Radio: Dublin loses out again

They give with one hand and they take with the other. Just four years after Dublin got its own local station, Newstalk 106, it has been transformed to a national station.

It can’t be said that Newstalk was a parochial animal but it was unmistakably a Dublin station. The context was Dublin and the texters, a vital part of any modern talk radio format, were from Dublin.

When Newstalk goes national next week that will have to change. They can’t expect people in Galway, Cork, and Limerick to tune in and not get a mention. They can’t be expected to name lesser known areas of Dublin without explaining where these places are. In other words, the Dublin context will be lost.

Does this matter?

Well, yes it does. Dublin gets lots of coverage but not in a intimate way. It’s discussed as a political centre, a cultural centre, a business centre. A super place for a weekend away. Somewhere to plonk your HQ as it will be near everyone else’s HQ.

Dublin, in short, is where it’s at. So the national and international media cover Dublin from every angle. Except how Dublin people relate to Dublin.

In order for any place to function it needs to be able to talk to itself. Ireland has national media. Every other county has dedicated newspapers. But Dublin doesn’t seem to function that way and as a result Dublin only really gets considered in a national context.

Having a talk radio station would have helped. Over time a growing Newstalk audience from across the city would have helped to get things sorted out. Now that will be dissipated.

And it’s official. When Newstalk were awarded the quasi-national licence (the quasi means that it will only be broadcasting to the major cities) the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) stripped it of its Dublin licence. Which presumably means that the Dublin City and County licence will be offered to another talk based radio.

Frankly, if that’s the case (and I can’t find out if it is) it’s not worth diddly squat. The opportunity for a genuinely Dublin station has been squandered. There are so many stations on offer, in so many categories and overlapping markets, that it will be impossible for a local station to establish itself. It took heroic efforts by Newstalk to build up its few percentage points in the ratings over four years.

And if the citywide scene doesn’t look so good, the local set-up isn’t much better. We have local radio stations scattered over the city but their impact is minimal. NEAR fm is probably the pick of them and has sought new audiences, like ethnic minorities, to stay relevant. But the local stations tend to cover broad areas of the city crossing areas without much in common locally.

Anna Livia is the best candidate to replace Newstalk as the Dublin station. It has proven itself useful in the mornings with its mixture of live reportage on the traffic and thirty-something music. It needs to be allowed to put itself on a more commercial footing.

Maybe citywide concepts just don’t work in Dublin. Or aren’t allowed to. We have four local authorities to run one city, for example. If I was a conspiratorial kind of guy I might conclude that this is not just a coincidence.

Maybe someone up there doesn’t want Dublin to reach its potential.