Radio Nova: Part 1 – Chapter 17

Everybody expects me to do something absolutely amazing and outrageous! Well I promse I won’t.

Chris Cary

When Radio Nova switched off 738kHz AM at just after 6pm on March 19th 1986, there was no outpouring of grief, no mass protests, no chanting, no car horns – just an air of resignation from everybody who had ever cared about the station. The contrast with May 1983 could not have been starker.

It wasn’t that the listeners cared less, not even that less of them cared, necessarily. This time around too many forces were working to put the station off the air and although it was Cary himself who had decided to pull the plug, Nova didn’t even get the opportunity to do that on their own terms.

The year had started with Radio Nova conducting tests on long wave. Ireland’s internationally agreed frequency of 254kHz was not being used so Cary decided to make use of it. For a few days the long wave service was simply a relay of the main service but on January 28th Chris Barry went live with Radio Nova LW, announcing test broadcasts and asking for reception reports. Within a couple of days, the long wave was switched off, never to return.

The Radio Nova Story: March 1986

There follows a chronological recount of the events leading to the station’s closure: (see also side panel)-

March 5th:

Dublin County Council discusses Radio Nova’s application for planning permission for two masts to be situated at Nova Park. At this meeting Fine Gael councillor Breda Cass stated that she objected to permission being granted on health grounds, claiming that there is scientific evidence to show that exposure to RF can lead to a number of health issues and that the council could be leaving itself open to future litigation if they gave planning permission allowing Radio Nova to operate their masts in the Rathfarnham area.

March 8th:

On March 8th, an appeal is aired on Radio Nova’s News Bulletins for anyone with a transmitter site to contact the station. This is because planning permission for Nova Park had been turned down.
Mullingar emerges as a possible option.

March 10th:

On a number of bulletins, Radio Nova announces that due to continued problems with the NUJ that the station would close down on March 31st.
Chris Cary admits: “I am beaten, I have been beaten by the NUJ.”
He says he is no longer prepared to invest in the station owing to “…continual and unrelenting harassment from the NUJ.”
He reveals that Nova Media Services is up for sale with a valuation placed on it by a ‘management consultancy company’ of £10,000.

In a sign of the times, the Radio Nova closedown announcement is tucked away on the inside of newspapers or under the fold on front pages. It’s a far cry from the crazy days of the May 1983 raid, or the unstable RTÉ jamming period in 1984, when even a possible closedown for the station heralded banner front-page headlines.

The NUJ deny that they are responsible for the forced closure of Radio Nova and say they are taking the announcement with a pinch of salt. They also claim that it is Cary who is harassing their members rather than the other way round.
“We have had nothing but trouble from him. He is not a good employer,” Jim Eadie, Regional secretary, said.

March 13th:

On the evening of March 13th, some very explosive News bulletins are broadcast on Radio Nova.

This is a transcript of the extended 7pm bulletin with Sybil Fennell & Gary Hamill

Sybil: NUJ member Barry McCall today continued with his attempts to ensure that Radio Nova is forced off the air, in spite of the fact the station has already announced its intention to close down voluntarily on the last day of March as a direct result of continued and unrelenting NUJ harassment.
In court today Barry McCall sought a date for the hearing of his appeal against a stay of execution already granted to Radio Nova by the courts. Should Barry McCall’s appeal be successful he will force the station to cease broadcasting from Nova Park in Rathfarnham resulting in the immediate loss of all 25 jobs at Radio Nova.

Gary: Barry McCall’s action would therefore have resulted in putting 25 Nova employees, including NUJ members, out of a job; closing Radio Nova; and of robbing Dublin city of its most popular radio station.
In the words of NUJ member Bernie Jameson, writing in the NUJ’s Dublin press and PR branch letter of October 16th 1985, quote: “The chapel aims to have members reinstated…” and quote: “…failing this we will do all in our power to ensure that the station ceases to function.” end quote.
Barry McCall is the Chairperson of that branch, the NUJ’s Dublin press and PR branch.
We suggest you ring the NUJ HQ on Dublin 748694 or Dublin 741207 with your comments.

