The man from Lyric


Seamus Crimmins is refreshingly honest. Ask him about the inspiration for the name of Lyric FM, and he'll tell you that "there were about 50 names floating around" - with active input from the thesaurus - and that "Lyric just remained on the desk longer than the others".

Ask him why the station is located in Limerick, and he recalls a conversation with RTE's director of radio, Helen Shaw, in which Ms Shaw told him it must be "anywhere but Dublin".

Then he recounts his walks around Kilkenny looking for a suitable premises; Limerick's victory was, in the end, "a matter of logistics": he found a building there in which studio and office space could fit on the one floor. (Needless to say, he can then proceed eloquently about Limerick's inviting musical and business environment.)

This sort of frankness makes one inclined to think that, when he bluntly targets a three per cent market share in the first year for the new music and arts service that he heads, Crimmins is not just talking the pre-launch talk. Nonetheless, that's decidedly optimistic: remember Radio Ireland - a.k.a. "Radio One Per Cent"? And it wasn't playing classical music.

Crimmins even sees that audience share rising to five or six per cent, and adds disarmingly: "We're trying not to do too much damage to Radio 1." Approximately half of Lyric FM's regular audience, he hopes, will previously have been RTE Radio 1 listeners, with most of the rest coming from local commercial radio.

"Then there are the people who listen to Classic FM or BBC Radio 3 at home but aren't able to receive it in the car. We're hoping to attract a lot of those car listeners." Finally, there are the "disaffected" - people whose musical needs are currently being met only by their own record collections, or not at all. He is himself often among these "frustrated" listeners, he says.

Lyric FM won't be intimidating, he stresses. "The plan is make as many people as possible feel they have ownership of the station."

While he places Lyric FM somewhere between the "incredibly opposing models" of BBC Radio 3 and commercial station Classic FM, Crimmins is not shy of the comparisons to the much-criticised latter. "Classic FM basically takes a pop-music station model and places it at the disposal of classical music." The difference between much of the Lyric FM schedule and the Classic FM format will be one of style. "Lyric will be not quite so in-your-face, not so aggressively commercial as Classic FM."

Crimmins is pretty commercial-minded himself, though. "I would like to have seen a sales and marketing person on the floor too" in his compact Lyric FM office. That's had to wait: "The priority has been recruitment for production." Sales and marketing will be run from RTE in Dublin.

He sounds pleased about the Lyric schedule's biggest surprise, the daily two-and-a-half hours of a familiar personality, Eamonn Lawlor. Like everyone else at Lyric, Lawlor remains employed by RTE, and will be leaving TV's Primetime for a year, at least - "then we'll see whatever's mutually satisfactory. Eamonn is a great fan of classical music - that's his secret. He's been writing to me since last August with his ideas about what he'd like to do on the station."

Lawlor's "mostly talk" programme, Crimmins says, will carefully avoid repeating what's on Radio 1's Arts Show. It will include nightly going-out tips for listeners as well as debate on arts issues, he says.

Crimmins's own interest in the arts goes beyond broadcasting. He is a successful freelance conductor who has appeared at various international festivals. He refuses to be precious about the music, however. He is, for example, happy enough to embrace the vernacular label for the station's main output, "classical": "I could call it `serious music' - which is more accurate - but it just sounds so earnest."

Lyric FM goes on air on Saturday, broadcasting on 96-99 FM.