Pirate Pioneers: Radio Galaxy and Radio Vanessa

Pirate Pioneers: Radio Galaxy and Radio Vanessa
The ‘Milinda 7’ following the court case, L-R: Jimmy McCabe, Ernie Melia, Michael Lynch, Jimmy Lynch, Mark Story, Ken Sheehan and Declan Meehan (Evening Press, from ‘Radio Radio’ by Peter Mulryan).

The broadcasting history of Tony Boylan (RIP) has been well documented over the years from his first broadcasts in 1945 until the mid-1980s when he sold his equipment and retired to the Isle of Man. The recording above is an aircheck of Tony’s Radio Galaxy signing off from one of its regular Sunday broadcasts. The recording is undated, but is probably from 1969 or 1970 as Tony refers to Radio Dublin as broadcasting on 217 metres. This may well have been during the period of the United Dublin Stations as referred to in Peter Mulryan’s Radio Radio book (1988). Radio Galaxy along with Radio Eamo, Radio Jacqueline and Radio Dublin formed this shortlived network. You can hear a longer recording of Radio Galaxy here.

Tony broadcast from Santry at this point and just along the road was a young man called Robbie Irwin, who in turn was friends with Declan Meehan, also from Santry. The two friends had heard Radio Galaxy and sharing a common interest in music and radio, wanted to start their own station. Also entering the picture was Ernie Melia (RIP) from Finglas East who was dating Mary Cummins from Santry, whose brother Ollie was an anorak like Ernie.

The four approached Tony and eventually Ernie bought the 30-watt transmitter complete with a crystal for 1525 kHz (196.7 metres), right beside Vatican Radio. Declan remembers that the rig was built by someone in RTÉ! Ernie brought the rig home to Tolka Gardens where with the aid of a long wire, he erected a very long antenna. Sporadic broadcasts commenced until the friends decided to commence official broadcasts in September 1970 as Radio Vanessa, named after Vanessa O’Callaghan from along the road!

Pirate Pioneers: Radio Galaxy and Radio Vanessa
Declan Meehan with John Walsh at East Coast FM in 2019.

Programmes were pre-recorded in Declan’s house on Shanliss Drive and broadcast from either there, Robbie’s house or Ernie’s place in Finglas. The free radio magazine Newswave reported in early 1972 that ‘Radio Vanessa broadcasts programmes of pop music on 1525 kHz on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-2pm’. DJs on the station were known as Arno St Jude (Declan Meehan), Robbie Ruskin (Robbie Irwin) and Hungry Herbie (Oliver Cummins).

Live broadcasts were made from Declan’s house in 1971 and the station continued broadcasting into 1972, adding a late night show after midnight on 1335 kHz (226 metres). By the second half of 1972 Vanessa had disappeared with Declan and Ernie becoming involved with another station Radio Milinda, which was infamously raided on December 17th. Following the end of Vanessa, the transmitter was used by Radio Valleri on 1525 kHz starting in July 1972 for two months before technical problems put it off the air. The transmitter remained at Declan’s house and made a brave appearance on air on Christmas Day 1972 as The Voice of Free Radio on 1525 kHz. This followed the increased activity from the P&T resulting in the Radio Milinda raid the previous week. Ernie eventually collected the transmitter and as far as we know, it was never used again.

The recording below features a programme broadcast on Radio Vanessa on 1335 kHz with Ken Edwards (Ken Sheehan), the founder of Radio Dublin. Neither Declan nor Ken can remember this being broadcast. It was supplied by Roger Lloyd (Prince Terry) and is undated, but probably from 1972.

We thank Ian Biggar for supplying the text and sharing these recordings. Listen here to Declan Meehan being interviewed by Pirate.ie about his earliest radio memories.

Pop-up community radio: Radio Sandymount

Pop-up community radio: Radio Sandymount
John Murray in the Radio Sandymount studio (photo courtesy of Dave Reddy).

