Feature: Radio Carousel history

Feature: Radio Carousel history
Radio Carousel staff in 1981. Information below (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar).

This is a feature programme about the first five-and-a-half years of the Radio Carousel network, broadcast in December 1983. It was compiled by Kieran Murray who was the first voice to be heard on the station on 20th May 1978. There are also interviews with station founder and owner Hugh Hardy, information about listenership surveys and extracts from shows featuring presenters such as Dave Scott (Joe Reilly), Mike Ahern (Richard McCullen) and Tina Anderson. Kieran describes the satellite stations in Navan, Drogheda and on the border and there are also extracts from news programmes and outside broadcasts. Hugh Hardy’s interview with BBC Radio Ulster following the 1983 raids on Radio Nova and Sunshine Radio is included. The programme also includes a flavour of Radio Carousel Dundalk’s 5th birthday on 20th May 1983 and of Radio Carousel Navan’s 2nd birthday on 22nd October 1983.

Feature: Radio Carousel history
Kieran Murray in the original Radio Carousel studio in 1978 (photo courtesy of Eddie Caffrey).

Kieran Murray announces the programme as a two-hour special but this recording contains only one hour so is presumably an edited version. A full version of the station’s theme tune ‘Don’t stop the carousel’ by Roy Taylor and the Nevada is heard at the end. We thank Eddie Caffrey for donating the recording.

Full photo information

Back row: Richard Crowley, Kieran Murray, Shay Breslin, Ray Stone, Hugh Hardy, Dave Scott, Mike Ahern, Frank Mitchell.

Front row: Shane Mullen, Hugh Sands, Penny Palmer, Tony Farrelly.

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)
Kieran Murray in the original Radio Carousel studio (photo courtesy of Eddie Caffrey).

In early 1978 and following a split from the backers who were to form Radio Dundalk, a newspaper report appeared stating that a ‘Borderside Radio’ would start transmissions to the Dundalk area. This was apparently the working title for the new radio station that would be fronted by Hugh Hardy. Hugh made a fact-finding trip to Big D Radio in Dublin and ‘poached’ some of their DJs, namely Kieran Murray, Eric Vaughan and John Paul. An initial rudimentary studio was constructed on the top floor of the Dundalk Shopping Centre and an aerial mast built on the roof. All was ready to go, except the station didn’t have a name. Kieran Murray spotted a K-Tel album called ‘Carousel’, containing the song ‘Don’t stop the carousel’ by Roy Taylor and the Nevada. Radio Carousel was born with a ready-made station theme!

The station transmitter was built by Bill Ebrill and installed behind the studio. Power output was given as 350 watts and initial frequency was 1134 kHz, announced as 265 metres. The station remained around this spot throughout its life, although a change was made to 1125 kHz. The station officially signed on air on Saturday May 20th 1978 and immediately established itself with the listening public. Daily broadcasts were initially from 0800-2200 and the station positioned itself as having ‘something for everybody’, from pop to country, golden oldies to new releases, Irish dance music to Tamla Motown and from the big band sounds of Glen Miller to the modern sounds of Horslips and Rory Gallagher. Full national and local news bulletins were broadcast daily at 1.15 and 6.15.

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)
Radio Carousel sticker courtesy of Ian Biggar.

It didn’t take long before the Department turned their attention to Radio Carousel and the station was raided on June 1st, although the transmitter was not located. A further raid on July 7th resulted in the transmitter being taken but Carousel was quickly back on air with a standby rig. The initial listener response to the station was very encouraging. In fact, a petition to legalise Carousel was organised by two local women in Dundalk and gained 23,000 signatures in a very short space of time. The station coverage was not limited to Dundalk and its surrounds, but Radio Carousel had a healthy listenership in Newry, Armagh and other Northern towns. This was obvious from the number of commercials aired from the area. Radio Carousel went from strength to strength in Dundalk, adding an FM outlet on 98.4 MHz in late 1979.

