Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

A pointyheaded post about Irish bands and Irish radio

We must be due a bout of fuming really soon about Irish bands and radio play. There’s a grand stretch in the evenings – yes, there really is – so that must mean that we’ll soon get an assortment of …

Tue, Feb 14, 2012, 09:45


We must be due a bout of fuming really soon about Irish bands and radio play. There’s a grand stretch in the evenings – yes, there really is – so that must mean that we’ll soon get an assortment of interested parties grumbling, groaning, whinging, fighting, arguing and spitting feathers about this topic.

It’s a debate as familiar and predictable as a Brendan O’Carroll sketch. Those who are in or who represent Irish bands will point out that their acts don’t get as much radio play as acts from out foreign who just happen to make the kind of pop tunes which music radio likes to play to pull an audience. Those from the radio side of the fence will point to the amount of Irish music they do play (come on down Bressie, Royseven and The Coronas, all of whom received much airplay love in 2011), all the initiatives they’re involved in to help homegrown talent and make the subtle fact that most Irish bands don’t really make the kind of tunes which sound well on daytime radio. There will be a lot of mud-slinging, some political ass-covering (though your man, the showband lad, is no longer a senator) and then, the argument will go away for another 12 months and we can start to talk about something else again.

Perhaps it’s time for some other solutions for this evergreen, hoary dispute (OTR, we’re all about the solutions this week – tomorrow, we’re bringing Lar back). Both sides will claim that the other side have to move first, but that’s really going to get us nowhere. Both sides will claim that they’re doing the right thing and, you know what, they’re right. But that also gets us nowhere. Both sides will try to claim the high moral ground, but the high moral ground is always covered in fog at this time of the year so, yeah, that gets us nowhere as well. Like I said, new solutions required. Smart lad or lass wanted. New balls please.

Radio is hugely important for any act because it’s a brilliant promotional tool to get to the mainstream, the people who turn acts into hits. If you get a radio hit, you’re on your way in this country to moving your gigs from pub back-rooms to theatres and big halls. Word of mouth is hugely important, you can get so far with print and online and a good rep as a live act is also useful (we’ll forget about TV – the TV business doesn’t give two damns about music so we’ll do as they do to balance things out), but radio is the key player in moving acts from next big things to big things.

The problem is that existing radio stations are very tightly formatted and every single one of them stays glued to this format like a toddler stays attached to their comfort blanket. When you turn on 2fm or Today FM or Spin and if the stations want to make sure advertisers keep advertising with them, the listener should know what they’re getting. You can’t expect to turn on the stations at 10am to hear MMOTHS’ new single or a track from God Is An Astronaut’s current album. Now, you and me and every OTR reader would like that, but we’re in the minority. We’re the odd ones out. The people who listen to radio want something else and the radio stations give them “something else”. It’s why people listen to radio and people who read OTR and other music-mad online blogs and publications don’t listen to radio. You might get a show like that if you tuned into Zan Rowe’s morning show on Triple J in Australia, but adventurous radio of a smiliar ilk does not happened on daytime mainstream FM stations here.

Now, I know that some of you are going to tut and say “but the radio stations SHOULD be playing Irish bands! They SHOULD be playing Lethal Dialect or SertOne or Bouts! It’s so fecking unfair! Boo!” And you’re right. I’d happily listen to a radio station which played those acts along with a ton of other ones that I like. As things stand, I rarely listen to music radio during the day because I have all those acts I want to listen to available a click or CD away and my musical tastes are far, far better than anyone on daytime radio. Sure, I’d love to get more people listening to those acts – music fans are music evangalists – and there are various online ways to do so (Last.FM, This Is My Jam etc), but I accept that radio as it currently stands is not the way to do this. Ain’t going to happen. Save your breath to cool your porridge.

However, there are solutions which don’t require kicking and screaming and forcing the radio stations to use ridiculous regulations and loopholes to claim Kylie Minogue as an Irish act because she recorded the track in an Irish studio and drank Barry’s Tea while she was there. If people really think that there is a demand for Irish underground and indie rock and pop bands on an Irish radio station, start a radio station. Fight fire with fire. Actually go out there and prove that there’s a demand from an audience to hear Irish bands day and night.

As regular readers know, OTR is a firm believer in doing stuff rather than giving out yards about them. Yes, it’s easier sit on your arse complaining on Twitter about stuff like so many sneersters do, but it’s actually much healthier, educational, entertaining and enlightening to put stuff together. All of which means I’m amazed that no-one involved with the new school of Irish music has put together an online station to broadcast what they believe to be these fantastic bands. What about a temporary licence from the BAI to show that there’s a demand there to hear these acts? While we’re at it with the BAI, wouldn’t Irish acts be considered a community for the purposes of getting one of those community radio licences? The solutions are out there.

But perhaps the big problem holding back all these initiatives (I don’t think I’m the first to point out these alternatives exist) is the unspoken fear that perhaps the numbers willing to listen to and support such a station are small. That the market for Irish acts is nowhere near as big or healthy as we’re led to believe by the success of some of the acts. That the number of Irish acts who do get mainstream radio play are small for the reason that most of them just don’t have tunes to make the grade and such a station would soon become boring and full of contractually-obligated filler. That the acts who make the break are the exception and not the rule. That you need more than just Irish acts to make decent 24/7 radio programming and then the argument is, like it has always been, about how much Irish music you have in the mix. In truth, the huffing and puffing which goes on about this issue is a bit of a smokescreen because all involved know the huffing the puffing hides the real issues, many of which are outlined above. The only way to prove otherwise is to forget about the current bunch of stations (including – DOI time – Phantom FM, where I do a weekly show) and start again. High time for someone who fervently believes that there is a radio audience for Irish acts who are currently getting blanked by the existing stations to get off the fence.