Need for British longwave radio service underestimated by RTÉ
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Need for British longwave radio service underestimated by RTÉ

WITH fewer than three weeks to go until RTÉ Radio 1 brings its historic longwave service on 252 to an end, the Irish community in Britain has responded with fury and dismay.

The move, which was announced with just over a month’s notice, is part of the Irish broadcaster’s new focus on digital platforms.

But the decision to cease transmission, from October 27, was described as a “bitter blow” to Irish people in Britain as well as parts of the North of Ireland.

Eddie Walsh, who is PRO of The Workers’ Party (Britain) in Nottingham, said: “Other options are not open to all of us. I cannot get RTÉ on my car radio except on longwave and I certainly do not want to listen to it on my computer. The current radio ads only refer to the island of Ireland, thus not even mentioning those of us on this side of the Irish Sea.”

He added: “I would suggest that the station has underestimated the number of listeners.”

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Meanwhile Irish Post reader Sean O’Rinn said: “I have a small radio beside my bed and listen to RTE on 252 every night. There is no way that I can use any digital apparatus in its place. There must be thousands of Irish people here in England who are in a similar position — we will become completely isolated from our native home.”

The loss of the longwave service comes after the broadcaster closed its London offices in 2012. Tom McGuire, Head of RTÉ Radio 1, estimates that no more than 2,000 people use its service.

RTÉ said that 98 per cent of its Radio 1 listeners would be unaffected by the move. It added that to measure longwave listening numbers in Britain would prove “a prohibitive service cost”.

When contacted by The Irish Post, an RTÉ spokesperson said: “We will be running an extensive on-air campaign to inform people of the alternatives to longwave. The campaign will become more and more detailed in terms of where RTÉ Radio 1 is available as we near closure.”

RTÉ confirmed that it would work with agencies in Britain to let Irish people, groups and societies know what is happening and how they can keep listening.

When asked for a response to its loyal listeners in Britain — many of whom do not use the internet, RTÉ acknowledged that not all its listeners have access to broadband and other data services.

But they added: “We like to think that, as older people adopt such technologies as smartphones, the radio will be a helpful starting point. Radio apps are simple to use and immediate in access. We do understand that this is a source of inconvenience to some listeners and we do regret it.”

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In Ireland, the move was also met with criticism in some quarters. Writing in a national newspaper last week, columnist John Waters said the broadcaster had essentially told the Diaspora to modernise or “take a running jump”. And last week, Ireland’s Catholic bishops urged RTÉ to reconsider its decision to stop the service.

Bishops’ Conference spokesperson Martin Long said: “The bishops’ real concern is that people on the margins, who should be the concern of the national broadcaster, are going to be the worst affected. Whether it’s the elderly in Northern Ireland or in Britain, who have always relied on RTÉ for its Sunday worship programmes, these are the people that the bishops are now very concerned about.”

The bishops said that serving a marginal audience should be a priority, while calling on RTÉ to carry out a survey to determine the actual number of listeners to longwave broadcasts of religious programmes and how prepared those listeners are for a digital switchover.

With regards to listening figures, RTÉ pointed to anecdotal evidence suggesting a “significant reduction” in Radio 1 listeners from Britain who mention longwave in its communication with them.

They said their digital figures in Britain have risen each year since the launch of its RTÉ Radio player while as of last month 10 per cent of its total listening to Radio 1 channelled through computers and smartphones in Britain.

An RTÉ spokesperson added: “We like to think that, as older people continue to adopt such technologies as smartphones and tablets, radio will be a helpful starting point. Radio apps are straightforward to use and immediate to access.”

When contacted by The Irish Post, a spokesperson for the Irish Government’s Department of Communications, said: “RTÉ is an independent national public service broadcaster, and, as such, we have no role in its day-to-day operations, including the provision of the 252 LW Radio service.”

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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.

See this week's letters page for further thoughts on the matter

Additional reporting by Jake Polden

Listeners have their say…

Eileen Taylor, Family Carers Support Manager, Irish Community Services, London
“It’s a very valuable service for the Irish community abroad — a way of keeping in touch with what is going on at home. A lot of older people don’t have access to computers and we work with people up to 100 years of age. If there had been some sort of consultation it would have helped — but I didn’t hear of any consultation. I don’t think they quite realise how much people rely on it and if you’re house bound it is something you look forward.”

