REVIEW – Gareth Shines In New Slot On 4FM

Today saw the debut of Classic Hits 4FM‘s new lineup, and the move of Gareth O’Callaghan to a new afternoon/drive slot, running from 3-7pm.

I’m not normally near a radio mid-afternoon, but I made a special effort to tune in today, as I really wanted to hear how Gareth sounded on the new show. He did a superb job on breakfast for the last two years, but freed from some of the more serious morning gloom (the last two years has seen Ireland waking up to ever more depressing morning news bulletins) he is really free to shine, and that he does.

Afternoons is Gareth’s old home from his RTE 2FM days, and he certainly sounded comfortable as well as hugely energised on the new show. And I’m pleased to see that his fellow ex-Sunshine newsreader Cathy Creegan has moved with him – they blend well together.

I’m not usually a music listener at drivetime – the news programmes on RTE Radio 1 or BBC Radio 4 usually have a hold on me – but listening to Gareth coming stomping out of the 5pm bulletin with Prince’s Raspberry Beret reminded me just how good a good drivetime show can be, and made me think that I might be tempted away from the speech stations more often in future.

Gareth O’Callaghan can be heard on Classic Hits 4fm each weekday from 3-7pm in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, and via


Going Offshore with Seagull in June

LV Jenni Baynton, showing light tower and radio mast.

That time of year has come around again – the annual excursion by the Dutch broadcaster Radio Seagull when it puts out to sea for a month on the former lightship which acts as a studio and transmission base for both Seagull and its sister station Radio Waddenzee.

The Jenni Baynton will be anchored 8 miles offshore from the coastal town of Harlingen and transmitting on 1602Khz AM, with the usual internet feeds.

I will be living on board from June 2nd to 13th, a longer period than last year, and I’m really looking forward to getting the chance to indulge in my love of all things maritime, and rubbing shoulders and exchanging musical ideas with the other Seagull and Waddenzee staff, which will hopefully result in some fine programmes. The ship itself will be offshore until the end of the month, including some time spent located at the island of Terschelling for a local festival.

For the duration of my stay on the ship, I will be on air nightly at 7-10pm local time (6-9pm Irish/UK time), every day except Friday 3rd.

I’ll blog regularly from the ship when mobile reception permits, and I’m also hoping the peaceful atmosphere on board will lend itself to some quality writing time also, as I’m way behind on my second book.

Further details next week.


New Work At Last Wednesday Tonight

Just a reminder that I’ll be reading tonight at the monthly Last Wednesday writers open mic in Dublin, brought to you by Seven Towers at the Twisted Pepper in Abbey Street.

As well as new material from my second-book-in-progress, I will also read something I wrote 28 years ago, long before my radio days.

The Last Wednesday readings feature a wide variety of poetry, prose and sometimes comedy from new and established Irish writers, it’s free in, and a great evenings entertainment.

Door open 7pm.


How Stupid Are We?

I wonder sometimes, how bright we are as a society, when we have to have signs like this to remind us . .


In Context: Radio Caroline’s brave (but wise) move to exit Sky EPG

News this week from Radio Caroline which has confirmed today that it will be leaving the Sky EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) in a calculated move to focus its media spend on the forms of distribution which are most productive in terms of audience. The station will continue to broadcast on a satellite channel, which will be available by manual tuning, details of which are to be announced later.

The Radio Caroline statement:

Our recent survey into the listening habits of our audience has shown that only a small percentage are listening using SKY 0199.

The findings duplicated the results of a similar survey we carried out 2008 but showed satellite listening had fallen by a further 9%. At the same time on-line listening has increased by around 40% and continues to grow. This information came as we were considering whether to also obtain an EPG on FreeSat.

As a result of this we have tried, but without success, to renegotiate prices with both providers. Therefore we have decided not to proceed with FreeSat and to give up our SKY 0199 Electronic Programme Guide. This change may happen either soon, or in the medium term.

We will still have a presence on satellite but this will require manual tuning. It is hoped there will be no interruption to the service, but there may be a brief period of satellite silence while the changes are made. We will then explain how to tune Caroline in manually via SKY, FreeSat and any UK standard satellite receiver.

When the required information is provided to us, we aim to set up a dedicated telephone help line to assist listeners affected by the change. Information will also be on the web site.

There is a substantial cost saving that will result from this decision and we hope that this can be used for future expansion and to improve our current facilities.

