Thursday, 9 August 2007

Pirate memories

News that we are approaching the 40th anniversary of the date when pirate radio was made firmly illegal in Britain (though Radio Caroline stayed on air) brought back memories of a later, similar movement in Ireland in the late seventies and early eighties. Irish pirate radio operated out of the back of hotels, rather than from the high seas. As a student in the early eighties, I did some broadcasting on Radio 257, which operated from a grubby room at the old Crofton Airport Hotel and Sunshine Radio, a slicker more professional outfit which had its studios in Portmarnock. The Irish pirates had a similar impact to Radio Caroline, helping create RTE Radio 2 and ultimately a large wave of commercial stations. Many leading Irish broadcasters started their days on the pirates. But, although there were occasional high profile raids, their status was generally rather less precarious. Two Labour MEPs were elected in the four-seater Dublin constituency in the 1979 European elections after blanket advertising on the capital's pirates (a facility not available on RTE), even though Irish Labour had a similar official attitude to the pirates as Tony Benn, postmaster-general in 1967 in England. On one day in 1980 when I was getting ready to read the news on Radio 257, I was slightly startled to see a Garda car pull up outside the studio. The policeman knocked on the door. "I wonder would you mind reading these stolen car numbers out on air, please," he asked. "Good luck to you, now".

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