WBEN was a Cork pirate station which first appeared in late 1985 and remained on air until the first few moments of 1989
Changed name to South Coast Radio in December 1987
WBEN first appeared in the city of Cork in late 1985 on 98FM (98.0MHz but later moved up slightly, finally settling on 98.5). The station, which for a time had superb audio quality, was ‘DJ-less’ initially and had a very heavy emphasis on American Top 40 music. When DJs were introduced names such as Jim Lockhart, Pete O’Neill, Rob Allen, Nick Richards, Neil Francis, Eamon Kelly, Hugh Browne amongst others were heard during 1986. Some of these DJs had previously been heard on the original South Coast Radio, the Cork ‘superpirate’ which closed in 1984.
The WBEN jingles were from a station of the same name in Buffalo, New York State (a station founded by the ‘Buffalo Evening News’ newspaper, hence the call letters!). Cork’s WBEN also used other American jingles which sang the “FM 98” dial position.
A notable hallmark of WBEN was its practice of playing records slightly faster than the standard speed (i.e. playing 45 r.p.m. singles at perhaps 46 r.p.m) – this intended to make the music sound livelier.
During 1986 a Medium Wave transmission of WBEN also came on the air but unfortunately this lasted only for a few months (note: in those days a high percentage of car radios did not have the FM band!). The frequency used, 1386kHz, was also problematic in some areas as it was already being used by North Cork Community Radio (NCCR) located at Mallow, Co. Cork.
During the summer of 1986 the largest Cork pirate, ERI, was off the air for a number of weeks having been forced to relocate its transmission facilities. ERI’s temporary absence from the airwaves resulted in a significant increase in listenership to WBEN for a time.
WBEN did appear to become dogged by some problems and unfortunately for its fans, the American charts format waned with time, as well as the departure of very experienced DJs it had, though it still sometimes played interesting, otherwise unheard of album tracks.
In late 1987 WBEN changed name/relaunched as South Coast Radio (not the first time that name had been used by a Cork radio station!). The station’s best-remembered presenter Romano Macari (usually known on-air simply as ‘Romano’), during his night time phone-in show felt this name change was appropriate. He remarked on air that it would be a more apt name “to apply for a licence under” (if such an opportunity were to arise) than a callsign which stood for nothing.
Shortly afterwards, the station had to move studio to smaller premises in Washington Street before eventually moving to the Togher area of the city upstairs at the ‘Pyramid’ snooker club.
South Coast Radio continued until a few minutes into New Year’s Day 1989 after an emotional night of phone calls to Romano on-air from listeners.
Romano, obviously with Italian connections, had been in the fast food business in Cork, and was one of the original backers of WBEN, later taking to the air himself with his legendary phone-in show.
WBEN/South Coast Radio station history was written and compiled by M. Long with the help of tape recordings, personal recollections, and recollections of others.
© 2003 M Long & Radiowaves.FM
Anorak Facts Extra Time
WBEN weekday schedule as of June 1987:
7-11am Rob Allen
11-3pm Tony Black
3-7pm Steve O’Neill’s Drive Time
7-11pm Linda Johnson
11-3am Scott Shannon (including ‘Gentle-Ben’ – lovesongs between 12 and 1)
Notably, at the time of typing (January 2003) three of the above presenters in the June 1987 schedule are to be heard on Cork’s 96FM; ‘Tony Black’ is 96FM newsreader PJ Coogan, ‘Steve O’Neill’ is Ken Tobin who presents 96FM’s early afternoon show, and Rob Allen who usually does overnights.
Two of the presenters from the earlier days of WBEN are also currently heard on 96FM; ‘Jim Lockhart’ is Neil Prendeville, well known for his talk show whilst Nick Richards, who also worked on the offshore Radio Caroline during the 1980s is the 96FM breakfast show presenter.