Radio Nova: Part 1 – Chapter 12

I imagine Cary felt that he had created their jobs in the first place. If it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t have had jobs. He created the professional industry. And there’s certainly some validity in that…

Kevin Branigan on the NUJ Industrial Action

Listen to a jingle

Thanks to Chris Cary’s stubbornness, along with a loyal and dedicated core group, Radio Nova had survived a huge government raid and would see through an extremely fierce RTÉ jamming campaign. However, it was a rancourous internal dispute that ultimately backed the station so far into a corner that it became a major influencer on Nova’s eventual demise. Worse, it all could so easily have been avoided.

Chris Cary was used to acting on impulse. He was also used to getting his way. When, at the height of RTÉ’s jamming campaign against the station in February 1984, he let go fifteen members of staff without giving them adequate notice or statutory holiday/redundancy payments, he insisted that the station could not afford to pay them.
If Radio Nova had been a full-on pirate station he might have got away with that claim, but the fact is that Nova was operating within a set of quasi-legal boundaries which meant that it was subject to all of the laws of the land – excepting the one that required a licence to operate a transmitter for the purpose of broadcasting which the government had decided to overlook, virtually giving unlicensed stations free rein to broadcast without fear of another raid, at least until such time as a licensing framework was operational. Ironically, Cary had invited the NUJ into the station as part of the campaign for legitimacy and acceptance by the establishment. He would later deny this but Mike Hogan remembers it differently, confirming that he wanted his staff to join so that interviews would no longer be turned down on the basis that Nova’s journalists were not union members.

Radio Nova had spent a fortune in July 1983 on a glossy, impossible to miss, advertising campaign highlighting the fact that Radio Nova employees all paid tax and made PRSI contributions.
Upcoming court cases would later blur the lines between legal and illegal status for the station and its employees. In throwing stones the striking members would also in time use Radio Nova’s unlicensed, and therefore illegal, status using every argument at their disposal to attack Cary but somehow overlooking the fact that they were striking for their legal entitlements based on their own employment in an illegal capacity.

On January 15th 1984, Nova’s sister station Kiss FM was closed as a direct result of the jamming campaign by RTÉ. This obviously meant there was a surplus of staff who were advised that the station was in serious difficulty but asked to turn up for work nonetheless.

Chris Cary
Chris Cary

The situation came to a head when the National Union of Journalists opened talks with Cary. Any fly who might have taken up temporary residence on the wall at that meeting would not have appreciated what the rest of us would in the same circumstances.
We are all aware of Cary’s stubbornness but, given the nature of some of the NUJ communications to the public that were to follow over the following months, there’s little doubt that their stance was confrontational, making it difficult for either side to back down.

Chris Cary very obviously had little time for authority, despite demanding respect when he himself was in a position of authority. If backed into a corner he would have come out fighting, on the attack. Although the NUJ were seeking what they believed the staff were entitled to by law, Cary would have seen it very differently.

He told the Union he couldn’t afford to pay redundancy but would pay them for turning up to work for their last few days. He also claimed that he hadn’t made a penny out of Nova, a claim that was to be disputed and mocked over the following months.

Following the meeting, fifteen staff were let go leading the NUJ to immediately declare official strike action on Radio Nova on behalf of the four Union members who were part of the group. A few days later pickets appeared at Nova Park and also at 19 Herbert Street, where some administrative staff were still based even though the station was now broadcasting full time from Rathfarnham.

Andrew Hanlon, speaking years later on a TV3 documentary, said he believed that: “As far as Cary was concerned he was king of the castle. It was his toy, it was his machine, it was his baby and he could do with it whatever he liked.”

To the average listener, from the outside looking in, Radio Nova had been left with little choice but to let some staff go, especially as the station was in danger of folding altogether which would mean the loss of more than fifty jobs rather than just the fifteen who had been sacrificed.

