Monday 24 November 2014

Save us from these 'niche' merchants

Marty Whelan disproves all the fine theories of the technocrats

Published 20/04/2014 | 02:30

Marty Whelan
Marty Whelan
Easy listening

A NICHE music radio licence for Dublin city and county is up for renewal, with two remaining contenders last week making a public presentation to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

The incumbent Sunshine 106.8 would veer towards the "Michael Buble" and "classic soul" and "crossover country" end of things while the rival Country FM, as the name suggests, would keep it country.

There is a difference, apparently.

Indeed, a director of Country FM disagreed strongly with the idea that "you have to break everything up with Michael Buble, BB King, Frank Sinatra and The Temptations". In words which suggest that there is now a deep ideological rift in the whole Easy Listenin' project, he added: "save me from classic soul".

To the layman, certain other issues arise here. Like, how did it ever come to pass that there is such a thing as a "niche music radio licence for Dublin city and county" anyway? What's wrong with just an empty space at 106.8? And how can you call that a "niche"? Is there no other forum for the works of Michael Buble?

Leaving that aside, and acknowledging that nobody gives a damn anyway, it is still marvellous to know that a man who is deeply involved in these negotiations can regard BB King, Frank Sinatra and The Temptations as artists who "break everything up".

I don't think I've ever heard any of them described in those terms

before, certainly not by someone with a professional interest in popular music, and as for the cri de coeur, "save me from classic soul", that too is a new one.

I also ask myself how any resolution of this contest can ever give us a result that is better than what Marty Whelan is doing already most mornings on Lyric fm? Marty too was assigned a "niche" which, in technical terms, would be known as the "shite music" niche.

Yet he has broken out of it magnificently, to reveal the humanity that stirs beneath all those restrictive formulae. No doubt it was intended that Marty, the old pro, would play nothing but classical pap, music for people who don't like music.

And he still does a bit of that, a bit of "Now That's What I Call Classical!", to fulfil certain nominal obligations. But Marty has taste too, concealed about his person. And he's willing to use it.

Having smuggled in Ennio Morricone as a kind of all-purpose high quality replacement for much of the yellow-pack classical pap, he "breaks everything up", as it were, with your John Martyns, your Harry Nilssons, your Carole Kings, your Jimmy Webbs, and some esoteric choices such as the 1973 hit Gonna Make You An Offer You Can't Refuse by Jimmy Helms, which bespeaks a deep commitment to truth, and to beauty.

Interestingly, we recently heard the appalling suggestion that Marty might be replaced on Winning Streak by Marty Morrissey, perhaps an indication that at some level, even sub-consciously, his subtle departures from the "total shite" format are viewed as a sign of subversive tendencies.

Yet he reminds us that the individual broadcaster can defeat all these fine theories of the demographers and the technocrats. Gerry Ryan too, gave leadership in this area, becoming such a dominant force in 2fm with his own personality that when he was gone, effectively the entire station was gone.

Presumably there was some template drawn up way back, defining the nature of 2fm, the various "niches" that it was meant to represent, the basic rules of the 2fm game. And it all turned out to be a waste of time, because 2fm as it turned out, could be defined in two words: Gerry Ryan.

Ominously, the latest 2fm chief devised a new set of rules for the station, which included a ban on playing any piece of music recorded before 1990. He also declared at a recent conference that a station must be destroyed in order to be rebuilt, which is the sort of thing they like to hear at conferences. Though it invites the comment that perhaps in the case of 2fm, destroying it would be enough.

It might be simpler all round to analyse whatever success 2fm has achieved in the past and to copy that – again the results of that analysis would provide the answer, 'Gerry Ryan' – and while by definition Ryan can't be copied, the principle of finding people who are just very good at broadcasting is one that stands.

If you can do that, you probably don't need all that horse-manure about banning records made before 1990 and destroying in order to rebuild.

It is not easy, but for RTE at the moment, it is not that hard either. As it happens, they have already given employment to the old Off the Ball team from Newstalk, who, having forged a brilliant reputation on radio, were duly given a television programme by RTE – clearly they couldn't just put them on the radio, because that would be too easy.

Ideally Second Captains, as they now style themselves, would effectively be handed the keys of 2fm and told to get on with it.

That would work.

There wouldn't be much in it for the "niche" merchants, for the ones who declare that 1990 is Year Zero, for those who say "save me from classic soul".

But it would work.

Sunday Independent

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