‘All over northeast Dublin’: 30 years since the launch of Centre Radio

By John Walsh with Brian Greene

Centre Radio broadcast from various locations between December 19th 1986 and December 31st 1988. The first outing was at Baldoyle Youth Club near the shopping centre and the Racecourse Inn across the road from shortwave station Radio Valleri International on the Grange Road in Baldoyle. Centre broadcast over the  Christmas  of 1986 during the school holidays into 1987. Two of the original founders of Big Beat Radio including Brian Greene and Peter Walsh were involved again but others had gone on to do other things including second-hand record stalls in Temple Bar. During Christmas 1986 Centre was on 88FM with a stronger ERP of 40W and the signal and sound were better than Big Beat even if we were still in glorious mono. I didn’t do much news on Centre but took to playing vinyl instead over the Christmas holidays. We also had our own jingle package by this time which included the rather vain claim that we were ‘at the centre of everything … Centre Radio’. The jingles included Christmas versions featuring sleigh bells, chimes and Merry Christmas stings.

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Christmas 1986. L-R: Dónal Greene, Liam Ward, Pauline Reddin, Brian Greene, Eamonn Roe and (below) Peter Walsh (picture courtesy of Brian Greene)

At one stage in 1987 in true pirate tradition we moved into a stifling metal shed in Peter Walsh’s garden in Baldoyle. Easter and Summer school holidays were covered with seven days a week of radio. In November 1987 Centre had teamed up with Bayside Youth Club training over 80 young people in radio. By February 1988 we were on air every evening and all day at the weekend from a respectable enough room in Bayside Community Centre beside the shops. For years afterwards it was known as ‘the radio room’. We were taking advertising at that stage, mostly for local businesses in the shopping centre. The BBC Sound Effects album was practically worn thin from over-use: an ad for Tara Wools featured baaing sheep while a promo promising that Centre Radio offered an escape from the ‘jungle of Christmas’ included tropical birds and screeching monkeys. I recorded several top-of-the hour idents, one of which featured Bayside Stores, which must have been one of more loyal advertisers if they were granted such a hallowed position: ‘It’s the top of the hour, and for top value shop at Bayside Stores, Bayside Shopping Centre’. I also remember meticulously mashing up a promo based on snippets from current hits and booming sound effects interspersed with the lines ‘We brought you the hottest hits of summer…but we won’t cool down in the winter evenings’. It was bordering on sophistication and felt a million miles from Big Beat but all we had was two cassette decks, two turntables and plenty of confidence.

Centre moved around the FM band a lot in its two years on air. We can remember 88, 96 and 106 from Baldoyle and 92.5, 91.8 and 94.2 from Bayside but there may have been others. During the time in Bayside I had my own show from 9-11pm every Saturday night live from the radio room. I loved the chance to play whatever music I liked (yet more Depeche Mode) and the show was a welcome break from re-hashing Radio 2 news on KLAS, another station where I was also working at the time. In true free radio style I had an on-air name, Richard Taylor, based on an ident recorded from a pirate in London during a family holiday in the summer of 1987. I slipped up on air once or twice and signed off as John Walsh because I was using my real name on KLAS. Brian Greene noticed and mentioned it to me but listeners never commented on my dual identity.

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The ‘radio room’ in the Bayside Community Centre

Centre may have been more professional than Big Beat but we never forgot our pirate roots. I remember doing a long Free Radio Campaign programme over several hours with Brian during the final days of the station. We were both regular contributors to the Anoraks Ireland radio reports and the weekly Radio West Anoraks Programme from Mullingar and were bang up to date with the lively Dublin radio scene. During the show we played excerpts from the Leon Tipler documentaries on the Irish pirates from the late 1970s and early 1980s and reminisced about the infamous Radio Nova raids and closedown in 1983.

I was really sad to see Centre Radio close at midnight on December 31st, 1988. There was an amazing buzz on the last day with plenty of beer at hand and everyone who was ever involved dropping into the studio at some stage. I read headlines during the afternoon and boasted on air that Centre was the only Dublin station still broadcasting a news service. Technically this was true but re-writing the Evening Herald and RTÉ headlines was hardly a cause for celebration. We had a A-B call box phone in the studio and I remember friends from school ringing in with requests during my final show from 6pm. After finishing I walked down to the seafront to look mournfully across the water to Howth and thought how awful it was that the magic of pirate radio in Dublin was about to be extinguished. More than anything else radio had defined my teenage years and I had loved every minute of it. Brian pulled out the plug of the transmitter just after midnight as the AM and FM bands fell silent across Dublin, with the exception of Eamon Cooke and RTÉ.

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Centre Radio flyer from 1988. Picture courtesy of Eamonn Roe

From 1988 on when Centre Radio moved to Bayside, Tom Berry from Sutton Park was involved with the station, an adult giving the teenage outfit extra credibility and respectability. Tom was our fathers’ age and kept an eye on programme output, a matter of growing concern as the prospect of licensed radio gained momentum during 1988. Under Tom’s guidance we gathered signatures of support for the station from the public in Bayside Shopping Centre, submitted an expression of interest in a local licence for the northeast of Dublin and even managed a live ‘outside’ broadcast of a charity concert from the community centre across the corridor. Tom never went on air himself but was an essential part both of Centre Radio in its final months and of Radio Caroline which broadcast from his own house from 1989 for over ten years. Sadly he passed away in 1999 after a short illness.

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