The story of ABC

ABC Radio (The Alternative Broadcasting Channel) first took to the airwaves of Dublin in November 1981.

The launch of the station was the culmination of months of planning by four former Radio Dublin Channel 2 DJ's, Bernie Carroll, Mike Doyle, Vincent Hughes & Ray Jackson. The group had departed Channel 2 the previous June out of frustration with the lack of resources and the realisation that the station would always be the poor relation to the main channel.

Once a premises had been found work in preparing started in earnest. The studios were located in the Ivy Rooms Hotel, Parnell Street (now the Gate Hotel). The first studio was basic to say the least and consisted of a set of disco decks, a tape deck and microphone. The transmitter was situated in the cellar of the hotel with the aerial literally running up the front of the building, suspended at fifteen feet above the roof and running near 100 feet down the block. Not the ideal situation as was borne out by the reception!

Eventually test transmissions commenced at 9.00pm on the 1st November on 1386khz (217m).   Staff at this stage consisted of the four supplemented by Graham Talbot and Richie Dee. Programming ran from 7.30pm - 11.00pm Monday to Friday and 3.00pm - 11.00pm at weekends. After a short period on air it was decided to move the aerial to a new location at the back of the building. This however resulted in reception on the northside of the city deteriorating and becoming almost non existent on the southside. The aerial was moved again, this time being suspended in free space across Parnell Street. This provided one of the station's most memorable moments as at one stage there were ten staff members holding up traffic on a busy Saturday afternoon as cables were strewn across the road!

No sooner were the aerial problems solved when the frequency became an issue. A station north of Dublin operated within 1khz of 1386 causing constant interference to the signal.. In early 1982 the station moved to 1359khz although continued to announce the original frequency. By now broadcasting hours had been extended to 3.00pm - 11.00pm Monday to Friday and midday to 11.00pm at weekends. The staff now numbered ten. With the improvement in reception further problems arose with Manx Radio which operated on 1368khz causing massive nightime interference. Although the station had moved to new improved studios in the hotel morale had begun to suffer due to the constant reception problems. At the end of April 1982 the station moved frequency to 963khz (312m). The change was immediately reflected in the amount of calls to the station and audience reaction. The studio was once again revamped with new record decks and other equipment installed.

In July 1982 broadcasting hours were once again extended, this time to 9.00am - 11.00pm seven days a week. With the arrival of Mark Ryan as station manager programming settled down with little or no glitches. Attention was turned once again to reception with further modifications to the transmitter resulting in extended coverage. Within weeks however a major loss of power occurred which could not be readily identified causing a much reduced signal. To add to this the transmitter was sabotaged at the end of November causing major damage and resulting in the station being silenced for ten days. Once back on air the problem of the loss of power continued. This was eventually traced to a faulty section in the aerial. Once this was replaced coverage was back to normal.

With the approach of Christmas however further problems arose. Since moving to 963khz the station had suffered from sporadic interference from a hobby station on the south side of the city. Although it had been off air for a number of months the people concerned decided to resume irregular transmissions after ABC's arrival on the frequency. By year's end deliberate jamming was taking place for up to fifteen hours a day. Ironically this was probably the longest period of time they had ever spent on air although most of it consisted of (mercifully!) a blank carrier. Rather than becoming embroiled in a war of attrition it was decided to move to 981khz but to continue announcing 963. The move of frequency took place in early January 1983. At the same time the transmitter was moved from its cellar location to a room on the second floor complete with steel door as a precaution. Further work was also done to the aerial in an effort to improve matters.

Attention was once again turned to the studio which had begun to show signs of wear with equipment quite literally falling to pieces. A new studio was built within the old one with a new 8 channel mixer, 3 record decks, 2 tape decks, 1 reel to reel (who remembers them?!) and live phone in facilities. Around this time we also welcomed back Graham Talbot to the ever popular Saturday afternoon sports programme after a long absense. Mark Ryan for personal reasons decided to take a well earned rest from the hassle of running "the ship" and was replaced by John Dunne. Things continued smoothly until May 1983 until, without warning the authorities raided Sunshine Radio and Radio Nova confiscating their transmission equipment. In the Dublin area most other stations voluntarily ceased broadcasting fearing the loss of equipment. Only ABC & one other station continued on air broadcasting 24 hours a day for the remainder of the week such was the response of listeners.

Once the chaos of the raids had subsided it was decided by stations to organise a march to the Dail and hand in a petition. On the due date the ABC Radio float led the way from O'Connell Street to Merrion Square. Once things returned to normal broadcasting continued uninterrupted until July 1983. Following the departure of Mike Doyle the station relocated to the disused State Cinema in Phibsboro (later the Silver Skate Ice Rink) which conveniently had an 80 foot mast on the roof! With a further change of frequency to 1251khz it was decided to abandon live programming in favour of full automation. This had previously been done a number of years earlier by Big D by using reel to reel tapes. The station acquired the latest state of the art technology - a multi cassette player!!! This enabled us to programme 20 hours of music at a time with only one visit a day to the station.

All continued without incident until April 1984 when renovations to the State commenced. These unfortunately caused constant cuts in electricity to the building, some lasting hours at a time. By the end of May the situation had become untenable with power cuts lasting up to several days. The decision was taken to quit the premises and at midnight on the 1st June the transmitter was turned off. Although we were not to know at the time, this was to be the final broadcast from ABC Radio.

Over the following months attempts were made to find suitable alternative premises however these proved fruitless. With the approach of year end it was felt that after a silence of six months the task of rebuilding the station was too much for those left. The decision was then taken to formally call it a day thereby bringing to a close the three and a half year life of ABC. While the station never attained the popularity of some of its contemporaries it served a loyal audience with enthusiasm. We like to think that we played at least some small part in the struggle for independent radio in Ireland.