Hugh Hardy always had his eye on expansion and building a network, so Radio Carousel established an outlet in Drogheda. A studio and transmitter were installed in the Boyne Valley Hotel just outside the town and came on air on Sunday February 8th 1980. The station relayed the output from Dundalk, apart from 1100-1200 and 1500-1700 daily when local programmes were broadcast. The station used 1386 kHz and had good coverage of the town and surrounds. However, Carousel did not really establish itself in Drogheda and with competition from Boyneside Radio, it was difficult to get a foothold. The frequency was changed to 1413 kHz around September 1981, just prior to Radio Carousel using 1386 kHz in Navan.

The local programmes from Drogheda became irregular and the main output was simply the relay from Dundalk. Another attempt at local output was made in Spring 1982, but again it was short-lived. Transmissions continued until the latter part of 1982 when the transmitter was switched off. Radio Carousel continued from Dundalk throughout the 1980s on AM and FM with a varying degree of success due to competition from stations like Telstar Radio, as well as Hugh focusing on other ventures.

To the surprise of many, Radio Carousel in the Dundalk Shopping Centre closed in mysterious circumstances. There had been rumours for some time that the station was up for sale, but Hugh Hardy gave the details on the Radio West Anorak Show on 25th January 1987. He explained that Department of Communications officials had visited on the afternoon of Thursday 22nd and ordered the station to cease broadcasting following complaints of interference to mobiles of a licensed operator. The officials would not leave until Hugh gave a commitment to close, which he agreed to do by 2pm on the next day. So after almost 9 years on air, Radio Carousel ceased broadcasting from the Dundalk Shopping Centre at 1pm on Friday January 23rd 1987.

Full recording: Radio Carousel (Dundalk)
A QSL letter from Kieran Murray to Ian Biggar in 1978.

At this point Radio Carousel Navan continued as normal, as well as the Northern Ireland service on 1260 kHz. This was the former Drogheda transmitter which had been installed just inside Co. Louth on the border with Jonesborough, Co. Armagh about a year or so earlier. A studio was installed in the Carrickdale Hotel where live programmes were broadcast by the likes of local personality ‘Big O’ (Oliver McMahon).

By the middle of February, non-stop music was being broadcast on 1125 kHz and it was believed that this could be the return of Radio Carousel from Dundalk, and indeed it was! The transmitter and studios had been installed at the former Radio Dundalk location, the Fairways Hotel on the Dublin Road. Regular transmissions restarted around Monday 1st March 1987. Initially the station relayed the same output as that on 1260 kHz, including Hugh Hardy with ‘Country Call’. Hugh’s intention was to broadcast ‘Country Call’ from the Fairways through the link on 87.6 MHz which would then be relayed on 1260 kHz and 100.67 MHz. While programmes were not being broadcast from Dundalk, the programmes from Carrickcarnon would be re-broadcast. By very early 1988 transmissions from both Dundalk and Carrickcarnon had become erratic and at one point both 1125 kHz and 1260 kHz were relaying Radio Carousel Navan or simply a blank carrier.  The AUK Weekly Report of 10th April 1988 reported that both transmitters had disappeared and that seemed to be the end of Carousel operations in Co. Louth.

The recording above is of Eric Vaughan on Radio Carousel from 1415-1455 on 18th December 1978. Audio quality is fair at best because the recording was made in Blackpool without an external aerial. It includes the song ‘Disco Duck’ by Rick Dees who would go on to become a famous DJ on American radio and of course on Radio Nova in Dublin. The voice of Hugh Hardy can be heard on adverts. We thank Ian Biggar for compiling this entry and Gary Hogg for the recording.

Full recording: Radio Nova

Full recording: Radio Nova
A Radio Nova envelope from the days on 846 kHz (courtesy of DX Archive).

This recording was made by the British radio enthusiast Leon Tipler at his home in Kidderminster in the English midlands. The tape label states that it was made from 819 kHz from 2217-2305 on the 17th of September 1982, but there is a jingle for ‘the mighty 890’ and the news ident at the top of the hour announces 846 kHz. According to the November 1981 edition of Short Wave News, Nova returned to 846 after briefly trying 891. Based on Anoraks UK logs, it seems the move to 819 kHz happened between the 7th and the 23rd of September 1982. It is possible, therefore, that Nova had very recently moved by the time of this recording but the ident had not yet been updated. Thanks to Ian Biggar for confirming details.

