Radiowaves Special Feature: The Radio 4U Story


Chapter Ten

Now, don’t forget, a radio station is not like a corner shop which you can close when you feel like it. Radio is an ongoing business, 17 hours a day, 365 days a year. Whatever you do, you have to organise all your time according to the requirements of the station.
As a station owner/manager you are ‘on call’ 24 hours a day, and that applies to your scheduled work-time as well as the time which you intend to keep spare for private leisure activities

Whenever we went to the pub, somebody had to stay behind. Declan T. did once. A friend of JP and Paul’s, Declan T. was the latest recruit at the time. We came back late from the pub and he needed a lift home. So Paul took over while Marie and I drove Declan home. To our surprise Paul sounded absolutely great and very sober on the car radio. Nobody would ever have guessed that he was plastered. Only when we returned Paul confessed that he fell off the chair twice. Even afterwards, the show had to go on: well after midnight by now, it was time for some routine transmitter maintenance.

Paul and the other lads showed that they had other useful skills, apart from radio. The lads decorated the front hall in the cottage, which connected the entrance with the studio. More than a whole weekend was spent wallpapering, painting, hammering and carpet laying etc. Marie, too, went out of her way to get some second-hand furniture, carpet and wallpaper etc.

Now we even had a proper party hall and some evenings the party noise and mood came across over the air too. Some people in the street even asked me: “Did you lot have a good time last night”. Fun was the theme on the airwaves but, of course, not the drunk and disorderly variety. Some other stations followed our example and Donegal weekend evening programmes became quite relaxed and often featured a noisy background flair.

During the second week in August Willy arrived. With him came his friend Heiko, stacks of aluminium (for aerials), power tools, sprays and glues for electrical installations and the contents of a long order list which I’d posted to him. This list contained carpets and seat covers, a hoover, and many more bits and pieces. (As I said before, even little VWs are big!!).

The plan was to increase the magic Radio 4U FM power. We intended to install the 35 watts transmitter on a geographically better site and to quadruple its efficiency by stacking four of the nine element antennas on one mast. As described before, those aerials give a 40 degrees beam and increased the radiated power output in this direction 12 times. If you stack four of these antennas on top of each other (leave a gap of a half wavelength {1.5m} ) you improve the radiation performance even more. Coming back to the example with the light bulb, it is like the difference between a flat mirror and a dish shaped mirror behind the source. Anyway, the radiated power (ERP) was 35 Watts X 12 times gain X 4 sets of aerials = 1680 Watts (ERP).

One must bear in mind that the more complicated an aerial construction is, the more losses you will have in junction terminals, RF transformer loops and coax cable links. So when I spoke of 420 watts ERP you could assume that the actual output (ERP) was really only 380 watts. Accordingly, 1680 watts were only about 1300 watts (ERP) . But this makes hardly any difference if you bear in mind that you will have to increase your power 16 times to double your range.

Much more important for FM broadcasting is the location of the transmitter. Heiko, Willy, and I spent almost two weeks doing test transmissions from various locations around Muff and Inishowen. We used the 10 watts transmitter with a car battery which really reduced the TX output to something between two and four watts, depending on the charge of the battery. The signal was radiated by one nine element antenna provisionally mounted. Even with this (48 watts ERP max.) set up we equalled our strongest competitor, NWCR, from some locations

Within that time we clocked up over 1500 miles with our motors for reception reports, and even got some test equipment temporarily impounded by the RUC and British Customs. Eventually we settled for three possible locations. Going further up the hill, just behind the Burnfoot studio, did not prove to be too successful.

Up the hill, three miles further to the east, towards Muff was the best spot, and, even though we got permission from the landowner, this site showed three disadvantages: the studio frequency to be used as link signal from the station to the main transmitter site would not have reached the City any more (we would have had to redirect the studio antenna). Also, even though cables were laid, the reconnection of that place to the National Grid would have taken some time; and lastly, being unattended in the middle of nowhere, the security problem worried me too.

The most favourable location was a private residential property high up the mountain, 3/4 miles nearer to the studio. The loss in strength and cover area would have been marginal compared with the first site, but the redirection of the studio frequency would not have been necessary and power supply as well as security would have been perfect. But the family who lived there were unfortunately run by a right dragon and I still feel sorry for her really gentle husband. Firstly, she agreed to let us use the land and electricity at reasonable conditions. So we started setting up the whole thing. Almost finished two days later she insisted that we would have to pay a fairly unreasonable amount of rent. And when we returned to sign a contract next day she even doubled that amount. Heaven knows where this inflation would have ended, so I decided to move out. Eventually, I even had to threaten her with the police to return Radio 4U’s property. This was the only really nasty experience I had during all my time in Ireland.

Heiko’s annual leave was already over, so he left for home and Willy phoned his employer and told them a story in order to extend his stay by one week – well I can’t possibly say “his holiday”!

To cut a long story short, we ran out of time and settled for solution No 3: The main transmitter site was located at friends, at Lenamore Riding Stables. This location was secure, had power, was guarded, and was well situated – only 1/4 mile from the border. The advantage lay in possible long term use after a change in the legislation. The disadvantage was the low site, and therefore we were still restricted to the City only. The two mountain sites would have enlarged the service area but being closer to the City we got an even stronger signal across.

The evening before Willy left we finished, having installed his Blaupunkt car radio with a directed three element reception antenna at the relay as the receiver for the studio link. This way we did not even lose our original studio frequency, now slightly shifted to 97.3MHz. Unfortunately there was no in-car entertainment on Willy’s two day journey home.

But I suppose the bare satisfaction to see the Big Radio 4U on 100.8 FM opening was a little compensation.

Pictures: The mast at Lenamore Riding Stables