting of the County Council was told that there were still two pirates on air in Co. Monaghan. However, the Standard itself carried an advertisement for Radio Star Country’s religious programme, ‘Showers of Blessings’, on 6th May 1993, the first of many over the years.

There have been sporadic references over the years in local press to Radio Star Country, often in relation to the station’s involvement in local events, awards or concerts or in the form of advertisements for the growing number of religious programmes. On 17th July 1997, the Anglo-Celt newspaper in Co. Cavan reported that Radio Star Country was presenting the Ulster Line Dancing Championships, reflecting a popular musical trend at the time. In March 1998, the Northern Standard reported that Radio Star DJs appeared at heats of the Blackwater Talent Contest in northern Monaghan. On 13th May 1999, the Standard carried an advert for another Christian programme on Radio Star Country and exactly a year later on 13th May 2000, another advert referred to station DJs at the Cookstown Gala Night in Co. Armagh. Similarly, the Standard of 13th March 2003 reported that Radio Star Country would provide live coverage of a Special Olympics World Games benefit night from the Lakeside Hotel, Monaghan. On 7th February 2008, there was a report in the Standard that the Radio Star Music Award would be presented to local musician Tony Cannon at a concert in the Kelly’s Inn Hotel in Omagh. From 2014, the Northern Standard reported an annual live broadcast by Radio Star Country from a vintage rally in Clontibret, Co. Monaghan. On 10th September 2015, the newspaper reported that Monaghan Vintage Club thanked Radio Star Country, Northern Sound and the Standard for promoting their event – the ironic equivalence between the different types of local media apparently unnoticed!

This recording of Radio Star Country was made on 11th May 1999, more than a decade after the Monaghan station first defied the new broadcasting laws that were supposed to silence the pirates. On air is Country Girl Claire, who continues to broadcast on the station to this day. News on the hour is from INN in Britain and the recording also includes a Radio Star Country noticeboard. Part 1 of the tape above runs from 1003 and Part 2 below from 1048.

Part 2 from 1048.

The tape was made by Rodney Neill from 981 kHz AM. Many thanks to Ian Biggar for the donation.

Border blasters: Radio Star Country’s use of FM

Border blasters: Radio Star Country's use of FM
Early Radio Star sticker – an incorrect frequency in the original has been deleted (Anoraks Ireland Collection).

Although Radio Star Country has long been associated with medium wave only – and remains one of the few stations in Ireland to rely on this band today – the station used both FM link transmitters and higher powered FM rigs in the past. In a letter to Ian Biggar on 15th July 1991, Sean Brady – who would soon become a presenter on the station – wrote that he believed that Radio Star Country was relaying its 981 AM service on 103.7 MHz FM. A friend of his in Craigavon, Co. Armagh could receive the transmission but Sean could not hear it in Oldcastle, Co. Meath, so he presumed that the signal was being directed northwards. On 22nd July 1992, Sean wrote to Ian Biggar to say that Radio Star Country was broadcasting from a caravan at Aughagaw, Smithboro, which is situated some ten miles from Monaghan. The link transmitter was on 106.55 MHz with the AM transmitter located about seven miles away. Sean was unsure where exactly the AM transmitter was situated, but thought it was somewhere near the border with Fermanagh.

According to Rodney Neill in a contribution to issue 2 of Playback magazine, Radio Star Country in 1994 turned on a new FM transmitter aimed at Fermanagh and Armagh. It was first noted on 17th March and was said to be putting out quite a strong signal across the border. This was the first time that Radio Star Country broadcast a high power signal into Northern Ireland since its 103.7 transmitter was removed by a Department of Communications raiding party in the spring of 1991. Between March 1994 and March 1996, Radio Star Country’s studio link was logged by Playback on 106.6 FM and from April 1996 to November 1999, on 105.4. The power on occasion was reported to be 150 watts. In an email to Ian Biggar on 5th March 2001, Sean Brady reported that Radio Star Country was now broadcasting from a site close to its AM transmitter and used links on 101.2 MHz and 103.7 MHz. They had been heard on air announcing these two frequencies but Sean presumed it must have been very low power as he could not hear the station on FM in Oldcastle, Co. Meath.

On 13th January 2002, Sean Brady told Ian Biggar that Radio Star Country was now using the world’s first self-contained 100 percent solid state transmitter which produced a 1 kilowatt carrier at any designated frequency in the range 520-1610 kHz, with full redundancy built into a single unit. Some designs have a degree of redundancy built into the power amplifier stage, but the Eddystone B6038E has 100 percent redundancy from the supply to the RF output. Sean wrote that the transmitter was an ex-IBA unit. It was used on 828 kHz medium wave as the main transmitter for Townland Radio (later Gold Beat) in Cookstown, County Tyrone. It apparently took months of long nights and hard work to get the transmitter up and running again and then ages to get it working on 981 kHz. In relation to the Radio Star Country FM transmitters, Sean added that they were both ex-IBA Norsk Marconi transmitters designed by the BBC and licensed to Marconi. 101.2 MHz was the link frequency to the main transmitter on 103.7 MHz. However, after the raids and visits, it was thought best to abandon the transmissions on FM and concentrate on medium wave.

Today’s recording is from 1997 and features DJ Gerry Martin with an afternoon show. Eight years after the pirates were supposedly silenced for good, the station is still carrying a large number of adverts, including a promotion for the Radio Star Country Club in Armagh, a country sports fair in Armagh and linedancing classes in a nightclub in Belfast. There are giveaways of concert tickets and an event sponsored by Radio Star Country in Tyrone. The tape was made on 10th May 1997 from 981 kHz in Scotland. Part 1 above runs from 1357 and Part 2 below from 1445.

