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Pirate Radio Waterford


26 September 2017 Blog The Queen Street Observer

It had to happen I suppose, that my (usually) sunny disposition and sense of sang froid would sooner or later hit a speed bump on the cosmic highway. Narky? Grumpy? Yeah, just a little. What’s lit this fire under me is an item I saw on the ‘DJs of the Irish pirate radio era’ Facebook page proposing to set up a radio museum/gallery/exhibition in Dublin featuring pirate radio, encompassing all stations nationally and not just the Dublin ones, I assume. It’s a great idea and I’m all for it but what frustrates me is that this is something we could do here in Waterford featuring our own stations. We had five of them after all – WLR, Suirside, ABC, Crystal City Sound and NCR. There’s enough there and surely enough memorabilia to populate such an exhibition if the will was there.

  I’m a former pirate and profoundly proud of it. I started on WLR in 1979 and from the outset I knew that while what was happening was special there was no telling when it might come to a shuddering halt. Bearing witness to it seemed a good idea so I set about putting my little Kodak camera and its 24 exposure cartridges to good use, snapping people, events such as outside broadcasts and just about anything, really. There was nothing too mundane that it couldn’t be photographed.  The upshot of this was that when I left in 1985 I’d amassed somewhere in the region of 150-200 photos as well as various other bits and pieces of paraphernalia.

   Fast forward to 2011 and the opening of the Bishop’s Palace as the Waterford Treasures museum. As I wandered through the building taking in the sights I was particularly transfixed by the showbands exhibit. They’re all there, Brendan Bowyer and The Royal as well as others like the Blue Aces and the Derek Joys, two bands deemed good enough to have made the big time by those who remember them. Anyway, the point is this showband display set me thinking of something similar to celebrate the Waterford pirate stations. Even in 2011 enough time had passed for those days to qualify as history. Since then to the present day I’ve floated the idea from time to time with various members of the local pirate radio fraternity, usually – but not always – to varying degrees of indifference. Indeed, there’ll no doubt be some reading this today who’ll be going ‘Ah Jaysus, there’s CK off on his living in the past thing again’. Um, yeah, guilty as charged but only up to a point.

      I live very much in the present – I take my work for TCRfm very seriously, when I do any show the approach and the mindset is always to do the very best I possibly can. I don’t do frivolous and I certainly don’t ‘phone it in’. At the same time I’m a history guy, a believer in the maxim that if you don’t know where you’ve come from how can you know where you’re going. I reckon that between my own modest collection of stuff and what others may have there’s the basis for an exhibition whether temporary or permanent in some venue. Time is factored into this too. We’ve lost John Ferguson, Tony Weldon, Dermot Graham, Eddie Coady, Stephen Dee, Billy McCarthy,…… the list will only grow as none of us are getting any younger and the need to act on this feels more pressing with the passing of each month.

June 2018 will mark the 40th anniversary of WLR’s first broadcast. 40 years!! The time has never been more right.

     There are those from the old days who share my point of view, who say if something can be organised to let them know and they’ll assist in whatever way they can but there’s a surprisingly large number who are indifferent. I love them dearly, I feel a bond with them, that we were a part of something very special and we played a role, however small, in changing Irish broadcasting. But when they give me the ‘Nobody cares, CK’ line I feel exasperated to a level I can barely describe. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.

  I sometimes think the roots of the apathy lie in ancient enmities and rivalries. There were often factions at war with one another within the stations never mind the natural competitiveness between the stations themselves. A case in point and I don’t think I’m divulging any state secrets here, consider my colleague Brian Kennedy’s ‘Radio Blaa Blaa’ book in 2012. In order to get some people on board and secure their cooperation Brian had to do all in his power to persuade them that it wasn’t going to be a WLR vanity project and that all stations would get equal billing in the book. This suspicion even carried over to the book launch itself where a minority resolutely kept their distance from the other side, just like we were all still back in 1982. Sad! as the Trumpster might say.

  Speaking of Brian, he’s got another radio book on the go which I presume we’ll see sometime in 2018. He’ll have the launch and we’ll all turn up, exchanging pleasantries over a few drinks with the same sub-plot playing out in the background. As I mentioned, June of next year is a significant date in Waterford broadcasting history and presents an ideal opportunity to organise this exhibition. With the right people pushing it I believe it could be put together ever so quickly and it could be something of interest and value to the public, not to mention something that me and my mates in the old guard could be justifiably proud of.

We can but hope. Don’t hold your breath.


Talk to you next month!

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