The DJ in this recording is Eddie West and news is read by Bryan Dobson, now a senior RTÉ journalist. Audio quality ranges from poor to fair as there is plenty of skywave interference. At about 300km from Dublin, Kidderminster is well outside the coverage area of Nova’s 10 kW transmitter. During the recording, Eddie West wishes Sunshine Radio a happy 2nd birthday and also mentions Leon Tipler. That clip was used in Leon’s acclaimed documentary series The Irish Pirates, which is available on this archive.

This recording is from the Leon Tipler Tapes Collection, donated to us by Steve England.

Full recording: Zoom 103 (Dublin)

Full recording: Zoom 103 (Dublin)
Cassette label from the Skywave Collection (photo by Brian Greene).

Zoom 103 was a short-lived station which came on air on 103.1 FM immediately following the final closure of Radio Nova on the 19th of March 1986. After a receiver was appointed to Nova Media Services, Nova’s FM service was replaced by continuous music just after 3pm on that day while continuing on 738 kHz AM until 6pm. Shortly after 10pm, the music service on 103.1 FM began identifying itself as Zoom 103. Programmes continued as normal the following day, with the usual line-up of Nova presenters but without Chris Cary and an AM service. Zoom broadcast from 144 Upper Leeson Street in the city centre but closed suddenly on Monday the 24th of March, after the Nova receiver reportedly seized the transmitter. A new station calling itself Energy 103 emerged from the ashes of Zoom on the 28th of April and continued until the 11th of March 1988, also from Upper Leeson Street.

Full recording: Zoom 103 (Dublin)
144 Upper Leeson Street, former home of Zoom and Energy 103, is now a hair salon (photo by John Walsh).

This recording is from 1405-1450 on the second day of Zoom, the 20th of March 1986, and features Colm Hayes on air, who refers to Gary Hamill (Seán McCarthy) on news. There are no jingles, imaging or ads. It was made from 103.1 FM and despite the tape label, is in mono.

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

Documentary: The Irish Pirates (Volume 8)

Documentary: The Irish Pirates (Volume 8)
Crowds at Herbert Street on the day of Radio Nova’s official closedown, 19 May 1983 (photo by Joe King).

In the final instalment of Part 3 of ‘The Irish Pirates’, Leon Tipler returns to Dublin. Volume 8 covers his visits to Sunshine and Radio Nova in September 1983 to get the views of the staff about the raids of the previous May which put both stations off the air temporarily. Tipler interviews Sybil Fennell, Chris Cary and Robbie Robinson and also features the iconic Nova closedown with Tony Allan at 6pm on the 19th of May 1983. He also recounts the horrified political reaction to Cary’s plans for Nova Television. This final episode ends with Tipler’s analysis of the political implications of the raids and changed attitudes to the pirates in their aftermath.

Documentary: The Irish Pirates (Volume 8)
Equipment removed from Sunshine Radio, 19 May 1983, with RTÉ television crew filming (photo by Joe King).

This recording is from the Leon Tipler Tapes Collection, donated to us by Steve England. We will bring you more from this valuable collection over the coming weeks and months.

Index to Volume 8

00:00 Visit to Galway – no pirates on air
00:30 Visit to Sunshine Radio offices
01:15 Visit to Radio Nova
02:00 Interview with Sybil Fennell
04:30 Nova TV
08:10 Chris Cary on Nova in May 1983
09:40 RTÉ coverage of 1983 raid on Nova
10:40 Interview with Chris Cary about raids
15:50 Interview with Robbie Robinson about raids
17:55 Interview with Sybil Fennell about raids
18:20 Continuation of interview with Cary
20:20 Continuation of interview with Robinson
25:00 Sunshine closedown in 1983
27:40 Radio Nova closedown on 19.05.83
33:05 Interview with Sybil Fennell about closedown
33:50 Tony Allen closing Nova
42:00 Continuation of interview with Cary about closedown
46:00 Continuation of interview with Robinson about closedown
51:45 Return of Sunshine
55:00 Changed political response
55:45 Conclusion