Radio Nova: Part 1 – Chapter 05

I’ve generated enthusiasm in people to do things which I can’t, and quite frequently they don’t think they can either. It mostly works.

Chris Cary

Listen to a jingle

Harry Christopher Cary was born on October 5th 1946.
For his first foray into radio, we need to go back to the day that offshore radio was outlawed in Britain – August 14th 1967. One station stayed on air beyond the deadline – Radio Caroline. Cary’s sole experience at spinning discs had been as a nightclub DJ in Blackpool. On the ship Cary’s very first job was playing records non-stop overnight as the Marine Offences Act became law.

Over time, using the name Chris Anthony, he got the confidence to make announcements and eventually ended up doing holiday cover for Johnnie Walker – by now using the name Spangles Muldoon.
With the first demise of Caroline Cary found himself back doing disco work until he heard test transmissions for Radio Northsea International.

Chris: “I tracked down Larry Tremaine, who was the Programme Director at the time, and convinced him that I was the next best thing to happen to him. I don’t think I overly impressed him, but in any event I went out to the Mebo II with Peter Murtagh a month or so later.
The Mebo II was the Rolls Royce of radio ships. Hosting the most transmitters and sporting both FM and Shortwave. Carpets on the floors. Generally a very smart interior – almost luxurious.

Cary on Radio Northsea International in 1970
Cary on Radio Northsea International in 1970

Luxurious surroundings count for nothing when your signal is being jammed and bombs are being thrown at you. It was perhaps this period more than any other that prepared Cary for the troubled times which befell Radio Nova.

Radio Northsea closed in September 1970 but following its return, Chris rejoined in September 1972 for just a few days before resigning on air so that he could make a return to Radio Caroline, which was about to relaunch, as station manager and programme director. He left Caroline in August 1973.

In Ireland, Cary gave many young, budding presenters a chance to make their dreams come true but in 1975 he himself was given his dream job – a chance to work with Radio Luxembourg. The reality was not as glamorous as the dream and he left the Grand Duchy in 1977, but not before he had convinced management to change to ‘self-op’.

After returning to England Chris became involved with TV Games and then eventually he realised that computers were the future and Compshop was born. With the blossoming computer scene came success and Brian Webb (McKenzie) became the distributor for Compshop in Ireland. As we mentioned at the start it was he who had alerted Cary to the situation in Ireland.
And the rest, as they say, is the history you’re now reading.

Chris Cary believed that founding Radio Nova, making it number one and keeping it at number one until it closed was his greatest achievement in life. There aren’t many who will argue with his assessment.

Gareth O’Callaghan recalls the first time he met Chris…

My life changed on the 31st August 1981 when I met this man. It was late that Monday night when I dropped my demo tape into Radio Nova headquarters on Herbert Street.
Larry ‘Sound Hire’ Lynch had given me a set of his best decks, microphone and tape recorder to make a demo for Chris. He told me “it’s on me, no charge, cos I want to be able to listen to you every day knowing you got the gig using my gear.” True story. Then he said to me, “You’ll get the gig cos you’re good enough.” And I got the gig.
I walked up the steps to the front door where Chris was smoking, starring off into the night sky. I was terrified. He said “Allo!” I handed him the package and said, “Here’s a demo tape.” He shook it and replied, “You any good then?”
How do you answer that? Then he asked again, “You any good, or am I wasting 30 seconds of my life listening to this?”
I replied, “Yeah I’m pretty good. Why don’t you listen to the whole tape?” He roared laughing and looked at the jiffy bag again. “I like that. Cocky! Is there a phone number on it?”
“Yeah,” I replied, as I walked back to my tiny rust bucket of a Renault 4, parked beside his huge shiny Jag. “Thanks,” I shouted, trying to be cool. I turned the key. My car wouldn’t start.
Chris pushed it down Herbert Street single-handed until it chugged into life and I drove off into the night. I swore for the entire twenty minute journey home.
When I turned the key in the front door of my parents house later that night, my mother had left a note on the hall table for me. It said, “A Spangles Maldoon called for you. You start the job tomorrow. He’ll see you at 10. What’s the job? Mam xx”
That night in 1981 gave me a break that would steer the radio rudder of my life in the greatest way I could ever have imagined for almost 40 years since then.
Your hunger for innovative radio – how to do it like no one else could do it – was your legacy, Chris Cary. It’s a shame it has all fallen apart these days, because radio like yours could have remained innovative; but it didn’t.
Thank you Chris Cary for the gig, and thank you Larry Lynch, the unofficial ‘Lord Mayor of Ranelagh’, for the gear. Wonderful memories of real lovers of great radio.
They were happy days that flew by when great songs became classic hits from the moment you first played them.
The original will often be imitated, but never replicated. Chris and Larry – you were unique, each of you a classic hit, unlike the imitators that tried to walk in those big boots of yours. Perfection takes a lifetime. Your words, worth remembering.

