Éamon Ó Buadhacháin introduces his insightful new series in which he charts the evolution of Irish radio through the 1930s in Ireland.
The subject of 1930’s broadcasting in Ireland may seem at first glance a very narrow subject matter but while state controlled broadcasting began in Dublin on January 1st 1926 with the birth of 2RN, the evolution of Irish broadcasting unfolded throughout the thirties as politicians and listeners grappled with a medium that was barely a decade old and a nation that was often inward looking in its approach to the world.
If the thirties can be classified as the evolution of Irish broadcasting, the nation would have to wait another half century for the revolution of Irish broadcasting but that is a story for another day.
As the decade began, the novelty of state broadcasting was dissipating and was being replaced by listener displeasure that the standard of programming was still poor.
Prior to the official launch of 2RN, Irish audiences were more accustomed to megaphone broadcasts which came from big political rallies post the 1916 Easter Rising, the church pulpit or even the stage of the great theatres but radio was a different animal.
Listening to the radio was more intimate, often a solitary event as the one to one conversation between broadcaster and listener induced a more sedate method of sowing idea seeds or the spreading of propaganda philosophies.
The 1930’s was an inventive decade with Donald Hings’ development of the ‘walkie talkie’ in 1937 which became such a valuable communications asset during WW2, Ivor Sikorsky’s helicopter in 1938, the invention of the electric guitar in 1931 by George Beauchamp, the dreaded parking meter invented by newspaper editor Carl McGee in 1935 and the photo copier by Chester Carlson in 1938. But the Irish were slower to embrace change.
‘We Irish are as a race rather sceptical of ventures which emanate from our own midst and we are inclined to look with suspicion upon things which we would approach with a free and open mind’ wrote Seamus O’Grashus in the Irish Radio Review in December 1925.
Ireland as a nation was still healing from the divisive wounds of the Civil War. In early 1923 discussion had already begun in Dáil Éireann about the nature and creation of a radio station for the new Free State. The rush to the airwaves was tempered with the heated discussion as to the nature of the station whether it should be State controlled or a commercial enterprise.
The financial constraints and a global economic depression that the new Government found itself in after independence led the discussion initially to focus on commercial broadcasting. The clamour for broadcasting had intensified in 1925 when 2BE was launched in Belfast. The problem for many listeners in the Free State was that the wounds of a War of Independence and a Civil War were still raw and listening to a station that promoted events around the Loyalist Twelfth of July and the playing of the British National Anthem at the end of each evening’s broadcast was too much to bear.