Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

From the “it won’t go away” department: Irish music on the radio

When you cover the music beat, you become accustomed to certain stories popping up again and again. There’s the whole issue of opening times in clubland, which must be due another run-out soon. There’s the demise of the record labels, …

Thu, Feb 25, 2010, 13:36


When you cover the music beat, you become accustomed to certain stories popping up again and again. There’s the whole issue of opening times in clubland, which must be due another run-out soon. There’s the demise of the record labels, which has become an almost weekly series. And then, there’s the Irish music on the radio debate. For as long as I’ve written about music, this topic has been on the agenda in one shape or another.

The latest attempt to shove it to the top of page comes from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. This committe summoned a bunch of lads from RTE and Today FM to have a chat with them yesterday.

The radioheads were there “to discuss measures to support contemporary Irish music and nurture new emerging talent”. Per committee chairman Tom Kitt TD, “some involved in the music industry have voiced concerns over a lack of exposure for Irish musicians on radio, particularly at peak listening times.”.

From Shane Hickey’s report on yesterday’s proceedings, this involved Senator Paschal Mooney complaining about the lack of Daniel O’Donnell on Today FM and Michael Ring TD looking for a national country and western station. The station lads defended their patch. Today FM’s Willie O’Reilly pointed out that while the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland suggested an Irish music quota of 20 per cent, Today FM was actually hitting 27 per cent. 2FM boss John McMahon talked up the 20 hours of Irish festivals covered by the station in 2009.

It’s unlikely that those arguments held much water with the Oireachtas lads. After all, as was quite obvious from the demeanour of the public reps yesterday, it’s not the fact that the stations are not playing Irish music that’s the problem – it’s the fact that the stations are not playing the kind of Irish music they’d like to see the stations playing.

Look at Senator Mooney’s charge about Daniel O’Donnell and then look at the Today FM schedule. Is the senator suggesting that a commercial rock and pop station like Today FM should suddenly insert O’Donnell’s music onto its playlist as a mere gesture? Does he expect stations like Spin, Beat and Red to do the same? What about the Irish music these stations already play? In the last few days, I’ve heard a ton of Irish music on Today FM. Yes, you’re right, I haven’t heard any Daniel O’Donnell but if I did, I’d turn off and I’m sure many others listening would also do the same. There is also the issue that Daniel O’Donnell could certainly not be classed as the “new emerging talent” which the committee claimed to be discussing yesterday.

But leaving aside the vested interests which dictated yesterday’s agenda, the matter of Irish music and Irish radio stations continues to rumble on without any solution in sight. While those on the radio side will point to the huge amount of support initiatives they’re involved in, from studio sessions to live gigs, those on the other side will give out that these are broadcast outside primtime hours.

The music industry will also point to the completely tokenistic way in which Irish radio stations approach the issue of Irish language programming, with most of the shows consigned to the early weekend hours. But the radio stations will point to a lack of demand for those shows, especially when you have the likes of RaidiĆ³ na Gaeltachta and RaidiĆ³ na Life on the air.

Equally, when the industry clamours for a more rigorous quota system, the radio stations can point to the volume of Irish music they currently play according to the rules of that quota. And when there’s a clamour for stations to play the “new emerging talent”, the stations can point out that the vast majority of the bands and acts who compromise the “new emerging talent” sector have yet to write or record a tune which can actually stand up to plays on Irish radio stations outside of the specialist shows.

Personally, I think the problem is that radio play is just one part of the cycle. If TDs and senators really want to discuss “measures to support contemporary Irish music and nurture new emerging talent”, they need to do more than just getting Today FM to play new Irish bands. There are dozens and dozens of initiatives, plans, schemes and processes which can be taken to help this sector but, as we know only too well, these require money, willpower and drive. Much easier to just call in Today FM and RTE and give them a slap on the wrists for not playing enough country-and-Irish.

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