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United Kingdom & mainland Europe (via overspill)
|Frequency||252 kHz with 500 kW (100 kW nighttime) power|
|First air date||1 September 1989|
|Owner||Radio Tara Ltd (RTÉ/RTL Group)|
Atlantic 252 was an Irish long wave radio station broadcasting across Ireland and Great Britain on 252 kHz (1190 metres) from its 1988 purpose built transmission site in Clarkstown, County Meath, which provided service to Atlantic 252 from 1989 until 2002. The station's studios were located just 12 km (7 mi) away in Mornington House, Summerhill Road, Trim, County Meath. Atlantic 252 also had sales offices and studios at 74, Newman Street in London. In 2002 the station's former frequency and transmitter were used for the failed TeamTalk 252 project.
The concept of Atlantic 252 can be traced back as far as August 1986, when Irish state broadcaster RTÉ announced it was to use their allocated longwave channel for a new pop music station. They teamed up with RTL Group/Radio Luxembourg to form Radio Tara – the trading name of Atlantic 252, which being long wave, enabled reception across Ireland and Britain. This was following Chris Cary's test transmissions from Clogher Head, County Louth, in the mid-1980s with 254 kHz Longwave as "Radio Exidy"
In 1987 RTÉ commenced building a giant 3-sided 248 metre broadcast mast in Clarkstown, County Meath, using a specially built pair of both air and water cooled 300 kilowatt solid-state transmitters (which could be combined to give double power) built by Varian Associates, Texas, despite protests from local residents. Studios were set up in Mornington House, in the nearby town of Trim. The station cost £6m to set up. Just over 47m people were in the station's broadcast area.
At 8am on 1 September 1989, Gary King announced on Atlantic 252, "Mine is the first voice you will ever hear on Atlantic 252." This was followed by a specially produced pre-recorded introduction tape that introduced everybody employed by the radio station on its launch day, from engineers, administration, management like Travis Baxter and John Catlett, and the station's personality music presenter lineup including ex-Laser 558 presenter Charlie Wolf, MaryEllen O'Brien, Andrew Turner, Nicky Schiller, Henry Owens, Al Dunne, Tony West and Jeff Graham. An appearance was even made by Rosalyn Reilly – who was to remain the station's cleaning lady for its entire twelve-year history. The first record ever played on Atlantic 252's test transmission was "Ain't Nobody" by Rufus and Chaka Khan ('89 Remix); the station's official "first record ever played" was Sowing The Seeds Of Love by Tears for Fears shortly after 08:00 local time on 1 September 1989. The second record played was "Monkey" by George Michael.
Although the transmitter was in Ireland, the signal's reach meant that it was widely available across Britain and beyond – the signal had even been received in Brazil at night-time, with other reception reports from such locations as Berlin, Finland, Ibiza, and Moscow. The Scottish musician Mylo has claimed it was the only station with listenable reception on the Isle of Skye. At launch there were no UK-wide commercial stations (the first being "Classic FM" in 1992), and the lack of a UK broadcast licence attracted the attention of the IBA. Although the transmitters were theoretically capable of being combined to operate at 600 kilowatts output power, international agreements limited the station's power to a maximum daytime output of 500 kW, or 100 kW at night.
Initially, the station transmitted only from 06:00 until 19:00, outside of which listeners were invited to tune to Radio Luxembourg. In August 1990 the station began broadcasting until 02:00, and eventually by September 1991, a 24-hour service with the overnight automated slot called "The Big Mattress". The music format consisted of high-rotation mainstream pop and rock music, with influences borrowed heavily from American radio, and through to 1993, the station was known to play much of the music mostly from the top part of the US charts. The station mixed the best songs from the last few years along with the best songs from the top 40 – this was called "Today's Best Music Variety". Commercial Radio and the BBC initially objected to the station, seeing it as a commercial pirate. However, as UK commercial radio developed and deregulation saw many more stations launching, formats similar to Atlantic's began to appear on FM and Atlantic 252's audience began to decline. Attempts at repositioning followed, including "Real Music, Real Radio", when the station attempted to tackle BBC Radio 1's "new music" format. At the peak of its popularity in the mid-1990s, Atlantic 252 had just under five million listeners aged 15+, but vastly increased competition from local radio stations with similar formats, as well as the renaissance of BBC Radio 1 and the repositioning of BBC Radio 2, saw this take a dive below one million by 2000.
Decline in popularity
During the 1980s and 1990s Long wave suffered a gradual decline in listenership because by this time the majority of cheap radios could receive only FM and MW bands
In late 1998 under the direction of David Dunne the station responded to dropping audiences by shifting its format to concentrate on indie and dance music, but it continued to lose listeners. This included 30 hours of 'specialist' music including programmes from The Wise Guys, Eddy Temple Morris and the Trade nightclub. Though money was spent on advertising and a high profile breakfast show was attempted fronted by Marc Brow (including several innovative ideas like travel news backed by new age chill out music called 'Traffic Calming', and specially re-formatted youth news presented by Specialist Producer Mark Ovenden which included one of the first broadcast uses of the term 'The Noughties'), in 1999 the station suffered its lowest Rajar ratings since it first came on the air, with the audience falling to just under 1 million listeners in the last quarter of the year.
Then in November 1999 with the arrival of John O'Hara as the new Managing Director the station found a new focus and re-launched in February 2000 as "The New Atlantic 252" The format was Rhythmic CHR and the station was repositioned as "Nonstop Rhythm and Dance" The station played 12 songs in a row and featured Tony and Becky at Brekkie plus a brand new website at www.atlantic252.com. There was over £1million spent on rebranding and marketing the station to a new audience and media buyers. However, although the station did see a rise in audience again back to under 2 million listeners during 2000 and 2001, the writing was on the wall when the sale of the station was announced in early 2001 by its owners RTÉ and CLT.
The last show on Atlantic was presented by Enda Caldwell on Thursday 20 December 2001, This was followed by a Tribute show produced by Enda Caldwell and Eric Murphy celebrating the station's 12-year history of broadcasting and featuring classic airchecks of each year of Atlantic 252's history. The station then transitioned to automation, and continued broadcasting music without continuity, along with commercials that had been booked for the month of January 2002, for about two to three weeks afterwards, until the carrier fell dead and the music stopped playing.
Atlantic 252 was briefly replaced by a sports station, TeamTalk 252, which opened in the early days of January 2002. This faced competition from BBC Radio 5 Live and talkSPORT, and was itself closed in the summer of 2002, just a few months after its launch. The transmission site is now owned by 2RN (RTÉ Networks) and the 252 kHz frequency is used by RTÉ Radio 1. DRM tests have also been heard on this frequency since 2007. Mornington House is now regional offices for Meath County Council.