Radio Nova - sacking all your favourites

The fifteen seen it a little differently, understandably, and in an attempt to better inform the public of the facts (albeit their version of the facts) the NUJ members took to the letter columns of the newspapers. In the Evening Press of February 27th 1984, a letter signed by Linda Conway, Jenny McIvor, Shane MacGabhann, Brian Johnston, Ken Hammond and David Malone using the address: NUJ Chapel, Radio Nova was printed.
Here is the letter in full:

The NUJ’s official strike at Radio Nova is now in its third week. Although the general public have, in the past, been most supportive of the station’s endeavours, we, on the strike committee, feel it is important to clarify the facts surrounding the present dispute.
They are as follows:
On February 3 last, Nova’s managing director and major shareholder, Chris Carey, wrongfully dismissed 15 station employees without notice or any of their statutory entitlements, including holiday pay.
Prior to this action by Mr Carey, officials of the NUJ had met with him for discussion regarding rumoured changes in the company’s structure. The NUJ sought to establish whether those proposed changes would affect their members.
That meeting ended when Mr Carey stormed out of the room and returned the following day to England. He has remained at his London residence since then, and has refused to reopen negotiations with the NUJ in a bid to resolve the issue.
Mr Carey has also warned staff still employed at Nova not to speak to those on official picket duty at Herbert Street.
The Irish shareholder in Nova, Eugene Brady, has maintained his customary silence throughout this dispute, a point, we feel, which raises serious questions about the influence of a nominal Irish shareholder in this company.
The NUJ members wrongfully dismissed by Mr Carey will be continuing their official picket until this matter is resolved satisfactorily.
We would hope that this letter will clarify the situation about the strike and inform the public of the facts.

It could be argued that that letter was indicative of the frustrations felt by the strike committee, but in making it personal, along with the smouldering smoke-bomb regarding nationality that was chucked in, it may well have alienated as many people as it informed.

There was also no distinction over whether the use of the word ‘wrongful’ to describe their termination was an opinion stated as fact or whether it was indicative of employment law (ie no redundancy or notice). You would suspect the latter but this was the general public they were addressing and it could be argued that this was a deliberate attempt to influence public opinion into believing that they shouldn’t have been let go at all. This was a dangerous game to play, especially with the station still embroiled in a very public war with RTÉ, a war they had no desire to take part in and one which threatened the jobs of everybody at Radio Nova.

Jenny McIver, one of the NUJ strikers
Jenny McIver, one of the NUJ strikers
(Courtesy Richie Wild)

The striking members on the pickets no doubt believed vehemently that they were in the right, and there was much sympathy for that point of view. Oftentimes, people who believe they’ve been badly wronged can be driven by their sense of injustice. Unfortunately, though, the published letter in the newspapers made their argument personal. They went one step further on March 3rd when they picketed the home of Radio Nova’s ‘Irish’ stakeholder; many might feel that this was a step too far and overstepping a professional boundary. No matter how wronged you feel you’ve been treated does not give you the right to inflict wrong on others.

At the end of April another letter appeared in the newspapers signed this time by five of the six who’d signed the previous correspondence (David Malone had taken a job up North).
This time the given address was National Union of Journalists, Dublin 1.

As the NUJ’s official strike at Radio Nova is now in its third month, we would appreciate the opportunity of bringing the public up to date on the facts relating to this strike and the reasons why it remains unresolved. We feel this is important because of the confusing fact that, although the strike continues, Radio Nova is still on the air.
Throughout this dispute, which began following the summary dismissal of 15 people, including six journalists, the station’s manager Mr Chris Carey, has refused to negotiate settlement terms with union officials, claiming that the station has insufficient funds to meet the strikers’ claims for statutory entitlements.
This claim seems less than valid in view of the fact that he has been financing the building of new studios and a nightclub at Nova Park, Stocking Lane, Rathfarnham, where we maintain our picket. His claim that he has no money is equally ludicrous, considering the fact that advertising revenue has been steadily increasing over the past two months.
We feel that it is also worth pointing out that of the fifteen staff originally dismissed, ALL but the six union members among them has since been re-employed. This fact, and Mr Carey’s about-turn in relation to those who he himself had actively encouraged to become NUJ members, suggests to us a myopic view by him of the role of unions within broadcasting, and further suggests that it would be extremely dangerous and ill-advised to allow such an irresponsible employer to have any involvement or part in the future development of radio in this country if he does not acknowledge his responsibilities to those of us he has put out on the side of the street for the past three months.
Another fact we wish to highlight is that Michael Hogan, Nova’s advertising manager, who resigned some weeks ago because of what he claimed was his ‘outrage’ at how staff were being treated by Mr Carey, has since returned to Mr Carey’s employment as manager of the nightclub, due to open shortly.
Also Radio Nova’s Irish Director, Mr Eugene Brady, has been equally silent throughout this dispute. We would have expected that the Irish shareholder would have done more for the Irish employees Mr Carey has treated so disgracefully.
Those on the strike have had the support of all the branches of the NUJ and the full backing of the ICTU. The Labour Court’s attempt to intervene has also proved unsuccessful because Mr Carey has steadfastly refused to attend in order to reach a fair settlement. We feel that this refusal in particular should give the general public some idea of Mr Carey’s disregard for Irish industrial relations.
Those of us on strike are committed to continuing our legitimate action of protest and we are confident that now the public are aware of the facts surrounding this three-month-old dispute, they will feel equally enraged at the way some foreign employers, having made vast profits, subsequently treat their staff.
In our view, Mr Carey should be treated in the same disdainful manner by Irish advertisers as he has treated his Irish employees. We thank those who have already done so.

