Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)
Telstar Community Radio flyer from 1981 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Today we bring you the history of Telstar Community Radio from the Dundalk area. Thanks to Ian Biggar for the text, and to Eddie Caffrey and John Gartlan for additional information.

After the sudden closure of North East Radio (NER), it is not surprising that another radio station was being planned in Dundalk. The station was pretty much ready by mid-September 1980, although due to circumstances did not come on air until 1st November. Telstar Radio began daily transmissions announcing 250 metres, which was an actual frequency of 1197 kHz. Programmes were broadcast from 0700-0000 with several of the full-time staff of seven coming from NER. The station broadcast seven daily news bulletins, including a late round-up at 2330. The music featured was varied including pop with a fair smattering of country. There were specialist programmes in the evening covering genres like rock and traditional.

The station was located above The Wine Tavern on Park Street where two studios were located. The station’s first transmitter was a 500-watt unit built by Eddie Caffrey. This, along with a 100-foot tower, was located on the Blackrock Road. Coverage was stated as ranging from Drogheda to Newry, taking in towns such as Carrickmacross, Ardee and Armagh City although the range was compromised by the presence of BBC Radio 3 on 1197 kHz from Enniskillen. Later Telstar’s transmitter was replaced by a commercial Eddystone 1kW unit.

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)
Telstar Community Radio rates card from 1986 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

Transmissions continued with a 50-watt FM transmitter added on 88.5 MHz and Telstar built a good following, even luring the well-known Ray Stone away from Radio Carousel. Ray went on to take up the position of station manager.

However, Telstar Radio was delivered a blow just before Christmas 1981 when it was issued with an order to close by Dundalk Urban Council. The main problem was the lack of planning permission for the 100-foot mast on the Blackrock Road. The station had also moved its studios to this location earlier in the year.

Ray Stone told a local newspaper that 19 full- and part-time staff would be out of work. It may have seemed that the station was finished, but with sheer determination they returned to the air in February 1982, now with studios located above the Brake Pub in Blackrock near Dundalk. A new AM tower was erected on land on the Ardee Road between Dundalk and Knockbridge.

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)
The Brake Pub in Blackrock, Co. Louth (photo by John Walsh).

The station was back to a regular service and regaining its listener base. However, in early 1986 it became known that Telstar was for sale. A buyer was found and by May 1st the sale was complete and the station moved back into Dundalk town to purpose-built studios on Earl Street. Staff like Ray Stone and Alec Fennell remained with the station. Around this time, Anoraks UK monitored the station for a day, but unfortunately described the programming as bland. In August 1987, Telstar appeared on a second medium wave frequency of 1170 kHz from a site in Castlebellingham. This was short-lived as the coverage was not great and by the end of September the transmitter had been switched off.

Northeast series: Telstar Community Radio (1980-1988)
Leaflet about Telstar’s coverage in 1988 (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

In April 1987 a new FM frequency of 89.8 MHz was tried with a high-powered FM transmitter running 150 watts. However, interference was caused in the local area meaning the rig had to be switched off and did not return. The link transmitter to the AM site was moved from 88.5 to 88.3 as the former channel suffered interference from an RTE transmitter on Three Rock Mountain. Telstar continued broadcasting right through until an emotional closedown at 1pm on Saturday 31st December 1988.

Above you can hear the Telstar Alfasound jingles package from January 1987. We thank John Gartlan for sharing this. The two recordings below are from the early and final days of Telstar and are courtesy of Ian Biggar. The first is from 1350-1448 on 13th August 1981 and features Mark Sommers followed by Shane Mullen. The second is from 0915-1230 on 17th December 1988 and features Eamonn Duffy followed by the late Alec Evans (Fennell).

Telstar Community Radio audio from August 1981.
Telstar Community Radio audio from December 1988.

Full recording: North East Radio (Dundalk)

Full recording: North East Radio (Dundalk)
A view of the refurbished Imperial Hotel today (photo by John Walsh).

