Odd economics in the closure of RTÉ’s long wave service

Odd economics in the closure of RTÉ’s long wave service

THE more one looks at RTÉ’s decision to discontinue its long wave radio service the more one is struck by the perverse disregard the move contains.

My mother is 88 years old this year.

She is, thank God, more than able. She looks after herself, follows the news in minute detail, and follows nearly all sports avidly.

She watches matches on Sky and BT and manages, just about, to use an iPhone.

She is not technologically illiterate. She is not bewildered by how things work. She does laugh at the ridiculousness of a society where there is a photograph to record every passing moment and worries at a life lived face-into-a-screen. She’s not alone in that. But what I’m trying to get at is that she is pretty well equipped to navigate her way around the modern world to the extent, at least, that she might want to.

My mother left Cork when she was eighteen and after more than forty years in England came back. So when she listens to RTÉ’s Liveline, say, she does so sitting next to the radio in her Co. Cork living room. She just turns it on and there’s Joe Duffy. This wasn’t set in stone though. She was one of a whole generation that went away and one of a minority that came back.

She could quite easily now be sitting in a living room in England, tuning into her daily ration of RTÉ radio, and finding the likes of Liveline far more of a lifeline by virtue of being far away.

Tuning in the only way she’d know. Via long wave.

The sound of home when you are not there. I’m not sure what the price of that is. I’m fairly sure, though, that if she were still in England and RTÉ was gone from the radio that telling her it was now on the internet or somewhere on the television set wouldn’t be a great comfort.

Even if she isn’t bewildered by the modern world why attempt to make her so? To a greater or lesser degree technology can be a barrier, can’t it? Isn’t that just factual? We’ve all been left defeated by a technological problem, haven’t we?

Imagine being from a pre-internet age and having little support around you in order to help you negotiate it. Statistically, after all, the majority of users of long wave broadcasts to the UK are over 60 and a good percentage of those would be people with no direct engagement with emigrant support networks. Why contribute to the isolation of those we owe so much?

Due to being funded by the state RTÉ prides itself on being a service. Does that service only extend to those at home? In a country like ours? A country with our history? A country once kept afloat by money sent home by emigrants. And, anyway, is this really just about the grubby counting of money? What was it WB Yeats wrote? “Fumble in a greasy till/ And add the halfpence to the pence/ And prayer to shivering prayer, until/ You have dried the marrow from the bone;/ For men were born to pray and save./ Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,/ It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

But hang on a moment because this isn’t just romanticising. Indeed this isn’t romantic at all. Let us deal as they deal, in bald finance. RTÉ states that the long wave service has been costing around €250,000 a year and that this is expected to rise to €400,000 this year. Okay. Now put that in context. The outgoing presenter of RTÉ’s The Late Late Show was on an annual salary of around €440,000 a year. That’s one person.

The presenter of RTÉ’s Liveline is on an annual salary of around €350,000 a year. That’s one person.

Now I have no axe to grind with either men or any knowledge of how media wages are assessed. But how is it morally justifiable to pay one individual more than it is deemed worthwhile to spend on an entire group of people? Isn’t one man in a bedsit in Cricklewood or Luton or Leeds or Manchester worth €250,000 a year? What about ten men? What about ten men and ten women? What about one thousand? What about someone just like my mother but still over in Birmingham tuning in to the radio?

Indeed seeing as we owe them so much why doesn’t RTÉ, the national broadcaster, a state service, agree that for the mere cost of one presenter it will continue to broadcast to those in the UK because having looked at it again it is clearly the right and ethical thing to do? €400,000 a year is too much? Really? For so many?