Dancing days are over for Atlantic 252

 

Dance radio station Atlantic 252, which broadcast from Summerhill, Co Meath for 15 years, is no more, but some are less than happy with the sale of the station to a UK-based sports station.

The station finished broadcasting at the end of 2001 after an 80 per cent stake in its parent company, Radio Tara Ltd, was acquired by sports station TEAMtalk.

The matter has been generating controversy since December when an appeal went out to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Ms de Valera, to prevent RTÉ selling its share in Radio Tara, the company which owned Atlantic 252.

RTÉ has not in fact sold its shareholding and retains the remaining 20 per cent stake in Radio Tara, director of public affairs Ms Bride Rosney said.

RTL Group, which sold the majority stake to TEAMtalk for €2.54 million (£2 million), offered RTÉ first refusal on its share of the radio channel, but the resources were not there to buy it or to continue running it. The Government was not approached for assistance in acquiring the RTL stake in the radio channel, she said.

Asked whether RTÉ had any opinion on the sale of the longwave station to a UK interest, Ms Rosney said "there would be views". "But when it's a partner company that decides to make a sale, that's the reality." Atlantic 252 was originally a joint initiative between RTÉ and the then Radio Luxembourg.

Mr Enda O'Kane, a former RTÉ employee, campaigned against the sale, claiming Ireland's only longwave transmitter was being "misused" by broadcasting wall-to-wall pop music. He proposed that it instead be used for a national emergency channel or for all-Ireland programming, in accordance with the aspirations of the Belfast Agreement.

Former Taoiseach and Meath TD Mr John Bruton also came out in support of the retention of the longwave frequency for public use, claiming the sale was "anti-national" and "a denial of the founding ethos of RTÉ".

And in a letter to The Irish Times last weekend, broadcaster and academic Dr Colum Kenny also questioned the sale of the station to the UK sports service.

The service had been licensed by successive ministers under legislation governing the establishment of RTÉ, but had been disposed of in a manner that had "allowed foreign, commercial owners to do as they wish with it," he wrote.

But although there has also reportedly been some bad feeling among the dozen or so local people who lost their jobs at the dance station, its new owner, TEAMtalk Media Group, a multinational firm, says all the staff of Atlantic 252 were well looked after and received redundancy payments "over and above" the norm.

Rebranded TEAMtalk252, the frequency that once broadcast non-stop dance will now broadcast sport 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The station will be aimed mainly at a UK audience of 20 to 30-year-old male sports fans and will give wider coverage to minority sports than is possible on any other channel, TEAMtalk director of communications, Ms Sheona Southern, said.

But the potential of the Irish sports market still remains to be tapped, she said, and TEAMtalk hasn't ruled out the possibility of eventually reopening the studio at the Trim site. The company may also explore the idea of eventually putting in place an advertising team here in order to tap into potential revenue from Irish firms, according to Ms Southern.

The reality of competition from other dance stations had meant falling revenue and listenership figures for Atlantic 252, she said.

On the job losses, Ms Southern says a number of presenters had already left because the station was up for sale for so long. All of those got new jobs in the music business, she said. But because TEAMtalk was a specialised sports station, it had to employ people with a sports speciality.

All five engineering staff remain on the site in Trim and they are currently testing the transmitter in preparation for the launch of the new sports station.

Manager Mr Tom Hand was instrumental in setting up the transmitter when Atlantic 252 began as a joint venture between RTÉ and the then Radio Luxembourg in 1989.

His own background was in RTÉ and he became project supervisor responsible for the design and building of the station.

"It was a challenge," he admitted. "This particular project was offered to a number of people in RTÉ and I think they were afraid of it! I stayed with it for about two years after it was built and then reverted to my old job in RTÉ." In 1993, he was approached by Atlantic 252 to leave RTÉ and set up an in-house engineering and maintenance department for the transmitter.

TEAMtalk, which describes itself as "one of the leading providers of original sports content for delivery worldwide via the Internet, TV, radio, mobile, premium fixed line and satellite networks", intended to invest in the station, Ms Southern said.

But the disappearance of Atlantic 252, staple diet of many a hair salon, has been noticed by a faithful following in Britain and Ireland.

"As you can imagine, we have had a lot of people ringing in and asking 'what's happened to our station?'"