“Any kind of Irish Station is better than no station at all.”
- 1. Unanswered Questions: Broadcasting came following a succession of inventions and innovations beginning with electric telegraph followed by wireless telegraph and then wireless telephony sending music and speech across airwaves. The story of Irish broadcasting began in Connemara in 1901 when a series of ‘Buzzing sounds’ were wirelessly transmitted to Nova Scotia heralding an age of communication that would create deep divides between conservative and liberal powers. The story of Irish Radio broadcasting is the story of the nations history unfolding but leaving Marconi’s question unanswered; “Have I done the world good, or have I added a menace?” (Baker, 1970)
“Broadcasting may develop into one of the greatest elements of our national life.”
Denis J. Gorey
- 2. First Waves: Radio is not the invention of one person but the accumulation of the work of a group of individuals stimulated by the desire to contribute to a sum total of knowledge. Throughout the 19th Century the facts about wireless broadcasting emerged from the moment German physicist, Heinrich Hertz detected his first waves in 1887. “The contrast between these beginnings and the present uses of radio is tremendous.” (Whittemore, 1929) Arguably the most important accomplishment in distance radio communication was achieved on Irish soil at the turn of the 19th century by the son of an Irish woman.
“Irish Broadcasting is the everyday story of the new Ireland, spoken with its own voice.”
Patrick J. Little
- 3. Authoritarian Control: Democratic theorists from Tocqueville to Dahl have argued robust connections between free elections and freedom of expression; governments have implemented authoritarian control in broadcasting legislation. Broadcasting is closed to private enterprise across Europe. Radio has been restricted to state or public-interest companies and even in liberal states broadcasting is supervised more than other communications media; “Such control is ascribed to technical complexity and it also has more immediate military functions bearing upon private exploitation than either press or film. Yet many democracies have outrun technical and military imperatives in their zeal to control the airwaves.” (Kasza, 1986)
“When a wind stirred in the beeches, it also stirred an aerial wire attached to the topmost branch of the chestnut tree.”
- 4. Negative Impact: Most public interest formats permit criticism of the state but the balance of political opinion is invariably tilted in the governments favour; “Given the central place of free expression among liberal democratic principles, these broadcasting systems seem to represent an anomaly in democratic public policy.” (Kasza, 1986) The establishment of radio firmly fixed the state’s relationship to broadcasting. Ireland was no exception to media political control. Partly due to the fact that Ireland’s first Postmaster General, (Communications Minister) J.J. Walsh, was an anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi sympathiser. (Dwyer, 1988) His legacy has been detrimental to freedom of expression.
“With wireless telegraphy what is to become of the small boy who views the ball games from the tops of the telegraph poles?”
(Washington Post, 1897)
- 5. Ireland Calling: In May 1853 the first submarine telegraph cable linking Ireland and Britain was laid between Port Patrick, Scotland and Donaghadee, County Down from where it continued by overland line to Dublin. “Because Ireland is on the European edge it was inevitable that it would play a role in transatlantic communication.” (Clarke, 1986) In August 1858 an Atlantic cable from Valencia Island, Kerry to Trinity Bay, Newfoundland was completed and Ireland’s first transatlantic communication was sent. In 1866 two further cables were completed and so, on the eve of the 19th century the story of Irish radio began.
“I made the discovery almost by accident.”
- 6. Marconi Arrives: In 1898 Marconi made the world’s first commercial use of wireless. He had been invited to London to install an experimental wireless link between Antrim and Raithlin Island with the purpose of effecting improvement in sea condition forecasting; “We understand that Marconi is coming to Dublin with his apparatus.” (Freemans Journal, 1898) Some months earlier at the Kingston Regatta the communicative possibilities of Marconi’s apparatus quickly came to light; “…he was watched with interest by many gentlemen who had been invited to witness the novel application of Marconi’s discovery to the uses of journalism.” (Kildare Observer, 1898)
“Nothing since the discovery of the Roentgen ray has been of more practical importance to science than the discovery of wireless telegraphy.”
(Washington Post, 1897)
- 7. Air Wars: The power of Marconi’s invention was obvious to both powerful and powerless people. The birth of Irish radio was a declaration of war. On one side were rulers; while on the other amateurs not wanting to rule but share. The two sides collided within months of Marconi sending his first signal and unwittingly initiating the conflict; “Marconi has large ideas about the capabilities of his system. To what extent these ideas will be realised none can tell. His experiments are interesting, whether they be considered from the scientific or from the practical point of view.” (Molloy, 1898)
“My opinion on telegraphy without wires is that it is feasible.”
(Chicago Daily Tribune, 1897)
- 8. Freedom Attacked: As the first century of Irish radio unfolded every passing month brought developments which demonstrated how the war was fought. Here is a century long month by month account of events which led to Irish radio broadcasting in its present format. It is the story of a nation in fear of these technologies that became determined to suppress freedoms to receive and give information, expression and speech. These three F’s are the pivot of human development, essential if we are to share, analyse, understand, and move forward; “yet these three F’s are continually under attack.” (D’Arcy, 1990)
“The discovery is still in it’s infancy but I believe when completed it will revolutionise present day message dispatching and prove of inestimable value to the general community.”
- 9. Paper Walls: It is difficult to understand Irish broadcasting without considering English influences; “Britain’s political, commercial and cultural dominance in Ireland was underpinned by control of communications systems.” (Fisher, 1978) British newspapers mediated to Ireland knowledge of events which were edited to suit British interests. Arthur Griffith, one of the founders of the modern Irish state, complained about this ‘paper wall’; “There is a “paper wall” around this country. It must be surmounted. It will not be surmounted if the wrong type of news is allowed to issue from here. It will rather be strengthened and consolidated.” (Oireachtas, 1952)
“The wonders of the new century’s technologies would best be showcased with greater drama, greater action. Thus, in 1910 with the international press alerted, the very public moment when chief inspector Walter Dew arrested Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen and Ethel Le Neve for murder represented an orchestrated pageant finale attesting to the power of the wireless.”
- 10. This book explores a century of Irish radio from 1900 to 2000 by evaluating the most significant events on a month by month basis. Each month is documented in exactly 100 words and as the story unfolds, the picture comes together, like a jigsaw, piece by piece to reveal one of the 20th Centuries most momentous events the developing of Radio Broadcasting on the island of Ireland. It is the story of an unfailing political regime in fear of freedom of expression, speech and communication. Regretfully these fears persist into the 21st century and history continues to repeat itself.