Radio Nova: Part 1 – Chapter 14

On one hundred and three point 5 megahertz FM, easy listening and information for Dublin is Magic 103

Magic 103 Top of the Hour

At 6pm on April 28th 1985 Bob Gallico presented the first show on a new Radio Nova spin-off radio station which launched on 103.5MHz. Magic 103 may well have been Chris Cary’s attempt to wave a wand and hope for a licence to appear. Just as likely, though, is that it was a vehicle used to isolate the NUJ members of the workforce and attempt to make them disappear.

The new station operated out of premises on Upper Leeson Street in Dublin’s city centre and was formatted as a chat and easy listening music station. It was staffed by the journalists and the more journalistic type presenters on the staff, including those who had been in dispute with Nova for virtually the whole of 1984. It wasn’t to be too long before the demise of the new station resurrected the dispute.

Magic 103 was operated by Tegrar Ltd, a company that had been formed in 1984 but which did not name Cary as a director. The staff were employed on short contracts and Magic 103 ‘leased’ a news service back to Radio Nova. By effectively keeping Magic 103 separate from Radio Nova Cary had, in effect, moved the employment of the militant NUJ members amongst the staff away from Radio Nova. It was a ploy by Cary to get the NUJ off his back once and for all.

An early attempt to sell the station lock, stock and barrel – including the contract to supply the News to Radio Nova – was unsuccessful.

Magic for sale

In the end Magic 103 lasted five months, closing for the last time on Sunday evening, September 22nd. Given the programming, Magic 103 were understandably attracting an older audience. The advertisers didn’t fancy it too much, though, and Cary was understood to be part-financing it from his own pocket. Although the closure was sudden and unannounced, there had been rumours, and one or two of the staff thought closure might be imminent. However, all appeared to be going well just one day previous at a Radio Nova outside broadcast in Arnotts where both Radio Nova and Magic 103 were heavily promoted and staff from both stations were in attendance.

Radio Nova OB from Arnotts -Magic 103 promotion very visible
Radio Nova OB from Arnotts -Magic 103 promotion very visible (Thanks to Barry Flynn)

For a few days following the station closure, a statement was read out on Radio Nova’s news broadcasts attempting to clarify the situation surrounding Radio Nova and Magic 103.

This is a transcript of the item as read by Sybil Fennell on an October 2nd broadcast..

News of former Dublin radio station Magic 103, which was forced to close at the end of last month as a direct result of severe financial difficulties. Radio Nova would like to make it clear that it was not, and is not, financially responsible for Magic 103, which was an entirely separate radio station which sold a news service to Nova. Magic had run at a severe loss since its inception some months ago. Eight freelance staff worked for Magic on a contract basis. This group of eight have been offered a lump sum payment of £10,000 as a golden handshake. Alternative offers of either three months full pay, or six months half pay, have also been made. So far these offers have not been accepted but they are still available. Since Magic 103 is no longer in a position to sell a news service to Radio Nova, we here at Nova have reestablished a small news department. This department is not in a position to offer work to those previously involved with Magic 103. Finally, Radio Nova and all of us here would like to make it clear that we are not in dispute with either the NUJ or the personnel of Magic 103.

This was a far cry from Radio Nova’s trail-blazing news broadcasts of previous years. Even other self-serving ones from the time of the 1983 raids or the RTÉ jamming campaigns had an air of revolution and got people mobile. These broadcasts were more likely to immobilise listeners who were in the know with sheer incredulity.

However, the vast, vast majority of listeners had no interest in the behind the scenes wrangling. They just wanted to turn on their radios every day and for their favourite radio station to be there. In these desperate times for Radio Nova that favourite station was just as likely to be Q102 or Sunshine. Gone was the heyday when 60% of Dubliners preferred Nova for their daily entertainment.
From mid-1984 the station seemed, to a fair proportion of Irish listeners, to be more interested in catering for their counterparts in Liverpool, or Wales, or the Isle of Man than those who’d made the station number one in Dublin.

According to those close to Chris Cary at that time his decision making was being increasingly fuelled by paranoia. In hindsight it was quite obvious that Radio Nova was running on less than half of a tank at this point. If his plan had worked and he’d managed to shake off the NUJ when closing (or selling) Magic 103, then history might have been very different.

Unfortunately for Cary, and Nova, the closure of Magic 103 meant that the NUJ were about to rattle cages again with the ferocity of a starved big cat. This time around they made no secret of the fact that they wouldn’t rest until the station was gone for good.


The Magic 103 on air personnel were:

Chris Barry
Linda Conway
Sybil Fennell
Bob Gallico
Steve Gordon
Dave Harvey

Bernie Jameson
Dave Johnson
George Long
Peter Madison
Philip Green

Shane McGowan
Jenny McIvor
Sally Ann Parker
Dave Walsh
Mark Weller

George Long on Magic 103
George Long on Magic 103 (Thanks to Henry O’Donvan)

George (these days known as Henry O’Donovan) says:

I was on Magic from 7pm to 1am with music from the ’40s to the ’70s. At the top of the hour the mic would open up to Rathfarnham so I could read the news on Nova. It was soooo cool! Everything had to be timed to THE SECOND, or Harry [Chris Cary] would fire me!
Now THAT was professional radio! And I have never forgotten the amazing training I got from Nova.

