Culture for everyone on RTÉ Radio 1 – without the fanfare

More arts programmes are now independent commissions, says editor Lorelei Harris

Lorelei Harris, editor of arts, features, drama and independent production for RTÉ Radio 1, in RTÉ radio centre in Montrose. Photograph: Alan Betson

Lorelei Harris, editor of arts, features, drama and independent production for RTÉ Radio 1, in RTÉ radio centre in Montrose. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Proving that Radio 1 is about far more than just whose voice comes over the airwaves before lunch, flagship arts show Arena will broadcast a three-hour Culture Night special from four locations tomorrow evening.

“We are wildly excited about it, genuinely wildly excited,” says Lorelei Harris, editor of arts, features, drama and independent production for RTÉ Radio 1.

“It is part of our remit to bring events like Culture Night to as wide an audience as possible,” she says. “That really is the rationale that feeds a lot of our arts programming, to bring the arts and culture, not with capital letters, to everyone.”

Arena will broadcast the live performance by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra of a Culture Night fanfare commissioned by the Department of Arts from composer Stephen Gardner, while the programme’s line-up also includes singer- songwriter Julie Feeney, musical comedy trio The Nualas, a selection of Fishamble tiny plays and reports from Culture Night events around the country.

When it comes to marketing her line-up of arts shows, a fanfare declaring “here are the arts” is exactly what Harris seeks to minimise. “If you say to people, ‘Now I am going to present you with the arts’, you have quite a high turn-off factor,” she says.

Although individual culture-themed Doc on One documentaries are popular with audiences, the “culture” tab on the Doc on One website is not. “I think there is a certain switch-off factor when it comes to categorising.”

Radio 1’s main arts strands are the daily Arena show, which benefited earlier this year by being pulled forward 30 minutes in the schedule to 7pm, and the more in-depth Arts Tonight, which goes out on Mondays at 10pm.

The latter had been produced in-house, but will now be produced externally, while a new Saturday evening books programme called The Book Show, which debuts in November, is also an independent commission.

“This year is the first time that we have really made a foray into independent commissioning in terms of the arts and I’m very interested to see how this will develop. I suspect it will be very positive,” says Harris.

“The nature of how we make programmes is changing. We are statutorily mandated to engage with the independent sector and we do so very enthusiastically. It is the way of the future.”