The history of pirate radio in Kerry is less well documented than other parts of Ireland and unlicensed radio activities in the county are only rarely mentioned by Anoraks UK. The Weekly Report didn’t have a regular contact in Kerry and relied mostly on people who were passing through. Many of the Kerry pirates were on FM only, unusual in itself for the 1980s but also problematic for long-distance listening, particularly when so many recordings of Irish pirates were made on the west coast of Britain.
Early listings from 1979 and 1980 logged two stations, Kerry Community Radio (1600 kHz) and Radio Tralee (1176 kHz), both in Tralee. Anoraks UK lists from late 1982 to late 1984 list a Kerry Local Radio (KLR) on 99.9 FM which may have emerged from one of the earlier stations. According to The Kerryman of 28th September 1984, a major financial backer pulled out of KLR due to ‘bad vibes’ at the station and a subsequent split saw two stations in Tralee, the grandly-titled Kerry Regional Radio Services (KRRS) and Kingdom of Kerry Local Radio. The split may have led to the closure of KLR, as listings from mid-1985 refer only to ‘Big K’ in Tralee, a station which broadcast between 102 and 104 FM for the next three years. However, this may have been an incarnation of KLR because an Anoraks Ireland list from 1988 refers to ‘Big K/KLR’. A lot more research remains to be done to untangle these twists and turns in the pirate radio scene in Tralee!
Michael Donovan was a colourful local character who was involved in many of the Tralee stations from the late 1970s. Elected as a town councillor in 1985, he managed Big K/KLR in later years until the end of 1988 when the pirates left the air. According to The Kerryman of 17th February 1989, Donovan attacked the Independent Radio and Television Commission for delays in licensing the Kerry station. He vowed to return as a pirate, claiming dramatically that he and his staff would starve if they didn’t get back on the air. Donovan carried out his threat and KLR resumed broadcasting illegally but was raided twice, in 1990 and again in 1991. According to Free Radio News from Ireland (March/April 1991), he was convicted on two charges, illegal broadcasting and possession of a transmitter. The drama continued when, after appealing his convictions, Donovan was not informed in time of the appeal date and an arrest warrant was issued by the judge when he didn’t show up. He died in 2002 from cancer at the young age of 58. Thanks to Ian Biggar and Eddie Bohan for background information.
This recording of Kerry Local Radio is of part of a very eclectic rock show featuring music from The Skids, Mike Rutherford and Climax Blues Band. It is a partial aircheck and was made shortly after 2pm on 1st January 1984. The presenter is John Devane and ads are heard for local Tralee businesses. The recording is from the Leon Tipler Tapes Collection, donated to us by Steve England.
Radio Dublin, one of the longest-running pirates in the world, was the most high-profile station to defy the new broadcasting legislation that came into effect at midnight on New Year’s Eve 1988. Established first in 1966, Radio Dublin embarked on round-the-clock broadcasting in 1977 and set a new standard for pirate radio in Dublin. The great 253 (its announced wavelength, later 1188 kHz) went from strength to strength in the 1980s and launched the careers of many well-known broadcasters.
At the end of 1988, rumours were circulating that Radio Dublin would soldier on despite the new law and the station’s owner Eamonn Cooke announced on Christmas Day that the station would continue into 1989. Radio Dublin switched off its FM transmitter on 105 FM in anticipation of the deadline but kept going on AM and shortwave. Transmissions continued after midnight on 1st January 1989 but taped programming only was heard for the first day. Live shows resumed on 2nd January and FM returned on 101 MHz.
The hammer fell in February with two raids by the authorities in the space of a week and the confiscation of all transmitters and most studio equipment. Electricity and phones were cut off following a court order, forcing Radio Dublin to continue on a generator. The station moved location on several occasions in an attempt to avoid detection and appealed on air for donations of FM transmitters from former pirates. It also tried unsuccessfully to challenge the constitutionality of the 1988 legislation, organising fund-raising events and appealing for donations from listeners towards the considerable costs. There was a third raid in April 1990 but Radio Dublin rose from the ashes again with the help of yet another back-up FM transmitter.
In fact, Radio Dublin defied all odds and continued long beyond the 1989 deadline, only closing down permanently in 2002 following the conviction of Eamonn Cooke for sexually abusing children. It was a grim end to the station that made such a mark on Irish radio history during its 36 years in existence and any discussion of Radio Dublin will always be marred by Cooke’s crimes. From 2003 to 2006, Cooke served three years of a 10-year jail term but was released after the conviction was quashed due to a legal technicality. He was convicted a second time in 2007 for sexual assault of young girls and jailed for 10 years. He died in 2016 while on temporary release. If you require support with this issue, you can contact the organisation One in Four.
Throughout his time at the helm, Cooke took to the air every Sunday lunchtime with ‘Station News’, a rambling account of what was happening at the station and in the Dublin radio scene. This is a recording of the first ‘Station News’ after Radio Dublin defied the new law, from 8th January 1989. We thank John Breslin for the donation.
Independent Radio Galway (IRG) was arguably the closest Galway got to having a full-time community station during the pirate era. Some of the larger Galway stations of the 1980s provided variety in their schedule and carried community news. However, there was no long-term station embedded firmly in the community radio ethos represented by the National Association of Community Broadcasters which included pioneering stations such as BLB and NDCR.
IRG began test transmissions on the 15th of April 1978 with a full service planned from the 17th of April. Similar to many other similar stations, the pirate venture followed an RTÉ local radio experiment in Galway and in fact planned to use the same frequency, 202 metres (1485 kHz). According to the Connacht Tribune of the 14th of April, IRG was planning a light entertainment service with no news bulletins and a minimal amount of interviews due to a lack of equipment. The start-up cost was only £400 and IRG initially broadcast for just four hours a day from a one-room studio in a shopping centre in William Street in the city centre. In the end the frequency was 199 metres and jingles including ‘199’ were famously sung by the choir of University College Galway (now the National University of Ireland, Galway).
In June 1978 IRG was raided and equipment confiscated by officials of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs but the station soon returned with a standby transmitter. On the 20th of July 1979 the Tribune reported financial problems at IRG and the threat of closure was mooted, with the owners attributing a major loss in advertising revenue to the arrival of RTÉ Radio 2 the previous May. IRG closed officially at 8pm on the 29th of July 1979, thereby ending Galway’s short-lived community radio experiment.
This partially airchecked recording is possibly from two separate undated days in May 1979 from around 11.00am. The presenter is Chris Williams and ‘Auntie Mamie’ dispenses advice to expectant mothers, recommends discipline for children and promotes buying Irish produce. There are references to other presenters Paul Jones (Mike Mulkerrins) and Billy McCoy (Liam Stenson). We thank Ian Biggar for his donation of this recording (originally made by Dave Small, Liam Stenson for information and Joe O’Shaughnessy for the photographs.
In the second part of our extended interview, long-time broadcaster Declan Meehan discusses his move from Sunshine to Radio Nova in 1982 which was by then the biggest station in Dublin. He tells us how Chris Cary copied the sound of KIIS FM in Los Angeles to bring a new broadcasting style to Ireland. Despite his love for Radio Nova, Declan left the station because of the bitter NUJ strike in 1984. Although he moved into licensed radio in the UK and Ireland after that, Declan’s involvement with the pirates didn’t quite end there. The interview concludes with Declan’s thoughts on the pirate legacy and his views on the state of radio today.
You can hear the first part of this interview here.
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.