Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a radio star?
Well, Kevin McLaughlin once did!
Sitting at home in Derry he loved to listen to the pirate radio stations which broadcast daily from Co. Donegal.
They played his kind of music; mostly from the 1960s and 1970s, mixed with some country and western.
Disc jockeys with broad country accents blundered and chatted their way through programmes.
They made mistakes but that was all part of the attraction.
There was Radio Donegal, N.W.C.R. in Buncrana and his favourite, Radio North.
On the day Radio Buncrana was forced to close down supporters treated the occasion as if they were attending a wake. Only Radio North now remained.
Kevin was a short story writer and his work was starting to appear in magazines and newspapers throughout Ireland.
One day he decided, on a whim, to write to Radio North.
The station moved around but was now based in Redcastle, a small village across the border from Derry.
In his letter he asked if 'by any chance' he could read out one of his stories 'on air'. He enclosed a sample of his work.
Weeks passed and Kevin began to wonder whether or not his letter had reached its target.
During a competition one Tuesday night a disc jockey asked for requests and gave out the station's telephone number. He decided to act. Twenty minutes later he succeeded in getting through on the phone.
“What's that you say. Ye want a request for who – Kevin McLaughlin?” a young girl shouted down the line.
“Can I speak to the manager?” asked Kevin.
“Who! What manager... Oh! Ye must mean, Feargal! Feargal Coyle. Here – Hold on a wee minute and I'll get him for you! Hold your horses!”
“Yes, I'll wait,” replied Kevin. In the background he could hear music playing, a dog was barking and people were laughing loudly.
Then someone began singing along with a Jim Reeves ballad. It began – Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone. Let's pretend...”
Several minutes passed before a male voice spoke to Kevin. “Are you that boy from Derry who wrote us the letter?”
“Aye! That's right. That's me,” replied Kevin.
“Well, can you come down and see me this Friday?”
“Oh, sorry. Hold on a minute – Ach, God – Could you ring me back after this advertisement?”
“Eh!” replied Kevin. But the man had hung up.
Another twenty minutes went by before Kevin tried again. “Can I speak to Feargal again, please?” he asked.
“That's me,” answered a voice. “My show's just ended?”
“Well. What do you think of my idea of reading a story out on your radio?” asked Kevin.
“Listen. Come down to Redcastle, will ye,” said Feargal. “This Friday. We''ll take it from there! I liked your stuff. You know where the studios are, I take it? Don't ye?”
“Not really!” answered Kevin. “But I'll find it, sure!”
The Lough Swilly bus bound for Carndonagh was just pulling out from its Foyle Street depot when Kevin managed to attract the driver’s attention.
He was standing across the road from it and he almost dropped the green folder containing his precious short stories into a huge pool of muddy water.
The driver opened the door reluctantly. Kevin handed over the £4 return fare and sat down behind two elderly women.
They were chatting and comparing prices of items of shopping they had purchased on their trip to Derry. They came from Muff.
Kevin took out his hanky and wiped some of the steam from the window beside him. The rain seeped in through the seal soaking the left hand elbow of his jacket. An elderly man sat puffing on his pipe in the seat to his right.
“Are you going to Redcastle, by any chance?” asked Kevin.
The old man put a weather-beaten hand up behind his ear. “What's that you say, son?” he shouted.
“I was wondering if you were going anywhere near Redcastle?” asked Kevin, raising his voice.
The man studied him for a few seconds. “You're from Derry, no doubt!”
“Aye. You're spot on!”
“I'm from down here myself. What part of Redcastle do ye need to get to?”
“Radio North!” replied Kevin.
The two old women looked around at him. “Are you wan of them there DJs?” one of them enquired. She displayed the enthusiasm of a teenager.
“Naw, I'm a short story writer. I've to see about reading one of my stories out!”
They looked at him as if he had two heads and then returned to their conversation.
The old man coughed and swallowed a spittle. “Don't worry, young fella. I'll show you where to get off,” he announced. “Leave it to me!”
Kevin was daydreaming about how his friends would react to his radio debut when suddenly the bus was slowed down by the old man banging his walking stick on the floor.
“Driver... Driver! Leave this young scallywag off at the pub, will ye?”
Kevin stood up and thanked the old man. The bus shuddered to a halt in what looked like the middle of nowhere. In the village of Redcastle there was a small pub, a couple of houses, a shop, what looked like a barn and some bungalows.
Straight in front of him green fields sloped down towards the river Foyle. A pleasure boat ploughed its way through the calm water.
He stared around him wondering if there was anybody he could ask directions from. He didn't like the idea of asking in the pub.
Walking on a little he passed two white bungalows. They must have left me off at the wrong joint, he thought. About a couple of hundred yards on he spotted a sign pointing the way to the Redcastle Hotel. He could hear music but it appeared to be coming from behind him. It was raining heavily again when Kevin reached the hotel. To the right a gardener was busy raking clay in a flower bed. Kevin quickly made his way towards him. “Hello, there! How's it going?” he asked.
