Listeners located in the U.K. who enjoy Ireland’s RTÉ 252 radio service are breathing a sign of relief. The planned 2017 closure of this longwave station has now been put on indefinite hold, according to Independent.ie.
I first reported on RTÉ 252 two years ago, when news of its shutdown–originally set for January 2015–put longwave radio back on my radar. Though unused in North America, the longwave band uses frequencies much lower than the AM band (also called mediumwave), typically between 148 and 283 kHz. The advantage of these frequencies is that they can travel much longer distances than AM or FM.
An Irish diaspora in the U.K. is the primary audience for RTÉ 252, which broadcasts programming from the Radio 1 nationwide news and talk service. As Paul Bailey explained in a post this past June, the cost and complexity of maintaining the large LW transmitter and antenna amid budgetary pressures, along with the preceived obsolescence of the service, were the cited reasons for retiring the station.
There was public outcry in the wake of the original decision to shut down RTÉ 252, which resulted in delaying the date two years. That was followed by research from a group called Irish in Britain that argued the station helped listeners in England, Scotland and Wales keep up to date with matters at home and retain a “sense of Irishness.” A survey the group conducted showed that 92% of respondents listened to the station most or every day. Apparently, that added up to enough pressure on the Irish state broadcaster to keep RTÉ 252 going for the time being.
Ultimately RTÉ would like to transition listeners to a digital platform that presumably would be less expensive to operate. However, the broadcaster lost out on a bid to be included on a DAB digital radio multiplex that would cover the country.
Though RTÉ programming is available online, the streaming station is still less accessible to many who primarily listen in their cars, who don’t have home internet, whose mobile data plans are limited, or who don’t use smartphones at all. While this may seem like a small audience, when we reflect on the fact that broadcast radio is still predominant in cars in the U.S., and that the internet radio audience is still far ouclassed by broadcast, it’s easier to understand how vital any broadcast service can be, especially when the programming is highly valued by its audience.
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