Radiowaves Special Feature: The Radio 4U Story


Chapter Eight

If, until now, all my efforts might not have been good enough to establish the station, the Ciaron and Michael Afternoon Show put Radio 4U on the map. The telephone was soon red hot and it was a real joy to listen to this witty and humorous presentation by two 16 year olds.

Ciaron and Michael were almost wiping the floor with Steve Wright (our strong BBC Radio One competitor). The only reason they didn’t was a technical problem. The Radio 4U signal was all over the City but Northern Ireland was still medium wave territory. Many people still had MW only receivers and, those who could pick up FM, did not have a clue about the necessity of using the old telescopic on their wireless. Even my old pirate friends used a hair curler as a makeshift aerial.

I had the cleanest signal, even cleaner than the Beeb’s FM and was only beaten by RTÉ’s Radio 2 – if they played compact discs. Radio 4U was the very first private south border stereo operator and we were receivable all over the City. But Radio 4U was not strong enough and not AM enough to beat the biscuit out of the competition.

For a while I considered the idea of buying an AM-rig from England. This would have defeated the object of providing quality radio and might have been dearer than upgrading the FM as recommended by Willy.

So, after consultation, I settled for the head through the wall proposal and became even more determined to make people listen to FM.

I expected Willy to come over in August but for the next six weeks we had to make do with 400 watts from the current base.

Photo from an Anoraks Ireland Calendar

Let me wander away from the actual broadcasting side of Radio 4U for a moment, and introduce Piepenbrink, a special Radio 4U staff member. Do not even try to pronounce his name; I named him after an acquaintance of my parents’ because I thought that name was hilarious.

Two nights before opening the station I’d cleaned the cottage’s chimney at two o’clock in the morning. Obviously not quite the time to sweep funnels – anyway, down on to the studio floor dropped three birds of the feathered kind which I, in my ignorance of wildlife, assumed to be black birds. Of course these ‘black birds’ were, in actual fact, crows. (If you just had a flash back to Granny’s fortune teller, let me just add insult to injury: The locals believed, that the cottage was haunted.)

Two of the birds died shortly after, probably because of the cold at nights. Drastic situations require strong measures: I put Piepenbrink right in front of the heater at nights, and, with the aid of good old-fashioned porridge, he became a big strong crow. Every spare minute I had I spent teaching him to fly.
Yes, I actually taught a bird to fly! Not a lot of radio managers can write this in their CV.

Once he understood this trick, he used to wake me in the mornings at seven when the station switched on automatically. Until shortly before nine, when Radio 4U went live, he kept on dossing on my arm while I had another nap. All day he followed me around, usually sitting on my shoulder. When I took him outside and threw him in the air, he came back like a boomerang. You could either play this game for hours or you had to run inside fast and slam the door to get rid of him.
When I came back from shopping and drove up the yard there was always this tok tok tok on the van roof and I knew Piepenbrink was there even before I had time to switch off the engine.
As soon as I opened the door he was back on the shoulder. Obviously he was freely flying about in the field behind the house but if I called his name he always came, like a dog.
There were only two things wrong with him, I had to lock him out when I spread butter on my bread, otherwise he used to divebomb in the butter box. Piepenbrink just loved to eat butter. His second fault was that he was always well-behaved and kept very quiet, unless you switched the microphone on the air. Then he could talk! He probably mixed with too many DJs while he was young.

This little story explains why Radio 4U became known as ‘The Station with the Green Van and the Crow’.