Before the Super Pirates, there were bored schoolboys. Donal Fallon looks at some youthful pioneers in Irish broadcasting.
While much has been written of Ireland’s ‘Super Pirate’ radio stations like Radio Nova and Sunshine Radio, and some stations like Phantom have made the great leap to respectability, there is a whole hidden history to Irish pirate radio that has gone largely unexplored. The earliest pirate radio stations in Ireland were schoolboy efforts which the state wished to suppress quickly, and which in some ways were ahead of official broadcasting.
Over the Christmas holidays in 1967, a group of schoolboys began transmitting music and stories across the airwaves, attracting the attention of the national media. An Irish Times report on the schoolboy station noted that from ‘somewhere south of the Liffey’ these young boys had made two one hour broadcasts, at 8am and 12.30pm, on December 22nd. The paper noted that ‘pop music programmes were interspersed with greetings from the announcer to school friends. The transmissions also featured excerpts from satirical magazine, Private Eye’. In the playful spirit of the station, listeners who tuned in at 1.30pm were told by a young boy in fits of giggles that they had come to the wrong place if they wanted to hear the news, and that they should perhaps turn over to Radió Éireann. This was Radio Jacqueline.
This all sounds harmless enough of course but the Department of Posts and Telegraphs found little funny about Radio Jacqueline. Telling the newspapers that the youngsters would be tracked down, and that these pirate broadcasts could interfere with legitimate radio transmissions.
This was not the first schoolboy attempt at radio production in 1960s Ireland. Three years prior, in Cork, Radio Juliet had been born. This was a station operated by a dozen students with a wide variety of content. The Irish Independent noted that the station played pop music in the morning and classical works in the afternoon. It also contained newscasts with local, national and even international focus, not to mention weather reports. The station was operated on a rather modest budget of £1 a day, and news reports noted the boys would use Shakespearean names to contact one another, owing to Radió Éireann authorities being in their pursuit! Remarkably, the boys themselves had constructed the stations transmitter at a cost of £6. The station lasted just a number of days before suppression, with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs refusing a request for an interview from the teenage directors or Radio Juliet.
An Irish Times journalist would report that Radio Juliet was the first ‘non-political pirate radio station’ in the state. But following the suppression of Radio Juliet, the man behind what was in fact the state’s first pirate station was about to come forward in the letters pages of a national broadsheet. In a fascinating letter, written to the Irish Independent, Jim O’ Carroll of Limerick noted that he himself had constructed a transmitter in 1934 and that this effort became known locally in Limerick as ‘the Pirate Radio’. O’ Carroll noted that in his view ‘we have exactly the same system governing broadcasting as Communist Russia – one programme, one official voice’.
O’ Carroll also thankfully wrote his memories of this 1934 station for the Old Limerick Journal, noting that he called himself Billy Dynamite on air, with his friend Charlie O’Connor joining him and adopting the name Al Dubbin. These youngsters operated their station under the title ‘City Broadcasting Service’, or CBS for short, and tended to broadcast between 7pm and 11pm. O’ Carroll recalled that ‘providing four hours of entertainment every night was difficult, to say the least, considering that Radió Éireann, with all the resources of the state, was providing a mere five’.
Every evening, young Charlie would cycle to the railway station to collect the Dublin evening papers, which O’ Carroll would then read on air. The suppression of this station made the front page of the Irish Press newspaper, which ran with the headline ‘Pirate Caught – Transmitter Seized!’
In time, pirate radio stations would develop into something much more advanced than some of the ventures discussed here. By the late 1970s and into the 1980s, pirate stations enjoyed huge popularity among Irish youth, offering something different from the state radio service, with even the political establishment availing of the reach of these stations for paid advertisements. Things had come a long way from Jim O’ Carroll’s 1934 experiment!