THE IRISH EXPERIENCE - BY IAN BIGGAR
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It had always been a dream of mine to have a full time job in radio. I mean what could be better than playing records and being paid for it! I left school in 1977 and immediately started a four year apprenticeship as an electrician. It wasn't really what I wanted to do, but a full time radio job. That was out of reach!. However I always believed I could do it and when I had obtained my electrical qualifications I gave it up. This coincided with the Irish trip that is so well documented on this site. Now I was always led to believe that ARD in Dublin and Boyneside Radio in Drogheda were the real models of Irish local radio being professional in every way, from studios to presenters to jingles. Sunshine and Nova had since come along, but these were top league, so in my pursuit if a radio job I thought I would try the well respected but smaller stations.
In late July '81 I was in contact on the telephone with Paul Graham, a long time friend who was now in Ireland operating a station called WABC in Ballaghadereen, County Roscommon. They were on 1368 kHz AM and short wave 7350 khz. Paul had set up this station along with Eamon Brooks who will be remembered as Roger Matthews on Radio Caroline in the 70's. I had mentioned that I would be looking for radio work on my trip to Ireland at which Paul suggested I should come and join WABC. There wasn't much money at this stage, but they would supply food, a bed and a few pints! I told him I would think about it and said "see you next week". It was almost ten months before our paths crossed!
So we arrived in Ireland where our first port of call was Boyneside Radio. We were quite surprised to hear this station as a few weeks before the station on their usual 1305 kHz was calling itself Community Radio Drogheda. However as we drove towards Drogheda there they were on 98.1 and 99.2 Mhz. They also had an AM rig on 1314 kHz that was travelling a couple of miles. Apparently there had been a split because owner of Boyneside, Eobhain MacDonnell had been messing the staff around until they could take no more. So main players Gavin Duffy, Heady Eddie and Richard Kenny decided to leave, taking with them the big AM rig. They had set up across town as CRD and were now on 1305 khz and testing on 102 mhz FM. Eobhain meanwhile still had Eric Vaughan, Dara Nelson and Aine Ni Guidhir and the Boyneside name. So things were hot when we arrived, two stations in a town barely big enough to support one.
Boyneside were still based at Donaghys Mill, just off Trinity Street and we received a great welcome from Eric Vaughan who was on air at the time. When he finished he showed us around and generally filled us in on the goings on. I mentioned to Eric that I planned to stay in the country for a while to which he immediately suggested that I should do a demo for Boyneside. I didn't have time to do one there and then, as we wanted to head off to Dublin, but said I would produce one when I got home and send it over.
Well, I got to WABC and there was no sign of Paul Graham who apparently was in Dublin doing work for KELO. As Eamon Brooks seemed to have no idea of my coming to work I decided to go home and do the demo for Boyneside. This I did and after spending a couple of days getting the short demo together posted it off and waited. Not that long as it happened because in a matter of a couple of days Eric was on the phone asking me to come over. Money was agreed and it was Drogheda here I come..
It was Sunday, September 13th 1981 that I left Scotland for my new job working on Boyneside Radio and to say that I was on a high that day would be an understatement! Eric and a character called Joe Price who was the advertising manager met me at Dublin Airport. We headed off to the pub for a few pints and the lads filled me in on the current happenings. CRD were still operating in the town, but Boyneside had a new AM rig, which was working 100% better than the last. It would not have been difficult! They also mentioned that negotiations were under way to buy a 1 kW transmitter from a contact in Dublin. I later found out this contact was Jim White, engineer and director of Sunshine Radio. Whether Dale knew of this prospective deal or not, I have never confirmed. Another plan was to open a satellite station in Navan, County Meath that would relay the Drogheda service but with certain opt outs during the day. Joe was a native of Navan and reckoned there was a bit of money to be made. The future of the station seemed positive and I was looking forward to getting started.
Anyway we arrived in Drogheda and indeed it was obvious that a new AM was on, now using 1262 khz, but better?!?! Anyhow into the station where I was introduced to Dara Nelson and Jim Kierans, the latter being on air at the time. Dara hailed from Athlone where he had worked for the original Midland Radio using the rather curious name "Navigator Nelson". From there he moved to North East Radio in Dundalk then to Boyneside. He was quite an unpredictable chap as to the kind of mood you might find him in. However when he was in good form he could be entertaining, and a very creative broadcaster. Certainly one of the best in the area. Jim or Jay Kay as he called himself was also a director of the station and a real nice fellow. He was a bit older than the rest of us, but had a great interest in broadcasting and a genuine wish for the station to succeed. After introductions we headed off to Castelebellingham, just South of Dundalk, to watch a Gaelic football match because Joe had a report to do. He was also the Boyneside sports presenter.
