The Real Story Chapter Six August to December 1979
After being at the top of the charts for most of august the Boomtown rats 2nd No 1 ‘I don’t Like Mondays’ eventually gives way to Cliff Richards ‘We don’t Talk Anymore’, Cliff’s 8th Number 1, however a big star was flexing his prowess in the charts. Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the Wall’ album was released in August eventually selling 7 million copies in the US alone, getting us all ready for the BIG one ‘Thriller’.
Researching for this chapter has meant ‘digging’ into what few cassette tapes I have in my possession, and those kindly lent to me for copying and eventually putting up on the web site for you to hear. Photo’s too have come my way from Ian and Ken, who amongst others visited Ireland in the 80’s with loads of memorabilia from around the country’s local stations rather than the ‘Super’ Pirates, loads of stuff if your interested here:-Archive of Irish Pirates check out Waterford, Tralee and Cork stations on their site, fascinating reading! For myself the tapes I am using for research, number about 20 in all, 2 of them are advert cassettes from 1980 to 1981,Big L radio Limerick never used Carts for jingles or adverts. The 8 track ‘cart’ was standard broadcasting format for national stations both here and the UK, and for the Two Super pirates Nova and Sunshine who’s owners, Robbie and Chris Carey were well used to their convenience when working on Radio Caroline.
Cart systems were expensive, I did price them at the time, around £400-£1500 per player, plus the cost of the carts, I just though the money was better spent on records, good quality cassette players and the outside broadcast facilities. In 1979 the record library would have been about 4 to 5,000 singles with over 1,000 albums, eventually growing to 13,000 singles and 5,000 albums by 1985, bigger than most radio stations at the time! Even RTE. They (RTE) relied on their dj’s to bring in records for their shows! as for the cassette library, that went into at least a thousand by 1983, everything of note was recorded, including sports shows, ‘Taste of Irish’, Thursday night program and all of Jim Kemmy’s wonderful History shows with Jim Wallace, not forgetting Eamon O’Connor’s hilarious shows on Monday nights, and of course Tom O’Donnell’s Tuesday night slot. Even the ‘Mad Hatters Ball’ (Friday nights) had its own place in the archives.
I don’t like reminding myself of their, (the archive tapes), demise, but here goes for the last time. I went to England in 1983, hopefully to semi retire from Big L radio Limerick and join forces with Chris Barnbroke, the owner of Horizon Radio in South London. My then business partner Frank Cavanaugh, whom I had misguidedly given control of the advertising agency side of Big L Radio Limerick, was to run the station and send money to me in England by way of allowance/pension or whatever you want to call it. I took about 1,000 records and albums and headed off to London in the Fiat Z100 OBU, and the speakers from Poldarks and amplifiers etc. This adventure will unfold in the time line of this blog, but to cut a long story short for now, needless to say whilst I was in London for about 3 months I never received any money from Ellen St Agency, The Money end of Big L radio Limerick!
Margaret phoned me some time during my ‘escape’ to London to say that the Station was in a mess, Cavanaugh had not maintained any of the Transmitters in the county(FM), and the station was being demoralized by his attitude. His Co-hort in this debacle was the other advertising ‘manager’ a guy named John Davis, who had previously ‘worked’ for Jimmy Saville, too sordid to mention at this stage but suffice to say He knew what was going on even then back in the 80’s!
I returned to Limerick to an absolute mess. I called a meeting of all the staff at the time paid and unpaid some 50 or so crammed into the office above 13 Ellen st. I informed everyone I was back to stay, and had every intention of putting Big L radio Limerick, back on it’s feet again. After the meeting Davis and Cavanaugh, pleaded to stay on, big mistake, but I had enough engineering problems to worry about, to get involved in financing the station so let them stay on!!! Downstairs in studio one 2 of the 4 tape decks were unworkable, but in studio 2 I couldn’t believe what was waiting for me. Everything looked ok at first sight, records a bit awry but I could see there were still about 10,000 in the collection in the wall units. The tape archive looked all ok all the front row neatly lined up so they could be identified. The archive was arranged across the rearwall cabinet containing the albums seen here in this shot from ’83.
