Weekdays from seven in the morning to seven in the evening are considered the most important in the radio schedule. This is when listenership figures are highest, and when all the money is made through adverstising. Consequently, radio executives spend their time fretting and sweating about these 12 hours, and they pretty much forget about anything outside of that.
Maybe this explains why much of Ireland's most innovative national radio happens after hours.
All of the best music programmes feature late at night – Here Comes The Night, presented by Donal Dineen, starts at 12 midnight on Today FM; An Taobh Tuathail begins at 11pm on Radio Na Gaeltachta; and John Kelly's Mystery Train kicks off at 8.30pm on RTÉ – thus ensuring that most of the population aren't exposed to anything other than chart turds and ancient hits. And current affairs programmes slow down, no longer in thrall to breaking news, giving way to some interesting documentaries and exploratory talk shows.
One example of the latter is The Invisible Thread, an interview series broadcast on Lyric FM and hosted by poet Theo Dorgan. The format is straightfoward: Dorgan has a rambling talk with a public figure (often not terribly well-known) for half an hour on a Sunday night, between 10pm and 10.30pm. No self-respecting radio fat-cat will give a damn what's being broadcast on the airwaves at that hour, so Dorgan seems free to do what he wants.
The results are sometimes interesting, in-depth pieces the likes of which don't fit into the frantic drive-time period. One such show is an interview with Irish Times security analyst Tom Clonan, a former Irish army officer who served in Lebanon and Kosovo, which will be broadcast on 26 February.
To the uneducated outsider, Irish soldiers appear to do very little other than turn up in foreign countries when all the real fighting is done, check out the local brothels and then return home to file their deafness claims. Tom Clonan has a rather different story to tell. One of his key points was how army top brass were, in his opinion, sheltering the Irish population about the dangers faced by Irish soldiers overseas: “I think there was a misguided feeling at Defence Forces headquarters where people would be spared the truth about oversees missions, so families wouldn't be overconcerned for their loved ones.”
There were the eye-witness accounts of the war: “For me, the shock was how much the civilian population [in Lebanon] suffered. I remember at one point, I was in an armoured personnel carrier... and a woman tried to give me her baby – only an infant. And she literally threw the baby at us, and we managed to catch it... we gave it back to her. But it's only now as a parent that I realise the desperation.”
And there were also a few questionable theories: When asked by Dorgan about his reaction to the Dutch UN battalion at Srebrenica standing aside and effectively allowing a massacre to happen, he said: “I know it's going to sound very jingoistic, but the Irish would not have stood by. That's borne out by events in Lebanon. For example, even though it was a peace-keeping mission in Lebanon, in 1980, in the village of Atiri which looked like it was going to be a Srebrenica-style massacre, the Irish stood firm, and took casualties and took fatalities to protect the people of [Atiri]. The Irish, by their very nature, tend to strike up a relationship with the local people.”
Theo Dorgan has a minimal presenting style which works very well in these situations, but this can go too far. In this interview, he assumed too much of the listener's knowledge of the Irish army. One of the most interesting things about Tom Clonan was a report he did exposing sexual discrimination and harrasment in the Irish army, and rather than explaining this to the audience, Dorgan launched into a line of questioning on the subject which would have left most of the audience in the dark. A more comprehensive introduction for Tom Clonan would have solved this problem – but when you're broadcasting late a night and your boss is probably not listening, things like that tend to slip through the cracks.