On this very day in 1985, Lawrence John introduced Dubliners to a brand new station, one which was designed to create a storm – albeit a quiet one. Q102 was born in an era when stations came and went as often as the tide in Dublin bay so it would need to be quite special to not only attract listeners, but also to keep them – especially at a time when two of the biggest and most popular stations we’ve ever known, Radio Nova and Sunshine Radio, ruled Dublin’s roost.
Thirty six years later and the Belfast native is about to announce an exciting new project, also based in the capital. Less about that later!
Eternally enthusiastic, LJ’s love of radio has not been dampened by time. This despite being involved in one way or another for more than four decades.
Although his lips are sealed on exactly what his new project entails, Lawrence happily spoke to Radiowaves News about the background to the launch of what quickly became Dublin’s third superpirate.
Having already been on air on a number of stations, for Lawence John it was his time at Radio Nova that set his pulses racing more than any other. Having already fallen in love with Dublin, her most popular and biggest radio station proved to be the perfect complement for the affable presenter. So, how did he end up launching another station in competition with the one that meant so much to him?
During LJ’s time at Nova it became beset with problems, not least an NUJ picket on the station.
Lawrence takes up the story…
“I was reluctantly forced to leave Radio Nova because I was pressured by the NUJ to stop crossing the union picket line. I joined Sunshine – a great station – but my heart was still with Radio Nova so I came up with the idea of creating a new station, similar to Nova but not identical. A kind of ‘smooth’ Nova which I eventually named Q102.”
Radiowaves: How did it feel to go against Radio Nova as a direct competitor?
“I didn’t like the idea of going against my former friends and colleagues so I had to think of it as friendly rivalry. That’s the main reason I didn’t want to go head to head with the same format.”
Radiowaves: What were the origins of Q102?
“I approached my friend Pierre Doyle about funding and he liked the idea, bringing a few fellow nightclub owners on board in order to spread the risk. I was the creator and so became managing director, responsible for everything including programming, marketing and promotions, as well as being a deejay on the station.”
Radiowaves: Where were the transmitters sourced?
“I know nothing about the transmitters, or their location, I left this to the original engineer John Thewlis, although he was replaced by Joe King, I think it was. I always left engineering to the specialists. “
So, with everything in place and some strategic publicity in the newspapers, the test transmissions ran up until 7pm on Wednesday, January 23rd 1985 – the time of the station’s launch.
Looking back LJ believes that January 23rd was an ‘odd date’ on which to start up but it was one of the more memorable station launches, fusing humour and some of the major international stories of the time, all emanating from LJ’s creative mind.
“The aim was to capture listeners’ imagination and create a sense of fun. All the humorous promos were my idea but I invited input from Chris Barry and Martin Block, with Roland Burke putting his usual spin on production.”
Although it took another four years to become a reality, a new regime for licensing always seemed to be ‘imminent’ at the time of Q102’s launch. A lot was made of the fact that Q102 was wholly Irish-owned, a deliberate ploy which was hoped would see any licence application looked upon favourably. Obviously, the station would also need to be successful to be in with a chance of a licence but thanks to the recruitment of some very high profile presenters, aided with the financial backing of top local businessmen, failure was not being entertained from within.
“I never had any doubt Q102 would be successful, I have always approached everything I do with the idea that failure is not an option,” Lawrence confirms.
Radiowaves: How did your involvement with the station end?
“I didn’t realize how competitive Pierre was…he mentioned he would like to go head to head with Radio Nova but I suggested I would prefer not to deliberately compete with my former friends and colleagues and he never pressed me or mentioned the idea again. So it was quite a surprise, indeed a shock, to find Mike Hogan in the MD’s chair one afternoon. I don’t know how this came about. Whether it was Pierre who approached Mike or the other way round, but it was a good idea and one I would’ve welcomed myself, knowing Mike’s previous experience with Radio Nova.”
Ultimately, LJ’s love affair with Radio Nova caused him to sacrifice the hard work he’d put into the younger rival.
“I met Pierre a few years after my departure and there were no hard feelings,” says Lawrence. “Same goes for Mike Hogan, whom I met a couple of years ago at the annual Radio Nova alumni dinner. However, it was a lesson learned. I made sure I had 100% control of my next big station, the cross-border super pirate Energy 106. If there was ever any doubt that I would make a success of Q102, I think the success of Energy 106 in capturing 250,000 listeners with no one but myself and an engineer speaks volumes. Now… for my next big radio adventure, coming soon to a radio or smart speaker near you.”
Despite much pleading on our part LJ’s lips remain sealed about his new venture but we can reveal that it will be Dublin-based. We should learn more in the next few days and preview programming will also be aired very soon.
Will it be as successful as the station he launched all those years ago. Time will tell but with Lawrence’s talent and enthusiasm anything is possible. Stay tuned to Radiowaves.fm to keep abreast of developments.
We thank Lawrence John for taking the time to answer our questions.