Radio Nova: Appendix VI

Energy 103 (1986-1988) by Mike Mahon

These are my memories of the radio station Energy 103 from 1986-1988. The station began broadcasting in May of 1986, shortly after Radio Nova had closed down. Nova had been on air since 1981 and had also been responsible for Kiss FM and Magic 103. Magic had been broadcast from studios at 144 Upper Leeson Street in Dublin 4 and it was from there that Energy 103 now began its broadcasts on 103FM and 738AM.

I had been a big fan of Radio Nova for several years and had visited the station a few times in 1983 and 1984 and had met Sybil Fennell and some of the other Radio Nova presenters. Now, by September 1986, I had left school and was doing a course in communications at one of the Dublin colleges. As part of the course each of us in the class had to find a company that would let us do some work experience with them one day a week. I knew I really wanted to get back into radio and so one morning I went along to the offices of Energy 103 at 144 Upper Leeson Street and called in to ask if I could do my work experience there.

Energy 103 was now one of the stations that had really good quality equipment and a crystal-clear signal. After the old Radio Nova had closed down many people said that Energy 103 was actually owned and run by the same people who had run Nova, including Sybil Fennell who had shown me around Radio Nova all those years earlier. In fact some people said Energy actually was “NRG” which stood for Nova Radio Group!

So I met Sybil Fennell again and to my delight I was accepted and so began going in and doing various jobs every Thursday at Energy 103. During those first few weeks I got to meet all the presenters and did all kinds of jobs to help out around the station. Everything from making the tea to blanking audio carts for re-use. I also helped tidy up the record library which was quite a big task. I learned a lot about the station and how everything worked during those first weeks and months.

It was great fun being involved in the station and everyone was very friendly and made me most welcome. I especially remember Pat Courtenay who took time to show me all the technical equipment in the Production Studio and how the mixer desk worked. I also remember Gareth O’Callaghan who very kindly showed me the Transmission Studio and how it all worked, and Teena Gates and George Long who taught me all about the Newsroom.

Sybil was always ready to respond when there was a big news story, and I remember one night there was an enormous explosion from an area not that far from where Energy 103 was located. Sybil gave me a tape recorder and sent me off in a taxi to go and try and find out what had happened. It turned out to be a gas explosion in Dolphins Barn and I recorded a couple of interviews with people who had been on the scene and these were broadcast when I got back to the station. Sometimes some celebrity might be seen drinking in the Leeson Lounge across the road from the station and Sybil would get someone to run back and get a tape recorder so she could do an impromptu interview. Alex Higgins and Ian Botham were both interviewed that way.

Energy 103 (1986-1988)  by Mike Mahon
Tony McKenzie - Energy 103
Tony McKenzie
Sybil Fennell - Energy 103
Sybil Fennell (next to one of the logos designed in a competition)
Energy 103 receptionist Lisa Moreau
Receptionist Lisa Moreau
144 Upper Leeson Street, Energy 103
144 Upper Leeson Street
Fionnuala Sweeney - Energy 103
Fionnuala Sweeney
Energy 103
Rack system
Liam Coburn - Energy 103
Liam Coburn
An Energy Weekend
An Energy Weekend
Mike Kingston - Energy 103
Mike Kingston
Bobby Spaine - Energy 103
Bobby Spaine on work experience
Enerfy 103
Production studio

One big event that happened that Autumn was Hurricane Charlie. It was a big storm which left a lot of bad flooding around Dublin. The weather was always very changeable in Ireland and one of the jobs I’d been given at the radio station was to organise ‘Snow-Watch’, which was a plan for what to do to help the listeners if there was another very heavy fall of snow like we’d had in 1982. Back then, before the internet, people relied more on radio stations to let them know if buses were running or not, and which shops and schools were open. Energy needed their listeners to stay with them rather than going looking for other stations that might have the information.