March 14th:

A promo is aired on Radio Nova, voiced by Bob Gallico, which states:-

On Thursday, March 27th, all of the professional broadcast equipment currently in use here at Radio Nova will be offered for sale by public auction. Included will be professional broadcast studios, audio processing equipment, antennas, transmitters and generators. It is sold as seen and heard and is all in working order. This package is deliberately being offered for sale prior to Radio Nova’s official closedown on March 31st to afford the purchaser the opportunity to continue trading without a break in continuity. The trading name of Radio Nova will also be offered for sale as a separate entity…”

Radio Nova auction

March 16th:

The Sunday Press reports that Zena Brady has filed a Section 205 claim (oppression of minority interest) against Cary. Brady is a 26% shareholder in Nova Media Services. Her case is that Cary has been inflating the prices that Nova Media Services has been paying Stratford Leasing for the lease of Radio Nova’s equipment. Stratford Leasing was founded by Cary and he is the major shareholder.

March 17th:

During the 7pm News on Radio Nova, George Long announces that the station’s FM transmitter would be off the air for a short time due to maintenance. What actually happened is that a lot of the studio gear and link equipment is taken out and shipped to Leeson Street.
As a result, the FM was linked from the 738kHz medium wave transmitter on its return, so was broadcasting only in mono.

March 19th:

The morning on Radio Nova was the same as any other. John O’Hara and Bob Gallico were on Breakfast and they were followed at 9am by Tony McKenzie…

Listen

The first on-air hint that something was not right was the News bulletin at 1pm. It wasn’t the usual extended one.

Then, as the 3pm News with Gary Hamill was approaching, Colm Hayes was heard asking for Chris or Tony to contact the station.

Listen

Following the 3pm News the signal on FM went silent for a few seconds and returned with a different song to the one which had been playing. Even stranger, it was a different song to the one on 738kHz. 103.1FM continued with continuous music. There were no idents or anything else to give the listener any idea of what was happening.
However, on medium wave Colm Hayes continued as normal. Well, not really…we rejoin his show at 4.40pm with the news that Radio Nova is closing down.
Gary Hamill with the final Nova News at 5pm explains the situation…and then George Talbot starts the final hour.

Listen

And so, at 6.03pm Radio Nova was no more. Over on 103.1FM the non-stop music was still going.

Earlier, in the High Court, a receiver-manager had been appointed over Nova Media Services on foot of a petition brought by Zena Brady, a 26% shareholder in Nova Media Services, who claimed that Chris Cary had been misappropriating funds from the company. Pearse Farrell, the receiver-manager, was given the power to carry on the business of the company, but only within the law. This meant that Radio Nova, operating without a licence, was forced to close. Not long after the receiver-manager had turned up at Nova Park, over at Upper Leeson Street Tony McKenzie faded out Radio Nova’s FM transmissions and turned on the feed with non-stop music. He did this to protect the frequency. Continuous music continued until 10.15pm when the unidentified station identified itself as Zoom 103.

Listen

Radio Nova final day

George Talbot is pictured here in the makeshift Nova studio on that final day. He told Radiowaves:
” [The final day] was bittersweet as some of us knew it was coming. We also knew there was another station being prepared elsewhere but didn’t have that much information…as it turned out it was Zoom. Myself and Tony McKenzie were actually the last two at Nova Park and we were filling the cars with anything that hadn’t already gone to Zoom to take there. It was a crazy day – while waiting for the bailiffs we got through the skylight in the library on to the roof and passed hundreds of albums up there. The bailiffs only saw an empty room with shelves and never thought to open the skylight!”

Did Chris Cary have something planned at the end?
Kevin Branigan believes so…

Chris Cary was under pressure from Zena and Eugene Brady, they had been 26% shareholders since 1982 and they hadn’t received a penny. They resigned as directors in early 1985 so things were obviously pretty fraught by then.

Cary was denuding the assets of Nova. He’d sold the whole of Magic 103 – an entire radio station including FM and AM transmitters, Optimods and studio to Q102 and the Brady’s were taking a case for suppression of minority interest against him and that case was coming down the tracks.

So, at the beginning of March he announced that Radio Nova was closing down and that all the assets would be put up for sale on March 27th at a BP Gunne Auction. However, some of the kit listed in the BP Gunne list is junk and some had been sold already to Grattanoak (Zoom/Energy) and they must have had receipts for it as when the Receiver went to Zoom, they couldn’t take it.

