In the past, we took a brief look at some unusual Dublin pirate radio stations here on the site, such as Radio Jacqueline, a 1967 schoolboy effort which made its way into the national media.
With RTE television turning 50 this year and much nostalgic feeling coming with that, perhaps some of you will remember Channel D, the first Irish pirate television station which popped up in April of 1981. Channel D, subtitled as ‘Independent Television Dublin’, lasted only a number of months due to pressure from state forces, and ultimately failed to establish any sort of loyal base like the pirate radio stations had succeeded in doing. Jim Reidy, one of the stations directors, and ‘Doctor’ Don Moore were among those involved with the station. Don Moore had played a leading role in the development of the pirate radio format in Ireland. Indeed, many involved in the earliest pirate television efforts in this city had come from that background.
Even prior to Channel 3 (as the station was first known) taking to the small screen, the buzz around the station led to The Irish Press of April 21 1981 reporting that:
“All the means at its disposal” are to be used by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs to prevent the operation of the country’s first pirate television station which intends to start transmissions from north Dublin in the next few days. Action, in the form of the seizure of equipment, will be taken against this unlicensed station in others in Cork and Limerick which also mean to begin operations soon.”
Some of the fears around the stations had come about as a result of cinema owners taking to the media and complaining of their fears of uncensored films being shown on such stations. Jack Bourke, an owner of two cinemas, told The Irish Press that if films were to be shown on pirate television uncensored or prior to their cinema release, “cinemas will close or we will not bother about submitting films to the censor.” This led to a situation where a Limerick based consortium planning to soon commence pirate transmissions found themselves telling the national media they were prepared to submit their films to the film censor, Frank Hall.
It was April 25th when Channel 3, the nations first pirate telly station, took to the air. This was an incredible new experiment for those involved of course, which brought all sorts of difficulties with the task. An In Dublin feature on the station that summer noted that with these earliest transmissions:
The signal was weak, the reception in black and white and the frequently-repeated material irritating. One observer described the operation as ‘amateur-land’. But somebody, somewhere, had succeeded in putting a picture on my screen.
In its infancy, the station was broadcast out of the Camelot Hotel on the Malahide Road, and was only obtainable within a five mile radius of that location. Still, despite its incredibly small potential audience, it grabbed the national attention through the newspapers of the day. The station went to great lengths to stress the fact it didn’t want to be seen as a threat to the national broadcaster, with a spokesperson telling The Irish Press that the station only went on air after RTE had ceased transmission and that “we are not posing a threat to anyone.”
The Irish Times was completely correct when it stated that Channel D was “strangled at birth”, with a High Court settlement see ing the station banned from showing any films less than thee years old. The station had planned to show ‘Kramer versus Kramer’, but alas this wasn’t to be.
So, what did they show? Irish-TV.com notes that that it was said that Channel D’s stock of video cassettes was “burnt out in a ‘freak’ accident at a Dublin petrol station, so Channel D constantly repeated the same film, No.1 of the Secret Service in the evenings and a magazine programme filmed on a domestic camera in the day.” Also broadcast with great frequency was Don’t Swim on the East Coast by The Sussed. The song was about the Windscale Nuclear power station, Sellafield to me and you today.
The In Dublin feature noted that “broadcasts begin very suddenly, without any ceremony. The equipment consists solely of a video-cassette recorder linked to a transmitter and thence to an aerial in the roof.” By the time the In Dublin feature was written in August of 1981, the station was broadcasting from the State Cinema in Phibsborough. The feature noted that “Channel D is financed by a large consortium of business interests whose main concern was to provide Dublin with local independent television at no extra cost to the viewers, since funds would be generated by advertising.”
Ultimately, Channel D was not the success it could have been, with state interference and poor equipment to blame. The station had ambitious plans which even included breakfast television, unheard of in Ireland at the time. Other pirate television stations would follow, with Radio Nova attempting to make the leap to the format too, but like Channel D these efforts would be shortlived.
At the time when Radio Nova attempted the move to the small screen, chairman of the RTE Authority, Mr. Frank O’Donovan, described pirate telly as nothing but “a two finger excercise to the government, to RTE and to the law of the land.” These stations represent a fascinating and forgotten piece of Dublin’s social history.