Radio silence: the ins and outs of Irish music on Irish radio
Some musings on the Radiomonitor data about the stations playing the least and most Irish music
There are many interesting takaways from this piece about the Irish radio stations playing the least and most Irish acts. Using independent airplay monitoring service Radiomonitor’s data for 2016, we built a picture of the Irish radio landscape when it comes to homegrown music. The station that plays the most Irish acts? Take a bow, RTE Radio One. And the least? Well, there are a few of them in the running as you can see from the piece.
For the purposes of this research, we concentrated on two pieces of data: the number of Irish tracks in the 10 most played tracks and 100 most played tracks on each station. We chose 20 stations at random – a mix of local, national, commercial and non-commercial – and went through the figures supplied by Radiomonitor. We decided to concentrate on just those two sets of data to avoid any confusion – especially the kind of confusion which occurs every quarter when the JNLR listening figures are released and the stations go spin-crazy with book-on-book, year-on-year and quarter-hour-on-quarter-house machinations and willful misrepresentation. This was simple: the 10 most played tracks and the 100 most played tracks.
One of the most striking things about the findings, as much as the fact that new Choice Music Prize supporter 2fm is no great shakes when it comes to repping Irish acts in its Top 100 (just nine plays recorded for last year’s winner Soak), was the small number of Irish acts who made up the most played acts. Walking on Cars, Hozier, Picture This, Gavin James, Kodaline and Brian Deady featured again and again, all of whom are signed to major labels.
Naturally, some radio heads have pointed out since the piece appeared that they were playing these acts before they were signed – they also claimed that the only reason the acts were signed was down to radio play which may sound like they’re angling for a finders’ fee from Mark Crossingham and co – but it’s interesting to note that the stations are not now playing the new Hozier or Picture This in the same way. If there was a rake of new Irish acts figuring in the Top 100, that would really bolster their argument about supporting the next generation of breakthrough acts, but it’s not the case.
It’s important to stress this because acts who breakthrough need to be played again and again and again and not just once or twice on spcialist shows. One online reaction to the piece from Kieran McGeary, chief executive of Cork’s 96FM and C103, was that his station has a two hour show The Green Room dedicated to Irish music (tweets since deleted by McGeary so I can’t publish them).
However, if the music is good enough for a two hour show on a Saturday evening, why isn’t it more widely played across the station? McGeary countered this by asking why record labels are not signing these acts, which raises a point about why acts need labels to get widespread play on stations. On the back of this, McGeary had other things to say about Irish acts and radio (a saved screenshot of this paricular exchange is here) which may come as news to many musicians and listeners.
Seeing as the piece was prompted by Willie Penrose TD’s campaign to get a 40 per cent quota for Irish music on Irish radio, it’s worth musing a little about what changes, if any, a quota would actually have on these figures. Certainly, it would increase the amount of Irish music played on stations who are currently shy about Irish muic, but it would probably just increase plays for the acts mentioned above. The stations are commercial stations and depend on advertisers so they need to play the acts who pull an audience, hence the need to play such lowest common denominator beige muck as Gavin James and Walking On Cars. If you think things are bad at the moment, imagine having 40 per cent of the airwaves dominated by that lot.
Furthermore, Penrose’s bill had some strange things to say about Irish music. The bill sought to define Irish music as tracks where “the music and lyrics should be composed and performed by persons in authentic sympathy and in tune with Ireland’s unique cultural ethos”. What exactly is Ireland’s unique cultural ethos when it’s at home and does it depend on who is doing the defining? Would it have room for, say, acts like God Is An Astronaut, Rusangano Family, Rubber Bandits, Loah and Mano Le Tough as well as the acts the deputy mentioned in the Dail like Phil Coulter, John Sheahan, Mick Foster, Tony Allen, Johnny Duhan and others? Penrose himself accepted that “agreeing a definition of Irish music presents a challenge”, but it’s one which would have to be sorted long before a quota is foisted on the existing stations.
The bigger problem, though, is around the structure which Irish stations must adher to and this comes down to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The authority and its various predecesors have completely failed when it comes to either regulating the commercial sector (look at the amount of vested interests and common owners in the Irish radio ecosystem with all those conflicts of interest) or encouraging a new sort of radio station to set up and flourish. By insisting on an one-size-fits-all model when it comes to how commercial radio rolls in Ireland, the BAI have created the ludicrous situation we have today. A far better use of Deputy Penrose’s time would be to unpick and unpack that situation, so that much different stations can exist before running off looking for a currently badly defined quota system. Granted, that would be a harder task but it would be of far more long-term value to both musicians and listeners.