BLB (Bray Local Broadcasting) launched at 11am on August 22nd 1979 on 828kHz AM / 360 metres medium wave. Its ethos was one of true community broadcasting, with around 50 staff who were all volunteers. In its original form, it survived right up to the 1988 closedowns.
From launch it was widely lauded as a model on which true community radio should operate, giving access to the local community to produce a wide variety of programming. Along with presenter-led shows and speech programming, they were a highly-successful formula.
It legally reincarnated itself as Horizon Radio on 94.9FM, and following an amalgamation with Easy Radio, is still on air today as East Coast FM, who used the former BLB premises at Prince of Wales Terrace up until the summer of 2002.
Bray People – August 24th 2019
Bray Local Broadcasting (BLB), Ireland’s first community radio station, started broadcasting on August 22 1979, 40 years ago. BLB launched against a plethora of pirates including competition from the so-called ‘Super Pirates’ in Dublin and it took to the air with a passion to ‘make a radio station for the people, by the people’. It was this early community ethos that set it apart and it very quickly gained popularity with the listeners as they heard local people speaking about local issues.
That July, local elections proved a Godsend as the newly elected politicians recognised the importance of being interviewed on the air and getting their message across to the people of the town. The station was formed after a split with the other Bray-based station, Southside Radio. As Mark Quinn, one of founders of BLB recalled: ‘I along with Doug McGuire, John JJ Matthews and John Murphy were itching to develop more speech-based programmes and to have community groups involved, plus have a wider music variety than just the Top 30.’
The opportunity arose sooner than they expected when Southside shut down and reopened shortly after in South Dublin. It was then that Quinn and Murphy came up with the concept that would be BLB. ‘At the time, we didn’t know we were inventing community radio, we were all very young and were driven by a passion to push the boundaries of what was creatively possible – five investors put up £500 to get the station up and running,’ said Mark Quinn. John Murphy, who looked after the technical side, said that demand for choice and music underpinned the demand for these new pirates stations.
‘There was only one station and that was RTÉ,’ he said. ‘Young people had to tune into the BBC or Radio Luxembourg to hear pop music – this was a time when there was no mobile phones, no internet and very few homes had even had a landline.’ Scores of volunteers were recruited over the years to present and produce a wide variety of different shows. The station excelled during Hurricane Charley, the great storm of 1986. Móire Byrne was a presenter on the air that night. ‘We kept broadcasting through the night and the various rescue agencies used the services of BLB to communicate to the residents in the Dargle area as the waters rose and then eventually burst the banks to completely flood Little Bray,’ she said. The then Taoiseach, Dr Garret FitzGerald visited Bray the next day and was interviewed live in the BLB caravan parked near the scene of devastation. ‘It was ironic as we were a pirate radio station and the government were closing down stations and yet here’s Garret sitting down being interviewed,’ said John Murphy.
There were other notable outside broadcasts over the years, including Nick Eogan who presented a record-breaking marathon by broadcasting a live non-stop show for 110 hours from the window of the Pizzaland restaurant from Bray Main Street. One of the most popular shows was Joe Bollard’s Morning Mixture which was the very first show on air that morning in 1979 at 11 a.m.
‘I remember the equipment, two turntables, cassette recorders, microphones and a mixing desk, you had to coordinate and “cue up” all these sources and talk to your listener at the same time. I loved every minute of my years with BLB,’ said Joe.
‘It was to all intents and purposes a university of the airwaves,’ said Adrian Kennedy. ‘Many people, including myself, went on to have very successful careers in broadcasting as a result of our experience and training in BLB.’ Daphne Mitchell and Karen Shields also went on to continue their broadcasting in the UK.
Pat Hannon, now a lecturer in Radio in TU Dublin, and Mark Quinn who runs his own television production facilities company are compiling the material to produce a film and radio/podcast documentary which will both air in the new year.
Hannon said that BLB brought a growing town together. ‘It was extraordinary what BLB achieved over nearly a decade of broadcasting,’ he said. ‘Some of its presenters may not have been as polished as those on the national broadcaster but that’s what the BLB audience loved. It was a local sound and people had a sense of pride in that it was their station.
‘The DJs curated their music, there was no such thing as ten hits in a row. If it was around today it would be called shabby chic and be very fashionable, just like the Harbour Bar!’
The station voluntarily closed down in order to apply for one of the new local radio licenses. Following a successful pitch, BLB was reborn as Horizon Radio and which then went on to become the independent commercial station East Coast FM the county-wide radio service today.
From a Dail debate in February 1987 on the new Broadcasting Bills which would outlaw pirate radio… In County Wicklow there are two fine examples of what I regard as the peak of community broadcasting. In north Wicklow, Bray Local Broadcasting has been operating since August 1979. This station has been providing a unique mix of programmes to the people of north Wicklow and south County Dublin. The stereotype image which is being put forward in this House of a mindless diet of pop and more pop is shattered when you look at stations like BLB. Another stereotype image of the so-called pirates is also shattered by this station. Far from being a buccaneering non-tax paying profiteering, money spinning venture, BLB is entirely a community-based organisation. Its management committee is democratically representative of the various interests in the community. It is a co-operative venture with all the profits, if any, ploughed back into the co-op and being invested in expanding community based broadcasting. The station offers a community service in the best sense of the word. It provides a mix of music, jazz, classical, Irish, etc., and popular programmes, general chat shows and has open access to various community organisations.
1981 June – 828kHz
1983 November – 97.8MHz
1987 April – 97.8MHz (Anoraks UK)
Images above thanks to Paul Rowley and Ian Biggar
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