Radio Nova: Part 2 – Chapter 07

Best radio station ever!

Tim Kelly

November 1987 is one of those months in the history of Irish radio which was quite seismic – and felt like it at the time. The government in power finally appeared to have got their act together in terms of the ‘pirate radio’ problem and this time around the announcements that new legislation was coming had substance.

Meanwhile, in 144 Upper Leeson Street, unbeknownst to anyone bar a select few, Chris Cary had returned to Dublin with plans to bring Radio Nova back to the air. At the start of the year he had applied for transponder space with a plan to broadcast Radio Nova via satellite, which in turn could be relayed via cable and even terrestrially. He was still waiting to receive the goahead by the time he returned to Dublin.

At midday on November 9th a new, strong signal, appeared in Dublin on 100.0MHz emitting test tones. This was replaced with continuous music on November 12th – no announcements, no promos or idents, just crystal clear stereo FM music with a quality of signal which the anorak community believed could only be capably achieved by one man – Chris Cary. The rumour mill went into overdrive.

The new Radio Nova was located on the top floor, in a small room off to the side of Energy’s on-air studio. In action were a cartridge machine, two CD players and an automated mixer. For most of Energy’s time broadcasting the building next door resembled a bomb site. By November it had been restored, put to auction and bought by Chris Cary – or a company acting on his behalf! On November 12th 143 Upper Leeson Street became the home of the new Radio Nova.

Meanwhile, 144 was also going through some changes of its own. The old Newsroom became the new on-air studio and the Production Studio was moved upstairs.

At 7am on November 18th Niall McGowan presented the first live programme on Radio Nova – The Hot 100, which had by now shifted slightly to 99.9MHz. A big play was being made of the fact that every song was from CD. Other voices heard were Tim Kelly and Noel Clancy and an old familiar address of 19 Herbert Street is given out over the air for correspondence. For most people it was surreal hearing the old Radio Nova jingles playing out over FM in Dublin after a 20 month absence. The station also started carrying the Energy 103 news broadcasts – which were rebranded to Independent Radio News.

Niall McGowan recalls the first broadcast:
“My memories of that day are of ‘terror’. I was told the day before that I was opening Nova 100 at 7 in the morning and thought “great”. When I got into the station next door to Energy I was shocked and stunned because there was no carts and no records we had a new thing called CDs and I had never seen one before!
I remember the first hour was a steep learning curve; the CD player acted funny and we all had no idea what the buttons on the CD player did. We did not know many of the songs and that is why the music is a little strange and not entirely ‘hits’ and I only had about 20-30 to choose from. When you put a CD in the player it seemed to take an age to load and most of the time I just played the first song that loaded. I was so so nervous but full of the beans of being young and I soon felt confident.
I remember going into Tony McKenzie after the show and asking ‘Hey Tony, do you know how to work a CD player.’
He answered ‘no.’
Day 2 was much better and I had lots of CDs to play.”

On November 24th at a staff meeting, those present are informed that the new Radio Nova would merge with Energy Power 103FM from 1pm the next day. The move was strategic and followed the announcement that legislation to introduce licensed local radio was on the cards. As part of that strategy Dublin Today, the former Radio Nova current affairs magazine programme, made a return.

In a baffling move one other major change to the schedule was made. In his first decision as station manager, Brian McKenzie opted to replace Pat Courtenay on the Breakfast Club with Cassidy Jones (above). The Flying Kiwi would instead be flying solo in a new mid-morning slot, although thankfully, Bob Gallico continued to work the excellent double handers with him – unfortunately, though, they were much less frequent.

Speaking To, Pat Courtenay says he understood why the decision was made and felt that the Breakfast Club with him at the helm had maybe run its course. He also felt that because of the new legislation the desire to tone down on the ‘zany’ aspects of the schedule played a part in the decision.

Whatever the reasoning, Cassidy Jones didn’t manage to build the same rapport with Bob and Lisa (which is not to denigrate him in any way, just like the impossible comparisons with Nova in Energy’s early days, Cassidy had a lot to live up to).