I reckon his plan was to do a hooky pre-packed asset auction in which he would buy the assets of Radio Nova, including the name, and then move the station to Lesson St and, lo and behold, Nova doesn’t close down at the end of March after all but continues from Leeson St – minus the Bradys.

I believe that was his plan and the Brady’s cut him off at the pass because they heard the BP Gunne auction ads going out and they went to the High Court and got an injunction preventing him from dissipating the assets any further.

He was advertising for a new medium wave site in February 1986 on the news. He knew he was going to have to leave Nova Park because of planning permission, His behavior was not that of someone who was preparing to close down in a few weeks. I’m convinced he was going to do a rinky-dink on the assets, move Nova into a new company, and leave the Brady’s taking a suppression of minority interest against a defunct company. What stopped him was the High Court – no messing around with the High Court or you could be in contempt of course.

A View From the Inside from Seán McCarthy (Gary Hamill)

These were sad days for lots of people, most particularly for the freedom of the listeners to enjoy a station that sounded particularly optimistic, hopeful and escapist at a time when the country was in deep recession with hundreds of thousands of young people fleeing the economic gloom of mid-eighties Ireland and forced to emigrate. What a time to take a favourite radio station down.

I look at Ireland today, its multicultural openness, its accommodation of US, Euro and UK corporations, its bending over backwards to keep these and other job creators firmly committed to the country. How times have changed.

The advertising revenue power struggle between competition, and the newsroom coverage of political viewpoints of the day, were undoubtedly central to increasing tension, but as I look back at 1986 and the driving off the air of Radio Nova with unconscionable jamming, I do wonder how much of this was fuelled with some level of animosity due to Chris and Robbie being English, and how such disdainful actions against non-nationals would be viewed today? There’s a thought worth having in that, I believe.

The station’s NUJ strikers had concerns, of course, and were listened to, heard, and had their actions and arguments covered extensively by national press (as has been diligently highlighted in this section).

To any newspaper reader of the day, Radio Nova seemed under endless incoming fire from the Post & Telegraphs, RTE, and a union strike that had raged on for a time. To the average Radio Nova listener, it may have seemed as if a three-pronged onslaught against the station was ongoing. Three horns, one mission.

So too with legitimate concerns was anyone witnessing this shockingly transparent jamming attack on a radio station that by then, in my opinion, deserved a licence to broadcast after all it had accomplished with the public. Where was the recognition for all that Chris Cary and Robbie Robinson and others had achieved in Ireland for Irish listeners, and for all those who had gained such valuable and career-launching experience and skills so many would never have realised a chance to hone anywhere else in Ireland? If you didn’t land a job on RTE in those days, you had one more move: London. Ask Eamonn Andrews, Terry Wogan, David Tynan O’Mahony, Daniel Patrick Carroll and endless others.

Even today, young broadcasters sit comfortably in radio gigs all across Ireland, oblivious to the risks, passion and hardship their predecessors had taken to challenge the boundaries of broadcasting.

Facebook is celebrated today and sits headquartered in Dublin, alongside a host of non-national success stories, all accommodated beyond belief. The original Radio Nova and Sunshine Radio should surely have been embraced as success stories at the time, and should have flourished. Instead they were driven out like bandits in the night.

One of those remarkable moments in Ireland’s civil history when the actions of a Government, a national broadcaster, and striking union members came in direct conflict with the will of a listening public to want to continue to enjoy their favourite radio station during an economic depression witnessing hundreds of thousands of Ireland’s youth flee the drudgery of it all.

Disturbing days, with little celebration. Ireland was losing its most successful radio station, with a professionalism, quality and captivating command never to be enjoyed again to this day, were it not for surviving recordings.

The Radio Nova Story was compiled from a number of sources and is open to correction…if you have any additions, contributions, opinion pieces, comments, photos, press cuttings, recordings or corrections please contact us at RadioNovaStory@Radiowaves.fm.

Thank you for all your comments and feedback.

January – February 1986

Jessie Brandon leaves Radio Nova at the start of the year.

Some of the striking newsreaders return to the station’s News department following talks.

With Dave Johnson, Chris Barry and George Long, along with Gary Hamill (ex Q102), back on board the station returns to a full News schedule.