John Murray was a well-known voice on the temporary summer stations set up by Dave Reddy in the 1980s. In this recording from Radio Sandymount on 27th May 1984, he is heard doing a review of the Sunday newspapers. John was a natural broadcaster and could give a comprehensive overview of the papers without doing any preparation in advance, a skill very much in evidence in this clip. The recording also contains a two-hander between John and Dave about a competition and reference to the 78s Show with Tony and Fran Boylan, a regular simulcast with Radio Galaxy.

John Murray went on to work in journalism and public relations in the UK. He was editor of the Scottish edition of the Daily Express for a time and also spent a period at the Independent group. He worked as director of communications with public and private institutions including the Financial Services Authority. We thank Dave Reddy for sharing this recording with us.

Pop-up community radio: Radio Sandymount

Pop-up community radio: Radio Sandymount
The late Tony Boylan pictured in the Evening Herald, 18th August 1986.

Radio Sandymount was the first of several pop-up community radio stations run by the Community Broadcasting Co-operative (CBC) in different parts of Dublin between 1982 and 1988. Set up by Dave Reddy who had been involved with the earlier ARD, it and other stations such as Radio Donnybrook and Radio Ringsend were regular summer features on the Dublin airwaves during that period. In an interview with Pirate.ie, Dave said that the first such station was in Sandymount in 1982 but proved so popular that other community groups wanted their own version.

Radio Sandymount broadcast to coincide with the Sandymount and Merrion Community Week in late May or early June. This recording is of a test transmission on 29th April 1984 made from 270 metres/1116 kHz from 1135-1220. Among the presenters mentioned are David Baker, a well-known name on the Dublin pirate scene, John Murray and Charlie Sheehan who was a postman in Sandymount.

Pop-up community radio: Radio Sandymount
Charlie Sheehan in the Radio Sandymount studio (photo courtesy of Dave Reddy).

The recording also includes part of a simulcast of the 78s Show on Radio Galaxy, presented by the veteran pirate broadcaster Tony Boylan and his wife Fran. In 1945, Tony had set up one of Ireland’s earliest pirate stations, the Colleen Home Service, from his bedroom and continued to experiment with transmitters after the war. In the late 1960s, he set up Radio Galaxy on 199 metres/1512 kHz and specialised in playing his large collection of 78s records every Sunday for a few hours.

The 78s Show was very different to most of what was offered by pirate radio at the time and Tony and Fran’s engaging style and deep passion for the music earned them a loyal following. In 1986, they retired to the Isle of Man and became involved in setting up community radio there. Fran Boylan died in 2007 and Tony passed away in 2010.

Peter Mulryan paid tribute to Tony Boylan in his 1988 book, Radio Radio: ‘Tony Boylan’s pioneering broadcasts were amazing feats of personal and electronic achievement, and they were well ahead of their day. While Tony proved that pirate radio was technically possible, it would take younger men another ten years to prove its economic feasibility, and they were still at school’. Broadcast historian Eddie Bohan inducted Tony into his Alternative Irish Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2015.

Pop-up community radio: Radio Sandymount
L-R David Baker, Paula Walsh (Miss Sandymount) and Dermot Lacey in 1986 (photo courtesy of Dave Reddy).

This recording is from the Skywave Tapes Collection. Skywave Radio International broadcast a shortwave station in the 1980s from Baldoyle in northeast Dublin.

Interview: Declan Meehan (part 1: 1970-1982)

Interview: Declan Meehan (part 1: 1970-1982)
Declan Meehan and John Walsh at the studios of East Coast FM in Bray, where Declan has worked since 1994.

We met one of Ireland’s most experienced broadcasters Declan Meehan recently to discuss his significant contribution to Irish pirate radio history and Irish radio in general over the past 50 years.

In the first part of a long interview, Declan discusses the early years of his involvement in the Dublin pirate scene spanning small stations such as Radio Vanessa and Radio Milinda and larger, more professional operations like ARD. He describes his unhappy move to the new RTÉ Radio 2 in 1979 and how he went on to work for the first of the superpirates, Sunshine Radio, where he met Chris Cary.

The interview includes references to many of the best-known names in Irish radio over the past half-century.