Longwave radio closure a long time coming for RTÉ

Broadcaster is right not to spend millions in public money to keep outdated service going

The dying days of any technology are often the most expensive, the most protracted and the most painful. For RTÉ, now close to finally cutting the cord on the Radio 1 longwave service used by an unknown number of listeners in the Irish community in Britain, the sums required to maintain it crept past the point of logic and affordability as long ago as 2014.

It was in September of that year when the closure of the service was flagged. Originally given a month’s notice, the seeming abruptness of the decision sparked ire among community groups representing the Irish diaspora in Britain, who campaigned via politicians in Dublin to keep it going.

At this point Radio 1 had only been on longwave for a decade. For most of the time before that, its LW 252 frequency was occupied by the station Atlantic 252, which broadcast pop music aimed at UK listeners from its Co Meath transmitter.

In the end, the reprieve given to Radio 1′s longwave service nine years ago has almost doubled its lifespan. This long stay of execution included a month-long outage in 2019 when RTÉ undertook “significant remedial work” on the transmission equipment, guaranteeing the continuation of the service for two years.


That time is now more than up. To continue to provide a reliable longwave service would have required capital investment of €2.6 million in the transmitter and the mast, RTÉ told the Future of Media Commission, which concluded in its 2022 report that the service should be shut down “in the short term”.

The fact that annual operating costs have climbed from about €250,000 to an estimated full-year 2023 cost of at least €400,000, thanks to the higher price of electricity, has effectively forced the issue for a State-owned broadcaster that is not exactly rolling in cash. From April 14th what was one of the last longwave radio services left in Europe will go off air.

RTÉ has published a list of alternative digital listening options for people in the UK who depend on Radio 1 for updates from Ireland. It is running an information campaign to help listeners in Britain continue to access the station. This is the right thing to do.

But to ask it to spend €400,000 of public money a year, plus €2.6 million in capital expenditure, to keep the longwave service on air would be unreasonable.