As a presenter with Radio Caroline in both its offshore days and the current day operation, and as one of the people involved in the start-up of the satellite service in 1999, I can tell you that, despite a little apprehension at first, I can embrace this move as a positive step for the station.

When Caroline started its regular and ongoing satellite transmissions in early 1999 (taking in its own right a channel vacated by EKR, from whom it had been leasing airtime for the previous six months) satellite was pretty much the only game in town for moving forward on a legal footing, unless you wanted to sell out to corporate investors. Internet broadcasting, while technically an option, was in the most embryonic of states, with pretty dreadful quality, very limited numbers of streams, and dial-up connections making the listening experience one of limited bursts of music followed by “buffering” for most people.

In recent years, ever-increasing access speeds and technological advances in consumer hardware has changed the game profoundly, to the point where even TV (with its much greater bandwidth demand) is watched online frequently. (One example of this is that, according to official figures, 1 million people watched the latest episode of Doctor Who online via the BBC’s iPlayer within a week of broadcast).

There is now no real barrier to being able to serve listeners professionally online, and the advent of wifi radios and smart phones has made things even easier. I now routinely listen to Radio Caroline in the car in Dublin via an iPhone hookup, in a close to FM quality that is better than anything we could have wished for in our offshore days. And  it’s not just Caroline that I listen to this way – BBC Radio 4 can now be listened to in areas outside its longwave coverage, and I use the iPhone to listen to the evening news on RTE Radio if I am travelling by public transport.

Broadcasting live from the Ross Revenge recently, I was delighted to see how many people were listening from all around the world – the USA, South America, Tokyo, Australia – where there is the net, now there is Radio Caroline. By far the vast majority of emails were from people listening online. Here in Dublin, many people I know listen to radio online via apps or wifi radios, but none use the Sky option (or are even aware that it is there – I’m talking “normal”, non-radio people here).

With such a growing and international audience for radio online, it now makes real business sense for Caroline to stop paying a huge five-figure sum just for the benefit of a few inches of screen space on the EPG, and concentrate that money on maintaining and improving the service in more productive ways. And, of course, the satellite will be there too, as a manually tuned option – just as it was for most of the early 2000s.

It’s very easy to cling to the familiar, but to survive in any business you have to not only become good at doing what you do, but also to know when changing what you do is the right thing to do.

Stay tuned to Radio Caroline for details of upcoming changes – via – and keep enjoying the great album tracks from the last 47 years.


When Contestants Leave You High And Dry

Driving across Dublin yesterday afternoon, I caught the tail end of Derek Mooney’s afternoon show on RTE Radio 1, and I listened with a mixture of sympathy and admiration as he coped gamely with the situation that all broadcasters encounter sooner or later – the unresponsive winner.

Derek had some big competition running for listeners with a fairly substantial prize, and he and a co-host made much of how they had put all the correct entries into a spreadsheet, and were now picking the winner using a random number generator.

Poor Derek’s heart though must have sank when he started talking to the winner. My recall of the conversation is not word-perfect, but it went a little like this:

“Congratulations on being our winner, now, could you give the listeners the correct answer to the question we asked?”

“Er . . I can’t remember the question. What was it?”

“In which year did Abba win the Eurovision Song Contest?”

“Oh . . . I don’t know, I can’t remember what I said,  I’d have to look it up”

“Well, you got the answer right, so make a guess”

“er . . 1972?”

“No, it was 1974, but you got the answer right in your entry, so congratulations . . “

Derek handled it well, and kept upbeat, but he must have been talking through gritted teeth. I know I was gritting mine just listening.

It’s a dilemma we all face in radio – how to deal with the person who’s won the big prize, but turns out not to be ideal when put on air. Some stations get around this by pre-recording the winners, calling different people and choosing the most excitabble sounding ones as winners. I don’t believe in doing that myself, the picking and putting on air of a winner should be as “live” and as “real” as possible, even if it does occasionally produce a damp squib.

I had this myself a couple of years ago, when giving out a set of weekend tickets with camping rights for a large music festival in Ireland (package worth at least a couple of hundred euro, and tickets were already sold out, so a great prize to win).

I had done this the year before, to great excitement from a winner , so I was looking forward to putting this one on air. We had hundreds of text entries, and the winner was one who was texter no 105, so no need to choose who was winner.

I put the guy on air and told him he had won. He sounded mildly interested.

So I asked my followup question, designed to get him talking:

So, which band are you most looking forward to seeing?