Each of the 28 cubicles contained 12 cassettes wide by 3 deep to the back of the Walnut and glass cabinets, purchased from a closing Pharmacy in Bury St. Edmunds England. More than a thousand in all, on closer inspection the two rear rows were Missing, gone, I couldn’t believe it, on top of that all the front row cassettes had been emptied, just empty box’s!!!! I was so furious I just sat there in disbelief. As the meeting had been over for more than an hour I wasn’t going to call them all back to point the finger, but heads would roll on this one. I busied myself out in the County repairing the Transmitters and did not spend too much time back in the station. Fleeting visits at odd hours produced my first culprit. Mike Byrnes no relation to Liam Byrne who has a limerick radio nostalgia site on the net, was doing his show some 2 evening’s later, and was recording his ‘show’ apparently common practice while I was away, however the tape he was using was an archive tape of Jim Kemmy show, he was immediately ejected from the studio, claiming he wasn’t the only one, he was lucky to have left with two working legs. I am actually getting angry writing this and I didn’t want to allow this blog to get into the down side of the era, but it is part of the history. Once the word had got out a number of dj’s never showed up for their shows. What a mess. I’m going to take a break from writing for now 13.18 Wednesday the 30th July 2014, I’ll be back
resumed………Thought that would calm the waters not really, still very angry!
Back to 1979
So as not to confuse the issue over the ‘missing’ tapes there were 2 Mike Byrne(s) for a while. The (not really) Unfriendly Mike Byrne had started doing sound engineering on shows like the Saturday Sports Show, Women’s Show (Big W), even the odd stint on Tom O’Donnell’s show when Philip wasn’t available – now that was an experience for any up and coming sound engineer. Tom would have you exhausted by the end of his show, personally drove me around the bend on more than one occasion, he also engineered a Monday evening sports show with Flash Gleeson for a while as well. Much later the other Mike Byrnes arrived calling himself the Friendly DJ which prompted John Ryan and Philip to come with the differentiating Name…to identify the two Byrne(s’)
Early in August due to the increasing frequency of my visit’s to Arena in Askeaton, my Father Jack Sherriff Richardson tried one more attempt to get me to ‘return’ to the fold, but I just couldn’t see myself back in Askeaton! He even offered to buy Dromore Castle in Kildimo for me. This had been one of my ‘pet’ projects in Ireland ever since my first visit back in 1967. The plan had been to turn it into a Hotel and Dance venue, seemed then that the Show Band era would go on forever but the arrival of Disco was killing that off by the late 70’s. First it would have to have been re-roofed, top floor of the main keep would have been executive private suits, next floor down split between casino and 5 star restaurant, next floor standard accommodation with associated restaurant, ground floor and basement kitchen area and Public bars leading out to the courtyard and covered Dance floor area open to the sky except in inclement weather when a sliding roof like no 1 court in Wimbledon would have been utilized. Grand design and wishful thinking on my part, but feasible at the time. The views from this castle over the 3 lakes in the estate are incredible to this day, sadly no longer accessible to the public, but certainly visited by many people when the main gates by the lodge were permanently open. Those of you who have seen High Spirits can get an idea of the Dromore estate although the interior film shots bear no resemblance to the actual layout of the castle then and now, I still like the movie despite Daryl Hannah being slated for her performance. At the time of my father’s offer I had not considered moving the Radio Station to Dromore, although in actual fact it would have been ideal, even though it was derelict then and still was whilst making the movie in 1988. Maybe the fees from the film producers would have covered some of the refurbishment, however I presume it wouldn’t have been for hire, had my plans come to fruition. A castle I was offered for the Radio (Croagh castle), by my Godmother Brett Shanahan of the Ramble Inn in Croagh did not have the height or proximity to Limerick as did Dromore, but that to never came to be either.
All these fantasy ideas came to a very abrupt ending after the incidents of the 27th August 1979. My Father had run away from home in Goole Yorkshire when he was barely 15, and signed up to the eighth Army at that time stationed in Lybia.
He spent his time there 2 or 3 years before the start of WW2, right through to the invasion of Italy, and saw the army more as his family than the one he had left behind in Yorkshire, and when Lord Louis Mountbatten was assassinated on the waters around his home in Mullaghmore Co.Sligo, he must have just lost all semblance of what his life meant up to that time. I can only imagine what his feelings were at the time, I didn’t even know of his actions until I received a phone call from England from my Mother to say Dad had sold Arena for £37,500 to the Sheehan Brothers, and would never return to Ireland again! The Story was that he had looked for £50K but the brothers said they only had the sum stated, and my father took the cash on the spot. This was before Aughinish
near Foynes had even been mooted for the proposed site to refine bauxite and alumina plant which went into production in 1983, improving the value of all properties in the area. Arena was sold by the Sheehan brothers for €15M around 2010-11, nice one!
Big L Radio Limerick continued to grow through what was left of 1979, up to obvious excitement of the population over the arrival of Pope John Paul II, Gleesons were selling ‘Papal’ fold up chairs for the event at Greenpark, and I do remember on that day covering his arrival by Helicopter from the Nunciature at Maynooth College and celebrated mass before 400,000 people in Limerick. He then left Shannon Airport for Boston in the United States. I had been up most of the previous night presenting shows as well as the Breakfast show, up to his arrival in the Limerick region. Not till I heard the impending roar of the crowd (some 3 miles away did I go out into Ellen st when I heard his helicopter overhead. Limerick was totally deserted, I mean nothing was moving..anywhere. I went back to the studio and put on a music tape (auto-reverse) 2 hours, and got down underneath the record decks and went to sleep! Like me I don’t believe anyone was listening…..sssshhhhh.
