Radio Nova: Part 1 – Chapter 11

Cars with Radio Nova car stickers banned from the RTÉ car park allegedly; motor dealers advised not to have Nova preset on car radios…to imagine years later Nova jingles would be aired on the Joe Duffy show!

Tom Colgan

Listen to a jingle

The Orwellian year arrived with Radio Nova facing big bother from an organisation that wanted to exert totalitarian control over the airwaves, denying listeners choice and forcing them to tune to their brand of state-sponsored radio.

In so many ways the year 1984, as envisaged by George Orwell, fitted perfectly with RTÉ’s intense jamming campaign against Radio Nova (and Sunshine Radio too).

In the lead-up to Christmas, a lot of threatening noises were emanating from RTÉ, or agents speaking on their behalf. They’d had enough of government inaction and were threatening to take the law into their own hands in a do-or-die battle to rid the airwaves of the pirates, and Radio Nova in particular.

“It’s now a question of who goes – Nova or RTÉ. The country is too small for the both of us. Nothing short of the total shutdown of Radio Nova will satisfy the trade unions,” one antagonist is quoted as saying.

True to their word, Radio Nova broadcasts were affected as the festive period approached. It was a deliberate act of sabotage with RTÉ arguing that they were protecting their own advertising income at a lucrative time of the year.

December’s jamming was just fun and games compared to what Radio Nova were hit with in January. RTÉ jammed the link to Nova Park from a communal ariel at the bottom of Scholarstown Road. Although denying their involvement at first, RTÉ eventually confirmed that they were causing massive interference on Nova’s and Kiss FM’s frequencies. They claimed that they had been granted permission by the Minister of Communications to transmit test broadcasts over certain frequencies – some of these just happened to be the same ones that Nova were broadcasting on.

Speaking for Radio Nova, Tom Hardy claimed that the whole FM band was affected, meaning that listeners were not only denied local unlicensed broadcasts but also legal services emanating from the UK. The other FM pirates also made the same claim although RTÉ and the BBC both say that this was not the case.
As Kevin Branigan says: “That would’ve been hard to do – even for them – back then.”

Kiss FM became a casualty of the campaign on January 15th. Advertising income was down and with Nova jumping around the band to avoid RTÉ’s interference, the transmitter was needed for the main channel.

Specialist and News programmes were also severely affected. The nightly magazine programme Dublin Today was dropped and News was cut back.

Unfortunately, a number of employees were let go. Cary was down a station, losing advertising income and unable to broadcast a number of programmes.

The RTÉ Jam Rap – Nova respond in verse…

He felt he had no choice. Which most people – bar those in Donnybrook – would have sympathised with. For whatever reason though, Cary decided to dismiss his employees without notice, holiday pay or other legal entitlements. Four of the employees were members of the National Union of Journalists – inevitably the situation led to an official dispute with pickets placed on both Herbert Street and Nova Park.

In an effort to counteract the jamming, Radio Nova moved its studio location to Nova Park in order to be closer to the transmitter site. Before they moved across temporary studios were the order of the day.

John Clarke remembers this incident from the early days of the jamming…

I was broadcasting from Herbert St and the lads in Donnybrook took ‘the law’ into their own hands – ‘we can’t complete with this Nova station, so let’s jam them off the air’.

When they switched on their jamming, it was so loud in my headphones I nearly went deaf. Anyway, Chris was having none of it and by the second day of the licence-funded jamming Chris had secured a large portacabin and overnight he had it installed as a temporary broadcast studio over in Rathfarnham.

So, day two of the jamming kicked in within 10 minutes of me starting the show. A call came from Rathfarnham: “Grab a taxi and 100 carts and high tail it up to Greenacres…”

I was there within the 1/2 hour. Music continued from Herbert St, along with the R T & É jamming. As soon as I got from the taxi and into the cabin we went live from Greenacres – and they couldn’t find a way of continuing to jam the Mighty 890!

John Clarke
John Clarke – Rockin’ above the bay

I was secured into the portacabin, merrily jocking, ‘playing your favourites’ from carts along with the commercials (a flawless professional). Then I heard the sound of chains and the cabin began to rock and sway a little. I looked out the window and to my shock the damn Portacabin was being hoisted sixty feet above the ground by a crane. You see, because of the urgency with which Chris ordered the Portacabin, it had been dropped at the wrong end of the car park and the technical staff were at the other end of the Park!

