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.    

Bandscan: Irish radio as heard in Wales in 1983

Bandscan: Irish radio as heard in Wales in 1983
A winter shot from Aberystwyth promenade with Constitution Hill in the background (photo by John Walsh).

‘Hello Again’, Part 3 of Leon Tipler’s acclaimed documentary series The Irish Pirates was based on a return visit to Dublin in September 1983. The episode features an AM and FM bandscan from Aberystwyth on the west Wales coast, recorded by Tipler in August 1983. Having climbed Constitution Hill to the north of the town, Tipler gave himself the best chance of picking up radio signals from Ireland a mere 150km away.

This is the original, unedited bandscan as recorded by Tipler on both AM and FM from his perch overlooking the Irish Sea on a sunny Saturday afternoon, 13th August 1983. The pirates heard include Arklow Community Radio, Kilkenny Community Radio, Sunshine Radio and Radio Dublin. RTÉ Radio 1, Radio 2 and Raidió na Gaeltachta are all received loud and clear on FM. There are snippets of unidentified UK stations as well as occasional breakthrough from police communication, possibly due to harmonics.

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

Full recording: Q102 (Dublin)

Full recording: Q102 (Dublin)
Q102 logo from Alan MacSimoin collection.

This recording of Dublin super-pirate Q102 from May 1988 was made just before it was relaunched as ‘Super Q 102’. The new format was the work of American radio consultant Bill Cunningham, who had transformed Sunshine Radio into ‘Sunshine Hot Hits 101’ in 1986. Q102 had acquired the transmitters and equipment of Energy 103 the previous March and, along with Sunshine, was one of the two biggest players in the Dublin pirate radio market.

The recording is from 1218-1340 on the 17th of May 1988 and features Jason Maine, followed by the start of Greg Gaughran’s show. There are regular mysterious promos for the new ‘super sounds’ format to be launched within hours, and a competition to win tickets to the Michael Jackson concert in Cork at the end of July. The recording also contains advertisements for the Mosney holiday centre north of Dublin (now a direct provision centre for asylum seekers), an event to choose Miss Ireland 1988 at Rumour’s Nightclub, regular promos for the Evening Herald small ads and a Tony Allan voiceover for Bewley’s coffee.

We thank Ian Biggar for his donation of this 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.

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