Unfortunately, Nova didn’t make it to Christmas. By mid-December, in a move to protect the goodwill associated with the name Radio Nova, the receiver for Nova Media Services sought an injunction preventing Energy/Chris Cary from using ‘Nova’. In a strange move, the station decided to simply drop Nova from the name and identify on-air as Power 103FM. A few days later it was back to Energy 103 which led to head-scratching bafflement from listeners, and even one or two presenters, and derision from other stations.

Energy never really recovered from the chaos surrounding the name changes and the changes in schedule. In just a few weeks it had gone from being one of the best stations Dublin had ever produced to a shadow of itself. One wonders what the thinking was behind starting up Nova The Hot 100 and merging it with Energy 103. Designed to enhance its reputation and give it a better chance of attaining a licence, it had the complete opposite effect, and in hindsight that could have easily been predicted.

1988 came round and on the first day of the year, in a nod to past glories, Pat Courtenay presented a show which played back all the best sketches from his time on the Breakfast Club. When the laughter had died down it only served as a reminder of what had been and the heights that the station had reached before that fateful day of November 25th.

The station basically ticked along through January and February. In hindsight it is obvious that Cary had lost interest in it and, although it came out of the blue in one way, in many others it wasn’t a complete surprise when Energy 103 ceased broadcasting on March 11th.

November 1987

On November 9th, a powerful signal emitting a test tone appears on 100.0MHz. The test tones soon revert to continuous music. The rumour mill goes into overdrive believing that Chris Cary / Radio Nova is on its way back.
And for once the rumours are correct.

Live programming is introduced to the service on the morning of November 18th and by now the frequency had shifted to 99.9MHz. Niall McGowan is the first voice to announce the ‘new’ Radio Nova.

Following a lot of on-air teasing on November 25th, Bob Gallico and Sybil Fennell announce the merger of Radio Nova and Energy 103 at the start of the 1pm News.

Chris Cary takes up a consultancy role with the station. Brian McKenzie is appointed station manager. Sybil Fennell is Chief Executive.

As a result of the merger a new schedule is introduced:
Midnight Liam Coburn
7am Breakfast Club with Cassidy Jones, Bob Gallico and Lisa Moore
11am Pat Courtenay
2pm Tony McKenzie
6pm Dublin Today
7pm John O’Hara

Energy 103 start broadcasting from a new studio which is located on the third floor of 144.

Chris Cary is looking to team up with Independent Newspapers in order to bid for one of the new licences. Negotiations with Jefferson Smurfit about buying in to Radio Nova had broken down as the Smurfit group feared that radio would be a loss leader.

A defiant Cary tells the press that the government will not be able to shut down Radio Nova this time around even after all the other pirates have been legislated off the airwaves. He reveals he has plans to launch a pan-European satellite version of the station using the latest satellite technology.

Mike Mahon moves from presenting shows to the News at weekends.

Tim Kelly is new to Nova/Energy.

The image below shows a cable running from Energy at 144 into Nova at 143. It is courtesy of Mike Mahon who says:
I remember Chris Cary, and everyone, carrying equipment and stuff between the two buildings. 143 had only just been finished and decorated.

Sybil Fennell leaves on maternity leave. Brian McKenzie takes over her role.

December 1987

On Monday, December 14th a court injunction brought by the receiver for Nova Media Services restrains Nova Power 103 from using the Nova name.
Confusingly the station subsequently identifies itself on air as Power 103FM. However, by the end of the week Energy is restored to the station’s name.

This year’s EnergyCare takes place at Blinkers Nightclub, Leopardstown.

January-February 1988

The 99.9MHz FM transmitter is stolen and a reward of £1,000 is offered for information leading to its return.

In January, Pat Courtenay returns to behind the scenes production work exclusively but by February he is back on an afternoon slot.

Richie O’Shea is a new name on weekend overnights.

Cassidy Jones leaves to work in England.

Dublin Today is dropped from the schedule.

The station’s schedule is
Midnight Liam Coburn
7am Tony McKenzie (below)
11am Tim Kelly
3pm Pat Courtenay
7pm John O’Hara

All images on this page are by very kind courtesy of Mike Mahon.

Feeling the Energy

Part 2 Chapter 06: Feeling the Energy

Energy 103

Part 2 Chapter 08: No Time For Goodbyes