Radio Nova: Part 1 – Chapter 17

Everybody expects me to do something absolutely amazing and outrageous! Well I promise I won’t.

Chris Cary

When Radio Nova switched off 738kHz AM at just after 6pm on March 19th 1986, there was no outpouring of grief, no mass protests, no chanting, no car horns – just an air of resignation from everybody who had ever cared about the station. The contrast with May 1983 could not have been starker.

It wasn’t that the listeners cared less, not even that less of them cared, necessarily. This time around too many forces were working to put the station off the air and although it was Cary himself who had decided to pull the plug, Nova didn’t even get the opportunity to do that on their own terms.

The year had started with Radio Nova conducting tests on long wave. Ireland’s internationally agreed frequency of 254kHz was not being used so Cary decided to make use of it. For a few days the long wave service was simply a relay of the main service but on January 28th Chris Barry went live with Radio Nova LW, announcing test broadcasts and asking for reception reports. Within a couple of days, the long wave was switched off, never to return.

The Radio Nova Story: March 1986

There follows a chronological recount of the events leading to the station’s closure: (see also side panel)-

March 5th:

Dublin County Council discusses Radio Nova’s application for planning permission for two masts to be situated at Nova Park. At this meeting Fine Gael councillor Breda Cass stated that she objected to permission being granted on health grounds, claiming that there is scientific evidence to show that exposure to RF can lead to a number of health issues and that the council could be leaving itself open to future litigation if they gave planning permission allowing Radio Nova to operate their masts in the Rathfarnham area.

March 8th:

On March 8th, an appeal is aired on Radio Nova’s News Bulletins for anyone with a transmitter site to contact the station. This is because planning permission for Nova Park had been turned down.
Mullingar emerges as a possible option.

March 10th:

On a number of bulletins, Radio Nova announces that due to continued problems with the NUJ that the station would close down on March 31st.
Chris Cary admits: “I am beaten, I have been beaten by the NUJ.”
He says he is no longer prepared to invest in the station owing to “…continual and unrelenting harassment from the NUJ.”
He reveals that Nova Media Services is up for sale with a valuation placed on it by a ‘management consultancy company’ of £10,000.

In a sign of the times, the Radio Nova closedown announcement is tucked away on the inside of newspapers or under the fold on front pages. It’s a far cry from the crazy days of the May 1983 raid, or the unstable RTÉ jamming period in 1984, when even a possible closedown for the station heralded banner front-page headlines.

The NUJ deny that they are responsible for the forced closure of Radio Nova and say they are taking the announcement with a pinch of salt. They also claim that it is Cary who is harassing their members rather than the other way round.
“We have had nothing but trouble from him. He is not a good employer,” Jim Eadie, Regional secretary, said.

March 13th:

On the evening of March 13th, some very explosive News bulletins are broadcast on Radio Nova.

This is a transcript of the extended 7pm bulletin with Sybil Fennell & Gary Hamill

Sybil: NUJ member Barry McCall today continued with his attempts to ensure that Radio Nova is forced off the air, in spite of the fact the station has already announced its intention to close down voluntarily on the last day of March as a direct result of continued and unrelenting NUJ harassment.
In court today Barry McCall sought a date for the hearing of his appeal against a stay of execution already granted to Radio Nova by the courts. Should Barry McCall’s appeal be successful he will force the station to cease broadcasting from Nova Park in Rathfarnham resulting in the immediate loss of all 25 jobs at Radio Nova.

Gary: Barry McCall’s action would therefore have resulted in putting 25 Nova employees, including NUJ members, out of a job; closing Radio Nova; and of robbing Dublin city of its most popular radio station.
In the words of NUJ member Bernie Jameson, writing in the NUJ’s Dublin press and PR branch letter of October 16th 1985, quote: “The chapel aims to have members reinstated…” and quote: “…failing this we will do all in our power to ensure that the station ceases to function.” end quote.
Barry McCall is the Chairperson of that branch, the NUJ’s Dublin press and PR branch.
We suggest you ring the NUJ HQ on Dublin 748694 or Dublin 741207 with your comments.

