The mys­tery of just what our li­cence fee is fund­ing

Eilis O’han­lon

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - GUIDE -

JOHN Kelly is one of the best broad­cast­ers in Ire­land, and Mys­tery Train is ar­guably the finest mu­sic pro­gramme on Ir­ish ra­dio. Its ax­ing from Ra­dio One more than a decade ago re­mains one of RTE’S more ques­tion­able de­ci­sions. That doesn’t mean its cur­rent re­vival on a dif­fer­ent sta­tion is the right call ei­ther.

Lyric FM may be try­ing to re­brand it­self as “a mu­sic sta­tion with a clas­si­cal bias whilst also of­fer­ing the lis­tener a vast and eclec­tic ar­ray of mu­sic from all pe­ri­ods, con­ti­nents, gen­res, styles” — but its orig­i­nal remit was much clearer. It was “Ire­land’s na­tional clas­si­cal mu­sic and arts sta­tion”, and, as such, lis­ten­ers knew ex­actly what to ex­pect.

These days, as well as lots of Kelly’s beloved free jazz, any­one tun­ing in of an even­ing is more likely to hear Leonard Co­hen, Bob Dy­lan, Bjork, Ra­dio­head; even, re­cently, God Save The Queen by the Sex Pis­tols, and the theme mu­sic from ’70s’ po­lice show, The Streets Of San Fran­cisco.

There’s a se­ri­ous ques­tion here, which is: why is li­cence fee money fund­ing this?

Peo­ple might be will­ing to pay for a pub­lic ser­vice that makes room for less pop­u­lar cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties, fund­ing per­form­ers and com­posers of new mu­sic... but the Sex Pis­tols? Se­ri­ously?

The same goes for 2FM. There’s no dis­cernible dif­fer­ence be­tween its out­put and that on com­mer­cial pop mu­sic sta­tions — so why should it be pub­licly funded by a sin­gle cent? What’s cra­zier is that this shift in Lyric pol­icy is not even bring­ing in larger au­di­ences, so can­not be jus­ti­fied on crowd-pleas­ing grounds.

Marty In The Morn­ing is fly­ing in the rat­ings with its blend of cheery ban­ter, light clas­si­cal and easy lis­ten­ing, but the sta­tion over­all lost 12pc of its au­di­ence in the third quar­ter of 2018 alone, and has a na­tional share of just 1.7pc, down from 4pc a few short years ago. Mys­tery Train now has 8,000 fewer lis­ten­ers than the pre­sen­ter’s for­mer af­ter­noon show, The John Kelly En­sem­ble. Not only that, but its cur­rent au­di­ence of 22,0000 is lower than the 28,000 who in 2017 were tun­ing in nightly to The Lyric Con­cert which it re­placed.

It’s also pro­duced the bizarre sit­u­a­tion where the sec­ond hour of Mys­tery Train now com­petes di­rectly with The John Cree­don Show on RTE Ra­dio One, thereby squeez­ing the po­ten­tial au­di­ence of mu­sos fur­ther.

Lyric is chron­i­cally un­der­funded, re­ceiv­ing a mere 2pc of RTE’S over­all bud­get, and hasn’t re­ceived an in­crease since 2013; but ex­panded fund­ing wouldn’t solve this stag­na­tion. In­stead it’s about RTE’S fail­ure to de­fine what Lyric stands for, or un­der­stand what its lis­ten­ers want.

New­stalk’s Mon­crieff does seem to know what his au­di­ence wants, which is quirk­i­ness leav­ened with a dash of pop­u­lar science. On Tues­day, Sean asked whether an­i­mals can know right from wrong.

The an­swer? It’s com­pli­cated... but per­haps. It de­pends what you mean by moral­ity. Rats, for one, stop eat­ing if the re­sult of tak­ing food is that other rats are given elec­tric shocks. There was one no­table ex­cep­tion, though: “Kan­ga­roos seem to be pretty stupid.”

So much for Skippy’s rep­u­ta­tion. Is noth­ing sa­cred?


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