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

Documentary: The Irish Pirates (Volume 1)

Documentary: The Irish Pirates (Volume 1)
Some of the hundreds of cassettes in the Leon Tipler collection (photo by Brian Greene).

In May 2020, we were delighted to receive a large donation of cassettes belonging to the late Leon Tipler (1942-2013), a British pirate radio enthusiast and broadcaster who recorded thousands of hours of Irish pirate stations in the late 1970s and early 1980s. You can read a tribute here. We thank Steve England for sending us this important collection, which provides a unique insight into a critical period in Irish pirate radio, the years just before and after the arrival of the ‘super-pirates’ in the form of Radio Nova and Sunshine Radio.

Documentary: The Irish Pirates (Volume 1)
Leon Tipler (photo courtesy of

We’ll be featuring this collection over the coming months, but we begin with Tipler’s well-known series of documentaries covering the period 1979-1982, ‘The Irish Pirates’ by Alfasound Tapetrix Productions. These eight hour-long recordings are reference copies from the documentary maker himself and are in high quality audio.

Volume 1 documents Tipler’s first visits to Dublin in 1979 and 1980 and includes recordings of and interviews with stations on the air in the capital at the time.

These include ARD, Big D, Radio Dublin, Radio City, Radio 257, Southside Radio and Capitol Radio. Tony Allan can be heard reading news and presenting a talk programme on ARD. There’s an interview with Robbie Robinson of the new Sunshine Radio about the loophole in the 1926 Wireless Telegraphy Act although Sunshine itself is not discussed until a later episode. Tipler also covers the launch of RTÉ Radio 2 in 1979 which, although forced by the pirates, did nothing to quell the success of the illegal broadcasters. As Tipler says, the best was yet to come.

Index of Volume 1

00:00 signature tune
00:42 intro
00:55 Nova name check for Leon
02:32 Discover Ireland Radio Advert
03:01 The flight
03:35 Aer Lingus
05:03 RTE Radio 1 Weather
06:26 Aircheck 1 Capitol
07:34 ARD Radio
07:46 Big D Simon Young
08:58 Radio Dublin politics
11:02 Phone in Quiz
12:29 ARD Radio News
13:33 ARD Radio News
14:19 Big D News
15:17 RTE Radio 2 launches
17:32 Irish Radio History
19:10 Larry Gogan
19:40 The expansion of RTE
20:50 Visit 1 leads to visit 2
21:34 Tony Allan
22:16 Tony Allan ARD News
23:15 Dublin is where the action is
26:31 Not all pop music
27:06 ARD visit
29:16 ARD aircheck / jingles / promos
32:25 Radio Dublin – Aidan J
37:59 Land Pirates and the law
38:39 Robbie Robinson explains the loophole
40:40 Radio Dublin 1966
45:07 Visit #3 1980 bandscan
58:32 Hotels and Pirates

Full recording: Coast 103 (Galway)

Full recording: Coast 103 (Galway)
Coast 103 compliments slip courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive.

Coast 103 was on air for 18 months in 1987 and 1988 and was the last of the large commercial Galway stations of the era. It emerged from WLS Music Radio and began testing on the 10th of July 1987 as Coast 100. The station was set up by Steve Marshall and Keith York (RIP) who had been involved in both WLS and an earlier station, Atlantic Sound. Coast was located at 24 Prospect Hill, the same address as WLS. It soon moved to 103 FM and added a 1 kW transmitter on 1566 kHz AM. According to the Anoraks UK Weekly Report, the backers were Keith York himself, another pirate station WKLR in Bandon and a number of Galway businessmen.

In April 1988 the Limerick station Hits 954 closed and merged with Coast 103, calling itself Coast Hot Hits and covering Galway, Clare and Limerick. The original Hits 954 AM transmitter was used to relay the Galway signal although there were problems with the antenna and power was never too high. There is poor audio quality on this promo for the new station, voiced by Stuart Clark, recorded from AM in Limerick.  

Promo for the merged Coast Hot Hits, courtesy of Liam Byrne.

