Bonus Post: should we require 20% Irish music on Irish radio?

A few short weeks ago, you might remember us covering a story where Dave Fanning and Louis Walsh called for more Irish music to be played on Irish radio. That exact same week, 98FM canceled their long running Irish music show. This move was heavily criticised by some in the Irish Music industry, with some feeling the radio industry pays little more than lip service to Irish Artists..

The calls for change have only gotten louder since then, as over 100 people have now signed a petition calling for stations to play more Irish music. More on that in a moment.

not everyone is 100% on board with this call however. A number of months back, a poll on the Radio Land Instagram found that 60% of people said they didn’t think the BAI should enforce a 20% rule. While our sample size was admittedly tiny, it shows that there are people on that side as well.

So should we play 20% Irish music on licensed stations? In this post we’ll take a look at that and examine the view on both sides.

Let’s start with the Play More Irish campaign

Play More Irish Logo, with the hashtag PlayMoreIrish

Introducing Rory from Dublin. Rory is a 38 year old music fan, but he doesn’t work in the industry. Rory created the Play More Irish petition to try and get Irish stations to Play More Irish music on air.

This petition (to be sent to the minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media) has received over 100 signatures so far, and continues to gain more quickly. The petition page makes a number of points on why Irish Music should be played more.

  • Radio plays an important role in introducing listeners to new music and artists, Each licensed station should be required to devote a minimum 20% of its weekly music broadcasting to Irish artists
  • Both Canada & France have policies in place to ensure their homegrown talent is given their fair share of airplay. (more on that in a minute)
  • They also quote Dave and Louis, worth noting that Dave Fanning actually called for 25% while the petition Is only calling for a 20% minimum

So a general argument there is that it would benefit our artists, and if other countries can do it, why can’t we?

It’s an interesting point of view for sure. So, what are the rules like in other countries?

I’m going to focus on Canada specifically here as ireland and Canada would probably have more musically in common, considering the American influence. Also, these are rules for commercial stations, just know the public service broadcaster has stricter guidelines.

In Canada, a commercial station playing pop music is required to play 35% Canadian music. It’s also a requirement that 35% of the music played between 6AM and 6 PM is Canadian. This rule applies Monday to Friday.

For special interest stations, that number is 10%, with a higher percentage for certain sub categories of music. The 6am-6pm rule doesn’t apply, however, stations are required to ensure that Canadian tracks “are scheduled in a reasonable manner throughout the broadcast day”

So, the question is, should something similar be done here in Ireland? Well, let’s take a look at the other side.

The other side of the coin

We posted a story on Instagram asking for people to share their opinion. We specifically asked for people who disagreed with the 20% rule as we wanted to try provide as much balance as possible. we also gave people the option to remain Anonymous so they didn’t need to worry about upsetting employers, interestingly, everyone we spoke to requested anonymity.

So, how did that go? Well it was interesting. Most people who contacted us actually supported a quota, with some having quite strong words on the subject.

There’s no way you can cover someone who wants to deny Irish artists fair airplay in a way that comes off well. It’s a hilariously dated opinion. an Uplift petition isn’t going to change anyone’s minds. Music is the pesky thing inbetween ads for the commercial broadcasters. Radio is meant to document what’s happening, not tell people what to like

From a former podcast producer for a station in the south of the country

One presenter on a Dublin commercial station said that they felt that artists needed more support to make their music radio ready. We asked this podcaster if they agreed, but they argued that radio shouldn’t try to be so polished.

I think radio needs to drop a dated format and play all kinds of music, not just shiny pop. Stop talking down to your audience and play the raw hip-hop, the eight-minute post-rock track. People want authenticity, not polish

From podcaster in south of the country

It was hard to argue with this, it’s true that most stations in Ireland do have a very polished CHR sound.. But, this leads to an interesting question, what is Irish music anyway?

When people are requesting more Irish artists to be played are they actually looking for more formats of music to be played? Do people want more Irish artists, more variety, or possibly both? It’s hard to say. The presenter on the Dublin station made an interesting point in this regard.

Picture This, Gavin James and Hozier all sound Irish, but when you’ve got the likes of Moncrieff, Marty Guilfoyle, John Gibbons, Soule and even JC Stewart (from Northern Ireland I believe), you don’t think they’re Irish. They have a sound that they could be from anywhere, so it could leave some people thinking there’s not much Irish music being played on the radio

A presenter from a Dublin commercial station

This is an interesting point, is more Irish music being played then we realise?

I’ve just had a look and I’ve got four Irish songs in my first hour. I feel like that’s a decent amount, I’ll play probably 16-18 songs? Like it’s not an awful ratio

Presenter from Dublin

This is interesting as even if they’re were 20 songs in that hour (unlikely on a commercial station), that still hits the 20% requested in the Play More Irish petition. So are we just hitting the quota already without even noticing?

While I can’t back it up with statistics, I doubt it unfortunately. We did ask IMRO if they could provide a breakdown on percentages of Irish music played, but unfortunately we haven’t got a response as of publication.

Even though the presenter from Dublin thought that Irish artist‘s needed support to make their music radio ready, they also said that they felt the idea of a quota was fair enough. They also pointed out that there is a quota already in place for individual stations, even if it isn’t universal.

All this made it difficult to get a clear picture around why some people don’t think there should be a BAI enforced quota.I know these views are out there however so let’s play devils advocate for a minute. Here are some reasons people may be against it.

