The Free Radio Show that survived a raid but was never broadcast

The Free Radio Show that survived a raid but was never broadcast
The Radio Rainbow International transmitter (courtesy of Kieran Murray).

Kieran Murray was a well-known voice on the pirates from the late 1970s and had a deep knowledge of the Irish scene, presenting Free Radio Shows on various stations. Here, he shares a fascinating story about one programme that was never broadcast due to a raid by the authorities but survived nonetheless.

When I left Radio Carousel (Navan) to join Boyneside Radio in early 1985, Eddie Caffrey told me about the shortwave station he had been running called Radio Rainbow International. The station broadcast each Sunday morning, 09:00 to about 13:00, on 6240 kHz (in the 48-meter band) and with a powerful signal, using about 500 watts, it reached most of Europe and beyond.

The Free Radio Show that survived a raid but was never broadcast
Radio Rainbow International logo (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

The format was oldies, requests and relays for other pirate radio stations (mostly from those in other European countries that risked being raided in their own countries if they broadcast). The listeners loved it and the reception reports came flooding in – from Europe and beyond. We even received a reception report from the United States!

So, Eddie invited me to present a weekly 60-minute show, which we called ‘The Free Radio Show’. Each show was given a number, rather than a date, because I just was never sure what date that show would be broadcast on and because the shows were not date specific, it left the option open to repeat a programme if we needed. As it turned out, we never had to do this!

So, we began with Free Radio Show #1. Each show was recorded by me, over the course of a week, in the spare studio of Boyneside Radio, in Donaghy’s Mill, Drogheda, Co. Louth. I used a C120 cassette (single use only, as the recording tape was so thin, so I never re-used them). The show consisted of segments; the intro, listeners’ letters, 5 minutes of jingles, radio station feature and finally free radio news from the past week. The theme tune I used was a track called ‘Man Of Action’ by the Les Reed Orchestra, an old pirate favourite tune, as this had previously been used as the theme for the offshore radio station Radio Northsea International in the 1970s.

The Free Radio Show that survived a raid but was never broadcast
Eddie Caffrey of Radio Rainbow International and Boyneside Radio (courtesy of Kieran Murray).

So, each show got recorded, numbered and completed by Friday and was ready for broadcast that Sunday. Meanwhile, Eddie (who was the engineer and part-owner of Boyneside Radio) added an AM transmitter (1 KW AM on 1521 kHz) and then added an FM stereo transmitter, completing the output of Radio Rainbow International – on AM, FM and short wave.

The shows continued each week, until we got to Show #49, which was due for broadcast on Sunday 19th April 1987. I did the intro, listeners’ letters, 5 minutes of jingles and the radio station feature – and that is where the recording stops. The last bit was for the free radio news but I never got to complete this. When Boyneside Radio was raided on Wednesday 15th April 1987, I was ready to record the free radio news when the Gardaí and Department of Communications officials arrived and took everything: cassette decks, records, mixers, turntables, microphones, tapes – anything that wasn’t nailed down! Among the cassettes they took was the C120 cassette that had my part-finished Show #49.

So we had no Free Radio Show for the following two Sundays, 19th and 26th April 1987, but we came back for a special show on 3rd May and featured an interview with Eddie that discussed the raid on Boyneside Radio. The studio recording attached here was never actually broadcast, because I had to do an entirely new show featuring details of the raid and the interview with Eddie Caffrey about what happened. After each show was broadcast, I used to receive requests for copies of each show from various listeners, so the C120 cassette of the previous week would be posted out to someone who requested this. As a result, I do not have any studio copies of the Free Radio Show except for this one, the ‘unfinished’ Free Radio Show #49. The only reason we have this original recording is because all the equipment was returned after the raid, including that famous C120 cassette. So, in a roundabout way, the Gardaí did us a favour in helping to preserve a studio copy of this show!

Launch of Radio 257 as covered by Radio Rainbow International

Launch of Radio 257 as covered by Radio Rainbow International
Ian Dempsey at the Crofton Airport Hotel (photo courtesy of Dave Reddy).

Radio 257 was the new name for Alternative Radio Dublin (ARD), a pioneering station of the late 1970s that itself had broken away from Radio Dublin. Radio 257 was launched on 4th January 1980 and based at the Crofton Hotel near Dublin Airport, but reverted to the former ARD name at a later stage. Household names of the future were among the early ARD/Radio 257 crew, including John Clarke, Mike Moran, Tony Allan (RIP), Paul Vincent and Ian Dempsey. The station closed in 1982, a casualty of super-pirates Radio Nova and Sunshine Radio, which had come to dominate the Dublin radio market.

Launch of Radio 257 as covered by Radio Rainbow International
Tony Allan (RIP) in ARD before the relaunch as Radio 257 (photo courtesy of DX Archive).

This recording is of edition #47 of the Free Radio Campaign show on Radio Rainbow International, presented by Kieran Murray on 5th April 1987. It begins with a 5-minute jingle sweep, followed by a recording of the launch of Radio 257 at 12 noon on 4th January 1980. Dave C is in the chair and the launch includes an interview with new breakfast DJ Ian Dempsey and the iconic Tony Allan 257 jingles. The show ends with a weekly round-up of free radio news from Ireland and abroad.

Launch of Radio 257 as covered by Radio Rainbow International
Radio 257 sticker (courtesy of DX Archive).