If the previous letter contained a smouldering smoke bomb, this one threw the grenades with the pins pulled out. Although the dismissals were now being described as ‘summary’ rather than ‘wrongful’, in stoking up race relations and suggesting Cary’s actions came from a dark, anti-Irish part of his pysche they again were overstepping boundaries and came across as desperately attempting to influence public opinion. Using such tactics are unacceptable at any time but in 1984, with the IRA hunger strikes still very fresh in the minds of even those who would not usually sympathise with anti-British sentiment, coupled with IRA bombing campaigns that had migrated across to Britain, to suggest that an Englishman (who had employed these people – and dozens more locals – in the first place, lest we forget) was acting from anti-Irish sentiment was crass and unnecessary and hoping to play on strong anti-English sentiment.

In addition, the use of emotive language, which appeared to be trying to influence people rather than trusting them to make up their own minds, is also a dead giveaway. The personal attacks on people were also unnecessary. This letter, even more than the last, came across as aggressive and hinted that nothing but their version of a ‘fair’ settlement would suffice.

Considering the many Irish people who still praise Cary to this day, it is unfortunate that the striking members felt that this was a road they should take.
Place Radio Nova anywhere in England, or Spain, or on a boat, and it’s difficult to see the sequence of events playing out any differently.
These, after all, were the actions of Chris Cary’s persona; it was who he was and it’s hard to believe that either his, or anyone else’s, nationality was a factor in how he went about his business.

By now the NUJ were taking things to a new level. All of their members were advised that they should play no part in the processing or production of advertisements that were to be broadcast on Radio Nova.

NUJ newspaper ad

Also, advertisements were placed in the Press after Radio Nova had run an advertisement for new employees.

What of the people working on the station? They must have felt torn. When you take away all the incendiary arguments made publicly by the strikers, they did have a strong case that deserved to be answered, and many within Nova will have agreed, despite at one point voting for the station to be non-unionised. Plus, for those working for Radio Nova, they were forced to cross a picketline manned by friends and former colleagues on entering and exiting the station.
This became too much for Radio Nova’s Breakfast presenter, Declan Meehan, who jumped at the opportunity to move away from Nova when one was presented to him by Mark Storey at Capital Radio in London.
At that time the licensed Capital Radio were under severe pressure from an offshore pirate, the infamous Laser 558. So the invitation was extended to Declan to ‘come to London and tell us what Nova does…’
Declan had been unhappy having to pass friends such as Shane McGowan, Tom Hardy and Linda Conway when leaving Nova Park each morning.
The original plan was to work with Capital for six weeks and return to Nova but he ended up staying. According to Declan, Chris was hurt when he left but they didn’t have a falling out. They met up frequently in London and eventually worked together on the Nova produced Euro Top 40, but Capital were unhappy that Declan was appearing on Radio Nova whilst working at Capital Radio so that was knocked on the head.

The NUJ were also putting pressure on those working within the station. Lawrence John extremely reluctantly left Radio Nova when he was told that passing the picket would seriously affect future employment prospects. Lawrence loved Nova but hated passing his friends on the picket line so he decided to leave. He went on to become a founding member and programmer for a new station, Q102, and deliberately opted for a format that would not directly compete with Radio Nova.

