The late broadcaster Gerry Anderson the moment quipped from his Radio Foyle studio that Derry is a whole lot like Cuba – you have to see it ahead of it modifications. Commonly, his off-the-cuff humor spoke to something further.
Derry is a area aside. Culturally, it is arguably as far, if not further, from Belfast as it is from Dublin. For nearly 40 years the BBC’s outpost in the town has admirably reflected, celebrated and challenged that identification.
BBC Northern Ireland’s determination this week to ax Radio Foyle’s flagship breakfast demonstrate and hourly news bulletins – as part of a broader cost-reducing plan throughout the Uk-vast company – is getting observed as the station’s loss of life knell.
Ana Leddy, former head of RTÉ Radio 1 who ran Radio Foyle for 8 yrs, has very little doubt about the genuine affect of the Belfast-based management’s £2.3 million “savings and reinvestment plan”.
“No breakfast demonstrate, no news bulletins… local programming arrives on at 1pm for a couple hours? Does that sound like a radio station to you? she suggests.
“I think this is a killer blow. It’s the conclusion of BBC Radio Foyle as we know it and is, in result, its closure.”
Leddy, brought up in Sheffield, is of Irish extraction and worked in BBC community stations in England for 10 decades just before being appointed controlling editor of Radio Foyle in 1998. She rapidly had to get to grips with the nuances of Derry when she arrived.
“There is a unique psyche in Derry,” she claims.
It is not just that it is, definitely, predominantly Catholic or nationalist, but its organic hinterland runs north and west into Donegal, adding deeper complexity to an existing divergence in the North among the east and west of the river Bann.
“So quite a few households are intertwined, dwelling and functioning across the border. Persons have two wallets, two purses, with euro and pounds. It is a state of brain. You wouldn’t have it any place else.”
It is a complexity Leddy negotiated to steer the station to many awards, such as beating BBC behemoths Radio 4 and Radio 5Stay to acquire the Sony all round United kingdom very best radio breakfast demonstrate.
‘Voice for debate’
“A community radio station really should maintain a mirror up to its viewers, but also be a window to the planet,” she says.
“Foyle has done that by truly knowing its audience. It has been powerful adequate and courageous adequate to do that in a special predicament in Northern Ireland, at an even smaller sized degree in Derry and the northwest in an era exactly where modern society has emerged from the Difficulties, and we all know how fragile that can be, she claims.
“Giving a voice for discussion in these moments is as essential as it is really ever been. Foyle is an critical location from that place of check out.”
No stranger to overseeing cuts herself – she was dubbed the Iron Leddy and the Ax of Montrose throughout her tenure at RTÉ – Leddy is sensible about the financial realities of broadcasting.
Yet, she thinks there is a “exclusive argument for Radio Foyle due to the fact of its distinctive mother nature inside Northern Eire” and the “relevance of sustaining that equilibrium of voice for regional men and women”.
“I just consider it is very critical that that is maintained,” she says. “Derry has a really, very distinctive personality from Belfast. That is just the way factors are.
In influence, the Belfast-dependent Radio Ulster would increase its get to into the northwest as Radio Foyle diminishes. The dilemma is regardless of whether it could – or would – rise to the “problem” of reflecting a distinctly various listenership.
“Where a radio station is primarily based is the area that will get the most notice. There is only so significantly place on a every day news agenda. Derry will inevitably go down the pecking get,” Leddy says.
BBC Northern Ireland refused to disclose a breakdown of listenership figures for either Radio Foyle or Radio Ulster. The figures are “commercially delicate”, a BBC spokesman stated, adding that “Foyle’s maximum viewers is the third-smallest in the BBC soon after Guernsey and Jersey”.
Even 16 years right after she left Derry for Dublin, Leddy is evidently psychological at the suspected fate of Radio Foyle.
“It nearly feels like my newborn is being taken absent from me,” she claims. “I am devastated by it. I am devastated for the people of the northwest, for the personnel in the station. It is a extremely, pretty special location. I labored really hard for it, I believed in it, I liked it and I did my best to winner it.”
Garbhán Downey, a previous editor of the Derry Information, publisher of Colmcille Press and just one-time Radio Foyle stalwart, places the demise of the station in a historic context of Belfast-centric decisions.
A stint performing as information editor at Radio Ulster did tiny to shake his perception.
“About 12 yrs in the past, I was asked to put myself ahead as station manager at Foyle,” he says.
“I was shortlisted. At the job interview in Belfast, I was provided a circumstance in which I was a authorities minister possessing to deal with trade unionists, telling them that 25 for each cent of my division was currently being laid off.
“My reading of that was ‘my god, they want an individual shut to Foyle’. That was not likely to be me.
Just before that, an interior critique recommended the de facto downgrading of Foyle, and he believes John Hume fought it, buying the station some time before Derry being awarded Uk Town of Lifestyle in 2013 “purchased it a further handful of many years”.
“They’ve been striving this in Belfast for additional than 20 decades now,” he says.
“It is element of this Belfast strategy about becoming a country city, fully overblown about its possess importance. It thinks it can act with impunity when it arrives to what it regards as its dominion.”
For the duration of his time in the Belfast newsroom, Downey says Foyle was frequently referred to as “Radio Vatican”. The Derry station’s insistence on not referring to the North’s second town as Londonderry significantly grated on some, he remembers.
“I can not tension enough how totally brilliant quite a few people in Belfast have been and I loved my time there. But there was a unionist state of mind in the upper echelons that was never ever there in Derry. There was often a range of feeling in Foyle, generally a tolerance.”
Downey suspects that somewhat than switching to Radio Ulster, listeners in Derry will swap off or more than to Donegal’s unbiased Highland Radio for local programming.
“Ten a long time in the past they gave a Foyle slot above to [Radio Ulster’s] Stephen Nolan and folks turned off in their droves. It is each neglectful and deliberate. I consider Belfast understands Derry has a distinctive psyche but they just don’t like it,” he said.