Last Friday was a black day in the history of Irish broadcast radio. It was announced that Phantom FM, Ireland’s only alternative music station was to close with the loss of 20 jobs.
Phantom had its genesis as a pirate station back in the nineties and played a highly credible brand of alternative and indie music. Its presenters had a palpable passion for music and a laid-back, earnestness that endeared them to their listeners.
When the station won a commercial licence in 2004 it was inevitable that compromises would be made. The music became more mainstream, the presenters more upbeat, the ad breaks more prevalent.
But it was still a country mile better than the mindless sheep fodder peddled by the likes of FM104, Spin and 2FM.
I’ve always struggled to comprehend the Irish broadcast landscape.
Licences are difficult to procure, expensive, awarded based on the strictest criteria and yet almost every bloody station on this island manages to sound the same.
There was infinitely more variety and quality back in the good old days of pirate radio with niche stations like the incredible Jazz FM catering to eclectic tastes.
All the Broadcast Authority has succeeded in achieving is a frightening homogeneity in the medium. Its risible insistence that a proportion of a station’s programming be devoted to news and current affairs just doesn’t make sense.
Let stations decide what they want to broadcast and the market will dictate the rest.
Leave the taxpayer funded national stations to deliver on their public service remit and let everyone else get on with the business of giving listeners what they want.
But even if they were to see sense, it’s all too late. Listeners are deserting radio stations in their droves for free or premium digital services like Pandora and Spotify that meet their needs, leaving dying stations like the hapless 2FM to fight over the scraps of what’s left.