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Dublin: 18°C Thursday 7 July 2022

'The station revolutionised radio for a generation': Ronan O'Rahilly, founder of Radio Caroline, dies aged 79

The station had a listenership of up to 30 million and gave a host of famous presenters their starts in radio.

Radio Caroline North, anchored off Ramsey, Isle of Man, in 1967.
Radio Caroline North, anchored off Ramsey, Isle of Man, in 1967.
Image: PA

TRIBUTES HAVE BEEN paid to Ronan O’Rahilly, the founder of the iconic pirate radio station Radio Caroline, who died yesterday aged 79.

Broadcasting from off the UK shore, it was one of the first pop music stations and had an estimated listenership of 25 to 30 million in the mid- to late-1960s.

It gave many DJs who were to become household names their break – including Tony Blackburn, Simon Dee and Johnnie Walker.

Radio Caroline also provided inspiration for a later generation of pirate radio station owners and DJs in Ireland. The 2009 Richard Curtis movie The Boat That Rocked was also partly inspired by the story of the ship-based station. 

Ronan O’Rahilly had been a resident in a nursing him in Carlingford, Co Louth in recent years – just a few kilometres from Greenore Port where he oversaw the ship being kitted out in 1964.

The tributes were led by his sister Róisín who said:

“Ronan was of a rebellious nature and a very free spirit, which is what led him to London at the early age of 17 to pursue his passion for music. He will be greatly missed.”

East Coast FM presenter Declan Meehan, who worked on Irish pirate stations Radio Nova and Sunshine, said Radio Caroline, “was influential on me and people of my generation because we were coming through the rebellious time, there was this new 60s sound and here was a radio station to reflect it.”

Broadcast historian Eddie Bohan said:

“Radio Caroline revolutionised radio for a generation, shining a light on a dark world. It led to the creation of BBC Radio 1 to compete for the ever-growing audience of young listeners.

“It provided an outlet for new music and it gave enjoyment to millions. It is still on the air, there is a nostalgia and a reverence for what Caroline was. It was a rebel, it was an influencer, it was a genuine attempt to provide what the listening public wanted.”

Bohan said that in Ireland, “Caroline opened up the possibility of an alternative to State media, and while we never had a pirate radio ship broadcasting into the country, Caroline’s success created a community of pirate radio pioneers across Ireland (some using the Caroline moniker in homage) and this pirate radio tidal wave eventually created the industry that broadcasts today.”

“The rapid sales of portable transistor radios across Ireland created a wider audience with radio shop advertisements stating that purchasers would easily listen to Radio Luxembourg or Radio Caroline.”

- With reporting by Daragh Brophy 

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