On the Wireless

 

The diversity of radio in this State is not what it should be. Market forces and the lust for advertising revenue mean that, for much of the day, one can dial right through the waveband and find that the choice is simply between RTE's Radio 1 and pop music. More to the point, there are times when the choice is between pop music on Radio 1 and the pop music on every other station. Real variety in radio programming only manifests itself in the evenings (and splendidly so on Radio 1) when, ironically, listenership figures are so low that the battle for listeners is suspended and the public service remit is allowed to show its head.

In this scenario the coming of Radio Ireland, a national commercial station dedicated to "being different" is extremely welcome. When it starts broadcasting on St. Patrick's Day it will have much goodwill, even at RTE whose staff freely admit that the spur of competition is badly missed. Radio Ireland will not though find prosperity coming easily. It says it will seek market share from Radio 1 and from local stations but, a far as potential advertisers are concerned, its priority must be to take urban listeners from Radio 1 and to get them in great number.

Radio Ireland's programme schedule is notable more for aspiration than for specifics. The station wants to be different from Radio 1 - and consequently did not poach Radio 1 celebrities - but it is not clear in exactly what way it will be different. At the crucial broadcasting hours, the programming will be somewhat similar to that of Radio 1 with the notable exception of lunchtime news which is restricted to 15 minutes. The station says it wants young listeners with high incomes; what it has yet to say is how the station's output will be sufficiently distinct to win it such an audience. In fairness, Radio Ireland cannot be expected to reveal its strategy in detail seven weeks before broadcasting begins, thereby handing useful information to rivals.

There can be no doubting the commitment to programme quality by the station's promoters and especially by its chairman, Mr John McColgan, and its chief executive, Mr Dan Collins. But on the news front, the station will be greatly handicapped by the decision of the local commercial radio stations to look for an alternative news service rather than subscribe to Radio Ireland's. This will deny Radio Ireland subscription revenue but, more importantly, it will deprive it of an established nationwide network of news teams.

It had been reported that Radio Ireland might establish a news link-up with the proposed television station TV3; a sensible pooling of resources. The fact that one is not proposed (yet, at any rate) does not augur well for an early start-up by TV3. In addition, Radio Ireland yesterday should have announced who will take up the 15 per cent shareholding surrendered by Thomas Crosbie Holdings, parent company of The Examiner newspaper. The forerunner of Radio Ireland, Century Radio, met RTE hostility of the `take-no-prisoners' type and Century duly collapsed. The IRTC will be determined to ensure that Radio Ireland survives but whether it prospers or not is another matter. RTE is not in the business of surrendering hard-won market share without a fight and that is as it should be. But the fight must be fair.