I have very few tapes of specific shows not only for the events mentioned earlier but also later on 1n1985-6 of an entirely different set of circumstances which I will divulge later in the respective time line, but some’ gems like this one featuring E.O.C. Eugene O’Connor,
son of Eamon O’Connor, taking over the reigns from John Ryan,(still broadcasting on Clare FM, and sounding just like Big L Radio Limerick would today I might add, thanks for that John!), definitely one of the great talents on the Station.
Star discs ran by Pat McKenna in O’Connell St, right next to the sadly missed Cruises Hotel was the first main advertiser on Big L Radio Limerick. The Star discs Top Ten Show on Friday nights became the anchor point for the weeks evening shows and certainly had a wide audience. As most of the records were bought from him it was a mutually satisfactory engagement. Pat also sold the station most of the tapes required for archiving, some very high quality tapes for the ads (Memorex) were bought in the UK. Two sound clips from Stardoms Top Ten show
this one shortly after we got back on the air after our one and only ‘raid’. The voiceover is done live on the show, this was before we had any separate recording facilities for the advertising production, and the next one almost a year later done off air complete with cue for inserting into the show.
Towards the end of 1979 the Parkway Ballroom was used to host Big L radio Limerick events like the teenage disco on Sunday afternoons and some evening disco’s of which I have very little memory apart from one in particular at which Vincent Hanley from the new RTE 2 radio station was to make a guest appearance. The Parkway was pretty well packed but the stage was pretty poor when it came to supporting vinyl record players. Like most marquee dances in those days the stages were barely more than a couple of sheets of plywood in some cases chip board supported by a few beer barrels. In other words the DJ had to be very gentle on the boardwalk or else the records would go berserk and jump all over the place, embarrassing or what. Most of the audience new this and were encouraged to stay off the stage, or at least be very careful not to bang the stage. Some of course would take advantage of this dilemma and cause havoc, but generally most nights went OK. On this night the stage was very precarious and I was using my two top of the range Thorens TD126 decks (They cost me £420 each from Peter Dand in Dublin) bought for the Shannon Arms Disco back in 1974. Very good Transcription Decks but not suitable for Barn Dances and all the associated problems with wobbly and unsafe stages! The decks in Big L Radio Limerick used for broadcasting were standard Garrard sp25s, good work horse decks but bought for less than £30! Anyway enough of the techy stuff. The night was going OK then Vincent arrived with his tiny box of records (1 actually the 12” version of the Big disco hit of the moment ‘Viola Wills-Gonna get Along Without You Now’ and being the’ Star’ of the night leapt onto the stage and sent the current record being played by Philip Irwin into orbit! Slapping on his one and only record, before even acknowledging his audience he blurted out:-
“Well what do expect from a Pirate radio station but crap gear!”
I was on the floor whilst all this was going on at the time and on hearing his outburst which was directed directly at me, I just saw red and ‘rushed’ the stage ready to deck him. Lucky for him and I guess for me I was physically restrained by Michael Howes, Philip Irwin and possibly a few more, who had anticipated my reaction! I never spoke to Vincent at that time or any other time what a stupid man. To his credit he introduced MTV to Ireland, and died later of aids or something, I didn’t go to his funeral. Interestingly another ‘climber’ at the time was Buggles-Video killed the Radio Star’ what a prophetic record.
On December 3rd eleven fans were killed during a crowd crush for unreserved seats before The Who rock concert at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio. And two days later December 5th Jack Lynch resigned as Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland; he is succeeded by Charles Haughey. The penultimate clip from 1979 is a snippet from the breakfast show on the 9th November with Ingrid Kelly on News.
On December 6thThe world premiere of Star Trek The Motion Picture is held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It was the Studios response to the enormous success of Star Wars and was to be the first of many Star Trek movies although at The time the actors thought there would be one only Movie of the TV show.
On December 25th Vietnam invaded Cambodia to overthrow the Khmer Rouge regime which begins the Cambodian–Vietnamese War, and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and Babrak Karmal replaces overthrown and executed President Hafizullah Amin, which begins the war. The Christmas No 1 is Pink Floyd and Another Brick in the wall, and we’ll end this particular year with the fact that it has been the worst year ever for industrial disputes in Ireland, costing the economy over 1,460,000 working days. The last radio clip is from the evening of the breakfast show above with E.O.C. handing over to me on the Stardiscs top Ten Show…………
+ Happy New Year …………………..1980 approaches ++