Border-blaster pirate Radio North stays on the air

Border-blaster pirate Radio North stays on the air
Radio North poster from 1991 (courtesy of DX Archive).

Radio North is one of the longest-running Irish ‘border-blaster’ pirates, broadcasting from the Donegal side of the border with Derry more or less continuously since 1986, barring a few splits and name changes along the way. The station was among a handful of pirates to defy the new broadcasting laws and continue broadcasting in 1989. In mid-January 1989, it moved from Carndonagh to Redcastle and was relaunched as Northside Radio, but reverted to the original name that September. Around the end of 1989, a rival station, North Atlantic Radio was established in Carndonagh using some Radio North DJs. Both stations coexisted for a while but by 1992, North Atlantic was the only station still on air and had taken over Radio North’s frequency of 846 kHz. In January 1994, North Atlantic adopted the name Radio North again. Another variation of the name, Radio North 2000, was logged in 1998.

Border-blaster pirate Radio North stays on the air
Francis Callaghan at Radio North in Muff, Co. Donegal in 1991 (photo courtesy of DX Archive).

The authorities attempted to silence Radio North and its offshoots in the early 1990s but it seems to have been largely left alone since then. The November 1990 edition of Free Radio News from Ireland reported that all Donegal pirates were warned to cease broadcasting by a visiting party from the Irish Department of Communications and the British Department of Trade and Industry. According to local newspapers, the Donegal pirates were raided on 12th June 1991 but soon returned to the air, leading to a warning letter to advertisers from the Independent Radio and Television Commission. On 5th August 1993, the Donegal Democrat reported that Radio North had been prosecuted three times and was no longer broadcasting, but that North Atlantic Radio was still on air. The persistence of so many pirates in Donegal was a cause of some annoyance to the newly-licensed local station, Highland Radio.

This recording was made from 1110-1155 on Sunday 8th January 1989, just two days after Radio North returned to the air having closed down on New Year’s Eve. DJ James plays a mixture of country, oldies and pop and there are requests and adverts from both sides of the border along with an appeal for donations to help the station fight the new broadcasting legislation in the High Court. The recording was made in Scotland and reception is fair with some electrical interference as would be expected given the distance from the broadcast site. We thank Ian Biggar for the donation and for help with research.

Following a further change in ownership, Radio North has defied all the odds and continues to broadcast today from Redcastle in Co. Donegal on 846 kHz AM, making it one of Ireland’s longest-running pirate stations. Its signal is heard far and wide across Northern Ireland and beyond. A live stream on its website has not been working since 2021.

Radio North defies new broadcasting laws

Radio North defies new broadcasting laws
Radio North car sticker (courtesy of DX Archive).

Radio North from Co. Donegal is one of Ireland’ longest-running pirate stations, operating under various guises more or less continuously from 1986 to the current day. It began broadcasting from Carndonagh on 18th November 1986 on 1386 kHz, later moving to 1404. Logs from mid-1987 show that it had moved to the clearer channel of 846 kHz, which gave it better coverage over a wider area. Radio North closed down along with the vast majority of the other stations on 31st December 1988 but its frequencies were not silent for long.

The station returned on tape on 5th January 1989 and resumed live programmes the following day on 97.9 FM and 846 AM putting out its usually good signal into Britain, according to the Anoraks UK Weekly Report. Promos were aired for raising funds for the station’s court case against the 1988 legislation with £30,000 was required, £10,000 of which would be provided by Radio North. Adverts from both sides of the border were plentiful but an address in Ballymoney in Co. Antrim was used for advertising in order to avoid the provisions of the new laws banning advertising on pirate radio. Around 21st January 1989, the station was relaunched as Northside Radio complete with new jingles, promos and studios and a move to Redcastle on the banks of Lough Foyle. The Donegal Democrat reported that a split in the Radio North camp led to the new name, with the original owner Paddy Simpson deciding to apply for the north Donegal licence.

Radio North defies new broadcasting laws
Radio North’s caravan in Muff, Co. Donegal in 1991 (photo courtesy of DX Archive).

Anoraks UK reported that listenership was obviously strong, due to a large number of requests and regular promos for public appearances of DJs on both sides of the border. In March 1989, there were rumours that the station was raided and the FM transmitter confiscated but these were not confirmed. On September 4th 1989, the name reverted to Radio North again when the original owner took back control, according to Anoraks UK. DX Archive visited Radio North in May 1991, which was at that time operating from a caravan in the village of Muff right on the border with Co. Derry. A rival station, North Atlantic Radio, began broadcasting around the end of 1989 and eventually took over the Radio North name and frequency.  

Incredibly, Radio North continues to broadcast today, 35 years later, on 846 kHz from Redcastle, Co. Donegal. Its website is rudimentary and the live stream has not worked since 2021. MWLIST reports that Radio North has a power output of 3 kW and the station can indeed be heard well across the North of Ireland and into Britain. It broadcasts a mixture of live and recorded music programmes along with American evangelist recordings, presumably to generate income. Radio North is one of two Irish ‘border blaster’ pirates that continue to defy the laws and the odds, the other being Radio Star Country in Co. Monaghan, which began broadcasting in 1988. Both are on AM only, which may explain why they have been left alone by the authorities, but even a cursory listen to either reveals that they still have advertisers and listeners.

This recording was made from 1025-1100 on Sunday 8th January 1989, just a few days after Radio North returned to the airwaves. The music is a mixture of pop and country and DJ James is standing in for Jake. An appeal can be heard for funding for the High Court case along with adverts for businesses as far away as Co. Antrim. This recording was made in Scotland and quality is fair with electrical interference at times. We thank Ian Biggar for this donation and for assistance with research.

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.