George Long
Thanks to Henry O’Donovan

The newsreader Henry O’Donovan (on air known as George Long, pictured on Radio Nova) was another who succumbed to union pressure.
He remembers it as an act of naivete but says:-
“I did break the strike and go back, though! We were talked into going on that strike. I didn’t really want to but was pressured by some dude from the NUJ to strike. I wanted to read the news, not stand around with a placard in my hand!”

Disco Nova Nova Park

The NUJ used the occasion of the high profile opening night for Cary’s new Nightclub – Disco Nova – to pull out the stops. It was July 27th and the union had arranged for dozens of people to join the picketline, which led to a couple of incidents involving speeding cars but, thankfully, nobody was hurt.

At the start of August the case came before the Employment Appeals Tribunal. It was adjourned and referred to the High Court. The Tribunal chairman, Dermot McCarthy, felt he could not hear a case that involved a company involved in an illegal activity, and whether the contracts of employment were contracts for the purposes of an illegal activity.

Frayed tempers again came to the fore on September 13th when Chris Cary confronted the picketing Ken Hammond and threatened to ‘smash his face in’ if he returned to Nova Park. Cary also threatened to launch a personal vendetta against all the striking members. It had emerged that Cary (and others) had at times driven at speed when entering or exiting Nova Park, thereby putting the safety of the strike force at risk. He was also prone to shouting abuse at the pickets as he drove by.
This all led to a High Court injunction granting Hammond the right to man the picket without interference from Cary.

Not to be outdone, the strikers were also known to shout abuse at the station’s Head of News, Sybil Fennell, who was herself an NUJ member. Sybil had been away working for LBC in London at the time the strike started but returned to Radio Nova in May. She was in an impossible situation really. She was Cary’s girlfriend but had also been part of the Newsteam from close to the very start. Widely recognised as second only to RTÉ for presentation, the success of Nova News was in no small part down to her. The NUJ had no time for such sentiment, they withdrew her card.

Later in the month, the NUJ objected to a liquor renewal licence application for Nova Park by Chris Cary on the basis that illegal broadcasting was being transmitted from the night club. Which is baffling, primarily because it is illegal broadcasting that the striking NUJ members had been engaged in that was at the heart of the dispute against the radio station. Cary got the licence.

On November 22nd, with the strike in its tenth month, it was announced that a settlement had been reached that was satisfactory to both sides and that employees would return to work immediately. First of the voices heard back was Ken Hammond.

Listen to a jingle

May 1984

The RTÉ jamming campaign continues into May but receives something of a backlash with the public voicing their disapproval and even government ministers indicating they are not happy with what is happening. RTÉ, though, continue undeterred and hit both Radio Nova and Sunshine in the first few days of the month. However, the jamming stops on May 4th, with rumours that the government had stepped in.

By this time Radio Nova was operating on three FM and two AM frequencies to counteract the jamming – 88.2MHz, 88.6MHz, 102.7MHz, 819kHz and 738kHz. The 738kHz is the transmitter that had originally been placed on 729kHz.

The NUJ strike enters its fourth month. The Union steps up its campaign by instructing all of its members not to cooperate in any way with the production or processing of any advertising material intended for Radio Nova.

Sybil Fennell returns to Radio Nova following a period with LBC in London. A full daily news service returns. New to the team is George Long.

Another returnee is the religious Sunday morning programme ‘Life is a Celebration’.

On May 23rd different music to what is going out on 819kHz is heard on 738kHz from early in the morning. At just after 10am Tony Allan was heard announcing Exidy 738. Just over three hours later and Exidy is no more. It could be heard breaking through on Nova’s broadcast and vice versa.
Listen by tapping here

On the following day, May 24th, 819kHz is switched off leaving Nova on just 738kHz on MW. In addition, 88.2MHz and 88.6MHz are also switched off leaving Radio Nova now broadcasting on 102.7MHz only on FM. Newspaper adverts had originally indicated that 819kHz would be the medium wave frequency. The Exidy broadcast obviously led to changes in the original plan.

By the end of the month weather and traffic reports start to include areas of the UK.

A syndicated show from Rick Dees replaces ‘Soundtrack of the 60s’ with Gary Owens on Saturdays.