  • The general idea that a lot of Irish music isn’t radio ready. This goes hand in hand with the idea that radio should try maintain a more polished sound
  • The idea that the BAI shouldn’t be creating more rules. That stations should maintain more creative freedom when building their playlists.
  • The idea that playing Irish artist’s wouldn’t be viable, as it’s just not what the majority of people really want.

All those are valid arguments, it really just depends what your perspective is.

So should we play more Irish music then? And where do we go from here?

This really depends on your perspective. It’s obvious that radio airplay is important to artists, but it’s also obvious that music from many Irish artists doesn’t fit within the common CHR formats around the country.

It would seem however that it would be possible. Look at the artists mentioned earlier by our presenter from Dublin. Picture This, Gavin James, Hozier, Moncrieff, Marty Guilfoyle, John Gibbons, Soule, JC Stewart. You start adding names like Lea Heart or Stephanie Rainey to that list and it becomes easy to hit a 20% quota without sacrificing quality.

Even for more specialist stations like classic Hits, a 20% quota wouldn’t be hard to hit. But is this solving the problem?

If your argument is simply to play Irish artists, that’s something that should be very achievable. and from our experience doesn’t get any very vocal objections. But what I’ve noticed from some is that they simply want more variety in music selection, they want a break from the CHR/ shiny pop. That becomes a harder question to answer and is kind of beyond the scope of this post. it is interesting though for sure.

How likely is it that we’ll see a quota in the future?

The only person who can really answer that question is the minister responsible for all this stuff. That would be Catherine Martin TD.

We asked the minister if she thought there should be a quota for Irish music on Irish radio, and if so what that quota should be.

Following our query, we were given a statement from the department for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. The response is interesting to say the least.

There are a number of legal and other factors which must be taken into account when considering the feasibility of introducing airplay quotas. The potential benefit to music production in Ireland must be balanced with the rights of broadcasters, subject to their contractual or regulatory obligations, to determine the type of content they wish to broadcast and to ensure commercial revenue particularly in the context of the current media climate. Importantly, the introduction of airplay quotas would need to be consistent with EU law. A quota for music produced in a particular Member State would be considered to restrict free movement of services by placing music produced in other Member States at a disadvantage. Given the legal challenges arising, the Government is not currently considering airplay quotas based on production location.

Statement from the department in relation to airplay quota’s

I’m sure some people will look at this and roar the word France, but at least this answers our question.

For now at least, airplay quotas aren’t being considered. Whatever you think of the reason, that’s where we’re at. It may be a case that maybe this could be solved with a European quota, but that’s all just speculation at this point. For now it seems there’s no quota on its way in the immediate future.

In summary

Most people we spoke to are in favour of an airplay quota, but it’s not currently being considered by the department for a number of reasons.

So what’s the takeaway here? Well, just because there isn’t a quota on the horizon, doesn’t mean stations can’t step up and do it themselves. There’s some positive press to be gained by supporting Irish artists so it’s certainly worth considering for stations.

The more people want it, the more likely it becomes. Who knows what the future brings, but for now, that’s where we’re at.

Other comments

We did also get a few interesting comments that simply didn’t really fit anywhere above. We’ll share them here so you can make up your own mind, but keep in mind that it’s fairly one sided. As we explained, we didn’t really get any comments strongly against the quota despite asking for those views. So, here’s a selection of some of the comments we received.

We asked Rory from the Play More Irish Campaign what his response would be to those who argue that more quota’s limit stations a bit too much.

I would say that in this digital age where I can listen to radio stations all over the world, why would I choose an Irish radio station, unless they offer good native local content. It makes total sense to me that Irish stations should feature good Irish content. The exposure for the artists also helps to build a healthier music industry & music scene in this great little island. In relation to limiting stations a bit too much 20% is a lot lower than what’s being done in Canada & France in comparison, I don’t feel it would be too limiting, there would need to be exceptions to the rules for Special Interest shows, for example a radio show that only plays pre-1960’s Jazz might find good Irish content hard to come by, but by following the Canadian model it wouldn’t be too difficult to allow for this. If it works for them, It can work for us. Play More Irish is not about limiting or restricting stations, Its about asking them to look outside their own front door rather than over the water. We have the Talent, a 20% quota as a reminder of that won’t hurt the radio stations.

Rory from Play More Irish

And let’s close with another comment from our podcast producer. They basically summarised the issue with one comment. This seems to embody a lot of the feelings from the music industry, so will maybe give schedulers some food for thought.

98 had a good thing with Totally Irish and f***ed it. Today sacked Paul McLoone – why? The commercial sector is actively making itself irrelevant. Commercial also needs to take Irish music out of dead air time and into the playlists. But document what’s happening in the real world, not pushing more industry b******s

Podcaster from south of the country

If you want to sign the play more Irish petition you can do that here

Thanks for reading and sharing your views

Huge thanks to everyone who read this post, and thanks in particular to those of you who shared your views.

We’d love to explore more of the industry’s views at some stage in the future, but that’s only possible when we have a large enough group willing to share their perspective. if you’d be interested in sharing your view going forward, give us a follow on Twitter and Instagram so you hear our call outs for opinions😃 you can also now like us on Facebook as well if that’s your thing. 📱

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Thanks again for reading, and remember to check back each Saturday for all the latest radio industry news📻.

Quote’s in this article are those of the individuals who made them, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Radio Land or it’s writers.

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