RTÉ Radió na Gaeltachta began 40 years ago as a broadcast service for the people of the Gaeltacht, “and they fought very hard for it,” said Séamus Mac Géidigh, manager of the RnaG station in Doirí Beaga, Gaoth Dobhair.
From broadcasting just two hours a day when they started in 1972, RnaG became a 24-hour service in the 1990s, and now draws listeners from around the country as well as listeners abroad, who tune in via the internet.
“I think people sometimes think we’re a local station but we’re a national station,” the manager said. “We are the Irish leg of RTÉ.”
The move to a 24-hour station enabled RnaG to expand the staff, develop new programming and develop their newsrooms around the country.
“I would be very proud of our local news service, a service which was devised 40 years ago when mobile phones, emails, Facebook and Twitter were unheard of,” Séamus said.
The Donegal manager said the station developed the strong news service with the help of local correspondents throughout the Gaeltacht, who provided the first local news service, which has become the flagship of the station. Just last week, RnaG journalist Frances Nic Géadaigh was named Radio Presenter of the Year at the Celtic Media Festival in Derry, one of a number of RnaG broadcasters to receive the honour over the years.
The station’s smart election coverage has always been one of its strengths, and over the years the station has gone toe-to-toe with any national broadcaster, with their coverage of national events, Olympics, World Cups and European championships. Closer to home, they regularly cover local and national GAA matches, another of the station’s strengths.
Séamus joined RnaG as a producer in 1988 and has been manager since 2004. He said the growth of the Irish language outside the Gaeltacht has been evident not only in the rising numbers of gaeilscoileanna around the country but through the station’s growing national listenership and the number of internet listeners they have around the world. The change in audience demographics at home and abroad may bring its own questions.
“Where are we going now? Do we need to make changes?” he said. “That’s something we need to think about.”
The Donegal studios alone boast two of RnaG’s daily flagship programmes: the long-running morning programme “Barrscéalta”, with presenter Áine Ní Churráin and producer Colm Ó Dúlacháin; and “Rónán Beo @3” in the afternoons with presenter Rónán Mac Aodha Bhuí and producer Dónal Mac Ruairí.
The breadth of RnaG programming illustrates how the station continues to draw new audiences even as they remain true to their Gaeltacht roots.
There is a segment on Rónán’s programme on Tuesdays that brings together Toose Mac Gearailt of Ciarraí, Máire Feirtéar of Gaillimh and Micí (Whiting) Mac Aoidh of Machaire Rabhartaigh. Speaking from studios in the different Gaeltachts, they discuss Irish words -- new ones for new technologies, old words that maybe have fallen from use.
“It goes down very well -- there’s great craic in it,” Séamus said. “And it demonstrates how we can draw the different gaeltachtaí together.”