Irish in London have their say on future of longwave
Life & Style

Irish in London have their say on future of longwave

 

SEAMUS O'CONNOR remembers his first date abroad with Irish radio.

There was a gang of them stood on a hill in High Barnet fiddling about with an aerial receiver.

All over Britain that scene was replicated: Clapham Common, Hampstead Heath, High Wycombe.

"I remember well," he says between bites of sausage and toast. "Because the good Meath GAA team of the ’80s was just starting to spark then and we were trying to get the matches.

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“It was in and out and in and out but longwave all the way,” he laughs.

Mid-morning footfall passes by the window of the Willesden café and he signals out to the wider world with a nod.

"There’s a friend of mine in Kingsclere in the middle of England and he wouldn’t miss Joe Duffy for the world any day of the week," he says.

"He used to listen on the old wireless but when opportunity knocked he knocked it and jumped to Sky [digital]."

But according to the Irish in Britain organisation, the move to digital is an undesirably dark prospect for huge numbers among the aging Irish community in Britain.

They describe uncertainty over the future of RTÉ’s longwave service as one of their stand-out issues with complaints spiking by the sackful this year.

The proposed cost-cutting shutdown has since been pushed back until 2017 following the strong reaction, particularly along the eastern sea-board where the signal is better and the listenership believed to be greater.

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Research funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs to assess the listenership in Britain is now underway.

There’s people listening on longwave for 50 years here and they don’t want to move away from that

In Willesden, Seamus O’Connor takes a pragmatic view.

"I know people who listen to Clare FM on the computer," he shrugs. "But there’s people listening on longwave for 50 years here and they don’t want to move away from that.

"For me, the News at One is a very essential part of life here.

"I tune in every day from Willesden. I’ve a house back in Ireland. My mother and father is back there. I want to keep up with what’s going on and I get it on the Sky like it was next door."

He laughs when name-checking the social commentators he’s followed through his years abroad.

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"Gaybo [Gay Byrne] was massive when he was on in the morning," he says. "Joe Duffy is popular now with the older people and Ronan Collins too in the afternoon."

A veteran of the music business, O’Connor says it makes sense for people to listen in quality when that service is available.

Peader Callan from Inniskeen in Monaghan is stood in the lobby of St Joseph’s Irish Club in Wembley, North London. He has listened in quality…when holidaying in Ireland.

There he drove most afternoons in the company of Joe Duffy and Ray D’Arcy.

When it came time to returning, he switched to the longwave signal after making landfall.

Duffy and D’Arcy remain for some of the 180 miles down the M6 but grew ever fainter the closer he got to London.

"I listen to the boys," he says. "But I’ve tried hard to get them on longwave on the car in London and it’s a waste of time."

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George from Sligo, here to provide the afternoon’s music, chips in.

"I get it on the digital, but I can get it in the car sometimes too on longwave.

"In London?" Peader challenges.

"Yeah. Sometimes."

Inside, Jim Hannon from Ballyduff in Waterford is sat waiting for George and the music to begin. He left school at 14 and came to London 60 years ago.

I feel as if you are at home. It’s lovely to get it. We’ll be lost without it

"I listen to RTÉ on longwave,” he says. "In my sitting room in Bushey. The weekends mostly, Céilí House and Fáilte Isteach and all that. It’s very clear. They are going to stop it next year I believe.

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"I feel as if you are at home. It’s lovely to get it. We’ll be lost without it."

A woman waves across from a nearby table.

Teresa Little is from Rathvilly in Carlow. She came to London 60 years ago.

"Moving over to the digital now. It’s a bit late isn’t it?" she says. "I’ve no computers or anything like that.

"When you put on the longwave now there’s Hong Kong coming through and all sorts on the 252. It used to be better. We used to listen to all the matches."

Teresa has made failed attempts at buying a digital radio and admits to not fully understanding how to access RTÉ through this medium, but she is open to it.

Her friend from Dublin is partially sighted and explains that she is now accessing Irish radio through digital services.

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Ah the young ones are into the digital. But the older folk don’t know how to operate that. And it’s a shame we can’t stay in touch with the old country

Tom O’Connor from Duagh is stood outside in the sunshine. He’s smartly dressed for the afternoon’s tea dance in a crisp white shirt and brown trousers.

He left Kerry in 1955 and drove a bus for London Transport for 35 years.

"Ah the young ones are into the digital," he says. "But the older folk don’t know how to operate that. And it’s a shame we can’t stay in touch with the old country.

"We used to watch Tara TV before that blew away and I find it very hard to get the longwave in London. It’s always breaking up. The signal has always been the problem…always.

"You have to get your ear close to it and it would be wattling and crackling and you’d be messing about with the dial. Up there, yeah, it was always better in Wales and up there alright.

"Down here, the lads used to plug in a radio at the bottom of a lamppost.

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"There would be 10 around it listening to the football."

It’s pointed out that the service is now clear and accessible on digital, through computer, smart phone and satellite television.

"Ah my daughter would be into the digital and maybe she will show me and I’ll be able to listen to it in a bit of peace."