Radio Nova: Part 2 – Chapter 01

Welcome to Zoom 103, the new Nova…

Richard Jackson, launching the new station

With the ashes still smouldering after the timely death of Radio Nova, a replacement service was already up and running. Whilst the Nova jocks were gathering in the studio to bid farewell to listeners, accompanied by the hum on the inferior medium wave signal that the station was outputting, the station’s FM transmitter was broadcasting unrelated, non-stop, unidentified commercial free music. At just after 3pm on March 19th 1986, as a court-appointed receiver was swooping on Nova Park in Rathfarnham in south Dublin in order to seize the assets of Nova Media Services, and to force Radio Nova to cease broadcasting, Tony McKenzie was in the city centre location of 144 Upper Leeson Street and it was he who faded Radio Nova’s FM signal and replaced it with non-stop music, leaving Radio Nova broadcasting on AM only.

At this stage the new station did not even have a name; the court action had forced everybody’s hand and scuppered plans that had been in place for when Radio Nova would officially close down on March 31st, as announced. There are many and varied theories for what those plans were but the official line is that a company by the name of Grattonoak had been buying Radio Nova equipment with the intention of starting a broadcasting school based in the building that Magic 103 had been located – 144 Upper Leeson Street. Grattonoak’s directors were Tony McKenzie and Sybil Fennell.
A broadcasting school did commence not long after the new station had launched but the equipment was brought prematurely into use as Radio Nova was in its premature death throes.

Following the Radio Nova closedown the troops deserted Nova Park, grabbing whatever they could away from the prying eyes of the receiver, and gathered in the city centre at 144. Mixed messages were being sent out to in-the-know outsiders who had rang the premises. There was no plan to go live and a station name had not been decided. However, at shortly after 10pm Richard Jackson opened up the studio mic and announced Zoom 103, later referring to it as the ‘new Nova’.

Radio Nova’s closedown was so low-key that many Dubliners will have missed it. Unlike the massive media coverage of the past whenever Nova so much as played a record at the wrong speed (that’s an exaggeration for dramatic effect by the way) when the station finally closed the news was hidden away on inside pages. It was a far cry from the hysterical reactions of the past.

Those listeners who had missed the news will have been mightily confused when they turned on their sets the following day. Mind you, the same could be said even for those who had known that Nova had closed. Radio Nova’s FM frequency was alive with the familiar sound of Radio Nova presenters and newsreaders, all in their usual timeslots, except they were now coming up with as many puns around the word ‘Zoom’ that could be mustered. Chris Cary disassociated himself from the station, going so far as to criticise it for sounding ’empty’. Although that might be construed as harsh it was necessary in order to make the disassociation seem as real as possible. For the new station to stand any chance the name Chris Cary needed to be as distanced as possible from it. The NUJ would be paying close attention to the ownership structure and it later transpired that a lot of commercial time had been pre-booked with Radio Nova and no refund had been forthcoming when it closed.

Zoom 103 was short-lived. On the afternoon of the following Monday (March 24th) the power to the station was cut

And in a classic case of being in the right place at the right time, Kevin Branigan tells of an interesting encounter from a few days later:
“On March 27th Mike [Ormonde] and I met at Lamb Doyle’s and went up to the transmitter sites on Three Rock. Q102’s was there and radio, telephones, and Nova’s ex mast. Then I noticed that Nova’s hut wasn’t locked so, after a lot of thinking, we said: “Why not”? and opened it. Inside was Nova’s 102.7 and a link (receiver). All worth £30,000 and unlocked. We closed it and went further up the mountain. We were halfway back down when Mike saw a Land Rover pulling up at the Nova hut. We legged it down to find them preparing to cart away Nova’s transmitter. We tried to question the three but all they would say was that it was being taken to “dry dock”. We didn’t know what he meant…”

March 19th – 31st 1986

Following the closure of Radio Nova on March 19th 1986 a new station immediately takes its place. A company by the name of Grattonoak (directors Tony McKenzie and Sybil Fennell) had bought some Radio Nova equipment with the expressed intent of starting a broadcasting school. However, with Nova forced off the air it was put into use to launch an FM service on Nova’s frequency just as the court-appointed receiver was arriving in Nova Park to take over Nova’s assets and shut the station down.

Based in 144 Upper Leeson Street, the new station is christened Zoom 103, following a suggestion by Seán McCarthy, and goes live at 10.10pm.
“Welcome to Zoom 103, the new Nova” is used during one of the live links.

The following day a full service commences with all of the Nova personnel in their usual slots. There are very few commercials and the service is FM only.

Chris Cary denies he has anything to do with the new station, telling the press that it sounds ’empty’. He says that he is heading back to England as soon as affairs are tidied up in Ireland.

Evening Herald – March 20th 1986 (tap to read)

The planned auction of Radio Nova equipment is canceled by the Nova receiver.

The NUJ say that if they get a hint that Cary has anything to do with Zoom 103 that their dispute will resume.

On Monday, March 24th Zoom 103 was silenced at approximately 3.30pm mid link – power had been discontinued.
A tone appeared on 103.0MHz from around 6pm. The receiver for Nova Media Services had claimed the transmitter as an asset of the company, rejecting claims that Grattonoak had bought it some time ago.

Evening Herald – April 1st 1986

Here’s a selection of recordings from Zoom 103’s short time broadcasting…
Tap here

The Radio Nova Story

Part 1 Chapter 19: After Hours

Part 1 Chapter 08: Meet the Team

Part 2 Chapter 02: The Energy Years