Radio Nova Sunday World
Sunday World advert – tap to read

A-team style font for 102.7 anyone else notice that?

Enda Caldwell

June 1984

With increasing signal strength, June sees a full on-assault on Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and a large area of north and western England. A London office is opened and adverts are now appearing from the aforementioned places, as are weather and traffic reports.

The NUJ strike is now in its fifth month. The Union run advertisements in all the newspapers highlighting the fact that the jobs of the striking workers have been advertised on the station as vacant.

A new three in a row competition is running and this time there will be two £5,000 winners – from either side of the Irish Sea.

Nova Bingo Bonanza is also introduced.

To celebrate Elton John’s Dublin concert on June 15th one of his songs was played every hour. Chris Barry’s show the next day consisted exclusively of Elton John’s music.

July 1984

Declan Meehan leaves Radio Nova to join Capital Radio in London for the summer. His final show (for now) is on July 13th.

Other departures lead to Radio Nova placing an advert in Broadcast magazine looking for ‘personality radio announcers’ with a salary of up to £25,000 on offer – thought to be around £10,000 more than RTÉ Radio 2 presenters earn.
Despite this, Chris Cary didn’t expect any RTÉ presenters to apply but he joked that he’d welcome Gay Byrne with open arms, going so far as to say that he’d restructure the station to suit him and give him £1,000 a week!
Terry Wogan is another he’d pay that kind of money to have on board.
Interestingly, despite Radio Nova’s ‘clutter free’ format, both Gay and Terry built a career on being extremely good with the gab. Cary did reveal that Paul Burnett was considering an offer to join.

The NUJ strike, with pickets on Radio Nova, enters its sixth month.
On July 27th, at the grand opening of Disco Nova, Cary’s new nightclub, the NUJ arrange for dozens of people to join the picketline.

The strikers manage to get into the opening of the new nightclub at Nova Park in order to observe what was going on. Martin Block agreed to get them tickets which he placed in an empty cigarette packet and threw out of his Mini as he passed through the gates at Nova Park.

Photo below courtesy of Irish Press of July 28th 1984. The text accompanying it says: “The owner of the illegal radio station Radio Nova Mr Chris Carey accompanies Ms Sybil Fennell through a picket of members of the National Union of Journalists with whom he is in dispute at last night’s opening of a night club in association with the pirate station. The dispute, over Union recognition, has been going on since February.”

Irish Press of July 28th 1984. The text accompanying it says: “The owner of the illegal radio station Radio Nova Mr Chris Carey accompanies Ms Sybil Fennell through a picket of members of the National Union of Journalists with whom he is in dispute at last night’s opening of a night club in association with the pirate station. The dispute, over Union recognition, has been going on since February.

July compiled with thanks to input from Kevin Branigan and Mike Ormonde.

Nova was on such a high that summer. Having spent the earlier part of the year getting jammed up and down the dial by RTÉ and having to move to Nova Park to avoid the jamming, by June/July Nova was better and stronger than ever on 102.7 and 738, having moved off 88FM and 819 in June.
The pickets at Herbert St, Nova Park and, later, Leeson St, really did Nova no favours at all and the picture above is an example of that. Chris Cary having to wade through strikers at the launch of his nightclub – I’ve always wondered why he didn’t just pay them the redundancy and be done with it. It would have been loose change to him.
The strike marred the reputation of Nova which had been flawless up to the end of 1983.

Kevin Branigan


August 1984

A new package of JAM jingles incorporating the new frequencies is introduced.

The NUJ strike at the station enters its seventh month and is adjourned by the Unfair Dismissals Tribunal in order to be heard in the High Court. The Tribunal Chairman is unsure whether they are empowered to hear a case brought against a company involved in illegal broadcasting and whether the contracts of employment were contracts for an illegal purpose.

Present line-up is
Midnight – Chris Barry or Noel Clancy
6am Colm Hayes
10am John Clarke
2pm Greg Gaughran
7pm Jason Maine

Weekend presenters include: Hugh O’Brien, Dave Harvey, Roland Burke with syndicated shows from Rick Dees and Casey Kasem

Sybil Fennell, Bob Gallico, Bernie Jameson, Howard Hughes & Dave Johnson.

On FM, 103.2MHz is introduced in addition to 102.7MHz.

