Radio Nova: Part 1 – Chapter 16

It really is Fall of Empire stuff and it all seemed to unravel in a few months.

Kevin Branigan

Listen to a jingle

As Autumn 1985 drew to a close, the pickets were back in force thanks to the closure of Magic 103. Both Nova Park and 144 Upper Leeson Street were targetted, as was Sybil Fennell, who had stayed loyal to the station and to her lover, Chris Cary. She was subject to dreadful abuse, despite the fact that she had left the NUJ. Placards carried derogatory remarks about her and it became so bad that a temporary injunction was granted ordering the abuse to stop.

Sybil Fennell in the Newsroom
Sybil Fennell in the Newsroom (Courtesy of Richie Wild)

The pickets were certainly having an effect. The station had no working telephone as Bord Telecom would not pass the pickets. Advertising revenue was dangerously low, at a time of year that it would normally be at a high.

Cary repeated the claim in a court of law that none of the striking workers had been employed by Radio Nova; that instead, their paycheques came from a company that “did business with Radio Nova”. The name Tegrar had appeared on paycheques of Magic 103 staff when the station launched in April 1985, despite the staff originally being employed by Nova Media Services. The NUJ argued that assigning Magic 103 to Tegrar was for the sole purpose of shipping out union members.

The NUJ strikers
Picket at 144 Upper Leeson Street

By late summer Chris Cary had become increasingly unhappy with some of the content being broadcast on Magic 103, not in terms of quality but in terms of political allegiances. The blame was laid firmly at the mouths of the same three who had picketed the station for most of 1984 – Jenny McIvor, Linda Conway and Shane McGowan. He had come to the conclusion that he was going to let them go and contacted the NUJ to tell them that their contracts would not be renewed. Talks with the union broke down once again with Cary telling them on the night that Magic 103 had closed that he was locking them all out of his premises. This time around severance pay was offered but the NUJ members refused, claiming it was blood money that, if accepted, would give him free rein to continue to ‘mistreat’ his employees. They were making it personal again. The lack of financial compensation had been at the heart of the previous strike. This time around it wasn’t accepted. What exactly did they want? The answer may well have appeared in the NUJ newsletter for October 1985*:- “…we will do all in our power to ensure that [Radio Nova] ceases to function.”

Radio Nova mast
A huge mast at Nova Park (courtesy of DX Archive)

Meanwhile, the NUJ were keeping Radio Nova busy in court. As a result of an action initiated by Barry McCall from the union, Nova were restrained from operating a radio station at Nova Park without planning permission. They were also restrained from using masts that needed planning permission. The order would come into effect in June 1986 if planning permission hadn’t been granted by then

Negotiations continued until the end of the year, at one point a resolution appeared to have been reached only for Cary to deny this the following day.

In January 1986 talks led to some of the strikers returning to work and a full News service was restored to Radio Nova.

Seemingly, the NUJ wasn’t alone in wanting to cause harm to the station. At the start of November 1985, the transmitter site at Kilmashogue was the subject of a break-in in which £50,000 worth of damage and £10,000 worth of equipment was stolen. Kilmashogue was the location of the 103.5MHz transmitter which had been used for Magic 103 and, since the closure of that station had been carrying Radio Nova. Bulletins on Radio Nova reported the act of vandalism, offering a £25,000 reward for any information which led to identifying the responsible persons. Strangely, though, Q102 lit up 103.5MHz the very next day using the Kilmashogue transmitter, which they – it transpired – had bought from Nova. Presumably, it had been removed before the break-in.

What appeared to be another act of vandalism, this time over the airwaves, was the whistling that appeared on 102.7MHz – Nova’s main frequency – on the same day that Q102 turned on 103.5MHz. It eventually emerged that these were sanctioned tests conducted by RTÉ from Clermont Carn, in Co Louth. Radio Nova switched off 103.2MHz and moved 102.7MHz to 103.1FM. They, however, stuck with 102.7 as their FM frequency on jingles, idents, adverts and on-air verbal identification right up until the day they closed.

Commentary by Ronan Segrave

We are into the grim end period now – a lot of kudos to the staff who stayed ultra professional to the end while the NUJ besieged the station.

Q102 took full advantage in terms of hiring some of the staff and taking advertisements. Mickey Joe had learned a lot from Chris!

Something that shouldn’t have happened was that Sybil Fennel was effectively blacklisted by the NUJ in both Ireland and the UK for passing pickets on the basis she was in a personal relationship with Chris – an extraordinary love story that endured for years. That was totally wrong and there should have been some basic compassion and understanding for the impossible situation she was in.

Ireland in the ’80s had five basic pillars – weak governments, the Catholic Church, the GAA, RTÉ and unions. Chris ended up in dispute with three of them at various points and the rest is history.

