Centre Radio closed down at exactly midnight on 31st December 1988 in compliance with new legislation which was supposed to silence pirate radio and herald the legalisation of the sector. From what we can establish, Centre was one of just five stations in Dublin still broadcasting that evening, the others being Capitol Radio, Phoenix Radio (Blanchardstown), Dreamtime Radio (a hobby station in Glasnevin) and of course Radio Dublin which defied the new law.
This is the final 42 minutes of Centre Radio from 2322 to 0000 presented by Brian Greene. The final song was ‘I want to be free’ by Toyah Wilcox, which was the station’s anthem. Listen right to the end when after the final station ident, the transmitter is switched off and 94.2 FM falls silent.
It was a seriously downbeat New Year’s party at the Mid-Sutton Community Centre in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1989 as the new radio era dawned with only Radio Dublin to disrupt the government’s plans.
Centre Radio in 1988 was the end of a run of four years of my youth where I spent every free hour involved in radio. Not just the DJing but the building, planning and keeping stations on air in oases of time blocks where I could put stations on for holidays or breaks or even weekends. Then came Centre Radio 88 and it was a project without end: full-time, on air daily and gaining real community kudos as we put down roots in Bayside.
As an example of the community roots we developed, the following is a true story. We were a 40-watt station. The transmitter on FM was unusual for the era in that it was a valve transmitter. The voltages in a valve transmitter are high tension using transformers. Transformers degrade over time and melt down, or at least the one we had was dying while frying. We badly needed a new transformer and we took to the airwaves with a promo in our programming asking the community to donate a 600-volt transformer to the station. We had the news item added to the Bayside Parish Newsletter (the notice must have looked odd among the usual Novena of Grace and Pioneer Total Abstinence Association dates for meetings notices). Our prayers were answered as a parishioner who read our cry for help, delivered three transformers to our studio and we were grateful for the community spirit in action. It was a good deed from a good Samaritan (I don’t think I can milk any more puns from this story!)
So it was a project without end until Ray Burke TD of Fianna Fáil announced that all pirates had to shut down by December 31st 1988. We unlike most stations took this to mean on the 31st not the 30th (before the 31st). The period from 1978-1988 for pirate radio or free radio, as we called it back then, saw massive development in the sector (see our paper on the topic here). But following Burke’s introduction of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1988, free radio changed forever and its growth was badly disrupted.
Community radio was neglected in the shake out of new commercial radio. The new stations were tame imitations of the former pirates. It would be seven years before community radio had a chance to start. The Centre Radio crew didn’t give up and applied for a licence as Bay Radio Group. Near FM won that licence overlapping our area in a small way. Centre became Radio Caroline Dublin from 1989-2001 (one of the longest running continuous pirates on air in Ireland). The core gang didn’t break up, didn’t leave radio and many are still involved to this day. We just never got to have Bayside Community Radio and it wouldn’t work now. But something different would work.
Centre was a youth radio service but with enough adults and young adults around and some serious radio heads there was never a bedroom radio vibe to the station. The dedication of the crew at the time was massive. We went out with a bang. And stayed on air to the end. The tapes (archived here) remind me of a time when radio was the social media and through study and archive creation both John and I now know that ‘radio was the first social media’ is not a glib throwaway comment but in fact the truth. TV was and still is not as accessible as radio and radio for me was the medium of choice that has the power – and is yet to have its finest hour. We shall overcome. Only The Strong Survive. Catch Us If You Can. Long live free radio.
It was an emotional time then and the recording still stirs plenty of feelings as I listen back decades later. On New Year’s Eve 1988 I had gone full circle: two-and-a-half years previously I had first cut my broadcasting teeth on the predecessor to Centre Radio, Big Beat Radio, set up by Brian and others in June 1986. I was also involved with Centre from its earliest days and went on to work at KLAS, an easy listening station playing music for my grandparents but luckily located in the same housing estate as I grew up. It was to Centre that I returned at the end of the pirate era, as we worked day and night to keep the station on air throughout Christmas 1988 and right up to the final evening. That marked my final pirate broadcast but the free radio spirit never left me and it is a pleasure to keep it alive through this archive.
We were just kids having fun and nobody lost their job or fell on hard times as a result, but looking back now, there’s no doubt that radio got me through my teenage years, helped me work out who I was and kept me out of trouble – how ironic, given that what we were doing was illegal! What replaced the pirates was but a pale imitation of the golden era of 1978-1988 and the government was particularly neglectful of the community sector of which Centre Radio formed a part. But Centre and other stations gave me a great start in radio and on the back of my experience, radio and television journalism became my trade and I earned my crust from it throughout the 1990s. I’m delighted to be still involved through my local community station Flirt FM in Galway, but will never forgot the excitement of those heady teenage pirate years in 1980s Dublin.