March 14th:

A promo is aired on Radio Nova, voiced by Bob Gallico, which states:-

On Thursday, March 27th, all of the professional broadcast equipment currently in use here at Radio Nova will be offered for sale by public auction. Included will be professional broadcast studios, audio processing equipment, antennas, transmitters and generators. It is sold as seen and heard and is all in working order. This package is deliberately being offered for sale prior to Radio Nova’s official closedown on March 31st to afford the purchaser the opportunity to continue trading without a break in continuity. The trading name of Radio Nova will also be offered for sale as a separate entity…”

Radio Nova auction

March 16th:

The Sunday Press reports that Zena Brady has filed a Section 205 claim (oppression of minority interest) against Cary. Brady is a 26% shareholder in Nova Media Services. Her case is that Cary has been inflating the prices that Nova Media Services has been paying Stratford Leasing for the lease of Radio Nova’s equipment. Stratford Leasing was founded by Cary and he is the major shareholder.
(See newspaper cutting in the side panel)

March 17th:

During the 7pm News on Radio Nova, George Long announces that the station’s FM transmitter would be off the air for a short time due to maintenance. What actually happened is that a lot of the studio gear and link equipment is taken out and shipped to Leeson Street.
As a result, the FM was linked from the 738kHz medium wave transmitter on its return, so was broadcasting only in mono.

March 19th:

The morning on Radio Nova was the same as any other. John O’Hara and Bob Gallico were on Breakfast and they were followed at 9am by Tony McKenzie…


The first on-air hint that something was not right was the News bulletin at 1pm. It wasn’t the usual extended one.

Then, as the 3pm News with Gary Hamill was approaching, Colm Hayes was heard asking for Chris or Tony to contact the station.


Following the 3pm News the signal on FM went silent for a few seconds and returned with a different song to the one which had been playing. Even stranger, it was a different song to the one on 738kHz. 103.1FM continued with continuous music. There were no idents or anything else to give the listener any idea of what was happening.
However, on medium wave Colm Hayes continued as normal. Well, not really…we rejoin his show at 4.40pm with the news that Radio Nova is closing down.
Gary Hamill with the final Nova News at 5pm explains the situation…and then George Talbot starts the final hour.


And so, at 6.03pm Radio Nova was no more. Over on 103.1FM the non-stop music was still going.

Earlier, in the High Court, a receiver-manager had been appointed over Nova Media Services on foot of a petition brought by Zena Brady, a 26% shareholder in Nova Media Services, who claimed that Chris Cary had been misappropriating funds from the company. Pearse Farrell, the receiver-manager, was given the power to carry on the business of the company, but only within the law. This meant that Radio Nova, operating without a licence, was forced to close. Not long after the receiver-manager had turned up at Nova Park, over at Upper Leeson Street Tony McKenzie faded out Radio Nova’s FM transmissions and turned on the feed with non-stop music. He did this to protect the frequency. Continuous music continued until 10.15pm when the unidentified station identified itself as Zoom 103.


Radio Nova final day

George Talbot is pictured here in the makeshift Nova studio on that final day. He told Radiowaves:
” [The final day] was bittersweet as some of us knew it was coming. We also knew there was another station being prepared elsewhere but didn’t have that much information…as it turned out it was Zoom. Myself and Tony McKenzie were actually the last two at Nova Park and we were filling the cars with anything that hadn’t already gone to Zoom to take there. It was a crazy day – while waiting for the bailiffs we got through the skylight in the library on to the roof and passed hundreds of albums up there. The bailiffs only saw an empty room with shelves and never thought to open the skylight!”

Did Chris Cary have something planned at the end?
Kevin Branigan believes so…

Chris Cary was under pressure from Zena and Eugene Brady, they had been 26% shareholders since 1982 and they hadn’t received a penny. They resigned as directors in early 1985 so things were obviously pretty fraught by then.

Cary was denuding the assets of Nova. He’d sold the whole of Magic 103 – an entire radio station including FM and AM transmitters, Optimods and studio to Q102 and the Brady’s were taking a case for suppression of minority interest against him and that case was coming down the tracks.

So, at the beginning of March he announced that Radio Nova was closing down and that all the assets would be put up for sale on March 27th at a BP Gunne Auction. However, some of the kit listed in the BP Gunne list is junk and some had been sold already to Grattanoak (Zoom/Energy) and they must have had receipts for it as when the Receiver went to Zoom, they couldn’t take it.

I reckon his plan was to do a hooky pre-packed asset auction in which he would buy the assets of Radio Nova, including the name, and then move the station to Lesson St and, lo and behold, Nova doesn’t close down at the end of March after all but continues from Leeson St – minus the Bradys.

I believe that was his plan and the Brady’s cut him off at the pass because they heard the BP Gunne auction ads going out and they went to the High Court and got an injunction preventing him from dissipating the assets any further.

He was advertising for a new medium wave site in February 1986 on the news. He knew he was going to have to leave Nova Park because of planning permission, His behavior was not that of someone who was preparing to close down in a few weeks. I’m convinced he was going to do a rinky-dink on the assets, move Nova into a new company, and leave the Brady’s taking a suppression of minority interest against a defunct company. What stopped him was the High Court – no messing around with the High Court or you could be in contempt of course.

January – February 1986

Jessie Brandon leaves Radio Nova at the start of the year.

