XFM started life as Alice’s Restaurant in October 1991, with a launch on November 12th 1991. At the time it was broadcasting on 106.4MHz, later on 107.1MHz.
In the beginning the operators drove up the mountains, stuck a transmitter in the ground and just started broadcasting. They did this for quite a while before moving to an attic in Walkinstown.
Community licence awards forced XFM to move to 107.9MHz in February 1999, a frequency which unfortunately suffered from cable test-tone bleed for quite a while, resulting in the station only being able to broadcast from 6pm on weekdays – but they later became available for most of the day, not to mention 24 hours a day on their webcast which also included video – enabling you to watch as you listen!
After the infamous Black Tuesday raids in May 2003, which cleared Dublin of most of its unlicensed stations, XFM broadcast very rarely – usually at weekends. FM broadcasts ceased in March 2005 but they still broadcast online.
XFM are a quite unique station to listen to. There is no playlist and they have a presentation style and musical output you just never hear anywhere else. Listening to XFM is almost like having the presenter(s) in the room chatting with you.
When on FM they tended to make less noise than other stations…so much so, you hardly knew they were there. Somehow, that gave the station a mystical quality and as a listener you did feel part of an exclusive club.
This was the playlist on opening day November 12th 1991:
Nirvana ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’
Sheep on Drugs ‘Motorbike’
Blur (unknown and unsigned at the time) ‘Oily Water’
Fortran 5 ‘XX21’
Throwing Muses ‘Red Shoes’
The Breeders ‘Safari’ (pre release)
The Orb ‘Reefer’
Kitchens Of Distinction ‘Innocence’
Thrill Kill Kult ‘Leather Sex’
Nine Inch Nails ‘Head Like A Hole’ (Clay Remix)
EMF ‘I Believe’ (Foetus Mix)
Lush ‘Tiny Smiles’
Curve ‘Already Yours’
This Mortal Coil ‘The Jeweller’
Dead can Dance ‘Host of Seraphim’
- 107.9MHz: – April 2000 (Recording)
- 107.9MHz: – September 2002 (fmlist.org)
The following is taken from Sorted magazine – date unknown but is mid 90s
XFM 107.1 – An Expensive Hobby
XFM DJ Hugh O’Brien tells Kenneth Foxe his story, painting a romantic picture of the world of pirate radio.
It was about five years ago – two lads Hugh and Brent, friends from work – decided to start a radio station. It was a spur of the moment decision.
Brent knew a fair bit about radio, he had been involved with the pirate radio scene in the mid 80’s, and so decided that it was about time he moved back into broadcasting.
The name of that station was Alice’s Restaurant, reincarnated now as XFM. In the beginning though there was no name, just two ordinary Dublin blokes with an idea. They were going to start Dublin’s very first alternative radio station.
And so, they set off up the Dublin Mountains, driving their car, with a big aerial stuck out the window, a cd player and a small transmitter which fitted under the back seat. When they made it up the hills that first day, they just stuck the transmitter in the ground and started to play some music.
The rest as they say is history. Hugh and Brent continued in this fashion unsure of whether anyone was listening or not, but going on nonetheless. It was after all just intended as a hobby, an expensive hobby admittedly, and did it matter whether anyone was listening or not? Not to them it didn’t.
They moved from their temporary location in the Dublin mountains to the attic of Brent’s house. They set up a mini-studio, the attic was small, and so the dj’s would have to crawl in, and sit cross-legged on the carpet-floor, in the bitter cold, with jackets and coats tightly wrapped around themselves. Still, it was better than the mountains.
After a while, things really started to develop. An extension was built onto the side of the house by the parents there, and so the studio moved downstairs. They got new equipment, new record and cd players. They got a new transmitter cheap from England, and a microphone and new djs, the new microphone found pride of place hanging from the studio roof, it was old-style – big and bulky – a present from one of the dj’s girlfriends.
At this point they decided they needed a name, and Alice’s Restaurant was chosen as the new title. This name has only recently changed to XFM.
At the moment, XFM broadcasts three nights per week, on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. They have around twelve different shows and twelve different presenters. Initially there were only four: Brent, Hugh, Dave, and Phil.
After a while along came Yvonne, an ex-DCU student, followed by Caroline, an American, and their number has rollercoasted ever since.
The station broadcasts now on 107.1 FM. This wasn’t always the way. They started off at 106.4 FM, and had gradually moved as high 107.9 before they moved back down to its present location.
Their frequency presents problems in letting people know they exist. Their ability to advertise is handicapped by the fact that they are a pirate station, and their frequency makes them difficult to find. The chances of people tuning in by accident is slim because of the positions of the Big Three (2FM, 98FM, and FM104). To an extent the situation has changed with the rising popularity of the pirate dance stations scattered quite liberally along the airwaves.
The cost of running the station is now minimal, the djs all work for free. They get only what Hugh describes as “a pain in the tits.” The three main people buy all the equipment: Brent buys the technical stuff, Dave the playing equipment, and Hugh buys the records. The collection is substantial at this stage. The electricity is paid for by the owners of the house, and the transmitter in the Dublin mountains runs off the electricity of a friend.
There are no ads or news on XFM, just pure music in the style of exactly what the dj wants. The station has never been raided even though there have been scares: photographs were taken of some men snooping around the transmitter in the mountains who were later identified as being from the Dept. of Communications. They’ve taken precautions, the location of the studio is not widely known, it also has a panic button just in case of a raid.
The station’s music is aimed at a younger generation and anyone else who wants to listen. Their audience seems to be gradually increasing, people are always saying they’ve just found the station and how they’re going to tell their friends about it.
On the subject of the future, Hugh remains philosophical, he is a firm believer that all music deserves to be heard, he feels a kind of loyalty to the music.
For the moment anyhow, Hugh and his counterparts will continue to travel out to this hidden location every week for their shows. Hugh, for one, has to.
Hugh loves music, but his entire record collection is out in the studio. He describes it like being divorced with visiting rights. The only time he gets near them is on Friday night for his show.
by Ken Foxe