On December 20th there was also a big event organised by Energy 103 up at the Phoenix Park racecourse venue for disadvantaged children from all over Dublin. The station had organised collections of toys and games for the kids and gave them all a great day out. In the week before the event the whole building at Leeson Street was full of toys and stuffed animals everywhere. Before they were all collected to be brought to the venue, the whole building was like Santa’s grotto with all the toys everywhere.

Right at the end of 1986 there was a big night out for everyone at the station, and I was delighted when they invited me too. It was a lovely meal in a restaurant beside Teddy’s in Dún Laoghaire and it was a great way to end the year.

By the start of 1987 I was going into Energy 103 two or three times a week whenever I wasn’t at college. Another one of the jobs I had was going to the city centre record shops to collect the latest new releases which came out each week. There were two big record shops in the city centre at that time – the Virgin Megastore on the quays and HMV which was on Grafton Street. It was quite cool to think that the records I was carrying would be on the turntable as soon as I got them back to the station and getting broadcast to tens of thousands of people. There was also another smaller record shop down by the canal called Mespil music. U2’s new album launch that year was a big event and I was sent down to get the station’s copy of it.

Another thing I did at that time was the weekly listenership survey – this involved going into the city centre with a clipboard and pen and asking a random 100 people what radio station they listened to. Then I’d add up the results and go back to the station to deliver them. Energy 103 usually got the 3rd place after Q102 and Sunshine Radio, but a few weeks we’d be number 2, and that was always a great cause for celebration back at the station. Sybil Fennell, the manager, always said it was better to be number two or three, as if you were number one you had nowhere else to go but down.

By now I had got to know all the DJs and newsreaders – Colm Hayes, Teena Gates, Pat Courtenay, Henry O’Donovan (known as George Long on air), John O’Hara, Ernie Gallagher, Barry Falvey, Dave Andrews (on air as Alan Burns), Tony McKenzie, Gareth O’Callaghan and Tony Allan. Although I was just the work experience guy, they were all really nice and friendly and included me when they were going over for drinks at the Leeson Lounge which was just across the road.

I was also involved in the production of a big outside broadcast which was done from Stillorgan Shopping Centre that winter. I was back at the station in Leeson Street but looking after the playing of the commercials, which was quite a responsibility.

The station ran lots of competitions around that time and amongst them were ones like the old Radio Nova three songs competitions. When they played these three particular songs then the listeners would phone in and the 20th caller would win 10 thousand pounds. That was an enormous amount of money back then! Energy’s three songs that winter were Hot Chocolate’s ‘You Sexy Thing’, ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ by Madonna, and ‘Let’s Go All the Way’ by Sly Fox. There was also a competition called Seek and Collect where the prize was a Peugeot 205 car! That one involved collecting clues from the premises of the main advertisers. Another competition was called ‘Phone Fun’ where the listeners had to answer their phones saying they listened to Energy 103 and then they’d win a prize. Another one was where the station would give you ten pounds if you were stopped on the street and asked what station you listened to and if you said “Energy 103 because they pay the best music” then you’d won the prize. Another popular competition around that time was the daily News Quiz which was run on the Gerry Stevens show.

In mid-January there was some heavy snow and the station activated the ‘Snow-Watch’ plan, which worked very well and gave the listeners all the important information they needed about transport and what was and wasn’t open.

During that early Spring of 1987 a few times Tony McKenzie would be on the air doing his morning to afternoon show and he’d need to go downstairs to discuss something with someone, and he’d get me to sit behind the control desk and just play back to back music till he returned. So that way I learned how the mixer desk and all the equipment worked.
There was also a programme that came on vinyl record from America each week called the Rick Dee’s Weekly Top 40 and I was given the job of sitting behind the control desk while that went out on air.
Another job I had was cleaning the carts which was blanking the old audio carts ready to be recorded over again. They used a big electro magnet to do this and then Pat Courtenay would record the new adverts or songs onto them.

