The Irish music scene is diverse and thriving. But you’d never know it to listen to Irish radio

Only one in every four songs on Irish radio is by an Irish artist. Just 6 per cent of the top 100 were by Irish female artists

Irish women musicians and artists of colour are still having a much harder time getting airplay on Irish radio, research from Why Not Her? shows.

Every June, for four years now, Why Not Her? – a volunteer collective of speakers and media, communication and diversity and inclusion experts – reports on the top 100 most played songs on Irish radio and also the top 20 playlisted songs by domestic Irish artists. This year’s data reveals international acts and white, male artists continue to dominate the airwaves. Only the national broadcaster’s RTÉ Radio 1 has bucked the trend by consistently highlighting artists of both genders almost equally on its playlists over the last four years.

A lack of airplay has a direct impact on artists’ livelihoods – the music radio stations play largely determines which artists get signed to record labels or are asked to perform at festivals and concerts. Musicians who are not playlisted are far less likely to be able to make a living.

The latest Why Not Her? reports on the top 100 and top 20 playlisted songs which show musicians born or based in Ireland who are women or people of colour still get less airtime. Only 6 per cent of the top 100 songs on Irish radio were by Irish female artists (including collaborations with male artists), down from 13 per cent in 2022.


Between Jan and June 2023, international artists got 78 per cent of the airtime on all Irish radio and domestic artists got 22 per cent (including international and domestic collaborations at 3 per cent).

Most of the artists played in the top 100 in 2023 were white (71 per cent). People of colour accounted for 19 per cent and collaborations 10 per cent. Phil Lynott is the only solo or lead vocalist male artist of colour featured in this year’s report (excluding RTÉ Digital station Pulse), despite Ireland’s music scene having an abundance of black male artists.

The gender split was 47 per cent male, 30 per cent female and 23 per cent collaborations.

When you drill down to the top 20, things are even worse – a number of local radio stations had playlists that were between 95 per cent and 100 per cent dominated by white men. Last year, RTÉ 2FM’s top 20 included 80 per cent male artists and this hasn’t changed. Other parts of RTÉ do better, however, notably RTÉ Radio 1, whose top 20 playlist was 60 per cent female. In its public service statement 2022, RTÉ states: “The public are clear they want an independent RTÉ that facilitates a progressive and inclusive society.” Clearly, there is work to be done on the playlists but at least RTÉ has a strategy and a publicly stated plan.

As the data shows, white Irish men have less problem getting air play. Unfortunately, their female counterparts are not always given the same opportunities.

Internationally successful artists or those also signed to labels that you don’t hear on Irish radio’s heavy rotation playlists include CMAT, Pillow Queens, Ruthanne (who has been two-time Grammy nominated for her work with John Legend and Diana Ross) and others. They’ve succeeded despite the lack of support from some Irish radio stations.

Awards don’t seem to make a difference in terms of women’s airtime either. One of Why Not Her?’s data analysts, Michael Lydon, said one fact that stopped him in his tracks was “the lack of radio play for CMAT, especially given that her album If My Wife New I’d Be Dead picked up the RTÉ Choice Music Prize album of year award for 2022”.

More than 98 per cent of the artists featuring in the top 100 are already signed by big labels. But, even if you are a female artist represented by a big label, there’s no guarantee you’ll be treated equally in terms of radio airtime. In 2021, Imelda May became the first Irish woman to reach a number one album in the official Irish charts in five years with 11 Past the Hour. She received less than 100 plays across Irish radio the week she became number one in Ireland (*based on album sales and downloads from loyal fans). A week later, Dermot Kennedy’s album Without Fear, released two years earlier, knocked her off the number one spot. He had over 1,000 plays the week Imelda’s album went to number one.

Radio stations often claim the lack of female radio play is the label’s fault. Radio stations need to do more, though.

Minister Catherine Martin and the new regulatory authority, Coimisiún na Meán, must determine if radio stations’ playlist choices are in the public interest. The Government needs to ensure that the voices and talents of this generation of women and artists of colour are heard, as four years of data has not changed their behaviour, beyond tokenistic competitions and statements. We would, however, suggest the Government simply insists that the terms of the Broadcasting Act be upheld. They include Section 66, which says, “The extent to which the applicant will create ... new opportunities for talent” and “catering for a wide range of tastes including those of minority interests”.

The Regulator has the power to vary the terms of any license at any time under the Broadcasting Act. The BAI’s own Gender Action Plan encourages such moves saying: “We will encourage the Coimisiún to build on the BAI’s work in this regard and to develop a Gender, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (GEDI) Strategy. This would be the benchmark for a more inclusive and diverse audio and audiovisual industry, not just for women, but for all underrepresented citizens in Irish society.”

Talent can’t rise to the top if there are structural barriers and gatekeepers who won’t let some people through. There’s no shortage of musical talent in this country, just a lack of will in terms of giving it any airtime.

Linda Coogan Byrne is founder of WhyNotHer? and a music publicist. Margaret E. Ward is a leadership consultant and an award-winning investigative journalist.