Analogue consigned to broadcasting history

Thu, Oct 25, 2012, 01:00

“I’VE JUST secured my place in history. They’ll be showing this on Reeling in the Years forever,” said Miriam O’Callaghan, moments after turning off the analogue television signal in a cramped office on RTÉ’s Montrose campus yesterday.

Following an excruciating countdown from 10am, which was broadcast live on RTÉ One, O’Callaghan clicked an icon on a computer screen in what must rank as one of the least visual moments in the State broadcaster’s history.

“I was hoping to be given a huge red lever to pull or something; I was very disappointed,” she said with a laugh, before acknowledging that the “end of analogue” was a momentous day in Irish broadcasting history.

As she handed back to Bryan Dobson and Mary Kennedy in the studio where Winning Streak is broadcast, televisions belonging to 100,000 people who had not gone digital showed snow.

“If you are still watching us, you have obviously made the switch,” said Dobson before reading out a helpline number for those who had not, although they would not be able to hear or see him.

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte was at the switchover and after he veered away from his script, to tell Mary Kennedy she “could tweak his ears any time”, he described the move to a new transmission service as a historic event.

“Public service broadcasting remains vital to the social, political and cultural life of the nation,” said Mr Rabbitte. “What we are doing here today ensures people will continue to have access to free-to-air television, providing a full range of services, with a strong national voice.”

RTÉ chairman Tom Savage expressed the hope that the switch-off represented a new beginning for the broadcaster. He said it was a good day for the station and would allow it to move on from the “two traumatic years” following widespread redundancies and the Prime Time Investigates: Mission to Prey programme that wrongly accused a priest of abuse and led to a massive libel payout and a major restructuring of RTÉ current affairs programming.

“That was all very traumatic but now the organisation is reasonably stable. We were very conscious of what needed to be done, and I think the public have almost forgotten about it now. Today is a mark in the sand. This is us moving forward.”

The sectors identified as most vulnerable to losing their television signal because they have not made the switch are older people, those living in isolated rural areas, the poor and people living alone.

“Anyone I know who has switched is delighted,” said Mairéad Hayes of the Senior Citizens’ Parliament.

“There are still about 100,000 people who have not made the switch but I suppose RTÉ could only do so much. Maybe now that the signal is gone, people will realise how much they miss it and will do something about it,” she said.

As the great and good left the Donnybrook campus, there were questions asked about the RTÉ mast, which is now all but redundant as a means of signal transmission.

The broadcaster indicated that it is unlikely to be pulled down and will probably be left standing as a shrine to an analogue age that has now disappeared.