This week’s RTÉ programmes… in 1969 

29 August 2014 tbs.pm/5302

The Irish state broadcaster, RTÉ, has always had a very hard job.

Until recently, Ireland was one of the poorest countries in western Europe, which limited RTÉ’s income from both licence fees and advertising. Making this situation worse, much of the more populated parts of the country could easily get the full range of BBC national radio stations on medium wave and VHF television signals from the BBC and ITV in N Ireland and western Wales. With virtually the entire population able to speak English (mostly as a first language), RTÉ had both limited resources of its own and very well resourced competition.

RTÉ also had the job of being the state public service broadcaster, meaning it had to produce and play out the type of programming everybody wants to exist but few want to watch or listen to – worthy documentaries about crofting and peat, local interest features on tourism, reports on the latest happenings in the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) and Irish-language programming. These had to be fitted into the limited hours RTÉ could afford and the limited channels – one television network, one radio service. It was very easy for listeners and viewers to be lost for the entire evening if BBC-1 or UTV had a good night’s viewing ahead.

Nevertheless, the service provided by RTÉ on both television and radio managed to remain popular with the Irish people and the on-air presentation of the time documented here – the late 1960s – was powerful enough to be fondly remembered to this day.

The weekly RTÉ Guide, a large-format newsprint tabloid of 20 black-and-white pages, was, like most monopoly listings magazines in most countries in Europe, extremely popular. Although produced by RTÉ, it wasn’t afraid to let listeners and viewers complain about corporation policy or programming. On p2, all 4 viewer/listener letters are critical, some in quite strident tones, although this reflects the dire situation that had broken out in N Ireland earlier that month.

A reminder that Ireland is officially bilingual appears on p4, with an article in Gaeilge. On p6, when the listings start (with Saturday 30 August 1969), it’s possible to see where RTÉ itself dips into Gaeilge – around 2 hours on RTÉ Radio, by my reckoning, and 5 minutes in peak time on RTÉ Television.

On the radio side, the sponsored programmes stand out nicely, mostly being named purely by the sponsor’s brand. Running 1pm-3pm, their music-led service competes very well with the amount of sport opposite it on BBC radio; on weekdays, sponsored programming picks up again late at night, as BBC radio goes off air or runs out of needletime and Luxembourg switches to light music before closing. This allows RTÉ – and its sponsors – to make money from listeners in the United Kingdom, where the Athlone signal was easily received across the industrial west of the country. RTÉ’s output was said to be very popular with British housewives, keen to slip away from the Light Programme (by this point, Radio 2) when it switched to speech programming in the early afternoon.

You Say

3 responses to this article

ramones1986 10 May 2015 at 2:25 am

I wonder if RTÉ would encounter the same scenario in an alternate history scenario where most of the Irish are speaking Irish language (they’re would still be able to speak English, but as a second language.)

Les 8 October 2015 at 1:46 pm

Earlier in 1969, start up was at 5.30. The transmission hours were typical of european tv at the time. In july 1969 anglia itv came on air at 4pm – so not that much earlier.

I watched in spring 1969, and thought it was ok – better than it was later in the 70s.

They are still debating the angelus now…. It’s only one minute!

Sarah Boucher 14 February 2016 at 9:05 pm

what time in the schedule was Wanderly Wagon on?

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