Wednesday, 30 October 2019

The 15-24 Market Have Abandoned Irish Radio

With the release recently of the years JNLR figures for October 2018 - September 2019 there must be some concern within the industry in Ireland as the 15 -24 year old age grouping has abandoned the medium as newer platforms. The JNLR figures does not take account of some stations that are not in the JNLR sweeps including Spirit Radio and Christmas FM, nor does it include those who listen via station apps or apps like Ireland Radio and Tunein. But in the battle for the advertising euro this is a worrying trend in seven years. 

In Dublin and the greater Dublin area there has been almost a 20% decline in young listeners who now prefer Spotify or online stations like the current Halloween FM. There is also the persistent issue of pirate radio stations broadcasting dance music not heard on licensed radio. The effect has been felt even by stations that clearly market themselves as for a younger generation. Over the same period Spin 1038 has seen a 9% decline while crucially FM 104, the city's market leader has seen a 14% decline in the 15-24 year old statistics. The only station that has seen similar year on figures or slight modest gains of less than 2% has been RTE 2 FM. 

While the Cork numbers for the 'Listened Yesterday' in the 15-24 group was down 8%, the Cork 96FM/C 103 group were down 13% while Red FM was down 4%. There is no doubt as habits of the younger listener changes and the market fragments, the traditional stations are going to struggle more to attract and maintain listenership. For many younger listeners the stations have lost spontaneity as repetitive playlists and voice tracking have alienated that generation of listeners. 

Listened Yesterday 15-24 Year Old
                          National    Dublin    Cork     South    South   North    N. East    Multi-     Dublin
                                                                         East      West    West      & Mid     City     Commuter
2011-2012             80             76          84          78         86        84          77           80           77
2018 - 2019           70             57          76          73         77        82          69           65           59
                             -10%        -19%      -8%       -5%      -9%      -2%       -8%        -15%       -18%

Donegal Radio Pirates in the 1940s

Donegal has had a rich pirate radio history especially due to its proximity to the Northern Ireland border and the city of Derry. But the county's spot in pirate radio history stretches back to the early days of radio. Here are two stories from that early period.

In 1945, as the Second World War ended and the Emergency as it was known in Ireland was wound down, Radio Nuala was reported to be broadcasting on medium wave from the Beehive public house in Ardara in Donegal. Part of their complaint was that the Radio Eireann signal was poor in the area and that they were being 'bombarded' by the signals of the BBC's Six Counties Service. 

Some years later in 1947 a row between Donegal fishermen and a private fishery business about who had the rights to fish on the Irish side of the River Foyle from the Sea to Lifford would end with a High Court Case.  The local fishermen in an attempt to raise the finance to fight the case in Dublin and to highlight the issue within the community operated a mobile radio service to broadcast their message. They even managed to cross the border briefly to broadcast in Strabane in County Tyrone

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

An Irish Pirate Radio Pioneer - AN OBITUARY

In July 2019, the esteemed and world renown pioneer of renewable energy Professor Godfrey Boyle passed away. But not only was Mr. Boyle the professor emeritus of renewable energy and the director of the Energy and Environment Research Unit in the Open University's Faculty of Mathematics, Computing, and Technology, he was a pioneer in pirate radio broadcasting.

On a number of pirate radio forums there was some scepticism and questioning that a pirate radio station could broadcast from a telephone box, but Professor Boyle and his then student friends were the pirates behind these broadcasts.

In February 1968, using a homemade transmitter, a tape recorder and an aerial attached from the roof of the phone box  to a nearby tree, their station was on the air broadcasting from the corner of Lennoxvale and Malone Road in Belfast (there is a telephone box still located on the site). The tape recording began with "You are now listening to an illegal broadcast and are committing an offence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act. We will now allow you a few minutes to switch off.' The operators knew and indeed hoped that it would be discovered by officials from the detection unit of the GPO in Belfast and used it as a publicity stunt in an attempt to liberalise the airwaves in Belfast. Their station broadcasting on 242m was known as Radio SRCIS and these initial broadcasts began a cat and mouse game with the authorities throughout 1968. 

