- Interview with Harry Bradshaw
Linda Scott: I have invited Harry Bradshaw, a respected Irish music historian and collector, to talk with me today about the early years of Irish radio, especially the first attempts to mix this medium and commerce in Ireland. Harry, can you start by telling a bit about yourself for readers?
Harry Bradshaw: I was a radio producer, but I started out working as a sound engineer. I worked for two commercial recording studios and then I joined RTÉ Radio as a soundman in 1968. I rose through the ranks of the sound department and then crossed over into the production phase. In 1979, I became a radio producer. I was assigned to the music department and worked on traditional music programs. I toured the country. It was the best job in Ireland, seeking out traditional music and recording it, either at festivals, events, concerts, or in people's kitchens—and bringing the material back and turning it into weekly radio programs. So, when I took early retirement, I set up my own business doing just that. My problem was that I always liked what I did, and I certainly had no intentions of just walking away from it. And now, actually, RTÉ is one of my main clients!
I record in the field—music and song and spoken word—and then I do a lot of remastering of old recordings. It's a hobby.
LS: You produced an exhibition for the 75th anniversary of radio in Ireland, didn't you?
HB: Yes, we went to 38 venues throughout the country. At the end of the 1990s, I was contacted to do a major exhibition which set out to introduce people to traditional music. It was to be slanted to children, to Irish people, and to tourists. So it was on three different levels. It was a major exhibition that opened in 1999, in the square in Smithfield (in Dublin). It was a huge, multimillion pound exhibition, and it got rave reviews from worldwide sources. We had a lot of money to do it with. The budget was £5.3 million, which would be about 10 to 12 million Euros today. So we had no excuses but to do the best.
LS: I'd like to start the interview by asking you to describe how Irish radio emerged, particularly in terms of the state's role versus the commercial part of it.
HB: Surprisingly, radio in Ireland dates from 1925. The first broadcast was on the first of January, 1926. But in the year preceding, the government started an inquiry as to what kind of radio should happen in Ireland. To put it in context, Ireland at this stage was new as a republic, only two or three years old.
So it was amazing that this new government of Ireland had, as one of their earliest priorities, put radio on the agenda. As you can imagine, this was a fledgling state and there were many things that needed to be done. With roads to be built, hospitals to be built, schools to be built, the country had little money. But high in the agenda was the radio service, so it was very forward-looking.
Radio was in its infancy. Radio had started in the States in 1922. I think it was in March 1924, that the Dáil Éireann Committee reported on their deliberations. They had considered whether Irish radio would be a commercial station or a national radio station. They looked at the pros and cons of both and decided without a doubt that what Ireland needed was a national radio service. Various people they spoke to had recommended that a commercial network ought to be set up, but they said no. Instead they used the model of a national radio service, but with a slight twist. It would be a state broadcaster, so it would be run by license fees, but it could also take advertising revenue. That was unusual and, in particular, different from the BBC, which had started in 1924, before Irish radio was to begin broadcasting in 1926. So that was the background to it...