31 Oct 2008
After an inexplicable absence of two days, I’m back on the air. Not sure what happened - nothing sinister though, as far as I can make out (although that would have been fun too!

… like the time… (sorry, I’m about to go off on one) …when I used to work on the pirate radio stations all those years ago…

That’s right: In the mid 1980s, I used to be the Head of News at Dublin’s Sunshine Radio. No big whoop - it meant I got to choose which stories on CeeFax we copied down in longhand and read out in the name of journalism until I got demoted. Anyway, after the Department of Post and Telegraphs failed to shut us and the rest of the Dublin pirate stations down the first couple of times, RTE decided to take matters into their own hands. So – this is absolutely true – they set up a special transmitter in a field in Beaumont which broadcast a frequency capable of alternatively blocking out the signals of the two largest pirate stations of the time – Nova and Sunshine. And away they went, creepily blocking out the signals of pirate radio stations because they knew they could get away with it.  

Now, in those days, when someone was actually on the air (reading the news, or whatever) it was standard procedure to pipe the broadcast signal into their earphones, i.e. we, the broadcast people, were listening to the very same thing that the regular audience was listening to, the idea being that if there was a problem with what was going out on air, we’d know about it right away.

Came the day when Sunshine’s owners got wind of what RTE were up to and I got instructions to lead off the main lunchtime news bulletin with a dramatic statement. A little more nervously that usual, I sat in my little sound proof booth with my earphones on, waiting for the news jingle to start fading, which was my cue to begin:
‘The management of Sunshine Radio has learned that Radio Telefis Eireann have begun blocking the signals of Sunshine Radio and Radio Nova…’ 
Moments after I started speaking, the signal in my earphones began to break up as the powers in RTE tried to shut me up. Soon, I could barely hear my own voice amid the crackling static. Spooky. But, at the same time, cool.

This little act of civic defiance of which I’m proud to say I was a part, went unnoticed. When asked about it, RTE lied, claiming they had better things to be doing with their time than blocking annoying pirates. The newspapers, who knew perfectly well what RTE was up to, ignored the story fearing that their editors wouldn’t get plum invites onto RTE talk shows and that their reporters would be blacklisted by Government Ministers.    

Since the mid 80s, I spent eleven years living in the US during which time I learnt an awful lot about what it takes to structure a society so that over-reaching dilettantes who can’t resist the urge to exercise whatever power they have available to them to insult the rest of us with their foolishness, are held in check. Which is why, on returning to Celtic Tiger Ireland, neither the cappuccinos, nor the BMWs, nor (for its being provincial) the new and ridiculously overhyped multi-culturalism fooled me into believing much had changed. Even today, you still find that old RTEishness in just about every aspect of Irish public life, not least in the planning system The belligerence of the signal blockers is still there.)

Now, how did I get into all that?

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