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USENET: Ireand - Pirate broadcasters make a 'legal' comeback
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Wednesday, October 20, 2004
By: Cróna Esler

If running pirate radio stations, using false names and 'acquiring' cables
to broadcast from shady dwellings sounds to you like the basis of some
high-crime Hollywood film, you're sorely mistaken. Acts such as these, which
are now considered illegal by the Gardaí, were quite common in Claremorris
in the 1970s and '80s.

They weren't carried out by villains and the DJs didn't live up to the
typical Hollywood bad-boy image - they were ordinary people, with ordinary
lives, just
trying to bring life to the souls of the people within their community.

Johnny Kirrane and Eamon Kelly were two such 'pirates'. However, they have
departed company with their wild side and have decided to try their hands at
broadcasting, the legal way! Both gentleman are now involved in Claremorris
Community Radio, Johnny on the editorial committee and Eamon on the
technical committee.

Johnny first tried his hand at radio in 1977, when RTÉ came to Claremorris
to assist with broadcasting during the Ham Fair. He decided to get involved
with some of the productions at the time and found that he really enjoyed
it.
A short time later Joe Delaney started broadcasting out at home. Johnny went
out and talked to him and decided that he would get involved. Between them
they decided to set up a pirate station. And so the original Atlantic Radio
was born.

"We bought a caravan and put it in Navin's Quarry, up at the highest point,
and began broadcasting. We had lots of different programmes but we couldn't
use our real names of course. I was 'Big John'," explained Johnny.

Atlantic Radio ran for a good few weeks and was really becoming established
in the surrounding area, but unfortunately it wasn't long before they met
with a spot of bother. "We had somehow 'acquired' a lead from an office
nearby and we were operating through that, everything was going great until
the boss at the other company found out," he laughed.

"Well I needn't tell you, he went mad! He cut the power as soon as he heard
and that was the end of that. It really was such a shame because so many
people were listening to it. They had a real appetite for radio and I
thought that we would eventually go for a licence for a station in the
town," stated Johnny.
After his experience with Atlantic Radio, Johnny decided to put his 'radio
career' on hold for a while and it was only when news of Claremorris
Community Radio emerged, that he decided to get involved once more.

Eamon on the other hand has quite a substantial history with pirate
stations, living life on the edge that little bit more! "I was always
interested in radio and communication, even when I was going to school back
in the '70s; always searching through the radio and the Medium Wave band,"
he said.

Eamon worked for a pirate station in Castlebar in the '70s, before getting
the idea to set up his own station. He first heard Gerry Delaney on the
radio in the 1981 and decided to go out to see him. Following that meeting,
he decided to get involved and began working for 'Jumping Gerry'. Eamon then
got to know PJ Barrett who had a transmitter belonging to Martin Murphy at
the time. For the 1985 festival, they set up a radio station in what was
then the Imperial Hotel (now the Local bar). The radio station was run very
successfully for two weeks. "It couldn't have happened at a better time
because it was a really rough two weeks with the weather and the festival
programme kept changing as a result. We used the radio extensively to
broadcast these changes to the people," he said.

The station was again up and running that Christmas, becoming 'Claremorris
Radio'. At the start of 1986, they made the move towards a full-time
station, calling it 'Happy Radio'. Unfortunately, Eamon was in a serious
accident after that and 'Happy Radio' was put on hold.

When he was back to himself again, he re-started a station, which became
known as 'Radio Mayo'. By then, they were boldly operating from a shop unit
in Claremorris (where Richard Finn's office is now situated). "We were very
brazen, we even put up signs over the door and painted them red and green.
We even had a phone line, I remember the number because it was very snappy -
71156," he recalled.

To this day, Eamon still feels very strongly about pirate stations and is
adamant that a lot of the pirate radio stations are much better than the
licensed stations. "The pirate stations are afraid to do something wrong so
they're so careful as a result," he opined.

Neither Johnny nor Eamon are fully convinced that an array of community
stations is the way forward. Eamon believes that the county would be better
served with an actual Regional Community Station for Mayo, rather then a
series of small community stations. He feels that it should be the same size
and have the same capability as the local commercial radio station, MWR.

"It is my belief that regionally it was all done hay-wire. RTÉ should be
involved solidly in radio. I remember RTÉ travelling around to towns running
community radio stations in the past. They were outside broadcasts for RTÉ.
I think if there was just one community station in the county and each town
could feed into it, it would be a better set up," he opined.

Johnny Kirrane is in full agreement. Eamon has also talked to Séan Egan, of
Knock Radio, and he assured the Western People that Séan is of the same
opinion.

According to the three men, they have more than one reason for suggesting
that one radio community station should serve the entire county. Firstly,
they are worried that the communities may not have the capability to run a
full-time station by themselves, especially since the majority of the
workers would be volunteers.
In addition, Eamon voiced his concern over an abundance of stations taking
to the air in Ireland. "With all these community radio stations coming on
line, they're using up too much of the FM band, which at the end of the day
is only from 88 to 108."

The men see many difficulties with Community Radio at present and believe
that the music guidelines are far too restrictive. "The distinct advantage
that commercial radio has over you is that people love to listen to music,
they've been doing that since they were banging on logs with sticks a
million years ago, they love rhythm. The overall criteria set down for
community radio is too restrictive," voiced Eamon.

However, although they do see problems emerging with community radio across
the board, they continue to be very committed to the cause and will be
striving to make the week-long radio schedule packed with fun and exciting
programmes. "I think the main problem is the restrictions on music
programmes and if we can't have as much music as we want, the other
programmes have to be really, really good in order to get people interested.
Who knows what the future holds? For now, we just have to keep the listeners
entertained," concluded Eamon.

http://www.westernpeople.ie/news/story.asp?j=21969

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