Is Ireland ready for a national country station?

Interview by Dave Miller with Mike Ryan on plans to launch a national country music radio station.

Throughout the 80s Ireland was the leader in what can only be described as a radio revolution. The connection between creativity, passion, strong business acumen and technical genius all helped to create this magical era of pushing boundaries and bringing through new talent.

It’s amazing to think that in 2017 a lot of the same presenters who were on in 1984 are still presenting daily gigs. It leaves me feeling somewhat dismayed that the centre of radio excellence is in a timewarp. What happened did it keep new talent at arms length? Or is radio in Ireland such an exclusive members only club, that it is only accessible if you fit a certain mold. In my opinion compared to the 80s Irish radio is as dull as ditch water.

As the BAI seek expressions of interest from groups for new FM licences this particular company caught my eye. I was massively impressed by their original licence application a few years ago in Dublin for the 106.8 FM frequency, and the way they presented a different model of raising revenue rather than the conventional advertising that everyone else is doing.

Mike Ryan is the passionate driving force of Country FM along with the incredibly talented Martin Block who I can only describe as a radio genius.I sat with Mike Ryan to find out a little more about their plans.

Is Ireland ready for a country music radio station?

Without a shadow of a doubt. There have been talks about a country radio station for over 15 years now and the demand has grown and grown. There has never been a better time to bring Ireland’s first true country station to the airwaves. Our research has shown a strong demand growing year on year, with more young people now following this genre. It has always been a matter of time and now is the time.”

With the impact of digital media on advertising, will this affect your plans?

The radio industry has been slow to react to the changes in technology, audience can now get what they want from the internet. Our CEO, Martin Block, has been saying this for years now. A lot of stations now sound the same and have lost relevance with the listeners. Radio One is an exception to that, they have kept reinventing themselves and deliver what an audience wants.

Interaction between a station and its listeners is key. That is something we are very strong on, country music is a community of interest and we have a strong contact with them. Our experience in TV has shown, in a difficult market, there is lots of room for diversity.”

Are there too many radio stations in the market?

There are too many stations sounding the same, diversity is the future and possibly the saviour of radio in Ireland. It will bring new listeners and advertisers to the marketplace. It will become much more relevant with the audience while creating new excitement in the industry.

What experience have you gained in TV?

We were very disappointed not to win the Dublin licence a few years ago, but this did not stop us proceeding with our aim to promote country music on as many platforms as possible. We got into the very difficult market of TV, with our first programme. “Ireland’s Country” 3 years ago, since then we produced 5 shows, all received very well by the viewers. Working with some of the Sky channels, we created an umbrella for other shows to join us, this resulted in us providing 16 hours per week of country music TV on Sky TV. The project broke even within 3 months with strong advertising, sponsorship and audiences. The Business model, set up by Martin Block and Gerry Murphy, showed that a new venture can work, even in the most difficult markets.”

Do you feel you have the right team?

Most definitely. Our group has now been together for a number of years and range from radio, TV and business experts with a real passion for what we do. The team of Mike Ryan, Brendan Magee, Martin Block & Gerry Murphy plus other shareholders whom share our vision and have a long term commitment to the radio project.

What are your ambitions for a country music station?

I believe the BAI must introduce diversity into the radio market, before it is too late. They have an obligation to the Irish community to reflect all interests and tastes, including country music. The listener must come first over any market changes. Country Music must be first on the list for any new license as it has NOT been catered for and country music fans have been demanding this for years. There were proposals for two country station over 15 years ago, but this was put on the back burner for far too long. Now the time is right and we have the best group ever to deliver a multi-area country station, based on strong research, experience and commitment.

Country music has never been so strong and this will only grow with the support of a dedicated radio station. We will be relevant to our listeners, grow new advertising and jobs, whilst having little impact on existing services.

My sincere thanks to Mike Ryan for taking the time to talk to us about his exciting plans for Ireland’s first and only Country FM!.

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