Pirate.ie in three minutes – transnational radio

Pirate.ie in three minutes - transnational radio
Boyneside Radio North AM mast just on the border (courtesy of Eddie Caffrey).

This three-minute clip includes highlights related to the transnational nature of Irish pirate radio in the late 1970s and 1980s. By accident or design, stations were heard beyond the borders of the Irish state on FM and especially on AM and there were also part-time shortwave operators aimed at international DXers.

Pirate.ie in three minutes - transnational radio
Constitution Hill in Aberystwyth where Leon Tipler recorded Irish radio (photo by John Walsh).

The first segment is of Arklow Community Radio as heard by the late British radio enthusiast Leon Tipler on FM in Aberystwyth on the Welsh coast on 13th August 1983. This is followed by a night-time recording of Radio Nova playing a request for Leon at his home in Kidderminster in the English midlands on 17th September 1982.

Pirate.ie in three minutes - transnational radio
Radio Nova sticker from the 50 kW days (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

The third segment is the iconic top-of-the-hour ident of Radio Nova recorded on 17th July 1984. This is voiced by station boss Chris Cary who stresses that Nova broadcasts from and not to Dublin on 738 kHz. The AM transmitter was using 50 kW at the time in order to reach the British market.

Pirate.ie in three minutes - transnational radio
KISS FM sticker (courtesy of Ian Biggar).

The fourth segment is of KISS FM, a high-powered FM and AM station based in Monaghan on the border and aiming its signal at the lucrative Belfast market. This was recorded in Scotland on 13th June 1988. The firth extract is an advert on the Louth station Boyneside Radio promoting a céilí in an Irish centre in Lankashire. Although recorded in Ireland, it is evidence that Boyneside had listeners across the Irish Sea. The final extract is from August 1985 and features one of the many Irish shortwave stations that aimed at international audiences. Radio Rainbow International broadcast on 6240 kHz but this is a studio recording.

Pirate.ie in three minutes - transnational radio
Radio Rainbow letter from 1986 (courtesy Ian Biggar).

These recordings are from our various collections and are discussed in more detail in our podcast focusing on the transnational nature of Irish pirate radio.

Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh (RIP) on Bray Local Broadcasting

Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh (RIP) on Bray Local Broadcasting
Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh (top left) at the launch of Raidió na Life in 1993 (courtesy Saol/Raidió na Life).

We were saddened to learn of the death on 17th November 2021 of Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh, a pioneering broadcaster with Bray Local Broadcasting (BLB) in the 1980s. After developing Irish language programmes on BLB, Rónán went on to be the manager of the licensed Irish language station Raidió na Life in 1993.

BLB was one of the leaders in local community broadcasting during the pirate era and played a key role in the National Association of Community Broadcasters (NACB) which lobbied for licensed community radio. It began broadcasting in 1979 and continued until the closedowns at the end of 1988, making it one of the country’s longest-running pirate stations. As a community station, BLB prided itself on catering for minority groups and audiences served poorly by mainstream radio, including Irish speakers in its catchment area of north Wicklow and south Dublin. Irish was marginal on pirate radio, particularly among commercial stations, but community radio across the country regularly broadcast programmes in Irish. There were also Irish language pirate stations such as Saor-Raidió Chonamara in the Connemara Gaeltacht in 1970 (which led to the establishment of Raidió na Gaeltachta) and Raidió an Phobail in Dublin in 1979.

Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh (RIP) on Bray Local Broadcasting
BLB car sticker (courtesy of DX Archive).

Mar stáisiún pobail, chuir BLB roimhe freastal ar ghrúpaí mionlaigh agus daoine nach raibh freastal mar is ceart á dhéanamh orthu ag na stáisiúin mhóra raidió, ina measc cainteoirí Gaeilge i dtuaisceart Chill Mhantáin agus deisceart Bhaile Átha Cliath. Bhí an Ghaeilge imeallach ar an raidió bradach, go háirithe ar na stáisiúin tráchtála, ach craoladh cláracha Gaeilge ar stáisiúin raidió pobail ar fud na tíre. Bhí stáisiúin bhradacha Ghaeilge ann chomh maith, ina measc Saor-Radio Chonamara i nGaeltacht Chonamara in 1970 (a thug ann do Raidió na Gaeltachta) agus Raidió an Phobail i mBaile Átha Cliath in 1979.

