Paddy Feeny, the legendary voice of “Saturday Special” (now Sportsworld) for 36 years has sadly passed away aged 87 after a short illness. Paddy hosted the show from 1959 until his retirement back in 1995. BBC correspondent Mike Costello was a colleague of his, and remembers him with admiration as a genius, pioneer and meticulous professional.
I’ve been on the road a lot lately. A lack of time resulting from this, combined with frequent afternoon and evening thunderstorms when I am home, has meant that I’ve not had the radio time I often enjoy.
This morning, I woke up around 5:50 AM determined to get a bit of time on the radio. After all, today is the first day of summer here in the US, and a special day for me. I walked outside and hooked my antenna back up; I had been forced to disconnect it yesterday as pop-up thunderstorms persisted throughout the afternoon and evening.
I then brewed a cup of coffee and settled into my “listening lounge” for some early morning tuning.
I started off this morning off by tuning the Elad FDM-S2 to Radio New Zealand International on 9,890 kHz in DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale). I was treated to one full hour of Peter Fry’s Saturday Night music; the DRM lock was completely stable. Though I prefer the sonic characteristics of AM over digital modes, I’m most impressed with the audio quality DRM affords coming from a 50 kW signal being broadcast on the other side of the planet. The quality is so exceptional that, if you listen carefully, you can even hear the news reader shifting papers at the top of the hour.
That got me thinking: I’m flawlessly receiving and decoding a wireless digital audio signal from 13,500 kM away. Amazing. Especially considering that my laptop struggles to receive Wi-Fi in many hotels.
RNZI signed off after an hour, so I switched modes to AM and tuned to Radio Australia on 9,580 kHz.
As I had hoped, RA was broadcasting the second half of the AFL match featuring the Essendon Bombers who ultimately held a nine-point win over the Adelaide Crows. Alas, Radio Australia dropped the signal before the end of the final quarter, but I was able to watch the results roll in on my iPhone while making waffles in the kitchen. If this had been a World Cup match, I would have scoured the shortwaves for another Radio Australia frequency.
Immediately after tuning in RNZI, I hit the record button on the FDM-S2 (around 5:55 EDT/9:55 UTC) and didn’t stop the recording until after Radio Australia signed off, so there is a 30 second silence in the middle while I tuned and switched modes from DRM to AM.
22 September 2002; A general view of Croke Park at 3.29pm, a minute before the start of the game. Kerry v Armagh, All Ireland Football Final, Croke Park, Dublin. (Photo credit; Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE)
Sunday afternoon, I was at home to catch a bit of the GAA finals via RTÉ on 17,725 kHz, starting around 15:00 UTC.
I enjoy hearing sporting events broadcast over shortwave–perhaps it’s my imagination filling in the gaps from the live coverage or the washy sound of the crowds roaring. Regardless, RTÉ has a long-standing track record of broadcasting the GAA finals on every medium possible.
As I listened to the live broadcast, Sunday, I read Norman Freeman’s account of listening to the GAA finals from a ship in the Indian Ocean, back in 1956. He writes:
“Almost 50 years ago, listening to the All-Ireland by radio was uncertain and frustrating.
In 1956, RTÉ knew how much the All-Ireland meant to the Irish diaspora. Arrangements were made with the authorities in the then French Congo to have the match rebroadcast the following evening, on the powerful short-wave transmitter in Brazzaville.
The time and frequencies were published in the Irish newspapers. This information was sent by letter to the Irish on oil rigs off the coast of Borneo, to round-the-year painters on Brooklyn Bridge, and to missionaries within sight of Mount Kilimanjaro.
I had noted the time and frequencies before I was sent out to Mumbai to join my first ship, the Amra, as second radio officer. The hurling final was between two giants, Cork and Wexford.”
While Freeman doesn’t miss the uncertainty and fickle nature of shortwave radio as the messenger of his favorite sporting event, his look back is certainly nostalgic. After all, Radio Brazzaville transported Freeman and his boss back to Ireland for the length of the game. And to RTÉ’s credit, they continue to broadcast to the Irish diaspora on shortwave radio, if only for this event.