Radio Nova: Part 1 – Chapter 06

If you worked hard, he treated you well. If you didn’t work hard you were probably fired. He fired people for many reasons…he fired the entire staff once because he couldn’t find his watch

Colm Hayes

Listen to a jingle

Whereas Robbie Robinson’s success was in no small part due to his meticulousness, Chris Cary’s was very much due to acting on impulse. He would’ve been the first to admit that this led to a lot of bad decisions but, crucially, he got things right a lot more often than he got things wrong.

Tales of his temperament are the stuff of legend, with many having been on the wrong end of his steam-erupting moments. Nobody was safe, and almost everybody had a run-in with him at some point. He once even fired a man who wasn’t employed by him! That man was Robbie Irwin, who remembers being inside the Nova building to meet some of the jocks before heading out to the pub. The place was in a state of chaos – Nova was off the air and Cary was not in the best of form, to put it mildly. When Irwin ran into Chris on the stairs the conversation went as follows:-

Chris: Where the fuck are you gong
Robbie: Just upstairs to meet…
Chris: You’re fucking fired
Robbie: But I don’t even work here!
Chris: Well you’re fucking fired anyway.

Another such story comes from Peter Madison, who was sacked by Cary for talking too much between records. Madison had come from Sunshine where this was encouraged! Cary’s philosophy was to only speak on air when there was something worth saying.

Another story has Jason Maine walking out mid-show when Cary questioned a record he had put out on air, believing it didn’t fit well with the station’s style. The record in question was Van Halen’s “Jump” and on enquiring why it was a problem, Cary told Maine that when he said “jump”, he should jump.

John Clarke believes that this was a motivational exercise used by Cary…
“My humble take on the phrase from Chris, “You’re fired“, was that it was borne from frustration on his part, and that whoever was the target was simply not putting the ball in the net. You were letting the Nova shirt down.
So, what Chris was actually saying was: “Get out there and play a better game. When the red light goes on in the studio remember YOU are the radio station.”
And if you were told: “You’re fired,” and didn’t turn in the following day, then in Chris’s world you had left the team and you couldn’t take the heat.
Anyone whom Chris signed up, believe me, he deemed them to be the best of the best. He invested in the best broadcast equipment and transmission systems – and he was a proud and driven person who loved, and had a huge passion for, great radio. With that driving ambition he had no time for time-wasters or anyone who was not prepared to use their talent on every shift.
Yes, he was complex, for some difficult, but almost four decades later – the amount of talent from that era who continue to have careers that have flourished to this day is the legacy that Chris gave to radio. His cunning ability to identify talent, be it in its infancy – to him it was: ‘Go ahead, you have your chance, sink or swim…””

That first news broadcast, on a Sunday afternoon, was disastrous. Bob stuttered and stumbled his way through it. Thankfully, Chris Cary is a better talent-spotter than most of the rest of us and wasn’t deterred.

Almost forgotten in the midst of the mists of history is the effect that Radio Nova, and Sunshine, had on other pirate stations – some of them long-established. Understandably, many focus on the battle for listeners with RTÉ but, in the meantime, many of the smaller pirates were feeling the pressure. Many enthusiasts were to bemoan the effect of the new ‘superpirates’ but they were a natural progression from what had gone before. They also led to a clearing of the cobwebs to a large degree. Stations that had been plodding along disappeared but new stations came along to take their place. The new breed of ‘superpirates’, with driven people such as Chris Cary running them, pushed everyone to up their game. They upped the ante….

Speaking of antes and the like, In Radio Nova’s world Dublin became ‘The Bay Area’ and our familiar old aunties became anTIEs. Gone was anTEE-apartheid, in was anTIE apartheid. It seemed that the American influence had really rubbed off on Cary.

To be fair though, although the reference to the Bay Area was quite deliberate, the AnTIES for AnTEES (and the struggles with pronunciation of one of the country’s official languages – for example, An Taoiseach was called ‘The’ ‘Teashack’ by one newsreader; absolutely seaching!) was as a result of employing North Americans to read the news. However, we’re an accepting bunch on this island; imagine the uproar in a reversed situation on the other side of the vast pond!

The first of those newsreaders was Terry Riley, who did the early ’88 News’ broadcasts. The second is a reason we should for forever and a day give thanks to Radio Nova. Enter into the world of broadcasting one Bob Gallico. In turn, enter in to the Broadcasting Hall of Fame one Bob Gallico.
Gallico was responsible for most of the laugh out loud moments anybody listening to radio in the ’80s would have experienced. It’s hard to believe now but that deep, booming voice of his fell into the job almost by accident. Whilst working as a double-glazing salesman (no, really) he heard a recruitment ad for newsreaders on Radio Nova. It is an incredible case of right place right time. The ad ran only once and Bob was actually listening at a time he wouldn’t normally be tuned in.
He submitted a demo tape from which he didn’t expect to hear anything more. However, having heard the demo tape Chris Cary ordered Sybil Fennell to get him on board immediately. Days later he was reading the news on the biggest radio station in the country!

Bob Gallico
Here is the News – Bob Gallico

That first news broadcast, on a Sunday afternoon, was disastrous. Bob stuttered and stumbled his way through it. Thankfully, Chris Cary is a better talent-spotter than most of the rest of us and wasn’t deterred.

Bob worked best as part of a team of two or more; some of his pairings worked exceptionally well, others didn’t, but he was always worth tuning in to.
On top of that, he was a very competent newsreader, despite the stutteringly bad debut. His distinctive voice gave the ‘Nova News’ an air of authority and quality and in its heyday, the double-headed bulletins – which were pioneered by Radio Nova – featuring Bob and Sybil Fenell are iconic moments in Irish radio history

Sybil wasn’t American. But she was one of the most professional, and talented, newsreaders to grace our airwaves. Not just pirate airwaves. Not just 1980s airwaves. Ever.
The world has moved on and we’re not really meant to say these things any more but, what the heck; she also had an ultra-sexy voice and a face that wasn’t meant for radio!