Gary Dunne, Director of Arts and Culture, London Irish Centre
“I would presume that the majority of the listeners are of the older generation, so I really hope that RTÉ support all their listeners in making the transition to digital. The older community may not be digital savvy and I hope that RTÉ make it very easy to stay connected — they have a responsibility to their listeners to do that.”

Seán Dolan-Osborne, Edinburgh
“As an Edinburgh born taxi driver, I listen to 252 religiously every day. I’m gutted this will no longer be the case very shortly. I thought it too much to hope for — GAA on Sky and RTÉ on British Media at the one time!”

John Fitzgerald, 82, Owner of Minstrel Music in the Birmingham Irish Centre
“RTE have never done anything to help the Irish in Britain — older people don’t know about the internet. Irish people have been forgotten in a big way. Same with television in this day and age — I don’t see why people living here can get RTÉ.”

Karen Woods Duffy,
Manchester
“I listen to RTÉ Radio 1 and I am not looking forward to having to buy a DAB. I am sad to learn of the change-over as I have greatly cherished being able to tune in via longwave 252 and the reception has been excellent here in the Northwest (Manchester). Not so good in London I noticed when I lived there. Sadly many good things come to an end. I hear that North of Ireland listeners and listeners in Ireland generally will be able to tune in on FM. I am hoping that I may just be lucky and be able to tune in that way too.”

Martin Griffin, Lancashire
“I heard on RTÉ Radio 1 the bombshell news that transmissions on longwave are to cease later this month. I am a longtime resident of Britain but was born in Ireland, spend three weeks in Ireland per year and like to keep in touch with events in Ireland at all times. I particularly enjoy RTÉ’s news, sport and music programming. This decision will be a bitter blow to many Irish citizens in Britain, particularly those of advanced years who may not be connected to the internet or have access to satellite radio transmissions of RTÉ programmes. I strongly urge all who think the same to protest to RTÉ, as I have done, about the situation.”

Kathleen Gunn, via email
“I think it’s an absolute disgrace that RTÉ are shutting down their longwave station.”

Rog Parsons, via email
“The closure of RTÉ Radio 1 on 252 kHz was obviously decided based on balance sheet not social purposes. To compare it to an otherwise never heard of low power Russian station or say BBC has done the same is dishonest. Many elderly folk and not-so elderly (like me) enjoy the music, views etc from Dublin.  Look how unsucccessful Radio Luxembourg was on Astra — no one listened and what was once the most popular ‘pop’ station in Europe died — will RTÉ Radio go that way? Even if RTÉ Radio 1 had an FM frequency or frequencies in England/Scotland which might be a good compromise, is modern technology better for coverage than MW or LW, I think not.
RTÉ Radio 1 is a fine station it should stay on 252 so we can all enjoy it.”

Chris Walling, via email
“I am a ‘Brit’ married to a Galwegian. We listen on LW at various times every day. I have just heard the ‘History Programme’ while my wife was watching TV and we enjoy the sports commentaries, especially rugby and Gaelic games. None of this will be available and nor will I be able to listen in on the car radio. I’ll have to go to the expense of buying a DAB digital radio, all in the name of “progress”! It’s a disgraceful decision just for the sake of saving money. How about cutting the salaries of some of your high-profile presenters instead?”

James McDonnell, via email
“2,000 max longwave listeners, including Britain! Really? Yes, we know that analogue (Long and Medium) is old technology and that digital is the future but surely RTÉ could do transmission deals on DAB terrestrial platforms in Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, London. “Too costly and impractical” I hear the RTÉ bean counters retorting. Is this an option and if not why not? Personally, I listen to 252 in my car and this will be a big miss for me as I travel the British motorway network. So it is not just the elderly Irish who will be discommoded by the 252 close down.”
By Jake Polden

Eddie Walsh, 71, Long Eaton, Nottingham
“I listen to it on my car radio and I can’t get it any other way — I don’t want to listen to radio on a computer. I’m 71 now and that’s the only one I listen to — that’s what I depend on to get my news. They are underestimating the amount of people who use the service.”

Sean O’Rinn
“It is tragic that RTÉ is closing down on Longwave. I have a small radio beside my bed and listen to RTE on 252 every night and generally through the night. There is no way that I can use any digital apparatus in its place. There must be thousands of Irish people here in England who are in a similar position — we will become completely isolated from our native home. Keep RTÉ Radio 1 open on Longwave. People in Ireland can watch all of our British TV programmes buy usIrish in England cannot pick up RTÉ TV. The new station Irish TV is a much appreciated and enjoyable new station.

Compiled by Jake Polden