The Belfast Telegraph reported that
‘No action likely over kiosk radio THE GPO were to-day investigating the finding of pirate radio equipment in a Malone Road telephone kiosk, but there is a possibility they may decide to drop the whole matter. A spokesman said to-day: "If this is the end of the illegal transmissions I doubt if we will pursue our inquiries. But if it should start again, we would have to give the matter further thought." The transmitting equipment. including a tape recorder and aerial wire extending from the kiosk to a tree, was discovered by engineers who toured the city yesterday using monitoring equipment. According to the spokesman, the equipment found in the 'phone box was a lot of "old stuff" of little value. It was probable the GPO would dispose of it.’

The incident was even raised in the British House of Commons when Sir Knox Cunningham, MP for South Antrim asked the British Postmaster-General Edward Short what steps would be taken to prevent the use by radio pirates of Post Office equipment in Ulster. The PMG replied "The apparatus was traced and removed by Post Office engineers" and added. "I do not propose to take any special precautions against a repetition".

Not deterred by the loss of their transmitter Mr. Boyle and his fellow students at Queens University just a short distance from Malone Road set up a rag week pirate station in March. Broadcasting on 235m, Rag Radio was on the air. The station’s signal was heard over three miles from the station’s transmitter located near the University. At one stage the police laid siege to the Students Union headquarters in the mistaken belief that the pirate transmitter was located there.

On April 19th 1968, the Belfast Telegraph under the headline ‘Ulster Radio Pirates, A Year on the Air’ reported that,
‘Northern Ireland’s radio "pirates" were on the air again last night and to-day a spokesman disclosed that they have been making illegal broadcasts in the Belfast area sporadically for a year. It is now believed that five or six young men in their twenties, mostly students, are behind the broadcasts and that their equipment is home-built. "The broadcasts began as series of experimental transmissions by people interested in radio. Then we formed the idea that we should be allowed to make broadcasts legally." said the spokesman for the group who. call themselves the Northern Ireland Citizens' Band Action Group. Recent broadcasts have mixed records with demands for new wireless telegraphy legislation to make available a waveband for the use of private citizens and to set up commercial stations. The spokesman claimed that the situation which allows the Government-run BBC radio monopoly is undemocratic. "People are entitled to run their own newspapers as a means of communication and there are commercial television stations. Why not commercial radio?" He said that incident' some weeks ago when transmission equipment was found in a phone box on the Malone Road was designed to draw attention to their ideas.’

Professor Boyle was born in Brentford, West London, to Kevin Boyle, a quantity surveyor, and his wife, Phyllis. The family moved to Belfast when Professor Boyle was a baby where he and his sister, Mary, grew up. His early education was at St Malachy’s college before he enrolled for an electrical engineering degree at Queen’s University Belfast, where he ran societies, published alternative magazines, and was part of radical activities in the University in a province that was on the brink of the Troubles.  In 1975 his influential book ‘Living on the Sun’ was published, which advanced the then novel idea that industrial countries could make a transition to renewable power.

Professor Godfrey Boyle, a pirate radio pioneer, May He Rest In Peace

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

1930's Irish Radio Analysis - Part Five. It's All About The Money

2RN, the fledgling Irish radio station stuttered to the end of nineteen twenties and into the thirties still only clearly audible on the east of the country. There were many problems encountered by the fledging radio station not least that lack of finance provided from the exchequer. Many of those in Government feared the power of radio and believed limiting the stations output would keep it in line. At the time Ireland did not produce any radio receivers of its own and all wireless sets were imported mostly from the Britain. In 1934 the UK media reported that,
‘The Irish Free State was Great Britain’s best customer buying £27,000 worth of radio apparatus from British manufacturers’.
These imports however were subject to a 33% import tax putting the price of a quality radio set outside the reach of most Irish people. If you could not afford an imported set, a homemade crystal set was the only option. With 2RN only audible on the eastern side of the country, the use of radio west of the Shannon was limited. This was reflected in the uptake of the required wireless licence. The radio licence was introduced in 1923 and initially cost £1 but this was reduced to 10s in August 1926 with the launch of 2RN in 1926 with a dearer licence required for institutions such as hotels. In 1923 there was 1,020 licenses issued, 1,493 in 1926 the year 2RN began and in 1929 there were 7,660 licences in the Free State. The state radio station was initially financed by the combination of the import duty and the licence fee.

