• What to expect from the new (quasi-national) Newstalk

    Newstalk 106 has been a reasonable success story since its creation only 4 years ago. Starting out in Dublin as a speech-based radio station seemed like suicide or at the very least a mis-guided step but with a mix of strong advertising, high quality hosts and persistance the station has now moved up to a 5% market share in the city; putting it just over 1% below Today FM.
    The fact that Denis O’Brien now has his hand in the pie is not a bad thing, of course. Since his dealings with the station began we have seen the likes of Eamon Dunphy and Sean Mocrieff come on board, along with an even stronger advertising campaign start up across the city. Now, however the station has set its sights beyond the capital and is hoping to operate on a ‘quasi-national’ basis. It can afford to, it has no competition in the application process and it has been hotly tipped to succeed but what will it mean for the station and most importantly for that 5% that listen regularly?
    Newstalk have made it clear in their application (scroll down) that they do not intend on simply broadcasting their tried and tested style to a bigger audience, instead they will change their setup in many ways.

    The most important changes for the listener will come in the programming;

    The station will commence daily at
    6AM instead of 7 under the new licence with the one hour ‘Wake Up Call’ hosted by Tara Duggan and Hugh Cahill. The show promises to be “congenial, fast paced live news and light current affairs programme” and will offer listeners “the ‘water cooler’ experience, easing early morning commuters into the day ahead with enough information to get them started.”

    7-9 will remain unchanged, with little surprise. Eamon Dunphy will continue to present his breakfast show and will seemingly follow the same format as ever.

    9-11 sees the return of Orla Barry with the same show as ever; Fashion will be discussed on a Monday, a What’s On guide on a Friday etc. etc.

    11-12:30 brings us the first radical change to the Newstalk line-up. Instead of the usual pundit-based chat and talk for an hour and a half we will have ‘Morning Call’, a “fast paced phone-in programme. It will provide a lively debate forum for listeners to react to the main issues of the day and also pose questions to our team of specialist advisors and contributors who will appear on a regular basis.” What is interesting about this is that there is no presenter(s) named publically but these details are made available to the BCI in a “confidential annex”; this could be because the presenter has not yet informed their current employers of the switch or because their identity is hoped to turn heads at the right moment.
    City Edition was, sadly, never going to last on a national basis, but it’s hard to say if a daytime call-in show will work in its place (or at all). Will it be Joe Duffy Mk.2? Or worse yet, Adrian Kennedy? Let’s wait, see and hope.

    Damien Kiberd is up next with a slightly shorter show, running from 12:30 to 14:00. There will be a few new additions to his format too; for example ‘A Day in the life’ “in which reporter Aisling Riordan spends ‘A Day in the Life’ of a citizen, ranging from a Community Garda working with juveniles to a lap dancer. In each case Aisling paints a picture of her interviewee’s life which seeks to address pre-conceptions listeners may have and to get an insight into the human being behind the profession.”
    and ‘The Computer Expert’.

    Moncrieff has also lost a half hour from his show, now running from 14:00 – 16:30. All your favourites are there; Kidstalk, Our Language (great segment) and Moral Philosopher.

    The Right Hook manages to hang on to the exact same slot of 16:30 – 19:00 and the format remains largely unchanged.

    19:00 – 22:00 is, as always, Off The Ball. Sport, sport and more sport. No change, so.

    Now, what of Declan Carty? Well he’s been shifted to the night shift with ‘Irelands Call’ (ugh), a… wait for it… phone-in show where people can have an educated natter about what annoys/delights them. “This will be a listener driven talk show which will open up debates on the big issues of the day just ending. The emphasis will be placed firmly on interaction, and the aim will be to generate a lively national debate conducted in an open, exploratory way on issues of relevance to our audience.”
    Again, phone-in shows are fraught with problems, and not technical ones. This could be a terrible move by Newstalk, or it could be them doing what they always do, defy expectations. The show will run nightly for 2 hours, bringing the station all the way to midnight.

    That is excluding a Friday, however. Friday 22:00 – 24:00 see’s the extension of Splanc Céille, the Irish discussion and debate show. It seems like the same old show, just a little longer. It’s a nice boost for the show which at the moment sits in a terrible 7 – 8AM slot on a Saturday.

