This section has been adapted and expanded from a Special on the original Radiowaves.FM site.
Part 1: INTRODUCTION
Nobody who listened to Irish radio in the early eighties will ever forget the day Radio Nova was raided. It made such a huge impact that even the very few people who’d never heard the station were touched by the incident, and the major fallout that ensued.
The date was May 18th 1983. It had been quite a while since the last pirate radio station raid. Although there had been a call to arms against the unlicensed stations from the government in the previous weeks the assumption was that this would be legislative. Indeed, on an RTÉ programme on March 1983, Minister Ted Nealon admitted that the only way to get the pirates off the air was in conjunction with introducing licensed radio, and that fair warning would be given to the stations to vacate the airwaves.
Notwithstanding that, a Bill to legalise independent radio always seemed to be “just around the corner” with a perceived promise to the stations that they would be given plenty of time to wind down their affairs with the introduction of any new laws, especially as many of them paid their taxes and had a number of full-time employees.
Against that backdrop the events of May 18th (and subsequently the 19th) came as a huge shock to broadcasters and listeners alike.
Radio Nova, in its two year history with Chris Cary at the helm, had become the most successful radio station on the Dublin airwaves. Thanks to the Boss’s meticulousness the station introduced professionalism in both output and attitude that had not previously been heard in this country…and to this day is still seen as a starting template for most radio stations who wish to be successful.
It is no exaggeration to say that everywhere you went in Dublin in 1983 there was no escaping the unmistakable sound of Radio Nova. It could be heard blasting out of shop doors; emanating from passing cars; and was a staple on factory floors and in most households. It was no surprise that opinion polls consistently placed it at number one – by a distance.
Everybody was aware that the major pirates were technically illegal. But nobody had ever imagined them being raided. In people’s eyes raids were the preserve of bedroom pirates causing the type of interference that sends airplanes crashing into housing estates. The likes of Nova and Sunshine were big businesses employing dozens of people at a time when unemployment and emigration was decimating the country. They paid their taxes. They were professional. A raid on either was simply unimaginable.
The morning of May 18th started just like any other. The very popular morning presenter Declan Meehan was on the air when, shortly before 9.30am, officials from the Department of Posts & Telegraphs, accompanied by Gardaí, arrived at the Nova studios at 19 Herbert Street in Dublin 2.
This was to set in motion a series of events over the coming days that were – the December 1988 mass closedowns aside – to prove the most hectic and chaotic in Irish broadcast history.
Over the next few pages the story is told in chronological order through broadcasts, exactly as they aired in May 1983, and a selection of press clippings and photographs. In some cases you will have to excuse the quality…this is a fascinating period in radio history and, as such, it is worth archiving whatever is available.
This Radiowaves Special would not be possible but for the help of a number of people. Many of the recordings and photographs have been sourced from the lads at DX Archive and are used with their kind permission – and many of the recordings are available for direct download at their website.
If you have anything to add – whether it be a snippet of information; a memory of the time or any of the stations; a press cutting; or any recordings; or anything we’ve missed – please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.