IRELAND's state broadcaster is to stop transmitting its 252 longwave service at the end of the month severing what some feel is the only link to home for many elderly Irish in Britain.
From October 27, RTÉ Radio 1 will offer its popular radio channel only across digital formats, on FM and Freesat TV.
For the past decade, the station has run on the 252kHZ. Its forerunner was the well-known frequency previously used by Atlantic 252 through the late ’80s and ’90s.
Responding to the news, Liverpool-based Tony Birtill said that longwave plays “a big part” in elderly people’s lives among the Irish community in his area.
“If you go around to a lot of houses in Liverpool, they’ll have it on permanently to 252,” he said. “Many such people live alone and RTÉ 1 on long wave is a very important means for them to stay in touch with Ireland, and the outside world generally.”
Mr Birtill, who is author of Hidden History: Irish in Liverpool, added that he had spoken to “half a dozen” people who were concerned about it over the past week alone.
“RTÉ feign interest in older Irish people in this country,” the 60-year-old added.
His sentiments were echoed by campaigner Enda O’Kane, who worked in technical information and as an engineer at RTÉ for four decades since 1961.
Dublin-based O’Kane accused the state broadcaster of “focusing on the island of Ireland only” and “ignoring the Diaspora”.
He said the move would particularly hit the ’50s wave of Irish emigrants in Britain, adding: “It’s sad for many people who will be discommoded — the poor, in particular, and those who haven’t got broadband or can’t afford a satellite dish. So it’s anti-democratic in many ways.”
RTÉ said that 98 per cent of its Radio 1 listeners would be unaffected by the move and that it will run a campaign to inform remaining longwave listeners how to find the station on DAB and FM.
JP Coakley, RTÉ Radio Director of Operations, said: “This move to digital platforms is in line with other public service broadcasters such as the BBC in the UK and VGTRK in Russia, who have announced the closure of their longwave services. This service is a very expensive one for RTÉ and is unsustainable in terms of the organisation’s current financial position.”
Tom McGuire, Head of RTÉ Radio 1 added: “It’s part of our digital switchover. The 252 service only came into operation in 2004 — before that it was a pop station called Atlantic 252. But over the last 10 years, listenership of RTÉ on longwave has dropped considerably. We estimate that no more than 2,000 listeners in total avail of our longwave service — and that’s in Ireland and Britain.
“Earlier this year, due to technical problems, longwave RTÉ was off air for the whole of a Sunday. We only had seven complaints. With RTÉ now available on other platforms, including satellite, and with our FM service having improved dramatically,there is little argument for keeping the longwave service going.”
RTÉ Radio 1 is available in Britain on satellite TV service Freesat. It is also available on the RTÉ Radio Player and mobile apps. Longwave programmes including Sunday morning Mass and Services will continue to be available online.