Magic 103

Listen to a jingle

I don’t recall a lot of advertising on Magic and the word on the street was that it was losing a lot of money.
The afternoon show ran a guess the celebrity type quiz with losers phoning in and going on air with their guesses – the prize pot increased by 10 pounds a day, on the week ending September 20th the prize pot was getting carried over to the next week for the first time!

Tom Colgan

March 1985

Mike Hogan departs Radio Nova to take a management position at Q102.

The latest presenter line up:-
Midnight Noel Clancy
6am John Clarke
9am Steve Gordon
11am Greg Gaughran
2pm Tony McKenzie (new to Nova, Tony James on Caroline)
4pm Colm Hayes
8pm Henry Owens

Tony Prince does a special Patrick’s Day show on the station before an appearance in Nova Park.

Radio Nova runs adverts saying they will be the first station outside the USA to run AM stereo broadcasts. These are scheduled for April 1st!

April 1985

Radio Nova commences test broadcasts in AM stereo at 3pm on April 1st.
Listen here:

Hugh O’Brien departs the station.

A new daily programme from Rick Dees is aired at 9am on Radio Nova.

The Nova Boutique opens at 144 Upper Leeson Street.

Nova boutique

The FM only programme Dublin Today moves from 102.7MHz to a new frequency of 103.5MHz on April 25th with Nova’s normal programming now on 102.7MHz, 103.2MHz and 738kHz.
The first night of transmissions suffered significant interference on the south side from 103.2MHz at Nova Park. The power on 103.2 was reduced the following day – on air it was acknowledged that some listeners had heard ‘Colm Hayes shouting over Dublin Today’.

Magic 103 Dublin

A looped announcement on 103.5MHz introduces Magic 103. The first programme on the station is Bob Gallico’s Classical Programme on April 28th at 6pm. The new station features easy listening music and lots of speech programming and is based in 144 Upper Leeson Street, the home of Dublin Today, and news bulletins for the Nova stable will also come from there.
Listen to the first programme here:

Thanks to Gary Hogg / DX Archive

What did Bob Gallico say?’ is a new competition in which the winner can drive away in a new car. It comes in the form of a cartoon that features all the main presenters with bubbles coming from their mouths with their most common sayings on the air. However, the bubbles for John Clarke and Bob Gallico are blank and the idea is for the entrant to fill these in. The winner will be the funniest.
Huge billboards have gone up, not only in Dublin but across the north-west of England and Wales. The photograph below is of one of the billboards in Blackpool.

See also Appendix III

What did Bob Gallico say

The irony of the AM stereo ‘broadcast’ was that it could actually be done (we were experimenting with Kahn-Hazeltine ISB AM stereo on ABC in Waterford around that time)

Andy Green

May 1985

George Long and Chris Barry depart Q102 and return to the fold, both appearing on Magic 103.

Nova schedule

Weekends include Peter Madison, Dave Harvey, George Talbot & Steve Gordon.

Magic 103’s line up
6.30am Chris Barry. George Long presents Magic 103’s own morning news service
9am Dave Harvey
10am Peter Madison and Bob Gallico
12pm Linda Conway & Jenny McIvor
2pm Mark Weller
4pm Dave Johnson
6pm Radio Nova relay

The Newsteam are Bob Gallico, Mark Weller, Bernie Jameson, Dave Johnson & George Long.

June 1985

The final of the Funny Bubble Competition takes place at Nova Park on June 6th and is broadcast on Radio Nova. Twelve winning entries are selected and each finalist is given a set of car keys but only one would open the car.
Listen here

In the days leading up to the final of the Funny Bubble competition a cooling issue on the 102.7MHz transmitter led to it being switched off for repairs. This led to Magic 103 being temporarily closed with Nova listeners asked to retune to 103.5MHz. The 102.7FM was switched back on in time for the competition final.

It looks like the long-awaited legislation introducing licensed radio will happen at last. Communications Minister Jim Mitchell announces the proposed introduction of two Bills. One will establish a Local Radio Commission and the second will update existing legislation to introduce tough new measures deterring pirate stations from operating.

Chris Cary confirms he will apply for a licence and has no intention of flouting the new law but expresses hope that the likes of Radio Nova will be given sufficient time to wind down.

Ric Harris joins Radio Nova, fresh from Laser 558.

A new children’s programme is introduced to Saturday mornings on Magic 103.

After only a few weeks on air, a number of magazines carry advertisements for the sale of Magic 103.

Radio Nova line up
6am John Clarke & Bob Gallico
10am Rick Dees
11am Tony McKenzie
3pm Colm Hayes
7pm Greg Gaughran
Midnight Henry Owens

Magic 103 line-up
6am Chris Barry & George Long
10am Peter Madison & Bob Gallico
2pm Mark Weller
5pm Dave Johnson & Shane McGowan
7pm Radio Nova relay

Bob Gallico on Magic 103
Bob Gallico on Magic 103 (Thanks to Paul Buckle)
Meet the People

Part 1 Chapter 13: Meet the People

Chapter 15

Part 1 Chapter 15: The Beginning of the End