Monday, 12 March 2018

Rónán Ó Muirthile
Former presenter of 'Splanc' on Newstalk 106–108FM

Rónán Ó Muirthile
Aerthonnta spoke to the former presenter about his experience with 'Splanc'

Tell me about yourself...

Rónán Ó Muirthile is my name. Well, I have two hats... For the day-job, I am the Head of Department for Films and Media in IADT Dun Laoghaire and I’m also in charge of the national film school there. On top of that, I’m a television and radio producer, as well as a radio presenter... so I guess that’s why I’m here today! I have been involved in radio since I first started in Raidió na Life in 1998. I was a bit late getting started after college. A long time ago! Since then, I’m involved in radio, television and all that... and I worked for a television company and for RTÉ and so on... But, for the past eight years, I have been presenting an Irish language radio programme on Newstalk, a commercial English language station- primarily- but they are also a talk radio station and they have certain obligations to do with their license, and one of those obligations is that they provide an Irish language programme, and that’s me! 

It’s a two hour programme from nine until eleven (currently) every Friday night. It’s not a great slot, obviously, but we manage... The programme has achieved a certain recognition... I suppose there are a lot of people driving home Friday night, down the country or whatever, and they might tune in, so a lot of people are familiar with the programme, although they mightn’t listen every week- we have a fair few listeners. One interesting thing about the programme is that there are very few Irish language programmes where you have the JNLR listenership figures and we have between ten and fifteen thousand people listening to the programme every week... which is no small amount.

We cover current affairs, entertainment, features... we do a lot of sport, especially in the second hour. We have a lot of regular segments. We don’t have a lot of resources in terms of research and prep; Dónal Ó Donabháin, the producer and myself do most of that. We don’t have a lot of time, so we have friends who come in regularly to give us a hand. So, that’s the programme. Basically, the programme is principally about us trying to make a good programme and the fact that it is in Irish is secondary to all that. We don’t cover stories about the language... we do some, but that’s not the main aim. If a topic is interesting, we’ll discuss it. But, that’s not the main thing behind it; what we want is a nice programme that’s easy to listen to. My presenting style, I think, and others have told me (I’m doing this a long time!) that it is very natural and my Irish is easy enough to understand... so, I think that we avoid alienating people who don’t have a lot of Irish. That’s important to me; that people are given the opportunity to learn, maybe, or that they’re interested in Irish... and we are covering topics that appeal to them; we’re doing film reviews and so on... that’s they type of thing; and it’s important that I have a good relationship with the people I’m chatting to, that it’s... ‘loose’ isn’t the word, but comfortable.

What are the challenges involved in presenting an Irish language show on Newstalk?

There is no real challenge apart from the fact that we are the only Irish language programme on the station. In a way, it's actually an advantage. We can do whatever we like! As long as don't libel anyone, the management is happy to just let us get on with it. Myself and Dónal and our own little community on a Friday night; it's a special thing and it's goot to recognise that. It can be challenging to get support for research and that kind of thing, and also to keep it exciting for ourselves.

Tell us about your favourite show or guest over the years...

We've had nice times over the years... I enjoyed the programme when we covered the Marriage Equality Referendum. We had Pat Carey and Traolach Ó Buachalla in to discuss it and I enjoyed our conversation... that was personal and nice. Once a month, we have a panel discussion and that's enjoyable too; the fun and the back and forth.  

How important is it, do you think, that a programme like 'Splanc' is on the schedule of a commercial station?

I think it's very important. In a way, that's probably the reason I have stayed with it so long. We have achieved recognition. Small recognition- niche inside a niche... If I'm in a taxi on the way home, 'Ah, you're Splanc..'... So, there's something there, maybe... I think the show demonstrates that there is a space for Irish language shows on commercial stations and that they can hold their own. Because we have a reasonable listenership, we are nearly on the same slot as RTÉ 1; we're getting as many listeners as possible, something that means that we're not a charity case.

What advice would you have for broadcasters who want to, or who already work on Irish language programmes in stations where most of the programmes are in Irish?

Keep going! Make the best programme you can make, always... but I would say that to any broadcaster. We have a responsibility to make the best programme possible, no matter what language... and to show that a programme (in any language) can succeed. You have to have a standard, in everything you do... and unless you have that on a personal level, it won't come across in your work.