The 1930’s there was a boom in licences and an increased effort by the Government to detect evaders. In 1930 just over 26,000 licenses were issued and the increased numbers of radio sets purchased in advance of the 1932 Eucharistic Congress and the launch of the powerful Athlone transmitter by 1934 there were 60,192 sets licensed and by the end of the decade there were 166,275 licenses across Ireland.

In 1935 the total number of radio licences in the twenty six counties was 78,627 which equated to one in every thirty eight citizens over eighteen having a licence. This figure would increase to one in seventeen by 1939. The distribution of those licences illustrated the divide in the nation when it came to radio. Leinster 60.03%, Munster 27.09%, Connacht 8.30% and Ulster 4.58%. According to the BBC, the number of licences in Northern Ireland at the end of April 1934 was 59,032 while in the entire 26 counties of the Irish Free State there were 51,667. In the six counties in 1935 there were 63,000 licenses at ten schillings per licence.
The comparisons with programming from the BBC often appeared in newspapers, magazines and in political debate. The poor quality of output from the Irish State broadcaster was often laid at the door of a lack of finance in a smaller market. During a Dail debate on broadcasting expenditure future Taoiseach Sean Lemass then serving in the Government opposition revealed in 1930 that the breakdown equivalents of both stations were as follows
2RN                 BBC
Programmes               45%                 65%
Salaries                       28%                 7%
Maintenance               10%                 19%
Overheads                   17%                 9%
It should be noted in the maintenance costs the BBC had over thirty transmitters in 1930 while 2RN only had Dublin and Cork.

Finance was always a concern for Irish Broadcasting. In 1930 the Government announced that it cost £28,259 to run the station plus a further £47,000 set aside for the launch of the new Athlone station. Income for the station was listed as £13,365 for the licence fees, £30,700 from the tax on the imported radio receivers and just £40 from advertising. Advertising consisted of five minute ‘talks’ at the end of programming at night. But in 1930 a new form of advertising was tested on the urgings of the radio industry much of it through the weekly magazine The Irish Radio News which had replaced the Irish Radio Review. Despite this apparent lack of income, in 1930 the Secretary at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs M.R. Heffernan TD wrote in an article aimed at improving listenership amongst the rural community,
‘Let me make it quite clear that so far broadcasting in the Irish Free State has not cost the taxpayer a penny. It is the other way about in fact. The broadcasting enterprise has actually contributed in a small way towards the funds of the national exchequer.’

Radio Eireann had spotted an opportunity to sell some of its airtime for sponsored programming. The bulk of the ‘advertising’ consisted of five minute ‘talks’ broadcast at the end of transmissions each weekday and solely for Irish made products. The Government decided to sell the hour from 9.30 – 10.30 to sponsors and it was divided into three twenty minute segments and from earning £220 in total advertising revenue in 1932, a year later the station had earned £22,000 from sponsored advertising, a lifeline for the cash strapped station. Unfortunately for the station its new found wealth came at a price as the Government reduced the percentage of the licence fee paid to the station. 

1930's Irish Radio Analysis - Part Four. The Irish Language More Than a Cupla Focail

For an Irish radio station it was not until 1937 before the station became familiarly known in the Irish Language as Radio Eireann prior to that it was known as 2RN or Radio Athlone which upset Irish language activists. Despite the constant effort by these activists to force the Irish language centre stage by and the call for more native language programmes on the State station it would not be until 1939 before the first GAA hurling match between Limerick and Kilkenny would be broadcast entirely in the Irish language. All the more remarkable when we learn that a year earlier the first all Irish pantomime had been broadcast from Galway.

From the first inception of Irish radio, there was a battle by Irish Gaelgoirs to use the medium to rejuvenate and reinvent the Irish language and utilise the national aspects of the stations availability. English was the predominant language in Ireland and despite the best efforts of Conradh na Gaeilge amongst others to have Radio Athlone broadcast more in Irish, the native tongue was consigned to a second language and at times struggled for that position. Throughout the thirties the station carried linguistic learning courses in French and German. The Irish language activists became alarmed as the decade continued as the station began to broadcast a number of programmes in the universal language of Esperanto. During long periods of the late nineteen thirties there were more programmes broadcast in Esperanto than in the native language.