    Splanc Céille will be replaced by The Week In Words, a week-in-review type show for Saturday Mornings.

    The Wide Angle will return in it’s usual slot of 8 – 10.

    Weekend Blend is an interesting one; this show seems to aim towards mid-twenty listeners out there, with a self-professed bias towards women. The show will feature cookery tips, basic yoga, property information and a Kids Time (a chance for kids to talk on air, or something). Newstalk says slight female bias, everyone else says massive. This show replaces the Arts and Entertainment show which ran from 10 – 12.

    Down to Business returns in its familiar guise, Emmet Oliver to boot. 12:00 – 14:00 as before.

    The Saturday Sports show returns from 14:00 – 18:00, and sees no changes worth mentioning, however what follows is an interesting departure (in sporting terms, but not for this new look station). Extra Time runs for an hour after the sports show and is…. a phone-in… Yes, a sports phone-in for people to talk about the days events. Anyone else seeing a pattern here? This is something that is huge in the UK and is used by RTE too; it’s been going for around 10-15 years there and has proven itself to be a low-cost success. Fans love to give their expertise on the issues, and they always have something to say. Just like all other phone-ins, this could be trash.

    TASTE is another new addition; and this one is hoping to take advantage of the push by Newstalk to allow more music on air (no more than three songs per hour…). The show seems to be trying to position itself as the thing to listen to before heading out at night, but it seems a bit more refined than similar concepts out there:
    “TASTE is essential listening for Saturday evenings. Hosted by the renowned travel writer and DJ Fionn Davenport, TASTE will offer intelligent talk with an eclectic mix of music from rock, pop, dance, soul, jazz and reggae.”.
    The show runs from 19:00 to 21:00.

    Following that is another music-orientated show, The Meaning of Music. This is an interesting one; the idea is that “it goes behind the lyrics to discover the origins of and tell the story of albums of note.”. This is extremely similar to a show Phantom FM used to have where the history of an album would be explored, and the story behind it explained. A superb idea, although while Phantom is a superb station, they never managed to make the show a must-catch unless the album under discussion was an all-time personal favourite.

    From 23:00 onwards the repeats come out, starting with The Week In Words and then finishing (at 7 on Sunday) with a series of Best Of programmes from the week gone by.

    Sunday begins proper (after a Down To Business repeat) with Sunday with Norris, a two hour chat show, starting at 8AM hosted by Senator David Norris. This show is based around David Norris interviewing various people; it could be interesting, it could be boring but it is something different from the usual, and the new usuals.

    10 – 13:00 see’s The Wide Angle pop up again for its Sunday airing.

    13 – 13:30 gives us an extended News show, News on Sunday, probably somewhat magazine-style in its delivery.

    13:30 – 19:00 is the familiar combination of a sports show and a sports phone-in show… Yay!

    19:00 – 21:00 has Contesting History, an interesting idea and one that will certainly be worth listening to on a trial basis.
    “This programme will be far more than an historical lecture. It offers instead two competing voices with clear, informed and distinctly differing visions on central topics in Irish history.”

    After this the repeats come out, Sunday with Norris and more Best Of shows.

    As you can see, Newstalk is not changing dramatically. The weekend line up will suffer the most changes but most things seem to be for the best. The amount of repeats are being cut back, new ideas are being brought forward and listeners are being engaged. Of course, phone-ins are not original and they’re not usually worth listening to, but Newstalk deserve a chance with it.
    The introduction of music is one worth watching, will presenters use music when they need it or as much as they can? A song in the middle of The Right Hook would ruin the flow of the programme, unless it was a song related to the discussion (like an in-studio guest and their latest release). The station seems to be increasing its commitment to Gaeilge, which is always a plus (more can be seen in the application file ‘programming’). It does claim to be helping young talent get into radio, but this remains to be seen, links with colleges are fine once they’re not elitist, RTÉ has a link with DCU that pretty much ensures no other media graduates have a chance of work experience, I hope Newstalk isn’t the same.
    One flashing omission from the new station is documentary. Newstalk in its current guise has plenty of time for low-budget documentarys, or even listener-created docs similar to the Capital D show on RTÉ. The new station, while having more programming and less repeat space, is still full of potential for documentaries that will challenge, enlighten or even enfuriate. Perhaps this is when the new talent will find their way.