This is an extract from the final half hour (2030-2100) of one of BLB’s Irish language programmes Timchuairt Bhré (a trip around Bray), presented by Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh on 9th November 1983. Rónán went on to present Irish language programmes on the successor licensed station to BLB, Horizon Radio (John Walsh of Pirate.ie also worked on those programmes) and he became the first manager of the licensed Raidió na Life in 1993. The recording features Irish traditional and folk music and is followed by the station closedown at 2100.

Seo í an leathuair an chloig deireanach (2030-2100) de cheann de chláracha Gaeilge BLB, Timchuairt Bhré, á chur i láthair ag Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh ar 9 Samhain 1983. Lean Rónán air ag cur cláracha Gaeilge i láthair ar Horizon Radio, an stáisiún ceadúnaithe a tháinig i gcomharbacht ar BLB. D’oibrigh John Walsh ó Pirate.ie ar na cláracha sin chomh maith. Ceapadh Rónán ina chéad bhainisteoir ar an stáisiún ceadúnaithe Raidió na Life in 1993. Ar an taifeadadh seo, cloistear ceol Gaelach agus traidisiúnta agus ina dhiaidh sin dúntar an stáisiún ar 2100.

Rónán Ó Dubhthaigh (RIP) on Bray Local Broadcasting
9 Prince of Wales Terrace, Quinsboro Road, Bray from where BLB broadcast in its later years. Horizon Radio was also based here (photo by John Walsh).

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

Alternative listening with the Sunshine Cake

Alternative listening with the Sunshine Cake
A feature on the Sunshine Cake in the Sunshine Review of 1985 (courtesy of DX Archive).

The Sunshine Cake was a specialist programme broadcast by Sunshine Radio on Sunday mornings from 1985 on its FM frequency only, as an alternative to the station’s regular output on AM. It was a good example of the creativity of some of the pirates in using the existing technology to serve a broader audience, and also a reminder that niche programming was not only done by RTÉ.

In a feature in the Sunshine Review of 1985, presenter Justin McKenna wrote: ‘The idea for the Sunshine Cake was hatched when it became obvious that there was not one single programme on Irish radio which catered for the over 30 listener who enjoyed a wide range of music’. The Sunshine Cake included classical, jazz, blues and comedy slots and gained a regular audience around Dublin. In an interesting commentary on the continued dominance of AM radio in 1985, McCarthy wrote: ‘It’s been gratifying to note that a lot of the younger audience, who I would have expected to move down to the medium wave band, have stayed with FM and listened to the Cake’.

Alternative listening with the Sunshine Cake
The White Sands Hotel today, known as the Sands Hotel in Sunshine’s time (photo by John Walsh).

This recording was made from 101 FM from 1025-1122 on Sunday 31st March 1985. It includes the comedy slot and a diverse musical mix, a cinema review with Paul Vincent and a voice competition.

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

Final morning of Radio Leinster

Final morning of Radio Leinster
Radio Leinster logo courtesy of DX Archive.

Radio Leinster was one of Dublin’s niche pirates, featuring an easy listening and chat format in contrast with the chart music played on many stations. It began on 29th April 1981 from an elevated site in Sandyford overlooking the city. A professional 1 kW transmitter on 738 kHz travelled well by day but was subject to interference at night.

This recording is of interest because it is from the last day of Radio Leinster, 19th May 1983. Like many other stations, Radio Leinster was spooked by the raids on Radio Nova and Sunshine and closed down suddenly at lunchtime. This recording which begins at 10.20am gives no impression of a crisis, and presenter Mike Moran even announces a competition. The recording is from 93 FM. Sadly, Radio Leinster was never to return but future stations in the same easy listening vein would be Magic 103, KISS FM (for a period) and KLAS.

Radio Leinster presenters included many experienced broadcasters and launched the careers of others. One of the station’s presenters was Gavin Duffy who led the consortium to be awarded the local radio licence for counties Meath and Louth in 1989. Peter Mulryan’s book Radio Radio (1988) reports that in 1982 Duffy announced that he would interview senior Sinn Féin figures including Gerry Adams, in breach of Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act. The station received a warning from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs and Duffy was fired.

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

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.