I wouldn’t be in radio if it wasn’t for the impression Chris Cary made on me.
In 1980, Brian McKenzie, working as the Irish distributor for a computer company by the name of Compshop, advised Chris Cary that the blossoming pirate scene in Ireland was ripe for the picking. Cary was the owner of Compshop in Britain so the communication with McKenzie was constant, and through this Brian convinced Cary that Ireland was crying out for a professionally-run radio station. Mainly hobbyist in nature, 24 hour professional stations could be counted on the fingers of one hand, even a hand that might have been missing fingers.
At this point, Cary was in advanced plans to launch an offshore holiday station broadcasting to Spain by the name of Sunshine Radio. When those plans hit some snags Chris asked Robbie Robinson, his old mate from the Radio Caroline days, if he’d like to visit Ireland to check out the radio scene. When the two giants of the offshore British radio scene realised how easy it would be to operate a radio station on dry land, the plans to launch a radio station reverted to Ireland’s fair city. Nobody thought to tell them that to set up a station in Ireland and call it Sunshine Radio would make them guilty of a massive misnomer. Or if they did, the fact that Cary already had a package of Sunshine Radio jingles for the planned Spanish adventure became a deciding influence.
After a week searching for a suitable location, they fell upon The Sands Hotel in the north Dublin suburban seaside town of Portmarnock, and with investment from Cary, Robinson and another name from the offshore pirates Phil Solomon, Sunshine Radio was born in September 1980.
Money was pumped into the project with the intention of giving Dublin listeners a highly professional radio station. But Cary had his sights set further afield…
My main objective at the time was to broadcast to Britain. Although I picked a very low frequency to give the 1 kilowatt AM transmitter its best chance. It only really sensibly illuminated in Blackpool and Wales – which was not a large enough coverage area.
With the installation of a huge mast completed, the first test transmissions took place on 531kHz on medium wave from the kitchen of Suite 101 in the Sands Hotel on September 14th. The strength of these – both signal-wise and the quality of the on-air talent – plus a report in the Sunday Independent that very day, were probably the catalysts for an act of vandalism by moonlight which brought Sunshine’s £5,000 worth of aerial crashing to the ground, leading to a small explosion as the tower collided with electricity wires and a diesel tanker. The sabotage was widely believed to be the work of the owner [cough, clear throat, cough] of a long-running local radio Dublin station.
It was two weeks before the station could return to testing, which they did on September 28th, with both Robbie Robinson and Chris Cary on air.
A very early line up from Sunshine Radio: Tony Allan is at the top of the photo with his right arm around Manon Christie and his left around Siobhán Walls. Peter Madison is standing at the far right. At the front, from left to right, are Robbie Robinson, Declan Meehan, Timo Jackson and Chris Cary.
As the year progressed the station steadily gained an audience. On-air Cary seemed happy enough, however, behind the scenes, disagreements over the direction the station was going in, amongst other things, led to Cary selling his stake to Robinson, with Robbie also buying up Solomon’s share. Cary eventually left Sunshine at the end of January 1981, principally to run his computer store. From there he went to the United States.
Most Radio Programmers and Producers will admit to being frustrated Disc Jockeys. This old Disc Jockey will admit to being a frustrated Programmer and Producer.
The Radio Nova story begins from the time Chris Cary and Robbie Robinson set up Sunshine Radio in The Sands Hotel.
For weeks leading up to the station’s September 1980 launch equipment is assembled in the hotel and a huge 160 foot high aerial is built by one Sammy Prendergast.
On September 14th, the first test broadcasts are made on 531kHz. The station announces 539metres, which is cheating a little as their actual frequency in metres is 565 – but neither that or 531 rhymes with Sunshine.
On September 14th, the station is featured in the Sunday Independent…
In the early hours of September 15th, an act of sabotage forces Sunshine off the air before it has even begun.
The Irish Press from September 16th…
Tests resume on the 28th and regular programming commences from 7am on the 29th.
Chris Cary sells his stake in the station to Robinson and in January 1981 leaves Sunshine Radio.
February – April 1981
Chris Cary moves to the United States to concentrate on his computer interests. Whilst there he falls in love with the American style of FM radio and starts to implement a plan to replicate it in Dublin.