On August 30th the station celebrates its third birthday of medium wave transmissions.

Dave Christian, formerly of Radio Luxembourg, makes his debut on Radio Nova on August 27th at 10am. John Clarke, who normally fills the 10am slot, is on holidays. Dave wasn’t given long to bed in before he makes his name in Nova history because on Wednesday 29th at the end of his programme he is tasked with playing the three records in a row for the double £5,000 competition. Except, he doesn’t mention it at all. They go straight to an advert break and into the 2pm News. Again, nothing mentioned. Greg Gaughran was on next and he eventually announces that there had been a winner on the British side but there had been issues with the phone system in Dublin preventing calls from being made.

Sue Wheldon (and family) from Merseyside is flown over to Dublin to pick up her cheque at Nova Park during the birthday celebrations.


September 1984

On September 6th Radio Nova finds itself without power due to a fire in a substation adjacent to the Nova Park complex. The fire was as a result of Cary welding an iron bar on to the main ESB fuse circuit at Nova Park because the local circuit was limiting the amount of power Nova, who were running a radio station, two nightclubs, and pumping out 50kW, could use. Although the ESB refuse to pass the picket, the repair cost would have run to tens of thousands so the station put out appeals over the air for generators and this proves successful in keeping Nova on the air.

The strikers were managing to stop fuel deliveries going through the front gate but Cary arranged to have it delivered via the field at the back of Nova Park.

On September 13th, Radio Nova source a bigger generator and this leads to an increase in power on AM. However, fuel problems force the station off the air until 3pm the following day.

Dave Christian does his final show for the station on the 7th.

The NUJ strike enters its eighth month. One of the striking members, newsreader Ken Hammond, states in court that he had been threatened and intimidated by Chris Cary whilst on the picket line.

Radio Nova
Tap to read

The NUJ strike members object to an application in the Dublin Licencing Court by Chris Cary for a renewal of the liquor licence for the Nova Park nightclub on the basis that it is being used for illegal broadcasting – which is the activity that they themselves were engaged in that is at the centre of the dispute.

Conrad Smith is a new name on News.

The present line up is
Midnight – Noel Clancy
6am Colm Hayes and Bob Gallico
10am John Clarke
2pm Greg Gaughran
7pm Tony Allan or Chris Barry

Mention is made of a new European Top 40 show which Nova Media Services are hoping to sell to stations around the world.

Radio Nova open an office in Liverpool and advertise positions via the ‘Job Spot’.

Radio Nova Liverpool office
Compliments slip from the Liverpool office (tap to read)

The Irish side of the 3 songs in a row competition is finally played out on September 28th. This time failing generators caused as many problems as the phone system, which fell apart. Eventually, Ruth Bissett of Walkinstown had 5,000 reasons to be cheerful.

September compiled with thanks to input from Kevin Branigan.

October 1984

As the NUJ strike against Radio Nova enters its ninth month an injunction is granted to Ken Hammond for the right to picket the station free from interference from Chris Cary. Hammond said that Cary had issued threats and threatened a personal vendetta against him.

The Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, Jim Mitchell, is to present a Bill to the Dáil to make advertising on pirate stations illegal.
Mitchell admits that he wanted to close down Radio Nova altogether last year but party backbenchers in the coalition strongly objected.
He also says that the Coalition is split on the type of service the new Independent Radio Bill should introduce and this has led to the delay in introducing it.
In the meantime, the Minister says that another incident like the crash on the telephone system caused by Radio Nova’s three-in-a-row promotion will not be tolerated and that any interference to emergency services will lead to the station responsible being shut down.

Questions have been asked in the British Parliament about Radio Nova’s transmissions into England. Radio City from Liverpool and Preston station Red Rose Radio have expressed fears about loss of listeners and loss of advertisers with the opening of Nova’s office in the Liverpool area.

Radio Nova is having major issues with both power and phone lines with workers from the relevant companies refusing to pass the picket line.

A nightly taped show from the legendary Emperor Rosko is introduced.

Clarke McKenzie is a new name on ‘All Night Nova’ at the weekend.

Martin Talbot is a new name on News.

Doubleplus ungood times

Part 1 Chapter 11: Doubleplus Ungood Times

Meet the People

Part 1 Chapter 13: Meet the People