Radiowaves Special Feature: The Radio 4U Story


Chapter Three

And so, the next morning, I was in Ireland. I really enjoyed the beautiful countryside but, even more so, the peculiar natives I came across.

Do I need to say more?

After a great week of travelling, I was already envisaging the London working day again when, on my way back from Derry to the airport, a lad told me about the freedom which radio was experiencing in the south. According to him, Donegal was only being covered by weekend amateurs.

I felt like I was in a bakery, standing on a bun with the currants going up my leg, causing my brain to spark….

Radio 4U was born…

I had a plane to catch so further research had to be conducted from London.

Back at the BBC I went through the news archives libraries, and I sent an enquiring letter to the Department of Communications in Dublin.

A lad told me about the freedom which radio was experiencing in the south. According to him, Donegal was only being covered by weekend amateurs

The reply to this was obviously very discouraging and mentioned new proposals that contained the threat of heavy fines, and even imprisonment.

Nevertheless I already knew that the truth was somewhere off this statement, but, even in my most daring dreams, I did not expect the total freedom I was going to experience a year later.

Eventually, an article written by Chris Cary finally made up my mind.

The last thing I wanted to do, was to get in to trouble with the Dublin authorities. Even if I were to broadcast from their territory, the signal should not be receivable there. Consequently, if another government were to object to my transmissions, I would get a fair bit of warning before anybody would touch me. Also, this way I would have some protection in case the proposals should become law.

If I were to aim for the British mainland I would come across too many obstacles, so what about the North?
Fair enough, but where was my market?
And what about the competition?
You don’t need a lot of imagination, just a bit of research, to stumble across Derry.

A city with 100,000 potential listeners and no serious commercial FM operators in sight, ideally sited at the border with magnificent geography. The eastern side of the city was situated towards a potential transmitter like the audience in a theatre would be facing the stage; easily accessible and no apparent obstacles in the way.

After drawing up a plan it is necessary to dig a hole and lay the foundations…..

A radio station is only as good as its transmitter. So where should I get one?
One phone call to Willy and I had probably the best engineer working for me.

There was only a minor catch: we were, so far, operating in the below one watt range, good enough for small neighbourhood radio…but a whole city?!!

To double your range you have to increase your power 16 times, accordingly 16 watts for a large neighbourhood and 256 watts for a whole town.

It did not occur to me at the time that being 255 watts short was like asking Willy for a miracle, especially as 25 watt transmitter diagrams are about the hottest item on the German black market. But Willy told me to leave this problem in his trustworthy hands.

Even more careless was my attitude towards a sufficient music supply, namely records, and had it not been for Angela I might have got myself in a big mess.

My worries were more related to everything under the headline ‘Business Plan’ whilst my friends and relatives were concerned about the political and legal situation in Northern Ireland.

All the advice I got was full of caution even though not everybody went quite as far as my Granny, consulting a fortune teller who predicted doomsday.

If you ask Willy for a wonder it will take him only days to fulfil the task, but for a miracle, he might need a bit more time.

It was already October 1986 when I set out for structural preparations such as raising the necessary finance and to give Willy the final go-ahead. By then I was promoted to Angela’s assistant after she realised that not only was I a good engineer but that I also knew about music. I now had a fairly permanent full-time position at the BBC and was not in too much of a rush to get to Ireland, which also gave Willy a bit more breathing space. Some people started doubting that I would go at all; and some were probably hoping that I wouldn’t!

At the BBC I had the honour of assisting Angela with the difficult task of introducing the first computerised music selection system in Europe. After years of persuasion, and despite all the usual BBC objections, Angela was setting up the American Selector System for two local radio stations, on a trial basis.

Selector is a computer programme which compiles a whole day’s music running order for a station within only three minutes…a BBC network producer takes about two hours to compile the music for a three hour show. Opponents of this system claim that a machine cannot produce a radio programme; but that is not a fact.

You can only get out of a computer what you put in. What this system does is to relieve you of unnecessary time spent in record libraries. You are in control of what music it will schedule, and in which order according to what policy, as you are dictating your station policy to your computer. Therefore you will play your station sound strictly to your rule, rather than to the rule of your disc jockey who usually doesn’t give a toss about station policy – but more about this later.

Unfortunately I could not afford Selector for Radio 4U.

Anyway, I left the Beeb despite a lot of other lucrative offers, loaded up my famous van with all the gear: aerials; transmitter; a whole studio set-up; maintenance equipment; tonnes of tape material; and most of all, for what was to become the biggest Irish radio library outside of RTÉ, loads of tapes and records. (You’d be surprised what you can stuff in a Volkswagen!)