Chris Cary in Herbert Street
Chris Cary in Herbert Street

An outsider’s evaluation of Chris Cary – by John Fleming

There have been few individuals in the history of radio that have split opinion the way Chris Cary did/still does.

Some refer to him as nothing better than a bully; others believe him to be an out and out genius. In some cases the differing opinions can come from the same person.

There does seem to be a noticeable split though – between those who worked for/with him and those who didn’t, with one or two very noticeable exceptions.

Cary appeared to scold his staff in the same way a disapproving parent might do – the words: ‘You’re fired’ serving as a metaphorical slap on the wrist. But many of them recognise that this was his way of pushing them, to get the best out of themselves and ultimately to make the radio station the best it could possibly be.

“Right place, right time.”
“Anyone could have done what he did, he just had the money to put it in place.”
A sample of the type of opinions offered that attempt to play down his achievements. But every successful leader has had a personal drive and determination that separates them from others.
The sense of loyalty from so many of the people who worked at Radio Nova resonates to this day. Every year, on the anniversary of his passing, tributes that are sincere and heartfelt eulogise him.

That’s not to play down those who do have less than favourable opinions of him, although in many cases there are reasons why those opinions are held.

To switch to another great passion of mine, with apologies, Manchester United finished season 2012/13 at the top of the league in England, the 13th title in 20 unprecedented years of success. The man at the helm at that time, Alex Ferguson, shares a lot of similar traits and characteristics with Chris Cary. A stubborn streak that sometimes was to his detriment; a dogged determination and steely resolve which he was able to transfer onto his players, players who remain loyal to him to this day despite accusations of him being a bully, including one or two who have very legitimate claims of having been bullied by him.

The following season that team of champions finished in seventh place. The difference was the manager. Ferguson had retired and David Moyes – a man with a very similar background to Ferguson – had taken over. Steering a great team to be a bunch of winners is not so easy after all.
Moyes was not Ferguson.
Nobody else was Chris Cary.

It was not just that Cary had money that made Radio Nova what it was, nor was it a simple case of right place, right time. Both helped, but to suggest that anyone else could have achieved what he did in the same circumstances is to play down the influence a strong leader can have. And seriously downplays the legacy of a great radio man.

Listen to a jingle

February 1982

A general election was called in this month and although Nova refused to run party political broadcasts, the politicians for the most part made great use of the station, and other pirates.

March 1982

Problems with sabotage to Radio Nova’s equipment comes to a head as can be heard in this recording from March 3rd.
John Clarke is on the air and Siobhán Purcell reads the News…

John Clarke
John Clarke

You can hear Chris Cary fuming durng Siobhán’s announcement at the end of the bulletin

Greg Manahan

April 1982

Gary Hogg wrote this piece about an Anoraks UK visit to Radio Nova in Herbert St on Sunday, April 4th 1982…
Radio Nova [was] the first station visited. We arrived outside 19 Herbert Street during the breakfast show. Being Sunday morning, the roads were very quiet and we found it quite easily.
There was no disguising where the station was operating from, there being a plaque at the door proclaiming that ‘Nova Media Services’ was housed here. A security camera pointed down at the doorway as we rang the bell. When the door was answered we explained who we were and were kindly allowed inside. It was the first time I had properly been into the newly refurbished 19 Herbert Street studios. (During the previous visit, the studios had been moved to the transmitter site at Rathfarnam, and looking from the door Herbert Street appeared full of boxes.) The legendary Don Allen was on the air at the time. Don was only at Radio Nova for a short time, and presented the weekend breakfast show, as well as some late-night programmes.