Radio Rainbow International was a hobby station set up by Boyneside Radio engineer Eddie Caffrey from his home in Co. Louth. It broadcast every Sunday on shortwave, AM and FM for three years from 1985 to the end of 1988. As well as the weekly FRC show, Radio Rainbow also leased airtime to British pirate stations at risk of being raided. We thank Eddie Caffrey for sharing this recording.

The Pirate.ie Podcast #2

The Pirate.ie Podcast #2

We’re delighted to announce episode #2 of the Pirate.ie podcast which explores themes covered in our growing archive of Irish pirate radio.

AM broadcasting, widely used by the pirates up to the end of the 1980s, allowed radio signals to travel far and wide beyond the borders of the state. Even small stations could be carried long distances thanks to the magic of night-time AM propagation but dozens of pirates along the border deliberately beamed their signals northwards. With 50 kW of power at its peak, the Dublin super-pirate Radio Nova aimed specifically at the northwest coast of Britain. Ireland also had many hobby shortwave pirates which could be heard thousands of miles from home.

In episode #2, John Walsh and Brian Greene explore how AM spillover, both accidental and deliberate, brought the Irish pirates to a bigger audience.

Northeast series: Rainbow Radio (1987-1988)

Northeast series: Rainbow Radio (1987-1988)
Advert for Rainbow Radio from August 1987, reproduced from the Sunday World by Anoraks UK Weekly Report.

Rainbow Radio was one of several Co. Louth stations which placed transmitters beside the border in order to beam their signals into the North. It was set up by former Boyneside Radio North staff ‘Big O’, aka Oliver McMahon and the late Eugene Markey, onetime Chairman of Newry Council. Rainbow began broadcasting on 2nd of August 1987 from a disused pigsty beside a furniture warehouse in Carrickcarnon right on the border. The musical style was country and Irish as was common on many rural pirate stations at the time. Rainbow’s AM frequency was 1152 kHz with about 500 watts of power, using a rig built by Eddie Caffrey of Boyneside Radio. For approximately a year, 96.1 FM was also used.

An advert for Rainbow in the Sunday World Northern Ireland edition in August 1987 (see above) used the slogan ‘the station of the stars’ and listed presenters Big O, Eugene Markey, Tommy Ballance, Leon and Danny Doran and Jeff T. Telephone numbers for Warrenpoint and Newry were given, reflecting the fact that Rainbow was aiming at the south Armagh and south Down market.   

Editions of the Anoraks UK Weekly Report from the time mention confusion between Rainbow Radio and another Louth station, Radio Rainbow International, a hobby shortwave operation set up by Eddie Caffrey near Drogheda. Attempts were made to get the new Rainbow to change its name but this was said to be impossible as they had already printed promotional material.

Due to the proximity of the transmitter sites of Radio Carousel, Boyneside North and Rainbow in Carrickcarnon, there were frequent reports of mixing of signals. In December 1987, Weekly Report reported fierce competition between the three stations when new FM transmitters were installed. In July 1988, Rainbow Radio was reported as being audible in Belfast on 96.1 FM, but the station was forced to move frequencies in November when BBC Radio 1 installed a new FM transmitter for Belfast on 96.0. Rainbow moved to 98.5, blocking out the signal of easy listening station CLASS which could be heard from Dublin.

In its final months of existence, Rainbow ran regular outside broadcasts on Saturday and Sunday evenings which were said by Anoraks UK to be very popular. They closed shortly after 3pm on the 31st of December 1988 with the presenters signing Auld Lang Syne.

The recording above is the of the launch of Rainbow Radio on 2nd August 1987 and features Big O and Eugene Markey on air. It was made in Portadown about 45 km from Carrickcarnon and the signal is fairly weak with variable audio levels. The second recording below is of Big O near the end of Rainbow’s existence on 29th December 1988 from 0918-1000. It was recorded from 98.5 FM. Many thanks to Rodney Neil and Ian Biggar for these recordings.  

That concludes our series on the pirates of the northeast in the decade up to the end of 1988. Thanks to everyone who contributed, especially Ian Biggar, Eddie Caffrey, John Gartlan, Kieran Murray, Michael Gerrard and Rodney Neil. Click on the tabs ‘Louth’ or ‘Meath’ if you want to hear all the recordings.

Northeast series: Radio Rainbow International (1987-1988)

Northeast series: Radio Rainbow International (1987-1988)
The Radio Rainbow International transmitter (photo courtesy of Kieran Murray).

Today we bring you more recordings from Radio Rainbow International, Eddie Caffrey’s high-powered shortwave pirate which broadcast from the Drogheda area on Sunday mornings from 1985-1988. Radio Rainbow could also be heard on 1521 kHz AM and on FM locally. There was no mast at the house, so the antenna cable was extended by attaching a stone to it and throwing it up over a power line at the bottom of the garden. Sometimes the transmission arrangements of the pirates were not for the faint-hearted!

Northeast series: Radio Rainbow International (1987-1988)
The Radio Rainbow ‘antenna system’ attached to a power line (photo courtesy of Kieran Murray).

One of those involved in Radio Rainbow was Kieran Murray who also worked in Boyneside Radio along with Eddie and had been with Radio Carousel previously. Kieran presented a weekly FRC show on Rainbow with news and information about the exciting world of pirate radio in Ireland and abroad. The recording above is an extract from one such programme in April 1987. The second recording below is from January 1988 and features a relay of John Dean (aka Colin Strong) presenting his own free radio show on the Scottish pirate WLR (no connection with the Waterford station).

In its later years, Radio Rainbow regularly relayed UK pirate stations which were facing harassment by the authorities. We thank Eddie Caffrey for sharing these recordings.