In February there was a big event organised for all the advertising agencies and there was a big presentation and reception held at the Fanny Hills nightclub in Leeson Street. We all had to dress up for it and do our best to impress the people from the advertising agencies who had been invited. It was a great success and generated a lot of new advertising business for the station. That night the three songs in the competition were also played for the first time. There was also a video made about the station for that evening’s event.
Energy had about seven minutes per hour of advertising and some of the big clients included Galtee Foods, Triplex Car Windows and The Pine Room restaurant.
Another thing Energy 103 did was the Jobs’ Line (01 606703) where employers could call in to advertise job vacancies for free on the station.
One Saturday afternoon in March I was at home and had a phone call from Tony McKenzie, who as well as being a top DJ was also one of the station’s senior managers. One of the regular Saturday night DJs had suddenly quit and he needed someone urgently to fill in for that night from 8pm to midnight. Would I be able to do it? I was delighted and immediately accepted. So that night in March of 1987 I was back on the airwaves for a four hour show. And the following week they asked me to do it again and it then became a regular thing.
At first it was just Saturday night but then it became Sunday and Friday night too. It was great fun, and an excellent time to be playing songs with some great music around that spring and summer. In particular I remember the New Order’s ‘True Faith’, ABC’s ‘When Smokie Sings’ and ‘Running in the Family’ by Level 42. I really enjoyed it all and they started paying me for doing those evening shows which was great as it meant I had moved from just doing the work experience to being actually one of the part-time staff.
Around that time Bob Gallico also joined the station and he was one of the best and most professional news readers I’ve ever heard. Fionnuala Sweeney (Lisa Moore on air) also joined the station as a newsreader as Teena Gates and George Long had left to go to London and there had been a big farewell party for them on their last day. DJs Liam Coburn and Mike Kingston also joined around that time.
I had a very enjoyable summer working at Energy 103, doing my three music shows at the weekends and other random stuff during the week. Sybil wanted to raise the profile of the station and so there was lots of advertising and promotion work going on. I took over responsibility for answering listeners’ letters and phone messages; back then before the internet that was really the main way people could contact the station. Usually there’d be 10-15 letters each day looking for information or asking for stuff like car stickers or t-shirts.
There was also a strike around that time by the ESB unions and that meant there were some power cuts going on around Dublin. Energy 103 had to hire a generator so we wouldn’t be knocked off the air if there was a power cut in our area. In the end we needed it quite a few times before the strike was settled.
Another thing that happened around this time was a special competition for local artists and students to design a new logo for Energy. It generated a lot of entries and the best of them were put on display around the station.
I made some great new friends too during that summer, Bobby Spaine and Kevin Branigan were listeners who regularly phoned in and later came down to visit the station and kept in touch. They both had a great interest in radio broadcasting too and had also been fans of the original Radio Nova. I’ve kept in touch with them down through the years and Kevin Branigan in particular went on to have a very successful career in the radio broadcasting business. There was also Ann Boylan, Ronan Carey, Fergie O’Hanlon, Michael Melvin and Karen Murphy who used to phone in every week while I was on air. There were also loads of people writing in looking for car stickers, T-shirts, and other stuff we were giving away, so I was forever running up and down to the local post office to get stuff sent out. The station had done a big sponsorship deal with Club Orange drinks and so we had tons of pens, stickers and other merchandise to give away. ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ was the tagline for the promotions and the merchandise. The station also had listeners in the north-west of England who used to write in from places like Morecambe and Lancashire.
Gareth O’Callaghan was one of my favourite DJs who was on Energy at that time. He did a really funny show every afternoon with all kinds of zany characters and jokes. He was very talented and also always happy to do requests and special dedications for the listeners. He also had a part of his show when he’d play prank phone calls he got from an American radio show called ‘Don Blue’s Bloopers in the Morning’ from station KYUU.
Tony Allan was also very talented and had a great wicked sense of humour. He did most of the voiceovers for the promotions and idents, including the main top of the hour pre News ident.
One unusual thing that happened that summer was that one night in early July someone unknown hijacked our transmitter which was up in the foothills of the Dublin mountains. They somehow hacked into the microwave link and began playing a parody version of the station with all kinds of weird adverts and pranks. It took a couple of hours before we got the transmitter back under our control, during which time some really bizarre stuff was broadcast as being from Energy 103. Amazingly when I did our listenership survey the following week we had had a big jump in numbers so it didn’t do the station any harm!
By now it was the middle of the summer of 1987 and as well as the three evening shows that went from 7 to midnight on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I also did some overnight shows from midnight to 6am during the week. They were tough! I’d sometimes end up having to have a sleep the next day in the record library. One day one of the newsreaders came in and found me fast asleep and I had to explain I’d been on the air all night!
When I was doing my shows I’d always stock up on popcorn and crisps and coke from the little shop down the road on Leeson Street. Then I’d spend a while in the record library selecting a few special songs to play. Most of the time the music choice was determined by the rotation of the carts on the wall. So we’d just be following the format and the songs that Sybil and Tony would have put into the system. But the Saturday night show was a bit different and was meant to sound more like a live party with very fast and upbeat music as well as plenty of disco mixes. These were special mega mix records pulling together lots of songs into 10- or 15-minute mixes. They were very popular, and Joan Mythen used to get them from Disco Mix Club, and Energy 103 was allowed to play them but with some restrictions – we weren’t allowed play them too often and they had to have an advert for the disco mix club played during them.
Every hour on Energy 103 was divided up into different segments with rotating playlists – including the heavy rotation of the 15-20 most popular songs, and then the 30 or so less frequently played songs that were dropping ou of the charts but were still popular, then the 30 or so older favourites and then some classic oldies. Sybil and Tony would usually decide all this at the beginning of each week.