I’m not sure. I don’t really like seeing bands live.

Gritting my teeth and wondering why he had entered a competition for music festival tickets if he didn’t like seeing bands live, I thought of another angle.

Your prize is a pair of tickets for the full weekend – have you decided who you’d like to take with you?

My wife doesn’t like going to see bands either.

Well, I guess you’ll be popular at work in that case! Is there anyone at work you’d like to bring?

I don’t really like hanging out with the people I work with . . .

All you can do as a broadcaster at that stage is cut it short,congratulate the winner again, remind the audience excitedly that there is another pair of tickets still to be given out later in the weekend and kick into a bloody strong song . . .

The next year I was apprehensive when my turn came round again, but I had no need to worry. My winner squealed with delight, and you could almost see her jumping up and down.


Finally, Someone Talks Sense On Radio Audience Figures

There's more to driving audience growth than just flicking switches

A great post from Christopher England today on his England’s England blog –

Chris talks about music radio audience, and why niche market stations can sometimes drive their listener figures in the wrong direction when they try to apply “accepted wisdom” to their programming philosophy. I won’t quote him here – you should head over and read the full thing – but I will say that there is more than one station in my own market, Dublin, that could do with following his advice.

You may not have come across Christopher England  before, but you may well have listened to stations that used him behind the scenes.

Chris has always been a bright kid, ahead of the pack, and with a special interest in talk radio he always has something to say, and it’s usually worth listening to. From the landbased pirates in London in the early 80s, through Caroline offshore and on to stations such as TalkSport, Chris has worked at the sharp end long enough to know what’s what, and his career includes launching and running his own satellite radio station – Euronet – with a mixture of speech and music programming that was a little ahead of its time in 1992.

People sometimes talk about their “fantasy radio lineup” and if I ever win the lottery and buy my own radio station, Chris will be on mine twice – once with his unique brand of talk show, and again as creative director for evening/overnight 7pm-7am output.

Chris’s daily updates will have you laughing, thinking, and occasionally spitting, but they are always worth reading, even those that I disagree with.

His columns on mass-market  radio should be printed out and pinned up on the programme directors wallboard.


Steve now adfree, and more noisy.

Just a very quick note – I’ve paid for a couple of upgrades from WordPress to enhance the enjoyment of your visits.

As of today, we are ad-free, so there will no longer be adverts popping up for services that are beyond my control.

I’ve also upgraded the storage space which adds the ability for me to directly host audio on the site, so I can now include clips of off-air recordings etc if they add to the article.

By way of trial, below is a clip from half a lifetime ago, back in my newsreading days with Radio Caroline, at sea on board the ship Ross Revenge. The microphones and audio processing used on Caroline were very good at pulling in background noise whenever there was silence, hence the fact that on music programmes we tried to always speak over song fades and intros rather than dead air. This was not possible in the news of course – just listen to the amount of ambient ship noise (mostly generator rumble) being pulled in behind me on this bulletin – not to mention how dilligently the system amplified my between sentence wheezes!

noisy-news-24Oct1987  (this opens as an mp3 clip)

Steve Conway in the Caroline newsroom in late 1987, around the same time as the recording. This was originally the ships chart-room, off the bridge, and unlike the main studios, had no soundproofing.

We could have used a news bed (music behind the news) but a huge poportion of the audience find this really intrusive, so we lived with the background noise instead! The location of the newsroom just off the bridge,  the closest to the generator room of any of the on board studios, did not help either.  The best studio on board for silence was studio 2 (the “overdrive” studio) situated right at the back of the ship. On the clip, the news is followed by  Peter Philips reading the latest Lotto 6/49 results (the Canadian Lottery was our biggest advertiser at the time) – this would have been pre-recorded in studio 3, and you’ll note that although generator noise is much reduced, it can still be heard in the background between sentences.

Anyway, I shall add in the odd audio piece here from time to time, and hope that you continue to visit and enjoy this blog.


May 2011 JNLR (Irish Radio Audience) figures released

The latest results from the Ipsos MRBI JNLR survey covering the period April 2010 – March 2011 were released today (Thursday 5th May 2011) by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI)

The survey results indicated that 85% (same) of the adult population was listening daily to a mix of national, regional, multi-city and local radio throughout the country.

For the purposes of comparison, figures for this survey period are compared with the January 2010 – December 2010 figures.

