Time to tune out the static on the future of independent radio
IRELAND'S independent broadcasters are about to hit a milestone, but instead of celebrating the 25 years they've been on the airwaves they are painting a stark picture of the future of Irish radio.
Almost 1,500 people are employed in the sector, which includes 34 independent radio stations nationwide.
More than 70pc of the Irish population, 2.5 million people, tune in daily, listening for an average of four hours each - more than in any other European country.
But the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) - that body that represents two national, four regional, one multi-city and 27 local commercial radio stations - fears the future of some of these is under threat.
"A strong independent broadcasting sector is fundamental to our democratic society," said John Purcell, IBI chairman and chief executive of Kilkenny's KCLR.
"It is in everyone's interest that we now build on the fantastic achievements of the last 25 years so that we have a strong independent sector and a strong State broadcaster for the benefit of all radio listeners for the next 25 years.
"The sector is a vital economic and social contributor to the fabric of Ireland."
The average annual turnover for an independent radio station ranges from €1.5m to €1.8m and they broadcast 1,320 hours of public service content each week.
Yet they receive zero funding from the State, compared to the €182.4m RTE got in television licence revenue in 2013. Over 10pc went to RTE Radio 1, with 3.4pc to 2fm - that's €4.49 from every licence fee paid.
Mr Purcell says RTE Radio 1 should be subsidised for its public service content, but argues several regional stations offer the same service as 2fm but are more popular.
IBI wants additional revenue raised by the public service broadcasting charge, which will replace the current TV licence, to be allocated to independent broadcasters as well as the State broadcaster, before newsrooms are centralised and lose their local niche.
Political inaction poses the greatest threat to Ireland's radio sector, Mr Purcell said, calling on the new minister for communications, former RTE current affairs producer Alex White, to show "courage and vision" in providing funding.
"RTE receives taxpayers' money supposedly to pay for the public service it provides, but in reality the licence fee has been propping up the loss-making 2fm - a pop station with absolutely no public service remit - to the tune of some €12m in recent years," Mr Purcell told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications.
The commercial mandate of RTE also needs to be examined, he continued.
"It is an absolute disgrace that State broadcaster has been allowed to have its cake and eat it for so long, enjoying both commercial revenues and a taxpayer subsidy through the licence fee," Mr Purcell added.
"It is an untenable situation which cannot continue."