RTÉ has agreed to change its plans to discontinue its longwave radio service following protests from representatives of the Irish community in Britain.
The national broadcaster will extend the service until 2019 and then introduce a replacement using an enhanced form of digital radio in a shift from its previous position.
In September 2014, RTÉ announced the imminent closure of the service. It carries Radio 1 on the longwave 252kHz frequency which extends into the island of Britain. This was subsequently deferred to 2017.
Campaigners against the move argued it would further isolate elderly Irish people in Britain who relied on radio to keep in touch with Irish affairs.
About 12 per cent of live online listening to RTÉ radio is from the UK, representing about 600,000 streams per month. But the broadcaster’s contention that its channels could be accessed easily via the internet or online providers was disputed by campaigners, who cited research showing that many elderly people were unable to access such services.
On Friday a consultative group comprising RTÉ, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the organisation Irish in Britain and representatives of the Irish community issued a joint statement proposing that the longwave service will now close in June 2019.
In advance of that closure, RTÉ will launch a replacement service on DAB+, an enhanced form of digital radio. In order to access DAB+, most listeners will need to purchase new sets which typically range upwards from £30 in the UK. The number of listeners in Ireland who access RTÉ channels via DAB is not currently measured by the JNLR survey, although it is known that approximately 20 per cent of households here have a DAB radio.
The broadcast will be transmitted via a chain of small networks which cover the main urban centres in the UK. RTÉ estimates the transmission cost will be approximately one-fifth of the present €250,000 per annum.
Details of the new service are unclear, but it is likely to include a limited amount of targeted programming commissioned specifically for audiences in Britain and will be subject to regulatory approval there. The additional programming will have a “very modest budget” of about €50,000, according to a spokesperson.
Minister of State for the Diaspora Joe McHugh welcomed the recommendations.
“I have committed to making a contribution to this via the Government of Ireland Emigrant Support Programme,” he said. “The research we funded on this issue has made clear that RTÉ radio is a fantastic resource for Irish people in Britain.”
The broadcaster’s director-general, Dee Forbes, said longwave as a technology is no longer viable in the long term.
“It is crucial that we . . . evolve a replacement service and that RTÉ plays its part in supporting evolving technologies. I’m confident we have . . . the goodwill to make a success of it for audiences.”
RTÉ Radio 1 will continue to be available in the UK on the RTÉ Radio player, Sky, FreeSat, Virgin TV and other services.