Around this time the station also rebranded itself as Energy Power 103, with a new logo, colour scheme (black and red), and idents. Some of the shows and DJs also changed slots; Pat Courtenay did the Breakfast Show with Bob Gallico and Lisa Moore (Fionnuala Sweeney). This was a brilliant show as they were all really talented broadcasters.
One thing we also had at Energy 103 was a satellite TV receiver and for the first time I got to see this new and exciting medium. There was a station called Sky Channel, another called Music Box, and another called Super Channel which showed European music videos. Often these would be on in the Newsroom.
One day I remember from that summer is when Sybil asked me to go with her out to check on something at the transmitter base in the mountains. It was a pretty remote spot and she probably wanted someone to accompany her for safety. On the way back she showed me the old Radio Nova place at Nova Park in Rathfarnham which is a little bit of radio history and it was a great privilege to see it in the company of Sybil Fennell herself who had been on the original Radio Nova. By then it was all closed and abandoned but you could still see where everything had been.
Another task I had that summer was logging the other Dublin stations. This involved listening to stations like Q102 and Sunshine and writing down all their songs and advertisers and giving this report to Sybil. She would then know if there was any new advertisers we could go after, and also what kind of songs the competition and promotions the other stations were playing. I was able to do this logging task while sitting outside in the sun so that was a nice way to spend a few days. One Friday I remember I sat outside all day logging Q102 and ended up completely sunburnt and then had to do my five-hour evening show.
Although the stations were in competition there was a good deal of cooperation between them too. Sometimes I’d be sent down to Q102 on Mount Street to collect or deliver something. I got to meet Martin Block the manager of Q102 and a few of the other people from Q. They had a nice set up in the basement of their building, though I definitely preferred our above ground studios at Energy.
Sybil Fennell would be in Dublin and running the station during the week, and then on Friday afternoon or evening she would go over to London. Sometimes one of my jobs was to go down to the British Airways or Aer Lingus offices in the city centre and collect her tickets. There would always be a lot of busy activity and stuff being organised before she departed and the same on the Monday morning when she returned.
Energy 103 had a really nice location on Leeson Street in south Dublin and there were some great places around it including the Kylemore shop on Baggot Street which did some lovely cream buns and Abrakebara which was a fast food kebab place also on Baggot Street. I must have been doing a lot of running around as I was eating these every day and didn’t put on any extra weight. I used to have my lunch sitting out on the benches beside the Grand Canal and it was really nice out there that summer.
Another one of my jobs at the radio station was getting all the pop music magazines like ‘Smash Hits’, ‘In Dublin’ and ‘Hot Press’ each week, which I got from the Number 8 shop on Baggot Street. The station was always trying to look ahead and anticipate the next big songs and artists that our listeners would like.
By now on the evening Weekender shows that I did we played even more disco mixes which were proving very popular. The quality of these were excellent too. I kept the music tempo going very fast until the last half hour of my show and then I slowed it right down, just like you would at a disco or house party. During those summer evening shows there was also a pre-recorded segment called the ‘Power Patrol’ where Lisa Moore would report on any concerts and events taking place around the city that weekend.
There were some great songs around at that time including Erasure’s ‘The Circus’ and ‘No Memories’ by Scarlett Fantastic and ‘Walk the Dinosaur’ by Was Not Was. Meanwhile, new DJs like Liam Coburn, Niall McGowan and Cassidy Jones joined as others left. At one stage part of the ground floor was converted into a small shop selling some of the keep fit and exercise products that were being advertised on air. It was called the Tamwest shop and sold stuff like the Trimtrack and Gutbuster exercisers which we all tried out, and the place looked a bit like a gym at one stage!
That Autumn I also helped Sybil put together an internal Newsletter for the station to keep everyone updated on what was happening.
Towards the end of 1987 the station got cd players for the first time. And I also got sight of computers for the first time in a regular workplace. They were just basic word processors, and everything still had to be saved on to those floppy disks but you could see it was just the beginning of a big revolution.
There was another outside broadcast from the Stillorgan Shopping Centre at the end of October and once again I was back at the station running the adverts in between the outside broadcast sections.
Towards the end of the year Energy 103 went through a lot of changes. It was a very exciting time to be involved in the station as in November, Chris Cary – the manager of the original Radio Nova – came back to Dublin. Things started happening on November 9th when a new Radio Nova began broadcasts from a small room at the back of the Energy Presentation Studio on the 4th floor. At this stage it was just a cartridge machine, two CD players and an automated mixer. After three days it was all moved into the building next door. The previously derelict building that had now been fully renovated and refurbished. I remember helping Chris move all kinds of equipment and CD players and UHF links between the two buildings. He was a very interesting person to talk to and I enjoyed hearing his stories about Radio Nova and Kiss FM from earlier in the eighties. And I was able to tell him how much I had enjoyed listening to the original Radio Nova all those years ago. Test transmissions continued for the new station and it caused a lot of excitement around Dublin and among my radio friends.
This new Radio Nova opened properly on 18th November with Niall McGowan doing the breakfast show. Then on 24th November there was a big staff meeting when it was announced that the two stations would be ‘merged’ to become Nova Power 103. Then the next day Sybil announced the merger of the two stations live on the lunchtime news!
There were various legal and financial reasons for all this, and It was a bit of a confusing time for the staff, but the listeners didn’t seem to notice as the figures were still very good. The new Radio Nova had been on 100FM with all its music coming from CDs rather than records. There was also a new evening local news segment called Dublin Today, and on the first evening Chris Cary was interviewed about the station and his plans.