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An ode to Lyric FM: Letters from the public ask RTÉ to protect their 'oasis of calm'

“In our troubled world of Boris, Brexit, Trump and other forms of madness, Lyric is an oasis of culture, calm and beauty.”

A letter from a
A letter from a "disenchanted" Lyric listener.
Image: Freedom of Information

MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC, Senators, broadcasters and music-related associations wrote to RTÉ asking for Lyric FM to be saved, following the suggestion that it would be cut.

A 12 September report on PrimeTime said RTÉ was considering the future of Lyric FM, and that the station could be axed and turned into an online-only offering as part of the restructuring plan for RTÉ.

An Uplift petition was set up to save the station and gathered over 22,00 signatures; on 6 November RTÉ announced that Lyric FM would stay, but its production is to be moved from Limerick and split between Cork and Dublin, resulting in some job losses.

On 10 December, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar requested that this plan to move Lyric FM be put on hold pending the outcome of the public service broadcasting commission.

Correspondence

According to a Freedom of Information request released to TheJournal.ie, over 130 pages of correspondence from the public, musicians and musical groups was sent to RTÉ over the course of seven weeks between the first report that the station was to close, and the announcement that it would stay open.

All of this correspondence was in support of Lyric FM, and came from – for example – The Irish National Opera, University Concert Hall, and the President of the University of Limerick.

One emailer said that presenter of Movies and Music Aedín Gormley was Disney’s partner of choice due to her “melodic voice, encyclopedic knowledge of movies and musicals, fierce intelligence” and of Lyric’s “incredibly high”, “world-class” standards. 

I ask you to listen carefully to not just the scale of this feedback and the outcry at the potential loss of Lyric FM, but to the quality of the arguments from your audiences and those who believe Lyric FM reflects the very best of who we are as a people and as a nation.

A member of the public wrote that “in our troubled world of Boris, Brexit, Trump and other forms of madness, Lyric is an oasis of culture, calm and beauty”. 

I urge you not to let yourselves, and us, down by sacrificing Lyric so that the books can be balanced. 

Here is more of what Limerick locals, loyal Lyric listeners, and TV-licence holders said about those initial plans to axe Lyric FM. 

Letters from listeners

Of the letters sent in from members of the public, or those that didn’t specify an organisation they were a part of, a constant theme was that Lyric offers them an escape from pop music and the news.

They praise the presenters on Lyric, too – with a number of letters suggesting the “delightful, knowledgeable” staff and presenters should be paid as much as those on RTÉ Radio One. Others say that Lyric makes their TV licence fee worth paying, and that it’s a favourite among the “over-60s”.

“The programmes are a perfect antidote to the ongoing bad news stories and depressing discussions on RTÉ 1,” one person wrote. “I know several students who tune into Lyric during times of stress – they find it a perfect way to switch off from the stress of studies.”

I would urge you to reflect on the disproportionate impact the closure of Lyric FM will have culturally, socially and regionally when you measure the short term financial relief such a move would yield.

A listener from Co Clare wrote: “It is a huge shock to hear that a sword of Damocles may be hanging over the single best thing about RTÉ.”

After praising the presenters on Lyric, the person wrote: “You have a treasury of skills at your disposal. Please don’t dispose of it.”

Another wrote on 28 October: “Does classical music or new non-mainstream music (not constantly interrupted by advertisement) not serve as an essential therapeutic tool in today’s everyday life where people (not least young people) are constantly flooded with noise, mainstream pop music input and populist discourse?”

A listener from Kilkenny wrote that Lyric FM’s “music and songs are so uplifting, a real tonic for soul and body. Please do not drop Lyric, it would be an utter shame and deprive us of a unique station that offers what no other does”. 

The choice of music is totally superb. Even the fabled BBC Radio 3 can barely compare. Please spare this wonderful gem; a beacon of Irish culture that all should be really proud of.

A letter from Skerries said that they felt “that this is an attack on the older generation in Ireland… what happened to choice?”  Another listener wrote in to say they understood “the miracle that is RTÉ Lyric FM”.

I have a long career in broadcasting and I am deeply impressed by the diligence, enthusiasm, passion and hard work of a constantly over-stretched Lyric staff. It is astonishing what they produce with so little and the way they connect with a wide musical audience… Please don’t let them damage the jewel that is RTÉ Lyric FM.

On 7 October, a listener wrote in to say that Lyric was “an oasis in a desert of endless chat shows and news updates. Please do not axe the goose that lays all the golden eggs.”

Music industry

In a letter addressed to RTÉ Director General Dee Forbes, the Irish National Opera said that while RTÉ’s financial problems are “unprecedented”, “cutting off one of its own limbs cannot be the solution”. 

It said that Lyric FM had been the “epicentre for classical music and opera, while also broadcasting jazz, traditional, film music and documentaries. It has always straddled both entertainment and enlightenment. It has provided information, fostered debate and encouraged experimentation.”

The RIAM said that: “We need to fight so hard at the moment in these very scary times, for the survival of classical music in Ireland… As musicians and educators, we need RTÉ Lyric FM in so many ways.”

Independent Irish record label Diatribe Records was “deeply saddened” at the news, saying that the organisation relies “critically” on the “open-minded and diverse” programming on Lyric to reach its audience. 

Without access to this crucial public service, our work would be severely limited. Record labels today are, in truth, no longer viable commercial ventures, and so the only real reason for undertaking such a labour of love is the satisfaction of emotionally connecting with the audience.

 The Association of Irish Composers said it was “shocked” by suggestions that Lyric FM would be shut, and gathered the signatures of 50 members by 8 October who oppose closing the station.

“The station is RTÉ’s only outlet for the cutting edge artistic voices that play a major role in justifying Ireland’s image of itself as a global cultural powerhouse.”

Members of the Limerick Choral Union wrote to RTÉ to emphasise the importance of classical music, and attached a petition from their group, along with the Boherbuoy Brass and Reed Band.

Twenty years ago when Lyric FM was set up, it gave Limerick something to be really proud of at a time when the city’s reputation was in tatters for other reasons.

A member of the Dublin International Film Festival said that Lyric demonstrated “high levels of professionalism and broadcasting excellence”.

The Westport Festival of Chamber Music expressed its concern at axing Lyric, saying that the station had “excelled, and continues to excel on many levels”. 

“Classical music is often perceived as elitist, yet Lyric successfully brings classical music to a very wide audience attracting 273,000 listeners on a weekly basis.” 

The staff of Lyric FM themselves wrote in to the board of RTÉ, to say that their listeners had been in touch to express their “heartening” support for the station.

It said there had been “great support” from institutions and organisations in the music and art worlds, adding that it would be “impossible to detail it all here”. 

The letter stated that “we have endured through major staff cutbacks and a lack of corporate and marketing support for the work we do. Bluntly put, the corporate priorities have always been elsewhere”. 

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