The main changes and highlights are as follows:

National Reach and Market Share

Listenership of 58% (+1) was recorded to any multi city/regional/local/Dublin commuter radio service.

The weekday reach figures remained unchanged for RTÉ Radio 1 (25%), Today FM (13%), Newstalk (8%) and RTÉ Lyric FM (3%) while RTÉ 2FM recorded a figure of 12% (-1).

With regards to market share, a figure of 53.2% (-0.4) was recorded for any multi city/regional/local/dublin commuter radio service in the 07:00hrs-19:00hrs period

RTÉ Radio 1, Today FM and Newstalk recorded increased in market share at 23.2% (+0.5), 9.5% (+0.2) and 4.1% (+0.1) respectively. RTÉ Lyric FM retained a market share figure of 1.7% while RTÉ 2FM recorded figure of 7.8% (-0.4).

National (excluding Dublin and Cork) local stations
Changes in both reach and market share were recorded for almost all local stations in the current survey period. The top five placed local radio stations for this survey period were as follows:
Local Station Listenership (Reach)
Local Station Market Share
Highland Radio 66% (-1)
Highland Radio 61.7% (-0.6)
Shannonside 53%(same)
Radio Kerry 58.0% (+1.0)
Midwest Radio 51% (+2)
Radio Kerry 51% (same)
Tipp FM 51.2% (-4.5)
WLR FM 49% (+1)
Midwest Radio 49.2% (+0.3)
Limerick’s Live 95FM 48% (-2)
Shannonside 48.7% (-0.3)

Multi-City/Regional/Dublin Commuter
4FM, the multi-city service, maintained a weekday reach figure of 3% (same) and recorded a market share figure of 1.8% (same).

In terms of regional services, in the north-east/midlands region, i105-107FM retained its reach figure of 9% and increased its market share to 7.3% (+0.3). In the south-west, Spin South West retained its weekday reach figure of 21% and recorded a market share figure of 10.9% (-0.1). In the north-west region, i102-104FM retained is weekday reach figure of 20% and increased its market share to 14.3% (+0.3). In the south-east region, Beat 102-103FM retained a weekday reach figure of 19% and recorded a market share figure of 12.2% (-0.9).

Listening data for Radio Nova is included in a supplementary volume based on the period since launch (September 2010-March 2011). Radio Nova recorded a reach figure of 5% while the station recorded a market share figure of 2.9%.

Dublin local stations
In Dublin, increases in reach figures were recorded for Spin 1038 at 15% (+1) and Q102 at 14% (+1).

FM 104, Sunshine 106.8 and Phantom 105.2 retained weekday reach figures of 20%, 3% and 2% respectively. 98FM recorded a reach figure of 13% (-1).

In terms of market share FM 104 increased its figure to 11.4% (+0.2). Q102 retained its share figure of 11.1% while the remaining stations recorded figures as follows: 98FM 9.0% (-2.6), Spin 1038 6.5% (-0.1), Sunshine 106.8 2.9% (-0.3) and Phantom 105.2 0.7% (-0.1).

Cork local stations
The combined reach of Cork’s 96FM/C103 increased to 49% (+3.0) while a share figure of 45.0% (+3.3) was recorded.

Cork’s Red FM achieved a reach figure of 18% (-1.0) and a market share figure of 10.3% (-0.3).

Full details of the reach and market share figures together with the weekly reach figures for all stations are available in the JNLR report available on the BAI website.

A few more Tilbury pictures

I’m safely back home in Dublin now after an amazing week’s live broadcasting from the Radio Caroline ship Ross Revenge at Tilbury Port.

Below are a few photos that I didn’t get around to uploading in my earlier live blogs from the ship.

Bigger versions are available by clicking on the picture in each case.

Steve Conway on-air in Studio 2 on the Ross Revenge

Studio 1, the original or "heritage" studio, where I used to broadcast at sea in the 1980s

One for the aerial enthusiasts - our 531 AM setup.

What a tangled web we weave - all this steelwork (x 2 - one either end of ship) was needed at sea just to hold up the thin strands of aerial wire

Dave Foster cooking one of his famous Caroline Breakfasts

The lock gates that protect the water level in Tilbury Port. The M25 Dartford Crossing bridge can be seen in the distance

We're a clean-living bunch on the Ross Revenge . .

The best beds in the world - comfortable, quiet, and offering utter darkness below the waterline.

View from the bridge in the dead of night

My last view of the Ross as I left after my show in the early hours of Friday morning, April 29th 2011.