Radio North returns to the air in 1989

Radio North returns to the air in 1989

Radio North from Co. Donegal is one of Ireland’s longest-running pirate stations, operating under various guises more or less continuously from 1986 to the current day. It began broadcasting from Carndonagh on the Inishowen peninsula on 18th November 1986 on 1386 kHz, later moving to 1404. Logs from mid-1987 show that it 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 pirate stations on 31st December 1988 but its frequencies did not remain silent for long. The station was among a handful of pirates to defy the new broadcasting laws and continue broadcasting in 1989. Radio North returned on tape on 5th January 1989 and resumed live programmes on 6th January on 97.9 FM and 846 kHz AM, putting out its usually good signal into Britain, according to the Anoraks UK Weekly Report. Promos were aired to raise funds for the station’s court case against the 1988 legislation with £30,000 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 circumvent the new provisions banning advertising on pirate radio in the Republic.

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. 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 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.

Radio North returns to the air in 1989
Francis Callaghan at Radio North in Muff, Co. Donegal in 1991 (photo courtesy of DX Archive).

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. 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. In 2001, the station was taken over by Paul Bentley (RIP), founder and operator of successful Donegal pirate WABC, which broadcast intermittently between 1987 and 2001.

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, the licensing authority in the Republic. 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.

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 and online, making it one of Ireland’s longest-running pirate stations. Its signal is heard far and wide across Northern Ireland and beyond. MWLIST reports that Radio North has a power output of 3 kW and the station can indeed be heard well across Northern Ireland and into Britain, helped by the clear channel. 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 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.

Radio North returns to the air in 1989
Radio North’s caravan in Muff, Co. Donegal in 1991 (photo courtesy of DX Archive).

This recording was made from 1005-1155 on Sunday 8th January 1989, just three 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.

Death of Radio North operator, Paul Barnett

Death of Radio North operator, Paul Barnett
Paul pictured near the WABC studios in 1991 (courtesy DX Archive).

It is with great sadness that we learned today of the death of Paul Barnett, aka Paul Burbank or Paul Bentley following a battle with cancer. Paul was the operator of long-running AM pirate Radio North from Donegal and previously ran another station from that county, WABC. We thank Ian Biggar for writing this tribute for

I first got in contact with Paul in late 1987 when I heard his station, WABC on 107 FM back home in the west of Scotland. I received a friendly letter from Paul giving full details of his radio station that was broadcasting from north Donegal. Paul was from Mansfield in the English midlands and had moved with his Irish-born wife and family to set up a business in Coleraine. With Paul’s background in pirate radio it was a given that he would start a station and thus WABC was born, aiming its signal towards Coleraine and the Causeway coast.

WABC built up a strong audience over the next year, but like others had to close with the introduction of the broadcasting bill in Ireland on 31st December 1988. However, with the continuation of Radio North, Paul took the initiative and put WABC back on the air in mid June 1989. The station was now located in the family home in Greencastle.

We visited the station in May 1990 when Paul was running two formats, namely WABC Gold on 101.2 MHz and WABC Hot Hots on 101.5 MHz. It was always great to meet Paul as his enthusiam for radio was always infectious. I often was able to listen to both stations back at home on the west coast of Scotland.

In March 1991 I received a note from Paul saying that due to family commitments he and his family were returning to Mansfield. Paul then got involved with commercial radio with Gem AM in Nottingham and was a regular presenter. However, by the late 90s Paul was back in Donegal and running Radio North on 846 kHz and in time brought back WABC. However, his time was focused on Radio North which continues its format of country, oldies and religious programming on 846 kHz. Let’s hope Radio North can carry on and therefore continue Paul’s legacy.

RIP Paul and thank you for playing your significant part in the Irish era.

The recording is of the announcement by DJ Steven Lynch of Paul’s death on Radio North on Friday 27th October 2023. It is courtesy of Neil Sweeney.

Interview with Gerry Reilly, transmitter man

Interview with Gerry Reilly, transmitter man

The engineers who kept radio stations on air are sometimes overlooked in the history of the pirate era from 1978-1988. In this interview, Gerry Reilly, a radio engineer from Co. Cavan, talks about the many engineering jobs that he did for pirates throughout Ireland. 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.

The interview was conducted by Walter Hegarty on October 20th 2018, when 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.