So, for fifteen minutes I was rockin’ & rollin’ above the car park, sixty feet up…sounding jolly and ‘playing your favourites’.

When the cabin, with me in it, was lowered Chris opens the door with the words: “Well done, great job, we have the cabin in the right location.”
“Fine,” say I, “but you could have warned me!”
Chris smiled and said: “Well you wanted to work on the pirate ships of the ’60s – well that experience you just had sixty feet up was just like the winter gales and high seas we endured on Caroline!”

Rumours were starting to abound about the imminent demise of Radio Nova. Cary himself suggested it was a real possibility.

More than rumours were the reports that emergency services were suffering interference as a result of the mixture of signals on the areas of the band that RTÉ were affecting Radio Nova. In their arrogance, this didn’t halt RTÉ’s campaign. Their argument was that they were the only broadcaster authorised to use the frequencies so the interference was solely as a result of illegal broadcasters. Which wasn’t strictly true…every time Nova moved to avoid RTÉ’s high-pitched whining (that’s the sound of the signal rather than the DG), the test broadcast would follow them.

Sybil Fennell, who was now doing a nightly phone-in show on LBC Radio in London having left Nova at the start of the year, expressed her disappointment in the national station in an interview with the Evening Herald:
“The jamming of Nova is unnecessary. Nova is no threat to RTÉ. RTÉ is the national station and Nova is purely a Dublin station. Anyway, competition is healthy.”
She displayed no hostility towards RTÉ. She understood that they have to be all things to all men but she did admit to being disappointed by their news service.

RTÉ were not alone in chasing Nova; the taxman came knocking in mid-March, demanding a payment of £150,000. For Cary, already stressed beyond belief, this was a final push over the edge as he sacked all his employees but retained them on a day-to-day basis. Mike Hogan, the Station Manager, resigned, unhappy at the treatment of the station’s staff.

Newspaper reports again had Nova closing ‘within days’ and this time the likelihood of it happening was more real. On air, apart from RTÉ’s screeching, it was hard to tell that so much was going on behind the scenes – the professionalism was as evident as ever.

After a few days of massive uncertainty, an announcement was made that the station’s future had been secured thanks to investment from a consortium of businessmen.

Meanwhile RTÉ, undoubtedly ecstatic at the effectiveness of their nefarious campaign, were now also targetting Sunshine Radio. They were also in the process of installing mediumwave jamming equipment at the site of The Old Piggery in Beaumont. At this point, it might be worth pointing out that RTÉ was/is mainly funded through the TV licence. Questions were being asked in the Dáil but nobody seemed to want to answer them.

By the end of April, it became clear that the intended target for the mediumwave jamming was Sunshine Radio, who were very close to RTÉ’s mediumwave channels. Incredibly, in attempting to silence Sunshine with a barrage of noise, they also managed to knock out their own broadcasts too.

On May 4th the jamming stopped. For no apparent reason at the time, but a growing backlash from the public brought the issue to a head and government intervention forced RTÉ to pull the plug.

Listen to a jingle

January 1984

RTÉ’s jamming campaign against Radio Nova intensifies. They claim that they are testing on frequencies allocated to them by the Minister of Communications.

RTÉ's last ditch campaign

Kiss FM appeared on Nova’s MW frequency of 819kHz for just one day on January 12th.

Kiss FM becomes a casualty of the jamming and is closed down at midnight on Sunday 15th. Denis Murray’s Rock programme is the last show on the station.

Staff from Kiss FM were to be employed at Nova but as the jamming continues Chris Cary says he may have no choice but to lay off people as business is being seriously affected.

Dublin Today is dropped as are the specialist programmes. News bulletins are also reduced.

Most of the station’s equipment is moved to Nova Park in Rathfarnham where new studios are built. The lease at Herbert St is up shortly and it would be easier to counteract the jamming from the transmitter location.

Sybil Fennell leaves Radio Nova to work for LBC in England.

How devastatingly sad is it what kind of deep seated begrudgery exists within Irish society that it was felt that it was “ok to jam them” by RTÉ? If they felt the same challenge to their monopoly today what might they do now about it? When will the karma ever come back on them for what they did? You often wonder if the universe is really listening sometimes..