Sybil was another to have a run in with Cary – the very first time they met as it happens. Dublin-born and very well-bred, Sybil had cut her teeth with Southside Radio from a portacabin in the grounds of the Victor Hotel in Dún Laoghaire. She had applied for a job with RTÉ but had no Irish and you needed at least some to work with the national broadcaster.
Once Radio Nova came on air she knew she had to audition for the station.
And so it was, after a phone-call to Brian MacKenzie, that she found herself in Herbert Street with a script in her hand that she intended to read for a recorded demo. Her intentions had been made without considering Chris Cary, who happened to be working under a desk in an adjoining studio whilst she was on the mic. After a minute of Sybil’s three minute script had elapsed, Cary popped his head out from under the desk, banged on the window of the recording booth and told Sybil that there was no need to continue, that they had what they needed.
Sybil, however, had intended to read the script in full and that’s exactly what she did…much to Cary’s astonishment. He expected people to ‘jump’ on his command after all!

Sybil Fennell
Sybil Fennell reading the news…

Sybil says this of Chris Cary: “…whilst he was great in a crisis, he couldn’t deal with the detail of life. He would explode for the most trivial of reasons.”

She also agrees with Chris’s original assessment of her as ‘arrogant’, as was her assessment of him as being far too forward. A broadcasting match made in heaven? As it turned out. It was also a romantic match as they eventually married. But that’s way, way down the line…

Listen to a jingle

July 1982

A row over listenership figures rumbles on. MRBI and RTÉ question the authenticity of a Lansdowne Market Research survey giving Radio Nova a 41% 15-34 listenership in Dublin. A survey commissioned by RTÉ and ran by MRBI gives very different results. Lansdowne Market Research insist that they conducted a professional survey. Chris Cary claims that RTÉ only released the figures that suited them from the MRBI survey.

Another row over RTÉ snubbing erupts when organisers of the Lisdoonvarna festival claim that they are ignored by RTÉ because they advertised with Radio Nova.

RTÉ in bid to thwart piracy

With unemployment savagely affecting Dubliners, Radio Nova run a campaign to ‘Give a Young Person a Job’. The initiative is praised and endorsed by the Youth Employment Agency’s director Niall Greene. However, he is forced to withdraw his support when the Agency’s Board objects to his involvement with Nova thanks to one member’s membership of a Union that represents many of RTÉ’s staff.

From Saturday morning, July 10th 1982, this is a recording of Jason Maine (pictured) on Radio Nova. We join the show at 9.30am. Siobhán Purcell reads the News.

Jason Maine

Recording thanks to Chris Ridley & Gary Camblin
Image thanks to Richie WIld

August-October 1982

Radio Nova intimate that they will place a 50kW transmitter on longwave shortly. They also mention plans for short wave transmissions.

Claims about a sophisticated network of transmitters giving Radio Nova nationwide coverage are made by the Longford Leader editor and broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1’s Pat Kenny Show. The claims are very swiftly denied by Nova. As RTÉ refuse to talk to the pirates they are unable to verify the claims themselves and ran an unchecked story. The show also allows unsubstantiated claims to be made that the P&T supplied Radio Nova with microwave links. This claim is also denied by Nova’s Mike Hogan.

In a feature in The Irish Press (featured), Radio Nova’s afternoon presenter John Clarke reveals that he talks to himself in his car as he drives to work. Nothing sinister, he is just going through his links for that day.

In a feature in The Irish Press (featured), Radio Nova's afternoon presenter John Clarke reveals that he talks to himself in his car as he drives to work. Nothing sinister, he is just going through his links for that day.
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A ‘Mystery Voice’ promotion that ran on both RTÉ Radio 2 and Radio Nova in conjunction with the Evening Herald newspaper, is swiftly dropped when RTÉ realise who they are inadvertently in bed with.

Mystery Voice - RTÉ and Nova in bed together

Nova introduce a request show for The Lebanon, similar to one that runs on Radio Dublin. They are warned to drop it by Éamonn Cooke on his ‘Station News’ programme or “there will be war”.

Nova open a second channel by the name of Kiss FM on September 7th. It is FM only, broadcasting on 102.7MHz. It is also based at 19 Herbert Street and is making use of old equipment from Radio Nova which was made redundant after a £90,000 upgrade.

Kiss FM 102.7, Nova sister station

Radio Nova’s News service is rebranded to ‘Independent Radio News’ sparking rumours that Independent Newspapers are now supplying the News. The real reason is even more obvious – the News bulletins are now running on both Radio Nova and the new channel, Kiss FM

Nova’s MW switches to 819kHz.

Nova 88FM

The Sunday Tribune run a story that Radio Nova is about to be sold – it didn’t happen.

Broadcasts are heard from ‘Nova Southside’, a pirated relay of Radio Nova ran by the just-closed South City Radio who insert their own adverts at certain times.

Evidence of Radio Nova’s reach is very apparent as more and more local newspapers carry stories about the station and talk about how receivable it is across the country. Nova DJs also appear in many nightclubs around the country with Declan Meehan proving particularly popular – for one of his engagements he is asked to be the guest of honour at the official opening of a nightclub in Boyne Valley Hotel in Drogheda.

Declan Meehan

From the afternoon of October 28th this is Colm Hayes on Kiss FM…

Just saying “my belief is that a radio show doesn’t start in the studio but with the Prep beforehand.“

John Clarke

Part 1 Chapter 05: Meet the Boss

Part 1 Chapter 05: Meet the Boss

Kiss FM

Part 1 Chapter 07: Kiss as Well