29 Jun 2022

Trip Through Time: Early radio broadcasting in the Dundalk area

Looking back at Dundalk's past, with former Democrat editor Peter Kavanagh

Trip Through Time: Early radio broadcasting in Dundalk area

Some Dundalk radio enthusiasts might be surprised to learn that community radio stations have been broadcasting in the area for close on 60 years.

In fact, radio transmissions have been picked up in Dundalk for much longer than that. I once came across an old radio receiver in a house in Seatown Place which I was told had been used to pick up the first signals from Radio 2RN which first broadcast from the G.P.O. in Dublin in 1926.

This type of receiver was known as 'Cat's Whiskers' and consisted of a set of headphones plugged into what was known as a 'crystal receiver', with long antennas from which equipment this old radio receiver got its name.

By the time I came into the world, however, there were many radio sets in Dundalk and it seemed to me that there had always been a 'wireless set' in our home forever - which I found difficult to comprehend as there was an aerial wire running around the sitting room which was 'yards' in length and I could not understand how it came to have that negative name?

The outdoor aerials for some receivers were more elaborate and could be raised and lowered for better reception.

Our early radio often broke down and I recall that we had to buy expensive parts to keep it going but my late bother sometimes would give it a thump instead!

That old brown Bakelite radio, however, was the centrepiece of our home and I can recall that one of the threats my mother used to get her children to do their school exercises was to forbid us listening to programmes until we had completed these to her satisfaction!

I do not recall that my father was too bothered about us listening but he had some favourite programmes, like news bulletins and 'Question Time' when we had to keep quite when the radio was turned on!

My brother was forever trying to circumvent the restrictions on listening to the old radio and would switch it on surreptitiously when my mother went out to buy the family shopping.

On another occasion he managed to acquire parts, I think in Northern Ireland, to build his own radio, which he screwed on to a wooden board - he could pick up some signals on it but not much apart from music.

It was with great joy, therefore, when my father bought a new radio back in the early 1950s, on which you could get several bands and you could tune-in more accurately to 'stations' by watching a green 'eye' by which one could control the focus of the signal.

One of my favourite occupations was, at night time, listening to the 'trawler band' on short-wave, on which you could pick-up ships' radio operators taking to each other on the Irish Sea.

I was working in journalism by that time and found that I often learn useful pieces of local information from what they were talking about!

This sort of 'listening post' got even more interesting later on when I procured a more powerful 'transistor' receiver and could hear communications from all sorts of sources along the Border.

I am not sure if some of this activity was strictly legal but understood that it was if you did not cause to be published what had been overheard?

That, as my readers might guess, was mostly before television sets came to Dundalk in the late 1950s and that, of course, changed everything, even if it the signals only came from one channel and only lasted for a few hours in the day!

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