Say hello, medium wave goodbye

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Mum and Dad

Growing up in an Irish household in the Northwest of England and moving back and forth to the family home in Ireland emphasised the power of media to me. It meant that I felt more connected to the rest of my family in a way that letters and the occasional parcel ever did.

RTE Radio 1’s medium wave service provided a backdrop to my childhood:

  • The frantic commentary of GAA hurling and football matches by Michael O’Hehir and later Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh
  • My Granny and my Uncle who lived on the family farm listening solemnly to the prices on Farm Week and holding an impromptu dance to Ceili House
  • Frankie Byrne’s dry agony aunt delivery and selection of Frank Sinatra records.
  • My Mum demanding absolute quiet in the house whilst radio soap opera Harbour Hotel was on
  • The excitement of hearing the progress that Santa Claus was making on Christmas Eve

I still have it on in the background especially in the early morning, only this time I stream it over my broadband connection. For people like my parents who have retired the connection is much more powerful. My parents are fortunate as they live in an area where they can receive the long wave transmission that RTE continues to broadcast, but for much of the elderly Irish diaspora in the UK this lifeline has been cut with closure of RTE’s medium wave service.

There is a clash between technological progress (RTE will instead be broadcasting a television channel for the diaspora across Europe via the FreeSat service by 2009) and its social obligations as a public service broadcaster.

People of my parents generation are not particularly adept at taking up new technologies (generally the older we are, the less likely we are to adopt new technology) and often don’t have the funds or are afraid of the price of their phone. They still of a mindset that the sound of the phone bill dropping on the door mat was something to be afraid of.

There is a bigger lesson in this for us all: in a continent with an aging population how will this extreme level of non-adoption affect Europe in the future?