North East Radio (NER) was a short-lived station in 1979 and 1980 set up directly in competition with the new Radio Carousel in Dundalk. Based in the Imperial Hotel in the town centre, NER had a hopeful start with a fresh style, professional presenters and plenty of advertising. However, disagreements over pay, interference and transmitter problems brought it down by the end of August 1980.

Full recording: North East Radio (Dundalk)
The NER transmitter (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

This recording is from the end of NER’s run, 31st July 1980, and features Phil Llewelyn on air from 1350-1450. It was recorded from 1197 kHz (announced as 257 metres) and, we suspect, at a distance from the transmitter so quality is fair at best and there is plenty of electrical interference. Phil mentions a gig by British band Dexy’s Midnight Runners in the Imperial Hotel that night. There seem to be audio problems as the presenter’s links are low and there is some variation in levels in the music. Advertisements have dropped off also although evidence of the core listening area is provided by an ad for a nightclub in Kingscourt, Co. Cavan, 30km from Dundalk. We thank Gary Hogg for sharing this recording which was made originally by Dave Small.

Airchecks: North East Radio

Airchecks: North East Radio
North East Radio’s mobile studio (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

North East Radio (NER) was a short-lived station in Dundalk in 1979-1980. We thank Ian Biggar of DX Archive for the recording and for writing this account of the station’s history.

As it became clear that the days of Radio Dundalk were numbered, a man called Gerry Duffy began looking for investors for a new station in the town. Seeing the prospects of local commercial radio, it did not take too long before some local businessmen were willing to invest in the project and provide secure financial backing, along with Dr. Don Moore of Dublin pirate radio fame. Studios were built in the Imperial Hotel and aerial masts erected on the building roof. A transmitter was obtained, built by Declan Kane from Dublin, who had done similar work for ARD. The rig was allegedly running some 800 watts of power.

The station went on air in October 1979 on 1196 kHz (off channel), announced as 257 metres. From the start the station broadcast nonstop, 24 hours a day with slogans like ‘North East Radio – the station that never sleeps’ and ‘Your slice of heaven on 257’. NER was set up in direct competition to Radio Carousel which by this time had become rather stale. It was hoped that the new station could gain a share in the lucrative advertising market in the area. Listeners found the programming a refreshing change from Carousel and the station’s future looked bright. Crispian St. John, a well known broadcaster on the offshore stations Radio Nordsee International and Radio Caroline joined NER, as well as local talent such as Owen Larkin, Alec Fennell and Daire Nelson.

Airchecks: North East Radio
The NER aerial at the original Imperial Hotel in Dundalk (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

However, as 1980 progressed, technical problems beset the station. Disagreements between station staff and the engineer caused the latter to depart. This left the transmitter in the hands of the station staff, resulting in a deterioration of audio quality. Meantime management-staff relations were growing sour, as a result of presenters claiming they were not being paid for work done.

In June 1980, FRC Ireland reported that a mobile CB operator just outside the hotel caused the NER transmitter to blow up. This put the station off air for almost a week while the damaged transmitter was repaired. Eddie Caffrey also recalls an incident where a staff member attempted to change the off-channel 1196 kHz crystal for the new channel 1197. Because the individual did this while the rig was switched on, it caused damage. The station engineer constructed a new transmitter employing parts of the original rig with parts of the standby transmitter.

While this combination of transmitters worked satisfactorily, it produced some harmonics on the trawler band. Anglesey lifeboat radio in north Wales noted interference to their transmissions and the source was named as North East Radio. In fact, in the August 1980 issue of Short Wave News, two DXers in England reported reception of NER on 2394 kHz, the second harmonic of the fundamental 1197 kHz. An official complaint was sent to the Irish Department of Posts and Telegraphs and they in turn contacted NER. The station was given 24 hours to sort out the problem. The staff decided to switch the transmitter off until the problems could be fixed.

