R.A.P. Interview: Brendan O’Driscoll

JV: Were the pirate stations back in the ‘80s that much different than the commercial stations are today? I mean, when you listened to a pirate radio station, was it obvious it was a pirate station? Was there a lot of foul language or uncensored material? Or was it pretty much run like a professional radio station with professional announcers? Unless you knew it was a pirate station, would you be able to tell it was by listening to it?
Brendan: Yeah, you would. But to be fair, even back when there were a lot of pirates, they always had a certain level of decorum about them. They would still do things as best they could. To be honest, some of the pirates today are there possibly more from a music point of view more than anything. The services that currently pop up here and there are quite alternative and musically different to what we do and what other big licensed stations do in the market. So they’re really on a small scale nowadays. The bulk of them are not really after a commercial market. They’re not there to make money from advertising. I think it’s a hobby with a lot of people really now. Legal radio certainly has a dominate foothold in all markets in the country today, and I think pirates have pretty much had their day really.

JV: Who owns Cork FM, and who are the other major players in radio in Ireland?
Brendan: 96 and 103 FM are owned by UTV, which is Ulster Television. They’re also a television company, but they have a number of radio stations now in the Irish market. We’re one of basically six radio stations that they have in Ireland. There’s one in Dublin, one in Limerick, one in Belfast, and one in Louth/Meath as well, which is just of outside of Dublin. They also have a number of operations in the UK, and they’re continuing to grow the radio side of their business. Then you also have EMAP, which you may have heard of from the UK. They’ve got a number of radio stations here as well, not quite as many, but they have one of the national independent stations which is called Today FM. Then you’ve got a company called Communicorp who also has a number of stations. They’ve got stations in Dublin, and they’re also in the process of rolling out a regional news/talk radio station. All the rest of the stations are owned by independent companies or entrepreneurs or whatever.

JV: About how many radio stations are there in Ireland?
Brendan: At the moment, there’s like 28 independent radio stations. Then you have four national services which are RTE, so they’re state owned. Then dotted around the country you have another 26 specialty stations, which would be community radio on a smaller scale or “hospital” radio or whatever the case would be. So you’re looking at 28, 26, and four, and that’s the way it is at the moment.

JV: What are your responsibilities there at the station? You mentioned imaging.
Brendan: Basically, I look after the day-to-day operations of the production department. That involves station stuff as well as client stuff. I’ve got two full-time producers who work with me. We’ve got a full-time copywriter, and we’ve also got another part-time producer as well. Between us, we service about 12 direct salespeople between our three radio stations. We also have a sales house which is based in the capital, in Dublin, which deals with a lot of our agency business. So it’s a pretty busy corner to be honest about it. The station has been quite successful to date, and so there’s always something to do.

As far as me personally, aside from overseeing day-to-day operations of the department, I tend to concentrate as much as possible on the imaging end of things and a certain amount of clients who are coming direct to us. But it pretty much depends on the project and what needs to be done on any given day or week. And the “hands on” for me is a big thing. I love the whole idea of taking something that starts on a piece of paper and creating something that ends up on air. I think the day you stop enjoying that is maybe the day you need to look at moving elsewhere. So for me, it’s good to have both. It’s good to have a say in what’s done, but it’s good to get my hands dirty as well.

JV: I’m wondering how radio in Ireland might differ from radio in the U.S. with regards to commercials. For example, it’s pretty standard to have 12-14 minutes of commercials per hour on a radio station in the U.S., sometimes much more. What’s the spot load like on Irish commercial radio?
Brendan: Well, let me fill you in with a small bit of the background first. There’s currently a broadcasting bill in discussion at the moment that is going to go through Parliament at some stage. We’re not exactly sure when, but it’s underway at the moment. They’re looking for public opinion, and they’re talking to the radio station bosses. That bill will go through at some stage, and that will be the second phase of governing radio in this country, or overseeing it. We currently have various bodies in place, number one being the BCI, which is the Broadcast Commission of Ireland. They oversee basically all the operation of radio in this country at the moment, and they have certain guidelines in place.

To answer your question, we’re actually capped, by the BCI, on the amount of advertising that we can run each hour. This has actually been in place since the licenses were given out. We’re capped at nine minutes per hour. And I know that they actually expect radio stations to stick pretty rigidly to that. So, you don’t have the situation here whereby you’ve got 14, 15, 16 minutes of commercials running because they just won’t allow it. They’ll ask you for sample tapes and take two broadcast days from your month to examine. They’ll request that you send them the entire 24-hour broadcast day.

JV: What’s their reasoning for capping the commercial limits to nine?
Brendan: Well, I suppose it’s just a way of making sure the radio station is providing some sort of a quality output. I mean, we also have other conditions that we need to operate under, which goes for every radio station that has been awarded a license. For example, you must have 20% news and current affairs as part of your output. Also, you’re expected to have 20% of your music as Irish music content. So there are probably things that are quite alien to the U.S. market.

JV: Do they put some regulations on commercial content like “truth in advertising” rules or something like that?
Brendan: Absolutely. There’s another body called the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland. They will pretty much oversee and regulate the commercials as much as they can with regards to advertising content. There are certain areas that we can and cannot advertise. But it’s up to each individual radio station to ensure that what they’re putting out is as truthful as it can be. But you have to be careful. Anyone has the right to complain about any piece of audio that’s running on whatever radio station. And the Advertising Standards Authority will step in and give their decision after they deliberate over it and see what the story is. And there’s also a Broadcasting Complaints Commission as well, to which you can air your grievances if you so have them, and that’s for any aspect of radio, not just the advertising side of it.

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