This was the first time I had met any of the famous offshore broadcasters from the 1960s. I felt that Don, being more a country music fan wasn’t really enjoying the Radio Nova format, and not long after he left to join Radio Carousel in Navan.
Nova was the best-equipped station I had seen to date. They had obviously put plenty of money into the operation. The on-air studio consisted of proper broadcast equipment, not just hi-fi / disco equipment that we had seen in most other stations. Cart machines were used to play both commercials and some of the music. The production studio was similarly kitted out and included a reel-to-reel editing suite. The transmitters were no longer at this site, and since the previous August had been re-located to the Greenacres Country Club, Rathfarnham.
Radio Nova were probably the first ‘unlicensed’ station to use a UHF link to their transmitter site. Most other stations used an FM transmitter from the studio to medium wave site.
We stayed at Herbert Street for a couple of hours, chatting with Don, and also Jason Maine who followed Don on the mid-morning slot. Jason was a friendly guy. I liked his programmes a lot as he always sounded to be really enjoying himself.
Extract with thanks to DX Archive

Don Allen on Radio Nova
Image of Don Allen in the Radio Nova studio was taken by the Anoraks UK team during their visit. Paula Johnson is with him earning stripes for her grown-up anorak.

May 1982

Radio Nova Road Show
Evening Herald – May 21st 1982

Radio Nova runs a very successful radiothon under the name Operation Novacare in which the station raises funds to buy a Kidney Dialysis machine for Meath Hospital. Industry and Energy Minister Albert Reynolds publicly praises the station and her listeners for the effort.

Radio Novacare 1982
Tap to read

Having struck a deal for the GreenAcres complex in Rathfarnham, Chris Cary reveals that he is thinking about launching a Breakfast TV service and almost publicly appeals to the authorities to allow him to do it. He claims that they could easily get a channel on-air ahead of the planned launch of breakfast services in Britain.

Pirate TV
Tap to read

A listenership survey of almost 1,000 people in the 15-34 year old age group in Dublin, which was conducted over the course of one week, shows that Radio Nova has a 41% share.

Radio Nova
Sunday Independent – May 9th 1982

June 1982

Bob Gallico makes his debut as a newsreader on the station.

The Tuam Herald mention Radio Nova reporting that it’s booming in to Mayo ‘loud and clear’.

The iconic top of the hour ident runs for the first time on the station.

The listenership survey mentioned for May 1982 appears to have been the catalyst for a range of hostile actions by RTÉ. Despite claiming that the poll was false they appeared to be taking the threat of competition very seriously.
Advertisers on Radio Nova are reportedly told that they could not advertise with RTÉ if they are also advertising with the pirate station.
The band Stocktons Wing publicly claim that RTÉ producers had told them that they would not be getting airplay for their new single on the national station following an advertising campaign they had run on Nova.
RTÉ denied there was any such ban but they also deny they are responsible for a jamming campaign against Radio Nova at the end of the month as the station celebrates one year on air. Nova engineers trace the source of the jamming to a building in Rathmines owned by RTÉ.


This is a classic Evening Herald photo from June 29th 1982.
RTÉ jammed our signal was the headline and the article can be viewed by tapping on the image ,,,.

Chris Cary in Rathmines
Radio Nova Chief Chris Cary attempting to trace the source of jamming in Rathmines.

The 8pm News on June 29th…

Medium for Long Range

Part 1 Chapter 04: Medium for Long Range

You're Fired

Part 1 Chapter 06: You’re Fired