Friday 30 September 2016

Time to celebrate a centenary of Irish broadcast heroes

The first radio broadcast in Ireland took place during the Rising - and it's still a revolutionary sector, writes John McGee

John McGee

Published 06/03/2016 | 02:30

Contact John McGee at john@adworld.ie
Contact John McGee at john@adworld.ie

As the country continues the countdown to the centenary celebrations of the 1916 Rising on Easter Sunday later this month, pub quiz aficionados will know that the very first radio broadcast in Ireland took place during that fateful week in Irish history.

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Having already occupied the GPO on O'Connell Street, Joseph Plunkett, one of the leaders of the Rising, dispatched a group of seven men to the nearby offices of the Wireless School of Telegraphy, on the corner of Abbey Street, to tell the outside world that an Irish republic had been declared.

While the school itself had been shut down in 1914 by the authorities after the outbreak of the Great War, they managed to get one of the damaged transmitters working.

Using Morse code, the point-to-point radio broadcast that went out to the rest of the world read: "Irish Republic declared in Dublin today. Irish troops have captured city and are in full possession. Enemy cannot move in city. The whole country rising."

As we all know, the rest is history.

Fast forward 100 years and the Irish radio industry has every reason to celebrate the first radio broadcast in Ireland. Often over-looked and sometimes taken for granted in a digital-centric media world, radio is perhaps the most enduring of all media platforms and has survived, thrived and evolved to cope with whatever has been thrown at it.

And, despite what the 1980s' pop-band The Buggles said, video did not kill the radio star and most likely never will. Nor will often over-hyped music-focused platforms like Spotify, Google Play, SoundCloud or iTunes Radio.

The reason for all of this is simple: people are still listening to radio. The most recent batch radio listenership figures - the Joint National Listenership Research (JNLR) - shows that approximately three million of the Irish adult population tune into a radio station on a daily basis. That's 83pc of the nation.

Back in 1990, it was 2.2 million people. And in case people think that radio listenership is confined to an older demographic, the JNLR figures, which are compiled by the research firm Ipsos MRBI, show that 77pc of 15-34-year-olds are habitual radio listeners. Nor is radio listenership confined to the big national stations like RTE Radio 1 or Today FM.

In fact, local and regional radio stations account for as much as 54pc of all minutes listened to on a daily basis.

In terms of our national media consumption habits, it is right up there with TV, press and online. Though hamstrung by outdated commercial codes in terms of the sponsorship and commercially-led content it can put before advertisers and their brands (this may change later this year), our 35 commercial radio stations attract around 14pc of national advertising spend. And while the sector may be punching below its weight, it has not been found wanting in terms of its chutzpah.

Leveraging off its strong social footprint across platforms like Facebook and Twitter and its intimate knowledge of its listeners, radio has been steadily pushing beyond its traditional boundaries and mind-set into a number of different areas, like live events, brand partnerships and content-focused offerings, such as podcasts and live-streaming.

Who, for example, would have thought five years ago that a successful radio programme like Off the Ball would pack the Three Arena with a live event? Or that the winner of the Grand Prix at the annual Media Awards in 2015 was not a high-spending, high-profile TV or digital campaign but rather a "live" co-sponsored broadcast from Vicar Street of 98FM's Naked Breakfast show in front of an audience of 400 people?

The next chapter in radio's evolution has begun. The growth of digital audio and the number of people listening to radio on their mobile phone or tablet, offers additional revenue streams. As much as 72pc of all digital audio streamed, including the likes of podcasts, catch-up and live programming, is now being streamed through mobile devices.

Assuming that the sector can position itself properly in this space, the rewards could be substantial as it will allow for the programmatic buying of radio ads based on demographics and market segmentation.

The challenge, however, will be to ensure that it does not cannibalise existing ad spend, and the industry, instead, will have to chase by digital advertising budgets.

So, while the immediate future of radio is bright, who knows what may happen over the next 100 years. But if a rebellion was staged in Dublin or Cork tomorrow, we would most likely read about it first on the Facebook and Twitter feeds of the country's radio stations and newspapers. And, if we are lucky, there may even be a Haagen Dazs-sponsored outside broadcast unit nearby with Joe Duffy on hand to hear onlookers' tales of woe.

Contact John McGee at john@adworld.ie

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