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In 2003, I bought my first proper stereo system. It played CDs, had a twin-tape deck so I could record the pretend radio shows I spent hours on, a remote control and you could hook it up to a MiniDisc player. Two entire albums on a single disk. Imagine. I bought that stereo with money that my Uncle Joe had given me for my birthday a couple of year previous to that, just before he died. In fact, I still have a €1 coin leftover from the change as a memento to him. He was one of the people who had the biggest impact on my music choices. His Mick Jagger impression was second to none and whenever it’s a question of The Beatles or the Stones, the Stones will always win for me. That’s just one of many ways in which music is connected to my heartstrings.
With that stereo, I would stay up late and listen to all of the alternative music shows that never featured on my school commute. I suffered from insomnia pretty badly between the ages of 16 and 19 and it didn’t help that I had to get up at 6am every morning for school. I was full of worry and angst as a teenager; the perfect combination to delve so deep into music that it becomes your life. At that time, pop music did not feature in my life so I needed the late night radio shows as therapy. Jenny Huston on 2FM, Cian Ó Cíobháin’s An Taobh Tuathaill on RnaG and Alison Curtis’ Last Splash on Today FM were the soundtracks to my sleepless nights as the green hue from the stereo would gently light my room.
I lived in Kildare so the signal for Phantom FM when it was pure pirate was never great. We also had dial-up internet so when the station went off-air and online, I had no such luck of listening to alternative music whenever I wanted. Even if I didn’t have insomnia, I would have had to stay up late to listen to the music that I wanted to because there were no other options; unless I could keep the telly low enough as I watched 120 Minutes on MTV2, making sure my parents didn’t realise I was coasting on less than four hours sleep during my final years of school. I consumed music like a savage. I didn’t think that it was possible to enjoy a song or album by an artist unless you heard every bit of music that influenced it. I couldn’t buy one album from HMV, I had to buy three, and I had to understand why every artist got to the point that they were at.
Music was what kept me going then and especially in 2004 when I started fifth year in school and had an operation to have my right foot amputated. The time I spent alone increased and the feelings of worry and angst intensified then, along with all of the other teen issues can dominate and destroy your self-esteem but you oddly remember with a smile later on. That same year, Green Day released American Idiot and that’s when I discovered that I was a true music snob. As I sat hunched over my MiniDisc player with Elliott Smith’s From a Basement on a Hill playing back-to-back with Interpol’s Antics, I thought that no one could understand this music the way I did. It formed so much of my identity and it made my nights with just a stereo feel less lonely. I wish that I could still have the connection that I had to music when I was 17.
Of course, I was foolish to think that I was the only one who felt this way. Looking back now, albums like American Idiot probably got a lot of people through difficult times and, like a true music snob, I was a prick to think that their feelings were inferior to mine because of what they were listening to.
In 2006, I started taking driving lessons, the same year that I started college in DCU and Phantom returned to the airwaves as a fully-fledged alternative music station that actually reached Co. Kildare. I could listen to the music I wanted to in the middle of the day on the backroads of Maynooth, Straffan and Clane. As a young, barely-functioning adult, I was submerged in alternative music everywhere I went. Chemistry Tuesdays in Wax, Antics in Crawdaddy every Wednesday, Fibbers or upstairs in Doyle’s on a Thursday and Saturday night in Whelan’s. My CD pile at this stage consisted of Tilly and the Wall, Shout Out Louds, PJ Harvey and, my all time favourites, Queens of the Stone Age.
Irish music was in a really healthy place, too, as it stepped away from the singer-songwriter stance. Fight Like Apes had just played their first gig, The Immediate were pretty much the hottest band in town, Super Extra Bonus Party were the absolute craic and The Boom Boom Room hosted so many boisterous gigs, it’s a wonder the floors didn’t collapse. Indie and alternative music was no longer drip fed to me, I was fucking drowning in it.
Come 2008, I was a licensed driver and my car’s radio would flick between Phantom and Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, Interpol’s Our Love To Admire, Bloc Party’s A Weekend in the City or anything that featured members of Broken Social Scene. Those few hours a night I spent hidden in the dark listening to music in secret felt like a lifetime ago. Alternative music was now sociable and it was inescapable. Not far off was the release of Kings of Leon’s ‘Sex on Fire’, a song some say was the final nail in the coffin of indie music but really that’s when the lines between music genres started to blur. You couldn’t pigeonhole people with just one genre anymore and God forbid radio stations would ever mix genres.
The way we consume music has changed so much. We’ve all become music curators in our own way and that certainly challenged the role of music radio. In 2013 and the start of 2014, Phantom was in a glory streak as its presenters played a huge mix of genres and continued to promote and play homegrown acts. I was fortunate enough to appear on Richie and Richie’s Show a number of times so I got to be a part of one of my lifelong loves; alternative music radio. This wasn’t to last. In March 2014, Phantom came to an end and the alternative music lovers of Ireland mourned the station like a friend. This mourning period was cut short as TXFM emerged in its place. We had old and new presenters covering the usual alternative and indie routes but with an added focus on hip-hop, disco, electronic and the slightest touch of pop.
TXFM, for the last two years, has been the most listened-to station in my car. The same car that I took lessons in and the same car I drove to every music festival for the last 10 years. My music taste has changed over the years so when I change station, as pop came along at a later stage to save my life in another way, but TXFM is always my first choice.
When it was announced in March of this year that TXFM will be taken completely off air in October, my heart sank. Money talks and alternative music – being alternative and all – will never take money in the same way that commercial music can but when festivals like Electric Picnic and Body & Soul sell out almost every year, we know that there are enough people out there to keep a station like TXFM afloat. When I’m at home, I listen to Spotify, BBC R6 on digital radio or my records, so I guess I’m part of the problem; I couldn’t commit entirely to the station.
The times I listened to TXFM most always ended up being when Claire Beck, Joe Donnelly, Nialler9, Nadine O’Regan or Kelly-Anne Byrne were on-air. They are my driving companions, at every hour of the day. I will absolutely miss hearing the music they play but I will miss the reasons why they play that music the most. Radio provides the narrative and the heartstrings behind the music, something that’s missing from every streaming service, unless your friends are crafty with playlist titles (hat tip to Dean Van Nguyen, Jenn Gannon and Cian McHugh for making some of the finest and most personal Spotify playlists I’ve ever come across).
Even though the music scene in Ireland is bursting at the seams and we have more music festivals than we can shake a stick at, the remaining many Irish alternative radio shows on Today FM, Newstalk and 2FM are mostly late night shows; pushed away from peak times. For radio lovers and people like me, who had to stay way up past their bedtime to find a connection to the world, we’re not ready to go back under the duvets.