In the early days of Irish radio the Irish language supporters believed that the airwaves were not being used properly for the promotion of the native language. Activists initially wanted the state run station to be solely broadcast in Irish and that it should support National ideals and traditions but there was very little support from the political establishment who were unsure how to treat the new medium and were suspicious of the intentions of traditionalists. Over eighty percent of the station’s output was in English, the language of Government and the Irish language did not even make up the entire remainder as French, German and Esperanto all received significant airtime. Less than half of all music played on the new station was Irish traditional and this caused much debate in the newspapers of the day.

It was not until 1970 that a group of activists crowded into a small caravan in Galway and asserted their right to have a dedicated Irish language radio station on the air. Two years after those pioneering pirate broadcasts Radio na Gaeltachta took to the airwaves and has been broadcasting nationally ever since. In recent years other stations have provided programming in the native tongue including Radio Na Life, Radio Failte and local community stations across the country. These have been augmented in recent years by internet based Irish language radio stations. In 1989 when the Independent Radio and Television Commission perused proposals for the new commercial national franchise there was derision in the media when former pirate broadcaster Chris Cary (Radio Nova) in his submission advanced his proposal for an Irish language ‘word of the day’. This English born entrepreneur seemed unable grasp the importance of the native tongue on a national stage but fast forward twenty years and the national franchise now Today FM offers a thirty second occasional slot ‘creid é no ná creid é’ not far off Cary’s 1989 thoughts on the subject in 1989.

Radio Eireann in 1939 was the chief provider of Irish language broadcasting but this year would see four different stations in three different countries broadcast ‘as Gaeilge’. Vatican Radio aired Irish programmes at 7.30pm hosted by the Rector of the Irish College in Rome broadcast on short wave for the faithful in Ireland to listen to. In Germany, Nazi state radio began broadcasting in Irish on December 10th 1939. The presenter was Hans Hartmann and their propaganda was anti British and an overt attempt to reinforce Ireland’s position of neutrality during the Second World War. Covered in the excellent book by David O’Donoghue ‘Hitler’s Irish Voices’ Irland-Redaktion was heard on short wave and 395m medium wave. The station was the brainchild of Ludwig Mulhausen of the German propaganda department, a professor in Celtic studies at Berlin University who had visited Ireland especially the West of Ireland many times prior to the war. Also assisting in the Irish broadcasts was Adolf Mahr who had been the director at the National Museum.  For the first two years of broadcasts were delivered only in Irish but from 1941 until its final transmission on May 2nd 1945 the station broadcast both in English and Irish but aimed at an Irish audience both in Ireland and the Irish Diaspora in Britain.

The final broadcaster ‘as gaeilge’ was the IRA’s broadcast station which was located in Ashgrove House, Rathgar and began all their broadcasts with a speech in the native tongue usually delivered by Seamus Byrne. The station was raided and closed at the end of December 1939 bringing the decade to a close.

Monday, 14 October 2019

1930's Irish Radio Analysis - Part Three. The Catholic Church

The Eucharistic Congress in 1932 was a logistical nightmare for the under resourced Irish radio station 2RN. Despite the fact that station just six years old it carried out a number of major outside broadcasts from across Dublin. These programmes were relayed by landline to Athlone whose new transmitter was operating at sixty kilowatts allowing coverage over much of Europe. The powerful transmitter allowed for coverage across Ireland. For those with radio sets it was a massive improvement in quality but the broadcasts were relayed on receivers in churches and halls across the country allowing everyone access for the first time to listen to 2RN. The Congress marked the first time that the overwhelmingly Catholic population heard the voice of the Pope relayed over the Athlone transmitter on the final day of the Congress. Reaction to the broadcasts in the print media was positive and commended the station on their achievements.

The first Eucharistic Congress was held in 1881 under Pope Leo XIII. The congresses were organised by a Papal Committee for Eucharistic Congresses to increase devotion to the Eucharist as a part of the practice of faith, and as a public witness of faith to Catholic population at large. The 31st International Eucharistic Congress was held in Dublin, 21-26 June, 1932. It was the premier international Catholic event. The 1932 Congress provided the platform for the Irish Free State Government of DeValera to assert their position as a leading Catholic nation. It had been the largest public gathering in twentieth-century Ireland until the 1979 visit of Pope John Paul II. There was even an act passed by the Government specifically for the event titled the Eucharistic Congress (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1932.