Part 2 from 1445.

Thanks to Ian Biggar for the donation and for assistance with the text.

Border blasters: Sean Brady on Radio Star Country

Border blasters: Sean Brady on Radio Star Country
An undated photo of Sean Brady in studio in the early 1990s (courtesy of Sean).

Today’s recording of Radio Star Country features Sean Brady presenting an afternoon show in 1994. With experience on various 1980s pirates in the north Leinster region (Cavan Community Radio and Breffni Radio), Sean later joined Northern Sound Radio, the licensed service for Counties Cavan and Monaghan. He returned to the pirate fold in the form of Radio Star Country, where he spent more than four years. Sean shares his fond memories of that period:

I began hosting shows on Radio Star Country in January 1992, following a stint (May 1990 to December 1991) at Northern Sound. When I was at Northern Sound, Isobel Byrne (RIP), late wife of former Radio Star Country owner, Gerry Byrne, used to listen in and phone me, wondering if I’d like to join Radio Star Country.

When I joined Radio Star Country, the station was broadcasting on 981 kHz from a caravan near Smithboro in County Monaghan, but it did move – I’m not sure when – to Carrigans, Emyvale. I wasn’t informed of the move and drove on a Sunday morning to Smithboro to find the farmyard empty of its radio occupant! The move was related to some sort of family dispute!

I very much enjoyed working for Radio Star Country, as I could play the kind of music I loved, and still do to this day, country music, particularly American country music. I have to admit that station owner Gerry Byrne and I had a few heated arguments as to the amount of American country music I played on-air, but I was adamant that the material I featured was the correct format to adhere to. I spent a lot of time planning my shows, in the pre-internet days, researching country music artists, as I featured them on their respective birthdays. I had a quite extensive country music collection – I still do to this day, although it’s obviously been increased – on CD, vinyl and cassette, and I used to bring at least three carry cases of material with me, along with my handwritten country music notes.

I have to say that, while I was hosting shows on Radio Star Country, between January 1992 and March 1996, sitting in the caravan-based on-air studio, I never thought of, or was fearful of, a raid taking place. Perhaps I was a little naive, but I simply got on with the job in hand, playing the finest selection of country music, which no other radio station in the land was doing. I hosted the afternoon slot between 1.00pm and 6.00pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, and enjoyed it immensely, even though it involved a car journey of 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Although I departed Radio Star Country in March 1996, I’m so pleased to know that the station is still broadcasting today, but I feel that a move in frequency from 981 kHz should have been undertaken – the frequency, which is adequate for daytime coverage, does tend to suffer from co-channel interference at night. I always thought that 954 kHz would have been a more suitable AM frequency to use, as the medium wave band is now more uncluttered.

This recording of Sean was made on bank holiday Monday 29th August 1994 from 1640-1740. Adverts are from Counties Armagh, Monaghan, Down, Tyrone and Derry and there are plenty of stations idents and jingles, many of which are still heard today. The station was sold on by Gerry Byrne in 1992 and a reference by Sean to the religious programme Showers of Blessings indicates an expansion to content beyond country music alone. Sponsored religious programmes have become increasingly prominent on Radio Star Country but, as Gerry Byrne recalls, listeners remain loyal to the station:

Radio Star Country changed ownership a couple of times and has now a number of religious features and gospel programmes. Over the years, it has had steady staff and a large loyal bunch of listeners, among them the late Big Tom who played Radio Star Country in his shed. I moved to London completely in 1992 even though I had been back and forth and began broadcasting with Spectrum Radio London on a Sunday night and later Saturday afternoon.

Today’s tape was made in Scotland from 981 kHz AM and is courtesy of Ian Biggar.

Border blasters: Patsy Jordan on Radio Star Country

Border blasters: Patsy Jordan on Radio Star Country
Patsy Jordan (McDonald) pictured in The Impartial Reporter, 2016

This recording of Monaghan border pirate Radio Star Country features one of the station’s best known presenters, the late Patsy Jordan (McDonald). It was made on 19th February 1993 from 0857-1030 and features Patsy on a long shift from early morning until 1pm. Patsy, who was from Newtownbutler in Co. Fermanagh, was a country musician whose band, Patsy Jordan and the Blue Train Line, gained huge success in the 1980s. In an obituary in Enniskillen newspaper The Impartial Reporter, it was stated that on the back of the band’s popularity, Cavan pirate station Erneside Radio invited Patsy to present his own show. That was very popular with listeners so it was natural that Patsy would continue to be heard on Radio Star Country after other pirates left the airwaves at the start of 1989. He died in 2016 and country musicians and radio colleagues were among those who attended his large funeral in Clonmaulin close to the border with Co. Monaghan.

Border blasters: Patsy Jordan on Radio Star Country
Radio Star rate card from 1992 (courtesy Sean Brady/Ian Biggar).

On this tape of one of Patsy’s shows, there are copious adverts from Down, Tyrone, Armagh, Cavan and Antrim including Belfast. Plenty of requests are received from both sides of the border and even from the Isle of Man and various local country music singers are promoted. The recording was made from 981 kHz AM in Scotland by Gary Hogg of DX Archive. Thanks to Gary for the recording and to Ian Biggar for assistance with the text.