XFM DJ Hugh O'Brien tells Kenneth Foxe his story, painting a romantic picture of the world of pirate radio.
It was about five years ago - two lads Hugh and Brent, friends
from work - decided to start a radio station. It was a spur of
the moment decision.
Brent knew a fair bit about radio, he had been involved with the
pirate radio scene in the mid 80's, and so decided that it was
about time he moved back into broadcasting.
The name of that station was Alice's Restaurant, reincarnated
now as XFM. In the beginning though there was no name, just two
ordinary Dublin blokes with an idea. They were going to start
Dublin's very first alternative radio station.
And so, they set off up the Dublin Mountains, driving their car,
with a big aerial stuck out the window, a cd player and a small
transmitter which fitted under the back seat. When they made
it up the hills that first day, they just stuck the transmitter
in the ground and started to play some music.
The rest as they say is history. Hugh and Brent continued in
this fashion unsure of whether anyone was listening or not, but
going on nonetheless. It was after all just intended as a hobby,
an expensive hobby admittedly, and did it matter whether anyone
was listening or not? Not to them it didn't.
They moved from their temporary location in the Dublin mountains
to the attic of Brent's house. They set up a mini-studio, the
attic was small, and so the dj's would have to crawl in, and sit
cross-legged on the carpet-floor, in the bitter cold, with jackets
and coats tightly wrapped around themselves. Still, it was better
than the mountains.
After a while, things really started to develop. An extension
was built onto the side of the house by the parents there, and
so the studio moved downstairs. They got new equipment, new record
and cd players. They got a new transmitter cheap from England,
and a microphone and new djs, the new microphone found pride of
place hanging from the studio roof, it was old-style - big and
bulky - a present from one of the djs' girlfriends.
At this point they decided they needed a name, and Alice's Restaurant
was chosen as the new title. This name has only recently changed
At the moment, XFM broadcasts three nights per week, on Fridays,
Saturdays, and Sundays. They have around twelve different shows
and twelve different presenters. Initially there were only four:
Brent, Hugh, Dave, and Phil.
After a while along came Yvonne, an ex-DCU student, followed by
Caroline, an American, and their number has rollercoasted ever
The station broadcasts now on 107.1 FM. This wasn't always the
way. They started off at 106.4 FM, and had gradually moved as
high 107.9 before they moved back down to its present location.
Their frequency presents problems in letting people know they
exist. Their ability to advertise is handicapped by the fact
that they are a pirate station, and their frequency makes them
difficult to find. The chances of people tuning in by accident
is slim because of the positions of the Big Three (2FM, 98FM,
and FM104). To an extent the situation has changed with the rising
popularity of the pirate dance stations scattered quite liberally
along the airwaves.
The cost of running the station is now minimal, the djs all work
for free. They get only what Hugh describes as "a pain in
the tits." The three main people buy all the equipment:
Brent buys the technical stuff, Dave the playing equipment, and
Hugh buys the records. The collection is substantial at this
stage. The electricity is paid for by the owners of the house,
and the transmitter in the Dublin mountains runs off the electricity
of a friend.
There are no ads or news on XFM, just pure music in the style
of exactly what the dj wants. The station has never been raided
even though there have been scares: photographs were taken of
some men snooping around the transmitter in the mountains who
were later identified as being from the Dept. of Communications.
They've taken precautions, the location of the studio is not
widely known, it also has a panic button just in case of a raid.
The station's music is aimed at a younger generation and anyone
else who wants to listen. Their audience seems to be gradually
increasing, people are always saying they've just found the station
and how they're going to tell their friends about it.
On the subject of the future, Hugh remains philosophical, he is
a firm believer that all music deserves to be heard, he feels
a kind of loyalty to the music.
For the moment anyhow, Hugh and his counterparts will continue
to travel out to this hidden location every week for their shows.
Hugh, for one, has to.
Hugh loves music, but his entire record collection is out in the
studio. He describes it like being divorced with visiting rights.
The only time he gets near them is on Friday night for his show.
by Ken Foxe