Radio Nova turn on their longwave transmitter again on January 9th commencing a couple of days of test relays. Later in the month they return and remain on air for longer periods and with increased strength. No mention is made of the relay over the air.
On January 28th the signal splits and Chris Barry announces Radio Nova on longwave and requests reception reports. Split broadcasts are observed for another couple of days until the transmitter is turned off altogether on January 30th. This is the first day of split programming with Chris Barry on long-wave

Courtesy of DX Archive

Chris Cary tells the circuit court that he did not come to Ireland to blatantly break the law and that he was convinced by his presenters that he would not go to jail if they went back on the air following a raid. Cary was being sued by Joe Jackson, a former manager at Nova Park Country Club, for the use of his transmitter after Radio Nova was raided in May 1983. Following the removal of the station’s equipment, Jackson had leased his transmitter to Cary for an agreed sum of £5,000 which helped get Nova back on the air but had not received payment. Jackson’s claim was dismissed due to contradictory evidence.

Nova boss in court

Radio Nova launch a job creation programme offering a week’s free advertising to any firms who take on new employees.

The morning Zoo Crew is released back into the wild and is no more.

February starts with the following line-up:
6am John O’Hara
9am Tony McKenzie
1pm Colm Hayes
5pm George Talbot
9pm Richard Jackson
1am Paul Kavanagh

March 1986

See also main panel…

At the start of the month, a promo runs for a DJ Competition to take place in Nova Park with a two-hour show on the station being the prize.

A survey of males and females in the 15-25 age group conducted by Irish Marketing Surveys revealed that Radio Nova had lost a lot of its appeal to Dubliners as a result of actively chasing a British audience.

On March 10th Radio Nova announces that it will close at the end of the month due to MUJ pressure.

Another Dublin pirate Kiss FM are interested in purchasing Radio Nova. Kiss FM director Alan Hunter says that they will make “the strongest possible representation” in an effort to buy the station.

On the evening of March 13th, some very explosive News bulletins were broadcast on Radio Nova…this is the extended 7pm with Sybil Fennell and Gary Hamill

On March 18th Kevin Branigan and Mike Ormonde paid a visit to Nova Park. This is how Kevin describes it:-
We went up to Nova on what turned out to be the second last day. It must have been Easter break. The strikers were on duty at the gate, as always – Shane, Linda, Jenny and Peter Madison. Nova was deserted! There were lots of empty rooms…even the reception desk was gone. And all the equipment…gone.

Nova always came from the second studio at the end of the corridor but today they were (unusually) coming from the one on the left, the one they called the ‘Exidy Studio’. Nova were always very generous in letting people in to have a look around and Chris Cary seemed to have no problem at all with young enthusiasts visiting and would often spend time chatting with them. Generally, there was no issue visiting Nova Park and you could go into the on-air studio to have a look. However, today, it was strictly not allowed into the studio that they were broadcasting from.
We could hear Colm Hayes on air through the open door. Most of the office furniture was gone, the Swift production studio was gone, and most of the rooms seemed to be empty. Chris Cary was there and he was in very good form! He chatted with us for a good few minutes. We asked was he really closing down at the end of March and he said “yes”. We asked what would we listen to now and he said: “Well, you can listen to Q” and when we said: “It’s not as good as Nova though, Chris”, he smiled and said: “No it’s not is it!”. We then asked for car stickers and he said: “You can have a whole roll of stickers!”. He went off and came back with a roll of 500 stickers for each of us and said: “Here you go, don’t stick ‘em all in the one place! They’ll be worth something some day.”
We left, still assuming Nova was not closing. Chris Cary seemed in too good form, he was ebullient! Too cheerful, we thought, to be about to close down. Events seemed to take their own course, however, and the Receiver was appointed by the High Court the next day.

On March 19th Radio Nova ceases broadcasting at 6.03pm (see main panel).