It was decided that I should present the daily "Homeward Bound" programme from 1730 - 2000 and the Top 40 show on Sundays from 1400 - 1600. I was more than happy to do these! I initially stayed with Joe and his family in Navan and must say that they made me very welcome. So Monday the 14th dawned and we headed to the station where a meeting was planned with Eobhain, the owner, along with directors Frank Buckley and Jim Kierans. Future plans were discussed and everybody was very positive. They wanted me to use a Scottish type of name, so naturally someone suggested Scott as a surname. As a forename, well who was the most respected Scottish radio presenter, Stuart Henry. So Stuart Scott was born, corny I know but what the hell! I was introduced to Owen Barry who presented the Lunctime shift and struck an immediate friendship, which has lasted to this day. Owen was 19 at this stage, but even now showed great professionalism and was respected as an excellent broadcaster.
So it came round to my turn and there I was with butterflies in my stomach that felt like pigeons! Eric normally did the morning shift but for today had swopped shifts with Dara. Eric was another professional guy and as it came nearer to 5.30 I hoped that I would not let the team down. Eric wound up, played a jingle and started my first record, just what that first song was escapes me. I sat in front of the equipment that was arranged around me in a "U" shape. The mixer was a 12-channel job made by H&H, and really designed for PA worked but used in studio by the majority of stations in Ireland. They were cheap and fairly robust and did the job. There was a turntable on either side of the mixer and four cassette decks to my left that were used to play jingles and commercials. As the record was coming to an end I was looking out of the studio window onto Donaghys Mill that still housed some factories. Some girls were finishing work and as they passed the studio waved to me that seemed to boost my confidence. I calmly opened the mic fader, ID'd the station and myself, welcomed the listeners and before I got too cocky played another song. The first link was over it was downhill from here!
The main evening news bulletin was at 6.15 and I found myself practising the name of the newsreader.... Aine Ni Guidhir...Aine Ni Gui...Aine...I dont know what it sounded like, but I could hear Aine screaming from downstairs in the newsroom! I did get it right eventually. Sports news was next at 6.30 with Joe Price by the end of which I was feeling really relaxed and able to have an informal on air chat with Joe. As the weeks went on we built up something of a rapport, and often I could be found rolling around the studio floor laughing as Joe calmly did the racing results with all those oddly named horses. By 8pm I was ready for a pint so Joe, Eric and I headed into town for some food and a couple of jars. Who should we bump into but Richard Kenny of CRD, so an entertaining evening ensued with Eric and Richard having some good-natured banter. Despite the split, Eric was still sharing a house with Richard and Gavin so we retired there, where there were further refreshments and if my memory serves me right we booby trapped Gavin's bed. My first day was over and it had been a good 'un!
The Boyneside schedule around this time ran 0630 - 0830 Jay Kay, 0830 - 1130 Eric Vaughan, 1130 - 1430 Owen Barry, 1430 - 1730 Dara Nelson, 1730 - 2000 Stuart Scott, 2000 - 2130 Country with Sean Neilon, 2130 - 0000 Mike Cluskey, 0000 - 0630 Night Music. The week went well so by Friday some relaxation was required. I managed to get permission to record that Sundays Top 40 as I had arranged with Owen Barry to go down to Dublin for the weekend. Owen was leaving Boyneside to re-join Telstar Radio in Blackrock, near Dundalk, so after only one week I was being moved to the afternoon shift from 2.30-5.30. On Saturday September 19th we headed down to Dublin with the intention of having a few drinks, and doing a bit of Anoraking. The first part is a bit vague now, but I seem to remember going into Radio City in Capel Street first of all, which looked no different from a few weeks before. We then caught a bus down to Dunlaoghaire with the intention of going to Southside Radio hopefully to meet up with Yorkie, Johnny Moss etc. We got there but no sign of any of the lads, however on air at the time was a guy called Steve Marshall who told us "I worked on The Voice of Peace, mate!" We chatted to Marshall for a while, little did I realise that I would be working with him in about a years time and indeed are still friends to this day. Anyhow he finished up his programme at 10 pm and said he was off home. We said "We'll walk with you and try and find a B&B", probably hoping Marshall would say "You can stay at my place mate", but he didn't! (Bastard!!) So we parted company with Steve and began looking for accommodation. What we didn't know was that an International Rugby match was on in Dublin that weekend resulting in there being no room at the inn.
By now we had resigned ourselves to sleeping in a bus shelter until I thought we should head back to the Hotel Victor and try to blag our way into sleeping at SSR. This we did and were lucky because the boss Andrew Coffey was there and said we could sleep in their little office area as long as we didn't try and interfere with the programmes! Doing the overnight on SSR was a guy called Kevin Lafferty, ably assisted by a little fellow whom I recognised from our trip to Dublin Community Radio a few weeks before. Now Kevin was doing his best but probably wasn't the best presenter in the world. In fact he was making some major "fuck ups" much to the delight of Owen and I. We couldn't get to sleep due to a combination of being uncomfortable and listening to Kevin. I commented to Owen that the programme was "organised chaos", a title which he adopted to his own programme on Telstar. After a while Kevin just gave up and started playing non stop music so we drifted off to sleep without fear of missing anything!