Congresses were often linked with anniversaries or other events special to Christians and in particular to Catholics of the country in which they took place. The 30th Congress which took place in Carthage, Tunis, commemorated the death of St. Augustine. The Dublin congress commemorated the death of St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint.

The new Irish State mobilised its meagre resources in order to meet the challenge posed by this show case. The arrival of the special Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri at Dún Laoghaire Harbour at the beginning of Congress Week was greeted by thousands along the harbour piers and the Papal Mass in the Phoenix Park six days later was attended by over 1,000,000 of the faithful. The event was considered to be an outstanding success. The Irish State had successfully entertained literally thousands of churchmen and laity who came to Dublin from every corner of the globe to pray and Irish radio was there to cover every minute of the event.

In 1934 despite the success of the Eucharistic Broadcasts the New South Wales Press reported
‘Many readers may be surprised to learn that there is not a Catholic radio station in Ireland. No doubt the reason is that because the country is so overwhelmingly Catholic, people believed that when the DeValera Government founded the powerful Athlone station it would be a Catholic station. Perhaps it is in a sense, but as it is a Government service most of its work is civic. The announcement is now made that an exclusive Catholic radio station may be opened in Ireland. There is no official confirmation of the news, which appeared in a Dublin newspaper, but on the other hand it has not been denied. Negotiations are said to be proceeding with the Government, and Mr. DeValera is known to be favourable to the project, which, if it succeeds, would enable an effective relay of the Vatican station. Wireless experts have been busy with suggestions since the project was announced, and these include the provision of a shortwave station and the establishment of a landline from Italy.’

It was a source of frustration for the Church authorities and Catholics in general that the national radio station did not carry weekly Mass. This was all the more difficult when the faithful knew that the station in Belfast broadcast a Daily Service and a Sunday service from various Protestant churches across Northern Ireland. The Church authorities viewed DeValera and his Government with suspicion despite the success of the Eucharistic Congress. The Church Hierarchy had supported the Pro Treaty forces and Cosgrave’s Government during the Civil War and DeValera had been excommunicated for his anti treaty activities but this was quietly ignored after he won the 1932 General Election. DeValera’s Department for Posts and Telegraphs never pressured the state broadcaster to broadcast Mass.

Although not officially an anti Catholic stance, the lack of religion and religious services was a great source of annoyance for the Church. The Church had been a great supporter of radio when it first went on air in 1926 believing that ultimately it would be an extension of its dominance over a subservient faithful population. This stance seemed to be annually contradicted when 2RN (later Radio Athlone and Radio Eireann) ceased all broadcasts on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Easter Week up to 1936 when the only silent day was Good Friday.

The church exerted further influence on broadcasting in Ireland with the Anti Jazz movement which we will cover in the next post.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

1930's Irish Radio Analysis - Part Two. The GAA

The men of the nation were now able to listen to a broadcast of the All Ireland GAA Finals live hundreds of miles from Croke Park. They did not have to a wait some one returning from Dublin to get the result, waits days for a newspaper report, the match was instantaneous as was the discussion about the game. The game was no longer of interest to just the two counties involved but it was a national event. In the case of rugby commentaries some listeners heard a sport being described for the very first time. The Irish Radio News would print a numbered diagram of the pitch to help listeners follow the commentary. Radio opened up sports to a wider audience, GAA enthusiasts could listen to a rugby or soccer game on the radio from the safety of your own home even though the GAA itself frowned upon these ‘English’ games.

The GAA would have an uneasy relationship with broadcasting coming to a head in 1937 with what was referred to in newspaper headlines as a ‘crux’. Radio Athlone had been broadcasting the Provincial finals in both Hurling and Football, the All Ireland semi finals and Finals plus the Railway Cup finals from Croke Park on St. Patrick’s Day. In 1937 the GAA informed Radio Athlone and its Director TJ Kiernan that it required the right to appoint commentators for their games. This was rejected with Kiernan stating in an open letter printed in the Irish Press on September 3rd 1937,
‘As you informed on a previous occurrence, the proposal that the broadcaster (commentator) should be selected by the GAA is not acceptable. It would be the equivalent of transferring to the GAA part control of the State Broadcasting Service’.

