By Ralph McGarry
On Sunday 22nd January 1995 I noticed a new radio signal on the Dublin airwaves. It was a station called Freedom FM and it was broadcasting on 107.2 FM. I don’t think it lasted long.
At 6.30 pm on Thursday 2nd March 1995, Andy Walker rang me to tell me he had just put a 30-watt tone on 103.0 FM, and he wanted me to give him a reception report from my house near Tallaght village. I rang him back twenty minutes later telling him I could indeed hear the signal. He then began to tell me of, what turned out to be, the successful launch of Freedom FM. Himself and Simon Davis were so prepared that they even had a mobile phone number with which their listeners could contact them. The phone was actually Andy’s, and it turns out that he was the first teenager I knew who had a mobile phone. Remember, this was the days when mobile phones were the size of a shoebox and confined solely to the possession of businessmen and drug pushers. Andy was neither. I was impressed.
The following day Freedom commenced test broadcasts on 103 FM.
I marked in my diary that Freedom FM officially launched at 7pm on Monday 6th March, 1995. I think Andy and Simon were quite happy with that achievement, as they managed to go on air around 2 weeks before Pulse FM, adjacent to the frequency they were planning to use, and a week before the planned launch of HOT 107.
I presented a once off ambient music programme from Simon Davis’s bedroom on Sunday 16th April 1995. Andy had asked me to join the station, but as I was going to Israel for the summer, I could only commit to a number of shows in May of that year.
Whilst in Israel, Andy kept me abreast of the pirate situation at home, and when I returned, offered me the post of Head of Programming and Promotion. One of the first things I set about doing was to get some press coverage, and later that September, both Hot Press and Tallaght’s Echo newspaper covered Freedom. Simon and Andy also wanted me to put some structure to the station. It was already beginning to sound like a pop/chart music station. We introduced a play clock to nurture this type of music format. We devised the tag line “Dublin’s Premier Chart Music Station” (a derivative of which is still used today!) and we introduced specialist programmes, featured artist weekends, and a comedy programme. The now infamous Alternative Crew also made their debut during this period. Those early days of Freedom FM were the most raw, yet creative time in the station’s history. The problem was if you lived outside the postal codes of Dublin 12 or 6W, you weren’t going to hear any of it. Something needed to be done about this situation.
During the summer of ’95, Freedom FM had to move to 102.9 FM due to the establishment of Pulse FM on 103.2 FM. Even with this separation, Pulse’s mighty power output was killing Freedom’s weak signal. In early 1996, I suggested that Simon and Andy re-position the station to 92.4 FM, for two reasons. Firstly, Q95 were linking on 92.0 FM and hadn’t had any problems being so close to 2FM, and secondly, I could see the IRTC allocating the frequencies at the higher end of the band to licensed stations, forcing the established pirates off the air (Which is what subsequently happened). I argued that being down so close to RTE, no-one was going to interfere with our signal, and we were assured of a long tenure on that spot on the dial.
I remember Simon being very much against the idea. And I could understand why. He had spent much time and effort in trying to establish a station on 102.9 FM, and felt all his work, which was beginning to bear fruit, would be washed down the tubes. He also felt that we would be isolated down the other end of the band. In early 1996, the main tx’s of pirates were at the upper end of the FM band, with the lower end being used for just link transmitters. Freedom would be the first pirate in a very long time to pin all it’s hopes on a frequency below 99 FM.
Simon finally gave in, and the decision was made to move Freedom FM to 92.4 FM. DJ Power was so excited of this new beginning that he produced hundreds of flyers and placed them on windscreens of cars in the Square shopping centre. At 9.24 am, on Monday 4th March, 1996, 3 days before Freedom’s first Birthday, the station switched on it’s transmitter on 92.4 FM. Myself, Simon and Andy were present at the launch. Within days, we got a call from Cablelink asking us to move as they had received a complaint our signal was interfering with their relay of BBC Radio 3 on 92.3 FM. At the same time, for some strange reason, Q95 moved their link from 92.0 FM. How fortuitous!
Freedom slotted nicely into that spot and has remained there ever since!
Forward on to 2020:
This lockdown project has been such a blast. Bringing the band back together 17 years after our FM outlet was shut down has really conjured up some great memories of more innocent times, of youthful creativity, and endless possibilities. SS Freedom was also the ship which launched a myriad of media and creative careers, and it has been a wonder to discover how this bunch of teenagers and early twenty-somethings from the 90s and noughties have developed and made a lasting and positive mark on the world and friends around them. It is true that you honor the friendships that allow you to pick up from where you left off, regardless of how long it’s been. We hope that reliving the 90s and noughties through music, fun and friendship helps you to re-connect to what’s important to you. Thank you for listening to Freedom 92FM…now go off and tell your friends!