A chain of FM transmitters was installed between Galway and Limerick allowing FM reception to the south almost as far as Cork city and well into counties Kerry, Tipperary. The Galway FM transmitter, with an estimated maximum power of 3 kW ERP was brought to a higher location to allow improved reception to the north into Counties Mayo and Roscommon. The AM signal could be heard in Scotland but FM was the priority in the station’s last year. Coast Hot Hits was one of a number of stations to carry the satellite service Radio Nova International on overnights in 1988. It also made a number of successful outside broadcasts from Limerick and Galway. In the competitive Galway pirate scene of 1988, there was intense rivalry with the other big station County Sound. Coast presenters included Tony Allan, Steve Marshall, Stuart Clark, Brian Walsh, Ger Sweeney and Shane Martin. The station closed at the end of 1988 in line with the new broadcasting legislation. You can listen here to an interview with Ger Sweeney in which he remembers his time at Coast.

This recording, courtesy of Ian Biggar of DX Archive, is from the 1st of November 1988 from 1113-1200 and features Steve Marshall on air with the great Tony Allan’s voice on many ads and promos.

Full recording: WLS Music Radio (Galway)

Full recording: WLS Music Radio (Galway)
Tony Allan (right) on the day of the Radio Nova closedown in Dublin in 1983 (photo courtesy of Joe King).

This is the third and final recording of WLS Music Radio in our feature on the Galway pirates of the 1980s. Made on the 9th of October 1986 from 1132-1232, it features one of the best-known pirate radio voices of the era, Tony Allan. Tony worked on many British offshore pirates including Radio Caroline in the 1960s and the Voice of Peace anchored off the Israeli coast in the 1970s. He came to Ireland in 1979 and his voice was heard on pirate station idents throughout the country throughout the 1980s including WLS and Coast 103 in Galway. He also presented on various stations including Radio Nova, voicing the famous closedown promo of 1983. Shortly after the vast majority of the pirates left the airwaves at the end of 1988 due to new broadcasting legislation, Tony and Steve Marshall of Coast 103 set up Quincentennial Radio in Galway. Tony passed away in 2004 at the age of 54 following a cancer diagnosis. There is a tribute to him here.

Full recording: WLS Music Radio (Galway)
A current view of 24 Prospect Hill, to where WLS moved in December 1986 (photo by John Walsh).

In December 1986, WLS moved to spacious new offices on Prospect Hill off Eyre Square in Galway. Anoraks UK commented that the facilities were at the standard of any British ILR station of the time. Many thanks to Ian Biggar of DX Archive for sharing this recording.

Full recording: Atlantic Sound (Galway)

Full recording: Atlantic Sound (Galway)
Atlantic Sound compliments slip, courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive.

We’re delighted to bring you the first instalment in a week-long series of recordings of pirate radio in Galway in the 1980s.

Atlantic Sound broadcast for a little over a year from April 1984 to June 1985 to Galway city on 1026 kHz AM and 95.4 FM. In August 1984, following the closure of South Coast Radio in Cork, former offshore DJs Keith York (RIP) and Don Stevens moved to Galway and got involved with Atlantic Sound, which was based at Forster Street in the city centre. They were later joined by another former South Coast colleague, Steve Marshall, who moved from WKLR in west Cork. Atlantic Sound is featured in the October 1984 tour of Ireland by DX Archive who were full of praise for the Galway station. They reported that a move from 1026 to 846 kHz was imminent but this didn’t happen until the Cork trio left Atlantic Sound in March 1985. According to the Anoraks UK Weekly Report, Marshall, York and Stevens ‘moved across the road’ in Forster Street and set up WLS Music Radio on 846 kHz and 104 FM. The technical set up was superior and it wasn’t long before WLS overtook Atlantic. Having lost many of its key staff, Altantic Sound closed down in June 1985.

Full recording: Atlantic Sound (Galway)
L-R: Don Stevens, Keith York and a competition winner (date unknown, courtesy of Ian Biggar/DX Archive).

This recording is from 1447-1608 on the 28th of May 1985, towards the end of Atlantic’s existence, and features Shane Martin and Gerry Browne on air. There are plenty of Tony Allan idents and an on-air auction for tickets to the forthcoming Bruce Springsteen concert at Slane on the 1st of June. Our thanks to Ian Biggar of DX Archive for this recording.