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The Importance of Community Radio

Phoenix FM Blanchardstown

The Importance of Community Radio

Community radio stations focus on local areas they are an opportunity to give the community a voice. Community Radio Station’ staff are usually volunteers, and they are nearly always not-for-profit organisations. Funding is mostly given through donations or would incorporate fundraising in the form of events, pub quizzes and advertising.

I decided to visit one of Dublin’s Community Radio Stations and I chose 92.5 Phoenix FM, situated in Dublin 15 at the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre.  I was interested in exploring community radio and what services they provide for the community. I believe it is important to endorse one’s environment and encourage participation from the locals of the area. So I set off to interview one of the presenters, Jeff Murphy, who was kind enough to share some of his time with me.

Phoenix FM is celebrating its 25th Birthday this year. It began back in 1988, in a building next to Ryan’s Garage and started off as a pirate station. It was taken off the air for three years, because of the Government’s licence policy. Phoenix FM eventually moved into the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre once they got their full licence to broadcast. The Blanchardstown Shopping Centre is owned by Green Property, who are leasing the premises to Phoenix FM for free, helping their not-for-profit organisation to save on the lease.

Phoenix FM broadcasts 68 hours per week; in the mornings, evenings and weekends. It involves covering local news and community affairs. Funds also come from sponsorships from local businesses, grants from funding organisations and own fundraising. The Dublin 15 Community Broadcasting Co-operative Society was established in 1989 and was registered by the Registry of Friendly Societies on the 25th July, 1990. Phoenix FM received their first licence in 1999 and went on air in January 2000. Their staff are mainly employed by the Community Services Programme and supported by Department of Social Protection and Pobal and volunteers from all cultural backgrounds volunteer their services.

Part of the organisation pro community ethos is to provide education, training, and personal and professional skills for those trying to break into the world of broadcasting. I was taken to the studio, located at the main entrance of the Shopping Centre, and was pleasantly surprised by the cosy office where it all happens. I was excited to speak to Jeff Murphy, who volunteers his services on Wednesday mornings. As I sat down in the studio, with sound proofed walls, the first thing to become apparent was the heat but it all adds to good acoustics and sound.

Jeff and his co-presenter Ian McWilliams do a show called “D15 Today”, which it’s the air at 10am to 11.30am every Wednesday morning. As I arrive they have just finished their show and Ian is on his way out. Jeff has been with Phoenix FM for two and a half years (since 2013). His week consists of 1 ½ hours of presenting per week, but he says he ends up gathering interviews and preparing for the show wherever he goes; he is always looking for people to interview and invite onto their show. The show itself is something of a variety show and includes special interests, a mixture of music and other items that can include anything from Irish Wolf Hound training and breeding, to the latest Film Reviews (granted somewhat larger appeal).

Jeff Murphy

Jeff Murphy

“We try and balance it out,” Jeff says about how a show is put together, he may be a volunteer but the work is done with a professional ethic. Jeff has worked with many co-presenters since he first started at Phoenix FM, he says “10 to 12 co-presenters volunteer each year, mostly young people, and they tend to move on quite soon when they get job.”  Therefore, he gets to work with many presenters throughout the year, who are there to gain experience in the field of broadcasting and presenting.  How many young careers as he helped to influence?

The National Board owns 22 stations across the country with full licences. There are 6 stations with short licences, which are only valid for 6 months, “If these stations on the short licences succeed, they get to apply for the full licence. But first they have to get the listenership going and interest growing.” Jeff, who is very busy within the organisation, also belongs to CRAOL, home of the Irish Community Radio Movement. CRAOL is the representative, co-ordinating, lobbying, training, and supporting organisation for Irish Community Radio.

The Dublin 15 area has a population of 101,031, according to the 2011 Census figures and 32% of these are listeners who tune in during the week. The catchment that Phoenix FM covers is quite large, “The station broadcasts over 7 miles radius and the signal can be fetched as far out as Tallaght sometimes and IKEA.”

Though a media personality now, radio is something of departure from where he started, “I worked in the public services for years, a long time, before I joined Phoenix FM. I love working in the media, broadcast and meeting new people. I live locally. When I first started here I had a mentor that took me under his wing and showed me around the studio. You learn as you go, every time you come in you get to learn more.” The show’s content is designed with a democratic mandate in mind, “I am not a producer. I love meeting and talking to people on the street. As a presenter you get to choose the titles yourself. I find out from listeners about what they like, listeners plan the show.”

I ask Jeff how much preparation goes into a show and he tells me that he would on average spend about four hours to get the items and interviews together and ready for the Wednesday slot, “Monday is my work day.” Interviews are held in the studio and over the phone, he feels that live interviews are easier, because you get to sit down with the person you are about to interview and have a relaxed conversation with them, whereas telephones can cause a distance, and you don’t get to see the person’s face.

His manner calm and disarming, he tells me his favourite technique in interviewing people for the show is to give interviewee the opportunity to talk for as long as they want and not to rush them. He is very relaxed with the show and he tries to get his interviewees to adopt the same attitude, “Sometimes you get someone that has short replies and answers when you interview them and you need to coach them into talking to you. Other times you could get a person talking to you for fifteen minutes or more without having to force the conversation.”

Jeff feels that the proposed broadcasting charge that was said to take over from the current television licence (initiated by ex-Minister Pat Rabitte) would have benefited community radio, as core funding is needed for the up-keeping of radio stations. But for the moment with the water charges debacle it seems that these plans had to be put on the back burner and no decision will be made on the broadcasting charge until after next year’s elections, “Core funding is what we need most.  We need to buy new equipment for the studio and we are thinking of moving to a bigger premise.”

It was a very relaxed conversation I had with Jeff in the studio and I got to see and experience for myself why he is such an easy presenter to get on with, but alas all good things come to an end and it was time for me to go, and say goodbye to Jeff. In the background I can hear the ‘Inside Africa’ show fading away in the next door studio to make way for the next show to come on air. Community radio is growing on me and I think there is still plenty room for growth and I hope that people like Jeff and Denis McEvoy, the station manager, can find ways of getting more listeners interested and that they find the necessary core funding to promote their station to keep up their good work for local communities.

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