Rollcall of Presenters

Tony Allan
Don Allen
Andy Archer
Peter Ball
Chris Barry
Jessie Brandon
Roland Burke
Chris Cary
Anne Cassin
Dave Christian
Noel Clancy
John Clarke
Fergal Conneely
Linda Conway
Aidan Cooney
Brian Dobson
Mike Duggan
Stevie Dunn
Mike Edgar
Stephen Elliott
Sybil Fennell
Tony Fenton
Ernie Gallagher
Bob Gallico
Tony Gareth
Greg Gaughran
Steve Gordon
Gary Hamill
Ken Hammond
Andrew Hanlon
Tom Hardy
Joe Harrington
Ric Harris
Dave Harvey
Colm Hayes
Mike Hogan
Howard Hughes
Richard Jackson
Trevor James
Bernie Jameson
Lawrence John
Dave Johnson
Paul Kavanagh
John Lewis
George Long
Jason Maine
Peter Madison
Dave Malone
Paul Malone
Stephanie McAllister
Shane McGowan
Jenny McIvor
Clarke McKenzie
Tony McKenzie
Declan Meehan
Mike Moran
Pete Moss
Denis Murray
Hugh O’Brien
Michael O’Brien
John O’Hara
Henry Owens
Tony Prince
Siobhán Purcell
Kathy Quinn
Robert Reid
Terry Riley
Emperor Rosko
Conrad Smith
George Talbot
Martin Talbot
Stuart Vincent
Mark Weller
Eddie West
Scott Williams
Steve Withers
Fred Zola

Timeline – At a Glance

June 1981

Tests on 88FM ID as Radio Nova

September 1981

A medum wave service launches on 846kHz

October 1981

Medium wave changed to 891kHz for a short time

May 1982

Operation Novacare radiothon raises funds for charity.
Listener survey gives Nova a 41% share.

June 1982

RTÉ jams the station for two days.
Bob Gallico debuts as a Newsreader.

September 1982

Kiss FM launches on FM only.
Nova’s medium wave moves to 819kHz.

January 1983

Plans are revealed for a high powered signal beaming into Britain

March 1983

Kiss FM give away £5,000 to a lucky listener.

May 1983

Radio Nova and Kiss FM are raided just days after another successful Operation Novacare fundraiser.

June 1983

Medium wave switches to 828kHz

July 1983

Chris Cary encourages his staff to join the NUJ

August 1983

Radio Nova give away £6,000 to a listener

September 1983

Kiss FM, off air since the raid in May, makes a return

October 1983

The equipment taken during the raid in May is returned to the station.
The 10kW transmitter lights up 819kHz.
A listener survey gives Nova a 69% share figure.

December 1983

Nova TV runs test transmissions.
RTÉ recommence jamming on the station.

January 1984

Kiss FM closes as a result of the RTÉ jammng campaign. Everything is relocated to Nova Park.

February 1984

The NUJ enter into an official dispute with Nova following the sacking of a number of journalists.

March 1984

The taxman hits Radio Nova with a bill for £150,000

April 1984

Another medium wave outlet is opened on 729kHz

May 1984

The jamming comes to a stop.
Exidy 738, Cary’s attempt to run a service for Britain, lasts just a few hours.
By the end of the month Nova is broadcasting on 102.7MHz and 738kHz only.
Nova include weather and traffic reports for Britain.

July 1984

Declan Meehan leaves Radio Nova

August 1984

103.2MHz is added on FM.
A Merseyside listener wins £6,000 from the station.

September 1984

Ken Hammond details how he is attacked by Chris Cary on the picket line.
A Radio Nova office is opened in Liverpool.
An Irish listener wins £5,000 from Radio Nova.

October 1984

The NUJ strike finally comes to an end

February 1985

Nova Media Services launch the Euro Top 40

April 1985

Magic 103 launches

June 1985

A listener wins a brand new car in the Funny Bubble Competition

July 1985

All UK references are dropped from weather, traffic reports.

Magic 103 launch a medium wave outlet on 1530kHz, then shift slightly to 1521kHz.

August 1985

Greg Gaughran and John Clarke are amongst the departures from the station.

September 1985

Magic 103 closes for good on September 22nd leading to the return of NUJ pickets.

November 1985

RTÉ tests on 102.7MHz force Nova to move to 103.1MHz

December 1985

Radio Nova run short-lived tests on 254kHz long wave.

January 1986

Long wave tests return, this time including a split service.

March 1986

Radio Nova ceases broadcasting.

Radio Nova

Part 1 Chapter 16: Apart from the Union, Again

Radio Nova

Appendix I