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Action station: Donal Dineen

The latest radio listenership figures suggest that the once embattled Today FM is finally emerging as a credible national alternative to RTE. In the final of a four part series, Jackie Hayden meets No Disco founding-presenter, new-music savant and legendary nighttime DJ Donal Dineen

Jackie Hayden, 13 Mar 2002



Hotpress: Donal what’s the current state of Irish rock?

Donal Dineen: I believe in the title of the song ‘The Stars Are Underground’.

Anyway, the model for judging success or achievement is different now from ten to 20 years ago. Bands don’t necessarily see being “the next U2” as something to aim for. Creative goals should come first and I notice this happening a lot with young musicians based here, like David Kitt, Damien Rice, Paul O’Reilly, Jeff Martin, Adrian Crowley, Gemma Hayes, Jimmy Behan, David Donohoe and Donncha Costello.

The expansion of the range of music coming through is also encouraging, like Creative Controle, The Jimmy Cake, Estel, Decal and The Frames are all pursuing individual goals in a highly independent fashion. The rise of the DIY ethic has been a big development also. It has seen dozens of high-quality releases hit the shelves in the last few years. The Irish music section in record shops like Road are getting bigger by the day.

HP: Which of the new acts take your fancy?

DD: I think all of the above acts will be worth listening out for. In terms of live music, the Redneck Manifesto are putting on one good show after another. What they’re doing is different. They’ve room for improvement, maybe an additional instrument or two, but they pack a fair punch as it is. Watch out!

HP: And what about the state of Irish rock radio?

DD: Outside my own show I give music radio less time now than I used to. But I believe Phantom had a very good argument for a license, as did Jazz FM. Their commitment to good music was total and the airwaves need the kind of variety they would offer. In a national sense, striking a balance between a creative approach to programming and the commercial imperative is difficult, but eradicating all difference makes for pretty bland noise.

The capital is well served, however, and Spin FM will hopefully add to that. My experience of local radio is limited to Kerry where they’ve got an impressive approach to music with pockets of specialised programmes throughout the schedule.

HP: What of the new figures for Here Comes The Night?

DD: They’re up and they’re very good.

HP: What was your most embarrassing moment on air?

DD: So many it would be unfair to single one out... but...

My first night on air was my first live broadcast. Those initial shows were riddled with moments of pure panic. There are two studios in Today FM and I use Studio 1 to get ready, straight after The Last Word team depart. One day someone forgot to switch off Dunphy’s delay button, an anonymous little button which helps keep lawyers from the door. Everything went fine until I spoke for the first time. Total silence in my headphones. Strange, I thought. Then, 12 seconds later, the words echo back, repeating the lines word for word. It’s a task to communicate with an imaginary audience of 30,000 but with a 12-second-old version of yourself butting in, it’s impossible. There was some stuttering, a pause, the echo of a stutter, another pause. .e.e. cummings radio! The next morning the little button was given a label marked ‘delay’!

HP: Who is your favourite radio presenter?

DD: Brilliant radio can leave its mark on a time of day or on a day itself. For me, Sundays will only be Sundays as long as Micheal O Muircheartaigh is singing on the radio. The purity of his gift is both extraordinary and utterly simple. So many contented miles have been travelled with him as company. A humble man and the epitome of a radio star. Shine on!

HP: What are you currently playing a lot of?

DD: Two records from German band Lali Pun are on heavy rotation. They’ve blended together a very modern sound from all sorts of sources. Phil Spector could be producing, it sounds that good. One for long drives on the open road.

HP: Where do you stand on the great Ronan versus Louis debacle?

DD: I was neither bothered nor interested.

HP: Will you be featuring Six on Here Comes The Night?

DD: Yes, probably sometime around 1.05 a.m.

HP: What was the first record you played on the radio?

DD: David Gray ‘Late Night Radio’, of course.

HP: What was the last track you played on the radio?

DD: ‘Leb Wohl’ by Neu.

HP: Here’s your tie-breaker question. Complete the following sentence: “Eamon Dunphy should stay at Today FM because...”

DD: “… because – baby, it’s cold outside.”

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