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1970s Ireland was a time when Sundays were very special for many Irish people. It was the one day of the week that they got the chance to pay homage to an elevated being that spoke to them, not with forked tongue but more usually through f**ked transmitters.
Most Irish people also attended Mass on a Sunday morning back then, but many of those looked forward to arriving home and switching on their transistor radios hoping that they’d get a chance to hear presenters with exotic sounding names (real name usually John Smith, or worse) for an hour, or if lucky a little more. The broadcasts were anything but clear and were everything that was illegal, but the fact that they were giving radio listeners a choice, giving them what they wanted to hear as opposed to being told what they should be hearing, meant people sought out the broadcasts despite the fact that there was no guarantee that any would happen.
Radio in the 1970s was a very different beast to the one that exists today. We now have dozens of stations on the VHF band, a far cry from the static of the 70s. Medium wave is still alive – although only just – with local and international stations and we can now receive local transmissions digitally via DAB or countless thousands of stations of any genre you might desire at any time of the day from any part of the world.
Yet many people still yearn for the ‘good old days’ of radio. Why? The answer is varied and manifold.
There’ve been a few stages of radio, events that had a seismic effect that reverberated and influenced what was to come. The closing of the pirates and the launch of licensed services on 1988/89 was one such event. The arrival of full time, professional commercial radio at the end of the 70s / start of the 80s was another.
But the real radio pioneers were the hobbyists who did it for the love of the medium at the end of the 60s through the start of the 70s.
Turning on your radio in the 1970s gave you a choice of Radio Éireann (weirdly using the Gaelic name for Ireland but the English word for radio). We also had……exactly!
So with listening options restricted to a single station – a station for whom the phrase ‘popular culture’ had one too many nasty 7 letter words – for their fix of pop music teenagers were tuning in to the BBC or the station which had been on air since the beginning of time Radio Luxemburg.
Ah, good old 208! For any ten minutes of broadcast the average listener in Ireland might have heard about 5. A signal which faded in and out and was subject to all sort of interference still managed to attract thousands of listeners woefully ignored by their own local station.
Those listeners also increasingly had other options. Although many of the British offshore pirates of the 60s had mastered seven day broadcasting, this was asking a lot for the average local pirate at a time when transmitters were still extremely expensive. Pirates had come and gone over the decades, with Tony Boylan being one name who popped up again and again.
It was the launch of Raidió Baile Átha Cliath in 1966 that saw the start of a new revolution, albeit a very slow-burning one, of irregular Sunday afternoon broadcasts, with other days sometimes part of the schedule.
By the start of the 70s a small number of regular stations had emerged in Dublin, with numbers steadily growing over the years following. However, it was a time when raids on stations were regular and the forces employed by the state tended to veer towards brute.
On conviction fines were laughable but losing a transmitter was costly and meant it might take months, even years, before a station could return.
The stations of the early 1970s were the forefathers of what became a golden age of radio, the Ireland of the 1980s. Their names deserve to be remembered and recalled, as do the names of those involved.
This article is open to additions and corrections. As you read and listen put those free hands to good use and type anything that’s relevant from the period and send it to us for inclusion at the address below.
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On the seventh day … switch-on
The recordings and images in the following page come from a number of sources:-
Ian Biggar, Al Russell, Gary Hogg, Prince Terry, Ken Baird all deserve our undying gratitude for working to keep the memories alive.
Radiowaves.fm is proud to play whatever small role we can.