The GAA refused permission to Radio Athlone to broadcasts the 1937 Railway Cup Finals. Both sides became entrenched and when Radio Athlone announced that Sean O’Ceallachain and Eamon DeBarra would be commentating on the All Ireland hurling final from Killarney, Kerry permission was again denied by the GAA insisting that a commentator of their choosing be behind the microphone. Broadcasting the final was even more important as it was the first All Ireland held outside Dublin in 30 years and the first All Ireland final to be held in Kerry when Kilkenny played Tipperary in 1937 Hurling Final.

A letter writing campaign orchestrated by the local GAA committees bombarded the newspapers but Kiernan held his ground. Both sides disputed the costs involved with the GAA stating that the director wanted the GAA to pay for the commentator while Kiernan said that all costs including transport, engineering and the commentator was being paid for by the State broadcaster.

There would be no play by play commentary for the 1937 All Ireland Hurling Finals and no facilities within the ground made available to the broadcaster. Their alternative was to have their two chosen commentators O’Ceallachain and DeBarra stand with the crowd and write down their play by play. O’Ceallachain covered the first half and exited the ground to go to Killarney Post Office where a microphone awaited and he relayed the game from 4.15 – 4.45pm. DeBarra followed with second half until 5.15pm. It was unsatisfactory but inventive under the circumstances.

The blame from the grassroots was divided with some GAA councils openly criticizing the Central Council and its president Padraig O’Keeffe. A compromise was eventually reached for the All Ireland Football finals two weeks later when a compromise commentator Canon Michael Hamilton, the Chairman of the Clare County Board agreed to bring the running commentary to the listeners. (ALL Ireland contested between Cavan and Kerry) A year later and a new voice would be brought on board who would become the voice of the GAA at home and abroad.

For the 1938 GAA season a new voice was heard on the airwaves and would dominate for almost fifty years.  
 ‘Bail ó Dhia oraibh a chairde Gael agus fáilte romhaibh go Páirc an Chrócaigh’ 
Known as the voice of the GAA for almost fifty years, Michael O’Hehir was born in Glasnevin, Dublin on June 20th 1920 to parents from County Clare. His father, Jim O'Hehir, who was born in Lack, County Clare was very active in the GAA, having trained his native county to win the 1914 All-Ireland title in hurling. He subsequently trained the Leitrim football team who secured the 1927 Connacht provincial title and later serving as an official with the GAA Dublin Junior Board and chairman of Civil Service and St.Vincent’s Dublin GAA clubs. Michael was educated at St. Patrick's National School in Drumcondra before later attending the O'Connell School, a Christian Brothers-run institution in the city centre. He later studied electrical engineering at University College Dublin however he abandoned his studies after just one year to pursue a full-time career in broadcasting. He enjoyed a distinguished hurling career with the St. Vincent's club in Raheny. Michael became fascinated with the radio when he received a present of one as a child. He had just turned eighteen and was still a school-boy when he wrote to Radio Éireann asking to do a test commentary and after the events of 1937 the station were looking for a new voice that was acceptable to them and the GAA.

He was accepted and was asked, along with five others, to do a five-minute microphone test for a National Football League game between Wexford and Louth. His microphone test impressed the director of broadcasting T.J. Kiernan so much that he was invited to commentate on the whole of the second half of the match.

Two months later in August 1938 Michael made his first broadcast - the All-Ireland football semi-final when Galway defeated Monaghan at Mullingar’s Cusack Park. He went on to commentate on the second semi-final and that year's final between Galway and Kerry. The following year he covered his first hurling final - the famous "thunder and lightning final" as Kilkenny beat Cork by a score of 2-7 to 3-3.

Sports broadcasts in Ireland was still in its infancy at this stage, however, his Sunday afternoon commentaries quickly became a way of life for many rural listeners who gathered around radio sets to listen to the games. As a man who could ‘make a boring game interesting’, by the mid-1940s Michael was recognised as one of Ireland's leading sports broadcasters.