Airchecks: North East Radio
The late Alec Evans (Alec Fennell) in the NER studio (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

Meantime the hotel owners were growing unhappy with the presence of the station and the financial backers were becoming disillusioned. In late August 1980 the hotel indicated that NER would have to vacate the studios and remove the twin 100-foot aerial towers within a week. We don’t have an exact date of closure of North East Radio, but assume it was sometime during August 1980. It was a sad ending to a station that started with such positive prospects.

The recording consists of airchecks of the station on 31st January 1980 and features Dara Nelson, Crispian St. John, Gerry D., Phil Llewelyn and Alec Evans. There is a fresh sound with plenty of ads, professional links and station idents voiced by Tony Allen.

Full recording: Radio Dundalk

Full recording: Radio Dundalk
Radio Dundalk letterhead (courtesy of Eddie Caffrey)

Welcome to our special series documenting the pirate radio history of Counties Louth and Meath since the 1970s, in collaboration with Ian Biggar of DX Archive.

Following the success and growth of pirate Radio in Dublin, it was only a matter of time before some enterprising businessmen saw the potential of the medium in other towns and cities. Dundalk was no exception and such a group, including Hugh Hardy, was planning to put Radio Dundalk on the air. As often happened, there was a disagreement and Mr Hardy left with the intent of starting his own station.

Initial transmissions were made from a two-storey house on Lisdoo Road with the long wire aerial running to a flag pole on the Newry Road garage. The original transmitter was built by Con McParland from Cork, initially on 100 watts and then increased to 400 watts. The station announced 220 metres and was logged on frequencies around 1360 kHz.

Test transmissions started on Sunday 7th May 1978 and again the following weekend bringing six hours of music and chat to the people of Dundalk. Initially it was intended to broadcast only at weekends, but when Radio Carousel began daily broadcasts, Radio Dundalk did likewise. The station launched officially on Saturday May 20th 1978 and proved popular with the audience. In mid-June 1978 Radio Dundalk moved to a more permanent base in the Fairways Hotel on the Dublin Road just outside Dundalk.

Full recording: Radio Dundalk
The new Fairways Hotel outside Dundalk. The original Fairways on this site was the home of Radio Dundalk (photo by John Walsh)

Of course the Department of Posts and Telegraphs was active during this early period of pirate radio and Radio Dundalk was hit on Thursday July 13th 1978, when the raiding party, complete with sledgehammers, entered the premises. The 400 watt rig was taken in the raid which received front page coverage in the local press. The standby 100 watt transmitter got Radio Dundalk back on air within hours.

Presenters on Radio Dundalk included Gavin Duffy and station manager (Heady) Eddie Caffrey, both of whom later moved to Boyneside Radio in Drogheda. The transmitter taken in the raid was returned in February 1979 but interestingly by this time the station was broadcasting with a transmitter belonging to Radio Carousel. A contact knew the person who built the rigs and managed to get one for Radio Dundalk. Apparently Hugh Hardy was not best pleased! Eddie Caffrey bought the ‘raid rig’ from Radio Dundalk and later rebuilt it to be used for Boyneside Radio.

A report in The Argus on 2nd March 1979 stated that Radio Dundalk had left the air indefinitely after claiming their frequency was being jammed by another station. A spokesman for Radio Carousel stated ‘it has nothing to do with us’. Radio Dundalk did return to the air, but a combination of technical problems, the departure of key staff and strong competition from Radio Carousel meant its days were numbered. At this point a Gerry Duffy was heavily involved and as Radio Dundalk was about to close, he set about getting backers for a replacement that turned out to be North East Radio. That station will be covered later in this series.

The long recording above from July 31st 1979, featuring Brian Jones and Rick Wallace, was made towards the end of Radio Dundalk’s life. The shorter recording below is from around Christmas 1978 and features Des Wilson on air, reading a poem sent in by Eddie Caffrey’s mother.

Radio Dundalk audio from December 1978, courtesy of Eddie Caffrey.

FRC Ireland reported that Radio Dundalk closed on 28th August 1979 due to financial difficulties. We thank Ian Biggar for compiling this entry and Ian and Eddie Caffrey for donating the recordings.