After an uncomfortable night Sunday morning arrived and we headed into the Victor for a wash and some breakfast. Lets head out to Shankhill and see Joe Jackson at Chronic I said, which Owen was all for. I think we hitched out there quicker than expected arriving around 9.30, where was Joe....in bed. However he soon got himself together and we spent an interesting couple of hours with the usual stories. Joe said if I ever got fed up at Boyneside I could come down and work at Sonic, "yeah sure" I thought to myself. Certainly an offer I could refuse! We headed back to SSR at the Victor and met Alan Hilton/ Mark Bolland, who was doing his famous FRC Ireland show. He showed me a list of stations that had been compiled from our trip and published in "Short Wave News" magazine.
Next it was up to Portmarnock and Sunshine Radio as Owen had met Declan Meehan recently, and invited him up for a visit. Deckie did the 3-6 shift on Sunday afternoons and as it was 2.55 when we arrived we thought he would be up in the studio preparing. However just as we spoke an old yellow Ford Escort came trundling into the Sands Hotel car park and Meehan came rushing out with his box of records. Owen called to him and Deckie immediately remembered his invitation replying "Give me 10 minutes to get organised and come up!"
So up we went getting to the steel door and pushing the buzzer. This was answered by Jim White, who wasn't going to let us in until Owen reminded him of his visit to Boyneside a few weeks earlier. Suddenly we were in! Robbie Dales kid was there and was a cheeky bastard! "There's Deckie in there", he said in a sneering fashion pointing in the studio. We duly ignored him and went inside to have a chat with Meehan. Jack is right in the main story saying I had a great respect for the man whom I thought to be a superb broadcaster. He had been to RTE but never forgot his pirate roots. Some people make it in radio and immediately change but it appeared Deckie wasnt like this. The old pirate stories were being told, when suddenly out of nowhere like in some surreal move, Dale appeared! The atmosphere changed right away so rather than cause any bother we left saying to Deckie we would buy him a pint in the Sands bar.
A couple of pints we bought and we sat chatting and saying what a swine Dale was. I recognised Stevie Dunne and called over to him. "Ah anoraks" he said, "Lets have a session!" Soon we were joined by Tony Fenton and his mate Barry Lang from RTE Radio 2. Tom Hardy arrived next who Stevie introduced as Brian Johnstone, his real name. I thought this was a nice touch as he wasn't saying, "I'm the famous Tom Hardy". Finally Deckie appeared, apologising about Dale! "Don't worry about that" we said, "have a pint". We knew Dale wouldn't sack Deckie as he was the "star name" on the station. The beer flowed, the crack was good, then he appeared again! The atmosphere changed the lads went silent. I could not believe how one person could have such an effect on people.
All too soon we had to catch a bus and so bade farewell to the guys and headed back into the city. As I was still staying with Joe in Navan and had virtually no chance of getting back Owen said I could kip at his parents place in Dundalk. We caught the bus bound for Belfast, which filled me with fear as I still had reservations about heading North. I must have fallen asleep because I awoke with a start. "Fuck where are we?" Owen was still asleep so I ran down the bus expecting the driver to say Newry, or even worse Belfast. I repeated the question to the driver fearing the worst. "Swords" was his reply. We had been on the road about 10 minutes, I felt such a fool!
Monday September 21st dawned and after breakfast at Owens' parents place we headed off to our respective places of work, me catching the train to Drogheda to start my new afternoon show and Owen out to Blackrock where he was to present the Lunchtime Show on Telstar Radio. This station had started in 1980 after the demise of NorthEast Radio and had quickly taken a large chunk of the Radio Carousel audience as well as some of their staff. The station broadcast on 1197 kHz AM as well as 88.5 mhz FM. They had recently relocated to studios above the Break Pub in Blackrock, which is on the coast just outside Dundalk.
My new shift ran from 1430 - 1730 and I must admit I did not feel as comfortable as I had the previous week doing Drivetime. I dont know whether this was obvious on air because by the end of the week another programme shuffle was to take place. All that week the Drivetime was hosted by Sean Neilon, who was primarily the presenter of the nightly Country music programme. As some people will know Country is extremely popular in Ireland in general and in this area in particular. Sean was also a milkman and a real nice guy who was to figure in various adventures to come. On Friday 25th September the full time replacement for the Daytime schedule arrived, one Niall McGowan. He was presenting Drivetime for this time only because as from Monday we were to swop shifts, which suited me.
Niall was from Dublin and it was apparent straight away that he was a professional and creative presenter. We hit it off right away and after his programme that night had a few drinks by way of welcoming him to Boyneside Radio. He had been around radio in Dublin, doing work for Radio City, Dublin Community Radio and ARD. He also operated a station called DCR 2 from his bedroom in Coolock, which could be heard on 1615 khz. This was possibly the station heard in Scotland by Jack, which he took to be Donegal Community Radio.
So starting Monday September 27th yet another new schedule was running, 0630 - 0830 Jay Kay, 0830 - 1100 Dara Nelson 1100 - 1400 Eric Vaughan, 1400 - 1700 Niall McGowan, 1700 - 1900 Stuart Scott 1900 - 2100 Country with Sean Neilon, 2100 - 0000 Mike Cluskey.
To Be Continued