Some Dundalk radio enthusiasts might be surprised to learn that community radio stations have been broadcasting in the area for nearly 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 early signals from Radio 2RN which first broadcast from the GPO at Dublin in 1926.
This type of receiver was known as “Cat’s Whiskers” and consisted of a set of headphones plugged into what was called a “crystal receiver”, with long antennas from which the equipment of this old receiver radio takes its name.
When 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 forever home – which I found it hard to understand as there was a antenna wire running around the living room which was ‘meters’ long and I couldn’t figure out how it came to have that negative name?
The external antennas of some receivers were more elaborate and could be raised and lowered for better reception.
Our first radio often broke down and I remember we had to buy expensive parts to keep it running, but my late boredom sometimes gave it a kick instead!
This old brown bakelite radio, however, was the centerpiece of our house and I remember that one of the threats my mother used to get her children to do their school exercises was to forbid us to listen to programs until that we have completed them to his satisfaction. !
I don’t remember my dad caring too much about listening to us but he had favorite shows, like news bulletins and ‘question time’ when we had to be quiet when the radio was on!
My brother always tried to circumvent the old radio’s listening restrictions and would surreptitiously turn it on when my mother went out to buy the family groceries.
On another occasion he managed to acquire parts, I think in Northern Ireland, to build his own radio, which he screwed onto a plank of wood – he could pick up a few signals from it but not much besides music.
So it was with great joy that my father bought a new radio in the early 1950s, on which you could get multiple bands and you could tune more precisely to “stations” by looking at a green “eye” through which one could control the focus of the signal.
One of my favorite pastimes was, at night, listening to the short wave “trawler band”, on which one could pick up ship radio operators talking to each other in the Irish Sea.
I was working in journalism at the time and found that I often learned useful local information from what they were talking about!
This type of “listening post” became even more interesting later when I bought a more powerful “transistor” receiver and was able to hear communications from all sorts of sources along the border.
I don’t know if some of this activity was strictly legal, but I understand it was if you didn’t publish what was overheard?
As my readers can guess this was mostly before the arrival of television sets in Dundalk in the late 1950’s and that of course changed everything even though the signals were only from one channel and only lasted only a few hours a day!