By the 1st of January 1989, most of the pirate radio stations in Ireland had closed or were in the process of closing down. The Radio and Television Act of 1988 introduced heavy penalties and potential jail terms for those who might support or advertise on such stations. This of course was paving the way for legal commercial local radio in Ireland and most of the new stations opened during the course of 1989.
Locally, Midwest opened in the early summer of 1989, while Shannonside (as it was then) started out in November 1989. It was a brand new industry in the country, and one which this year celebrates its 30th birthday. Local radio is now part and parcel of the local community all over the country and, like local newspapers, the GAA and many other rural organisations, it is here to stay.
I was part of the Shannonside team that started life in Castle Street, Roscommon, where, under the management of John Morrin and Joe Finnegan, a new chapter was written in local media coverage. There were marvellous people involved. They were young and full of ideas. All involved worked very hard. I’m sure it was the same story in every other station throughout country. It was such an exhilarating time. But in truth we made many mistakes too. It was a new business. We were learning as we went along.
Those early years were exciting and challenging in equal measure. I met many people over the years in local radio who are now friends for life, and many of the talented people I worked with have gone on to be stars on national TV and radio. There is definitely a book or two in the many experiences – both good and bad – over the years. At its inception, the local radio industry was looked upon with suspicion, but as time went by most people accepted that the service would add to the local community and that it wasn’t not a threat to anyone.
However, there was also a commercial reality. Once the initial couple of years were completed, these new radio stations had to stand on their own two feet and make money – which was easier said than done. Shannonside subsequently joined with Northern Sound, and the station has since been bought by the Radio Kerry Group. Similar deals have been done all over the country as stations try to consolidate and survive.
It’s hard to believe that the local radio industry is thirty years old this year. I’ve been part of it for most of that journey, and the memories are mostly positive. In terms of news, sport and current affairs, it had added to our lives, particularly in rural Ireland. Long may it continue.