Sunshine Radio charity auction

Sunshine Radio charity auction
An ad by the Central Remedial Clinic in the Sunshine Radio Review from 1985.

Some of the pirates engaged in corporate social responsibility, raising money for various charitable and voluntary groups. One of the larger stations to do so was Sunshine Radio, which built a relationship with the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC), an organisation supporting people with physical disabilities. Sunshine held an annual auction on air in aid of the CRC along with the Sunshine Extravaganza, an evening event that listeners could pay to attend, with the proceeds going to the charity. In the first five year’s of Sunshine’s existence, the station raised over £100,000 for the CRC, a considerable sum in the cash-strapped 1980s.

Sunshine Radio charity auction
Pat Courtenay as pictured in the Sunshine Review from 1985.

This recording is of part of the 5th CRC auction as recorded from 531 kHz AM from 1035-1120 on 13th April 1985. In studio are Kieran Ryan and Pat Courtenay, who looks after the bids. Items are up for auction in various lots and include a helicopter trip, a weekend in a Dublin hotel, a bonsai tree, an electronic telephone, attic insulation, a home brew kit, toys, gym membership, beauty treatments, silverware, a Philips radio recorder and even 22 tonnes of sand or gravel!  Irish cabaret singer Tony Kenny, who is taking part in the 5th Sunshine Extravaganza evening in aid of the CRC, is interviewed by station owner Robbie Dale (Robinson), who then joins Pat Courtenay in studio to promote the Sunshine Extravaganza. An ad break includes a promo for the Sunshine Cake, an FM opt-out service of easy listening music on Sunday mornings.

Sunshine Radio charity auction
Robbie Dale as pictured in the Sunshine Review 1985.

This recording is from the Skywave Tapes Collection. Skywave Radio International was a shortwave station broadcasting from Baldoyle in northeast Dublin.

Pirates ring RTÉ to complain about 1984 jamming

Pirates ring RTÉ to complain about 1984 jamming
An advert for Radio Annabel listing its own advertisers, Sunday World, 6th January 1985. Annabel would be gone within two months (Alan MacSimoin collection).

Spring 1984 was the height of the RTÉ jamming campaign against super-pirates such as Radio Nova and Sunshine Radio in Dublin and South Coast Radio in Cork. On 26th April 1984, Sunshine boss Robbie Dale (Robinson) attempted to ring RTÉ live on air during his mid-morning programme. RTÉ were jamming Sunshine on 531 kHz at the time from the Radio 2 site in Beaumont, claiming that they were testing on the frequency. Robbie Dale spoke to the RTÉ press office but failed to get through to Assistant Director-General Bobby Gahan.

Pirates ring RTÉ to complain about 1984 jammingA few days later on Dublin Community Radio, David Baker was more successful. During a special programme about the radio scene, he managed to speak to Bobby Gahan live on air and ask him about the jamming. According to Peter Mulryan’s book Radio Radio, the Minister for Communications Jim Mitchell requested RTÉ in April 1984 to stop jamming as control of the airwaves was a matter for government and not for the state broadcaster. Such was the audience for pirate radio, it appeared that the government feared the political implications if popular stations couldn’t be heard.

These recordings were broadcast by Gerard Roe on the FRC programme on Radio Annabel on 17th June 1984. Our recording was made from 1035 kHz AM. The photo is of Bobby Gahan in 2015 when he was Lord Mayor of Stepaside in Dublin and is by the Evening Herald.

Tony Christie on Radio Dublin

Tony Christie on Radio Dublin
Radio Dublin car sticker from the mid-1980s (courtesy of DX Archive).

Tony Christie was a familiar voice on many pirates in the 1980s including Liberty 104, Radio Dublin and KISS FM in Co. Offaly to where he moved in 1987. Here he is on Radio Dublin from 105 FM on Sunday 24th August 1986 from 1512-1600 with a show sponsored by the No Name Fashion Depot in Walkinstown. Along with regular live promos for No Name, the voices of Robbie Robinson and Tony Allan can be heard on ads. Tony Christie is now a broadcaster on Midlands 103.

This recording is from the Skywave Tapes Collection. Skywave Radio International was a shortwave station broadcasting from Baldoyle in northeast Dublin.

2020: 40 years since the launch of Sunshine Radio

2020: 40 years since the launch of Sunshine Radio
An early Sunshine compliments slip with original logo (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

2020 is the 40th anniversary of one of Ireland’s biggest pirate radio stations, Sunshine Radio, which broadcast from Portmarnock on the northside of Dublin from 1980-1988. The first broadcast took place on Saturday 13th September 1980 from the kitchen of Suite 101 in the Sands Hotel overlooking the Irish Sea. The frequency was 531 kHz, announced as 539 metres to rhyme with Sunshine as the correct conversion is in fact 565 metres. Backing the new venture were former Radio Caroline DJs Robbie Robinson (Dale) and Chris Cary who had spotted the opportunities for successful commercial radio in Ireland due to the loophole in the broadcasting laws.

Sunshine’s 100-foot high aerial which had cost £5,000 was sabotaged on the following Monday 15th September, setting back the plans for the station’s launch. The station began broadcasting officially at 7am on Monday 29th September 1980 and among those on air on the first day were Robbie Robinson, Chris Cary and Tony Allan. They would soon be joined by other DJs such as Tony Fenton, Peter Madison, Declan Meehan and Manon Christie who was Robinson’s daughter.  

2020: 40 years since the launch of Sunshine Radio
Sunshine staff in 1980. Clockwise from top left: Declan Meehan, Tony Allan, Timo Jackson, Manon Christie, Robbie Dale, Siobhán Walls, Peter Madison, Chris Cary (photo courtesy of Ian Biggar).

There was talk of a 10 kW transmitter but with the help of an excellent antenna and coastal location, the output of 1 kW travelled well on 531 kHz and reception reports were received from around Leinster, northwest England, Wales and parts of Scotland. Chris Cary left Sunshine in January 1981 and went on to set up Radio Nova. By investing in professional equipment, running high-powered transmitters, pushing FM stereo, employing professional staff and operating a business model, between them the two stations broke the mould of Irish pirate radio. As the Sunshine Radio Review marking the station’s 5th birthday in 1985 claimed: ‘The station’s professionalism soon endeared it to listeners all over Leinster. This was the first “pirate” that didn’t sound deserving of the label’.  

We are delighted to bring you some rare early recordings of Sunshine in the station’s first few weeks, courtesy of Ian Biggar. These were made originally by Ken Baird in Ayrshire in Scotland using a Grundig Satellit 3400 with long wire. Depending on the time of day, there was co-channel interference from a powerful Swiss German station also on 531 kHz but the signal is quite listenable considering the distance involved. Despite the less than optimal quality, these are important historical recordings given the significance of Sunshine in Irish radio history.  

Over the next few days we will bring you a flavour of the weekend of 18th and 19th October 1980 on Sunshine, as recorded in Ayrshire. The first recording is of Jason Maine from 0930-1016 on Saturday 18th October.    

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