That said, Nova made growing up in the 80s in Ireland bearable. Chris also inspired a deep love of radio in me and brought listening pleasure to millions who badly needed it. Some story.

*See Appendix IV

Listen to a jingle

October 1985

At the start of the month, a statement is read out on a number of Radio Nova’s News Bulletins in relation to Magic 103. Listen here to a bulletin from October 2nd.

Courtesy of Kevin Branigan

Pickets continue at both Nova Park and 144 Upper Leeson Street with Nova Boutique remaining closed.

On October 8th the strikers on Leeson Street are observed carrying placards with quotes from staff…for example: “I just want to keep my job – Tony McKenzie”. A radio receiver at the picket is tuned to Radio Nova.

American Jessie Brandon joins Radio Nova and settles in nicely on the afternoon shift.

Another American import starts on Monday 8th – a format this time. The Zoo Crew with Colm Hayes, Bob Gallico, Dave Harvey takes over Breakfast time. Kathy Quinn joins the Crew later in the month.

The presenter line up is as follows:
6am Colm Hayes (with Zoo Crew from 7.30-9am)
10am Clutter-free
11am Tony McKenzie
3pm Clutter-free
4pm Jessie Brandon
7pm John O’Hara
Midnight Mike Duggan

The Listeners’ Top 100 is broadcast on bank holiday Monday 28th.

October was co-written by Kevin Branigan

Paying statuary redundancy would not have cost Cary very much. And a lot less than it eventually cost him.

Brian Johnson

November 1985

At the start of the month, Nova Media Services are granted a temporary injunction preventing NUJ pickets from taking place outside Nova Park and also stopping the striking workers from displaying derogatory placards aimed at Sybil Fennell, who had been targetted as the only remaining employee who is a member of the NUJ.
In an affidavit, Chris Cary revealed that Sybil Fennell had resigned from the NUJ on October 21st and that she, and other journalists employed by the station, were now members of the Institute of Journalists or other journalists’ unions.
He also revealed that there was no telephone on the premises because Bord Telecom had refused to pass the pickets; supplies had been seriously affected and that advertising revenue was perilously low, endangering the very existence of the station. The case was made that none of the picketing workers had been employed by Radio Nova, instead, they had been employed by a company who did business with Radio Nova and that was the extent of their association with the station.

On November 6th Radio Nova report that their 103.5FM transmitter site at Kilmashogue had been vandalised. Up to £50,000 worth of equipment was totally destroyed and £10,000 worth stolen. Nova offers a £25,000 reward for any information leading to the identity of those responsible. Nova had been relayed on 103.5MHz since the closure of Magic 103 in September. Listen to the news report here, first as the lead item in a bulletin and then later as the final item before it was dropped altogether

Courtesy of Kevin Branigan

On the afternoon of November 7th, a heterodyne is heard on 102.7MHz causing severe interference to Radio Nova’s signal, particularly in north Dublin. The following day Tony Allan produces a promo called ‘The Whistle Test’ and a £100 reward is offered for any information about the source of the whistling tone. It eventually becomes known that RTÉ are testing from Clermont Carn in Co Louth. Radio Nova switch off their 103.2FM transmitter and move their 102.7MHz to 103.1MHz.

Meanwhile, it emerges that Q102 have bought the 103.5MHz transmitter from Radio Nova when Q102 commence broadcasting on the frequency the day after the reported vandalism.

The injunction stopping the pickets at Nova Park is lifted on November 15th. This despite confusion over whether the striking workers were direct employees of Radio Nova or freelancers.

Towards the end of the month, the NUJ secure a ten day injunction against Nova Media Services preventing the company from operating transmitting masts at Nova Park that have no planning permission. This is amidst rumours that Chris Cary is planning to transmit on longwave.

November was co-written by Kevin Branigan

December 1985

On the afternoon of December 6th, 254kHz on longwave springs into life with a relay of Radio Nova. The test broadcast did not last long and Radio Nova are advised to switch off by the Department of Communications.

On December 8th, Radio Nova’s 103.1FM transmitter is on a blank carrier for the whole day.

On December 19th, the High Court make an order restraining Radio Nova from using Nova Park as a radio station without planning permission. They are also restrained from using masts that have yet to receive planning permission. A stay on the order until June 1986 is granted which allows the company to await the outcome of applications for planning permission and also to allow it to mount a case against the constitutionality of the Wireless Telegraphy Act.
The proceedings had been taken by NUJ member Barry McCall.

The iconic top of the hour ident still lists 102.7MHz as the FM frequency.

This is a recording of the Zoo Crew on Christmas Eve morning

Part 1 Chapter 15: The Beginning of the End

Part 1 Chapter 15: The Beginning of the End

1986, The Year of the Spat

Part 1 Chapter 17: 1986, The Year of the Spat