Enda Caldwell

The fact of the matter is that Nova, Sunshine and TTT R were crucifying RTÉ in Dublin. They should have in my opinion risen to the challenge instead of abusing their legality. TTTR catered for the huge listenership that existed and still does for country music in Dublin city and county.

Paul MacKenna

February 1984

RTÉ’s jamming campaign against Radio Nova continues and Chris Cary says that the station MAY need to close down – a front-page headline in the Evening Herald goes a step further and says that they ARE closing down.

The National Union of Journalists enter into official dispute with Radio Nova following the breakdown of discussions and the laying off of fifteen members of staff, who the Union claim were not given adequate notice or any redundancy payments.
Cary tells the Union that he cannot afford to pay the staff and that he’d done them a favour by giving them a job in the first place. He also claims that he hasn’t made a penny out of Nova.
Pickets are placed on Herbert Street and Nova Park.

The National Union of Journalists enter into official dispute with Radio Nova following the breakdown of discussions and the laying off of fifteen members of staff, who the Union claim were not given adequate notice or any redundancy payments.
 Cary tells the Union that he cannot afford to pay the staff and that he'd done them a favour by giving them a job in the first place. He also claims that he hasn't made a penny out of Nova. 
Pickets are placed on Herbert Street and Nova Park.

It emerges that the RTÉ tests/jamming are also causing interference to communications for emergency services.

Presenter line-up
Midnight – Lawrence John / Mike Moran
6am Declan Meehan & Bob Gallico
9am Colm Hayes
12pm John Clarke
3pm Greg Gaughran
7pm Jason Maine

Newsreaders are Bob Gallico, Bernie Jameson and Dave Harvey

“I’d bet my brand new Rolls Royce that it is RTÉ alone that is chasing us off the airwaves.”
Chris Cary reacting to the suggested possibility that forces other than the state broadcaster might be working against them.

March 1984

RTÉ jamming continues on both 88FM and 102.7FM, at times completely obliterating the signals in the Dublin area. At one point Chris Cary switches off both FMs and RTÉ turn their attentions to Sunshine Radio.

NUJ pickets continue but in Rathfarnham only as the lease on Herbert St expires.

Radio Nova receive a bill for £150,000 from the taxman. Most of the staff are given their P45s but retained on a day-to-day basis. Advertising is adversely affected and many newspapers write the station off, some claiming it would close “within days”. This was refuted on Nova’s news bulletins which confirm that a consortium of Irish and foreign businessmen have rescued the station.

Nova to close
Tap to read

Station Manager Mike Hogan resigns, reportedly in protest at the treatment of staff.

The day’s News Bulletins now finish at 7pm and are rare on Sundays.

Tony Gareth (below) leaves Radio Nova once more and is back on Radio Caroline.

Tony Gareth on Radio Nova

David Malone leaves to join BBC Radio Ulster.

Fortunes change… sometimes good…. sometimes not so good like “Hi Ho Silver” the theme from Boon with Jim Diamond as a soundtrack through all this drama N O V A still continued to sound out of this world “always one in every town don’t shoot em’ down….”

Enda Caldwell

April 1984

RTÉ continue their jamming campaign against Radio Nova and Sunshine Radio. On FM the station were exclusively on 102.7MHz for most of the first half of the month, with RTÉ following a pattern of hitting Nova one day and Sunshine the next. 88FM was switched back on on April 19th. With RTÉ only able to jam two FM frequencies at any given time it was hoped that both stations would at least have one FM operational.

Always ahead of the game, Chris Cary (now back from a long exile in London) switches on a second medium wave transmitter on 729kHz which means they can now broadcast on two FM frequencies and two MW frequencies. It is common knowledge that RTÉ are building a new medium wave jammer at the site of the ‘Old Piggery’ in Beaumont. Cary was safeguarding Nova against this but RTÉ put the new jammer into action by hitting Sunshine Radio on their 531kHz frequency on April 25th (and also manage to jam their own stations!).

The NUJ official action now enters its third month. All but six NUJ members from the original 15 people let go have been re-employed.

Mike Hogan returns to the fold as Manager of a new nightclub due to open at Nova Park.


Part 1 Chapter 10: Interlude [Equipment]

Radio Nova

Part 1 Chapter 12: Apart from the Union