‘You can do what­ever you want on-air’

In­de­pen­dent sta­tion Dublin Dig­i­tal Ra­dio is proud of its out­sider sta­tus and takes a stand on so­cial and po­lit­i­cal is­sues, writes Niall Byrne

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

With daily lis­ten­er­ship at 80 per cent among Ir­ish adults, ra­dio is still as sig­nif­i­cant as ever in Ir­ish cul­ture and me­dia con­sump­tion. De­spite this fact, the space for sounds that aren’t ex­clu­sively of a com­mer­cial na­ture has shrunk in re­cent years. With a few ex­cep­tions, there is scant op­por­tu­nity for mu­si­cal sur­prises on air in Ire­land.

Eschew­ing tra­di­tional FM/AM out­put, Dublin Dig­i­tal Ra­dio (DDR) started broad­cast­ing on­line last Oc­to­ber with an in­ter­est in cater­ing to the more ad­ven­tur­ous, cu­ri­ous lis­tener. Tak­ing its cue from com­mu­nity ra­dio else­where, such as NTS in Lon­don, Ber­lin Com­mu­nity Ra­dio, Red Light in Am­s­ter­dam and Subc­ity in Glas­gow, the in­de­pen­dent non-profit sta­tion runs through lis­ten.dublindig­i­tal­ra­dio.com/ and is vol­un­teer-led. Since its in­cep­tion a year ago, the sta­tion has reached more than 5,000 lis­ten­ers a month.

The sta­tion op­er­ates out of Jig­saw, near Moun­tjoy Square, Dublin, in a build­ing that houses the of­fices of the Work­ers Sol­i­dar­ity Move­ment, al­ter­na­tive me­dia plat­form Rab­ble, a mu­sic stu­dio and an events space.

When I visit, a gang of vol­un­teers are meet­ing to or­gan­ise the run­ning of the sta­tion. When they’re not in the build­ing they keep in touch on mes­sag­ing app Slack. I meet with Brian McNa­mara (a stu­dent of Mu­sic and Me­dia Tech­nol­ogy in Trin­ity who DJs as Breen), Cathy Flynn (a re­cent ra­dio un­der­grad work­ing in de­sign­ing videog­ra­phy), and Sean Fin­nan (a TEFL teacher who also works in a bar). While the sta­tion is broad­cast­ing up­stairs, Tai Chi takes place in their down­stairs event space, which is also used for hous­ing ac­tion-group meet­ings, refugee and mi­grant din­ners, and weekly movie screen­ings for the home­less.

“It’s like a parish hall ba­si­cally,” says Fin­nan of their base of op­er­a­tions.

“It’s more than the ra­dio,” of­fers McNa­mara. “It has the same role as a record shop in a way, as a place for peo­ple to come and hang out and talk to each other. If we had to be in an in­dus­trial es­tate in Blan­chard­stown, it wouldn’t be the same en­ergy.”

Lis­tener-funded

DDR is en­tirely funded by lis­ten­ers and the oc­ca­sional par­ties the sta­tion throws in their event space. A sub­scrip­tion on cre­ator-sup­port­ing plat­form Pa­treon helps pay the sta­tion’s rent and equip­ment up­keep.

“There are a lot of peo­ple who want to lis­ten to the ra­dio in the day­time but there’s noth­ing in­ter­est­ing there,” McNa­mara says. “There’s a lot of stuff hap­pen­ing in Dublin and fur­ther afield that isn’t rep­re­sented on the ra­dio. We wanted DDR to be a space for those artists and la­bels who were just not part of the con­ver­sa­tion.”

The sta­tion em­braces its out­sider sta­tus and takes a stand on so­cial and po­lit­i­cal is­sues. DDR has run all-day events such as 24 Hours of Women’s Voices in sup­port of Re­peal, a Pride col­lab­o­ra­tion with This Greedy Pig and Smirnoff, along with live broad­casts from Sounds From A Safe Har­bour and Record Store Day, which help boost aware­ness of its ex­is­tence.

DDR’s shows are var­ied, playlist-free and wide-rang­ing, and most of its pre­sen­ters are drawn from the Ir­ish mu­sic and cre­ative com­mu­nity. Pre­sen­ters in­clude El­lll, Gib Cas­sidy (Elas­tic Witch), The Thin Air, Joni, Neil O’Con­nor (So­madrone), Ais­ling O’Rior­dan (Quar­ter Block Party), DJ Lolz, Dwayne Woods, Cáit Fa­hey and Rob­bie Kitt.

You could hear am­bi­ent, synth-pop, house, hip-hop, left­field elec­tron­ica, indie, ex­per­i­men­tal, folk, jazz, ev­ery­thing in-between and beyond like Quiet An­gry Women, a fort­nightly show fea­tur­ing “pow­er­ful tunes from pow­er­ful women”.

“A lot of shows on DDR are re­ally far out,” says McNa­mara. “We have peo­ple play­ing field record­ings and all sorts of stuff. The whole point of be­ing here is that there are no rules. You can do what­ever you want on-air.”

A lo-fi charm

Broad­cast­ing on the in­ter­net 24/7 can be done cheaply and DDR’s pre­sen­ters are still find­ing their voice. Some­times they don’t speak clearly into the mic or aren’t the smoothest op­er­a­tors (on a re­cent show the pre­sen­ter was fum­bling with a USB stick on-air try­ing to see what was on it to play), but there’s an in­ti­mate, ram­shackle charm to its shows, and the vol­un­teers are the first to ad­mit that the sta­tion is al­ways striv­ing to im­prove in qual­ity, and pre­sen­ters have gained in ex­pe­ri­ence. McNa­mara points to Jill Wood­nut, who presents the weekly hip-hop show Staxx

Lyri­cal, as an ex­am­ple of progress.

“When she first started her show, you could barely hear her talk­ing,” McNa­mara says. “Now she’s played Elec­tric Pic­nic, Body & Soul, is do­ing reg­u­lar gigs and is so con­fi­dent now. She has all th­ese Ir­ish hip-hop artists in ev­ery week. She wouldn’t have got the chance to do that any­where else.”

DDR’s lack of li­cens­ing means it is free to do what it likes likes when broad­cast­ing and it doesn’t sound like the sta­tion will be seek­ing a tem­po­rary FM li­cence any­time soon.

“You’re go­ing to be cen­sored,” Flynn says. “We don’t have to play with this no­tion of bal­ance in the me­dia if we don’t have a li­cence. Maybe it would be a nov­elty for a while to get more lis­ten­ers. If we got a BAI li­cence, we’d have to play by their rules and some of the rules are good – like en­cour­ag­ing broad­casts in Ir­ish – but over­all it’d change how we op­er­ate too much.”

There’s a lot of stuff hap­pen­ing in Dublin and fur­ther afield that isn’t rep­re­sented on the ra­dio. We wanted DDR to be a space for those artists and la­bels who were just not part of the con­ver­sa­tion

All hands on decks DDR helps funds its op­er­a­tions through par­ties in its shared space

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