Another task I had was getting the traffic news – this involved phoning around various taxi companies and asking them where there were any hold-ups or traffic jams. They’d get a bit of free advertising on air as a result. I also answered the phones for the nightly ‘Listeners Top 5 at 5’, taking down the votes and numbers to work out the results. It was great fun doing all this and being a part of the station. Because the building was quite compact there was always a great atmosphere and a real sense of fun and camaraderie around the station, while at the same time it was also very professional and well-organised. I really enjoyed every minute of my time there.

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.

The later logo
The later logo
Energy 103 reception area
Reception area
Sybil Fennell - Energy 103
Sybil Fennell
On air desk - Energy 103
On air desk
Colm Hayes - Energy 103
Colm Hayes
Newsroom at Energy 103
News gathering
Cassidy Jones - Energy 103
Cassidy Jones
Energy 103
Ian Scott on Energy 103
Ian Scott
Energy 103 desk
Energy 103 desk
Bob Gallico in the Energy 103 Newsroom
Bob Gallico in the Newsroom
Energy 103
More equipment
Ann on work experience in Energy 103
Ann on work experience
Energy 103
 Joan Mythen in reception Energy 103
Joan Mythen in reception
One of the losing logo designs on display in Energy 103
One of the losing logo designs on display
Lisa Moreau and Niall McGowan having fun on the stairs in Energy 103
Lisa Moreau and Niall McGowan having fun on the stairs in Energy 103
A cart machine at Energy 103
A cart machine
Energy 103
Energy 103 record library
Record library
Energy Power 103 FM

Meanwhile, in 144 Upper Leeson Street the on-air studio was also moved from the top floor to the floor where the newsroom used to be. This was an enormous and complicated job. During it I actually was broadcasting the station from the old production studio on the ground floor while they worked upstairs moving everything.

Later that month I was moved from my weekend music shows to start reading the news at weekends. It was interesting but not as much fun as playing songs.

One other really significant thing that happened was on the 20th November – the announcement of the government’s local radio bill. I was sent down to the government publications office near Dail Eireann to get a copy of this document and as soon as I got back with it there were lots of very important meetings taking place behind closed doors. Sybil herself left Dublin at the end of November.

In mid-December the receivers of the old Radio Nova stopped Nova Power from using the name Nova and the station changed name again to become Power 103, before finally changing back again to Energy. Brian McKenzie also now took over as one of the managers and several other new people joined, including Tim Kelly. The music format also changed with much more emphasis on golden oldies.

Meanwhile, the Nova / Energy Care children’s party had been due to be held again at the Phoenix Park leisure complex, but the venue was badly damaged in a fire and the event had to be moved to Blinkers Nite club at the Leopardstown Racecourse.

A few people left Energy 103 in mid-January 1988 and a few new DJs joined, including Brian Graham and Ian Scott. Meanwhile, I continued reading the News on various weekends. The station continued on air for the first couple of months of 1988 but then sadly closed down and went off the air for the last time on March 11th and the equipment and transmitters were bought by Q102. The signs had been there since the changes the previous months, but it was still sad to see it closed down and the building now empty. An awful lot of stuff ended up in a big skip outside the building. A few months later Radio Nova returned as a satellite radio station being broadcast from the UK, so perhaps that was another of the reasons it closed down in Dublin, as the new satellite technology meant it could be done from there instead.

Being a part of Energy 103 during those two years was a fantastic experience and one of the best times of my life. It was a great station and I’m very grateful to have had a chance to meet and work with such a fun and friendly group of presenters, newsreaders and other staff. Energy 103 lives on in the memory of all those who worked there or listened to it.

I’ll dedicate this little history of Energy 103 to three great broadcasters: Chris Cary, Bob Gallico and Tony Allan.

Reproduced with the kind permission of Mike Mahon
Every photo on this page was taken by Mke during his time at the station; we thank him for passing his extensive photograph collection on to us

Radio Nova

Appendix V

Radio Nova

Appendix VII