Some of the striking newsreaders return to the station’s News department following talks.

With Dave Johnson, Chris Barry and George Long, along with Gary Hamill (ex Q102), back on board the station returns to a full News schedule.

Radio Nova turn on their longwave transmitter again on January 9th commencing a couple of days of test relays. Later in the month they return and remain on air for longer periods and with increased strength. No mention is made of the relay over the air.
On January 28th the signal splits and Chris Barry announces Radio Nova on longwave and requests reception reports. Split broadcasts are observed for another couple of days until the transmitter is turned off altogether on January 30th. This is the first day of split programming with Chris Barry on long-wave

Courtesy of DX Archive

Chris Cary tells the circuit court that he did not come to Ireland to blatantly break the law and that he was convinced by his presenters that he would not go to jail if they went back on the air following a raid. Cary was being sued by Joe Jackson, a former manager at Nova Park Country Club, for the use of his transmitter after Radio Nova was raided in May 1983. Following the removal of the station’s equipment, Jackson had leased his transmitter to Cary for an agreed sum of £5,000 which helped get Nova back on the air but had not received payment. Jackson’s claim was dismissed due to contradictory evidence.

Nova boss in court

Radio Nova launch a job creation programme offering a week’s free advertising to any firms who take on new employees.

The morning Zoo Crew is released back into the wild and is no more.

February starts with the following line-up:
6am John O’Hara
9am Tony McKenzie
1pm Colm Hayes
5pm George Talbot
9pm Richard Jackson
1am Paul Kavanagh

Irish Press February 22nd 1986
(Courtesy Gary Hogg / Anoraks UK)
Evening Herald February 25th 1986
(Courtesy Gary Hogg / Anoraks UK)
Evening Herald February 26th 1986
(Courtesy Gary Hogg / Anoraks UK)

March 1st-19th 1986

See also main panel…

At the start of the month, a promo runs for a DJ Competition to take place in Nova Park with a two-hour show on the station being the prize.

A survey of males and females in the 15-25 age group conducted by Irish Marketing Surveys revealed that Radio Nova had lost a lot of its appeal to Dubliners as a result of actively chasing a British audience.

On March 10th Radio Nova announces that it will close at the end of the month due to NUJ pressure.

Irish Independent – March 11th 1986
Irish Press – March 11th 1986

Another Dublin pirate Kiss FM are interested in purchasing Radio Nova. Kiss FM director Alan Hunter says that they will make “the strongest possible representation” in an effort to buy the station.

On the evening of March 13th, some very explosive News bulletins were broadcast on Radio Nova…this is the extended 7pm with Sybil Fennell and Gary Hamill

Sunday Press – March 16th 1986
Shareholder in receiver bid at Nova
Sunday Press – March 16th 1986

On March 18th Kevin Branigan and Mike Ormonde paid a visit to Nova Park. This is how Kevin describes it:-
We went up to Nova on what turned out to be the second last day. It must have been Easter break. The strikers were on duty at the gate, as always – Shane, Linda, Jenny and Peter Madison. Nova was deserted! There were lots of empty rooms…even the reception desk was gone. And all the equipment…gone.

Nova always came from the second studio at the end of the corridor but today they were (unusually) coming from the one on the left, the one they called the ‘Exidy Studio’. Nova were always very generous in letting people in to have a look around and Chris Cary seemed to have no problem at all with young enthusiasts visiting and would often spend time chatting with them. Generally, there was no issue visiting Nova Park and you could go into the on-air studio to have a look. However, today, it was strictly not allowed into the studio that they were broadcasting from.
We could hear Colm Hayes on air through the open door. Most of the office furniture was gone, the Swift production studio was gone, and most of the rooms seemed to be empty. Chris Cary was there and he was in very good form! He chatted with us for a good few minutes. We asked was he really closing down at the end of March and he said “yes”. We asked what would we listen to now and he said: “Well, you can listen to Q” and when we said: “It’s not as good as Nova though, Chris”, he smiled and said: “No it’s not is it!”. We then asked for car stickers and he said: “You can have a whole roll of stickers!”. He went off and came back with a roll of 500 stickers for each of us and said: “Here you go, don’t stick ‘em all in the one place! They’ll be worth something some day.”
We left, still assuming Nova was not closing. Chris Cary seemed in too good form, he was ebullient! Too cheerful, we thought, to be about to close down. Events seemed to take their own course, however, and the Receiver was appointed by the High Court the next day.

Irish Times – March 19th 1986

On March 19th Radio Nova ceases broadcasting at 6.03pm (see main panel).

Radio Nova

Part 1 Chapter 16: Apart from the Union, Again

Radio Nova

Part 1 Chapter 18: Looking Back