The man removed his flat cap and pulled his glasses down his nose a little but he said nothing.
The top of the rake rested against his chest. He glared at Kevin over the specs. “Who are ye? Why are you here. Are you one of them fellas who are going to close it down. If you are, ye can sling your hook.”
“Naw! Look, it's nothing like that. I just want to read a story out on it. That's all!”
The gardener's face broadened out into a smile and he reached out and shook Kevin's hand heartily.
“That's a different kettle of fish. You've a quare funny face on ye, all the same! I thought you were a snooper,” he said. He pointed in the direction he had come from. “It's in a bungalow up yonder. Did ye get off at the pub?”
“Aye. They told me to - on the bus!”
“Well. Ye were beside it, if only you had looked. We love that wee station. Good luck to you, son!” he said, as Kevin hurried to retrace his steps.
When he arrived back at the two adjoining white bungalows just off the main road, he walked through the open glass panelled door on the right one.
He almost tripped over a sleeping dog. The room he entered was sparsely furnished and there was a wooden partition down the centre of it. A rough door had been hewn into it. To his left sat a young girl at a desk. She was answering the phone and writing down messages on a large notepad.
“Is this Radio North?” he asked.
The girl looked up and smiled. “Sure is!” she declared. “Can I help you?”
Just then a short plump black haired man appeared through the door in the partition. “Yes!” he enquired. “How can we help you?”
“Kevin... I'm Kevin McLaughlin!”
They stared at one another, the man and the girl.
“I wrote to you... short stories!” explained Kevin. “You were on the phone to me the other night.”
“Ah yes... now I have ye. Come on in,” said the man. “Can't be too careful. The name's Feargal Coyle!”
He led Kevin through the door into 'the studio' as he called it. It was really the other half of a room.
All around the floor lay cardboard boxes stacked with record albums, singles and cassette tapes. A long thin wooden table ran from one whitewashed wall on the right to about half way down the room. There was a large clock on the wall, a window and an open door leading to green fields.
“Take a seat there,” said Feargal. “I'll be with you in a wan minute!”
He sat down beside a tape deck, donned a set of head-phones and flicked a few switches. At the end of the table was another microphone. The 'chair' was a sort of joiners steps. Kevin manoeuvred on to it and worked his legs under the table.
A splinter of wood pierced his trouser leg and he winced. He placed the green folder in front of him. Suddenly he heard music. It faded away and Feargal spoke.
“I hope you enjoyed that record. It was specially for Mrs Devine from Limavady from your son, John! Now... coming up after the break... all the way from Derry, we'll have Kevin McLaughlin, the short story writer. He'll be reading one. Won't you Kevin?”
Kevin was flabbergasted. “Yes! That's right, Feargal!” he stammered.
Feargal laughed. He had already put on another tape. “Now! You've selected a story called Dance-hall Days!” said Feargal.
“After these ads, I want you to start reading. Just rattle away. I'll tell you when to stop. I'm going into Studio B to make some advertisements. When you are near the end – the start of the last paragraph will do – knock on that table and I'll take over.”
He smiled and demonstrated, “Like this,” he said, rapping his knuckle on the rough surface – “Tap, Tap, Tap.”
Kevin was getting excited as the DJ donned his earphones once more and began speaking.
“Welcome back, folks. As promised – Here's Kevin McLaughlin to read his short story. You're definitely on the air now, sir! Take it away.”
To his surprise Kevin enjoyed reading his work.
As he got into his stride his voice became stronger. He was making the most of his opportunity. Nearing the end of the story he tapped on the table. By the time he had finished Feargal was back ready for action.
“Well, folks. What about that! Great stuff! More next week!” he announced.
He proceeded to read out a string of requests and put on a double tape.
The DJ showed Kevin Studio B. He wasn't in the least bit shocked to discover that it was a small space in the corner of the room. There was a tape deck and a microphone but no chair.
“I'll have to hurry now,” shouted Feargal.
“I'll press this button. When the green light appears get another story out and read it. It'll save you having to come down from Derry every week. I'll check on you after the next programme's over.”
Kevin read about two stories and then decided to see if he was actually recording.
He switched off the machine, put his stories back in the folder and came back into the light.
There was nobody about so he went forward and sat in the DJ's revolving chair.
All of a sudden the partition door burst open and in rushed a Garda officer.
He smashed a baton into the tape deck. A crack appeared down its centre scattering loose tapes all over the place.
“What's your name?” he demanded to know.
“Kevin McLaughlin, sir!”
“I am arresting you under the 1988 Broadcasting Act for operating an illegal transmitter without an approved licence.”
Kevin stood up and gazed around.
Through the window, across the green fields in the distance he saw two figures, a man and a girl.
They were clambering over a small wall.
When they hit the other side they got into a car and drove off at speed!
If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Derry Now editorial team on 028 7129 6600 for Derry City stories Or 028 7774 3970 for County Derry stories. Or you can email [email protected] at any time.