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XFM 107.1 - An Expensive Hobby
XFM DJ Hugh O'Brien tells Kenneth Foxe his story, painting a romantic picture of the world of pirate radio.

[IMAGE: XFM logo] 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 to XFM.

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 since.

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