In another blow for the Irish music industry, Ireland’s longest running Irish music speciality show Totally Irish with John Barker on 98FM has been axed with immediate effect. This Sunday will see the man dubbed ‘The Lord Mayor of Irish music’ by Fight Like Apes and Other Voices’ May Kay deliver his final show on the station.

John Barker has helmed the show which began way back in 1989 for over a decade, providing a much needed pathway for up-and-coming Irish artists into commercial radio, introducing countless acts to listeners in Dublin and online. News of the axing will no doubt heighten the feeling within the Irish music community that commercial radio pays little more than lip service to Irish artists.

“It’s been blow after blow lately for Irish musicians and news of John Barker’s show being axed feels just as significant as anything else.” said a shocked MayKay, pictured below celebrating John’s tenth anniversary on the show. “John used his platform to showcase the absolute best in Irish, alternative music – one of the few left with that platform.”

An incredibly passionate, hard working and innovative man – a proper music fan. I’m sad at the idea of releasing new music and not having Totally Irish on 98FM as one of my top priorities to get played on. I’m sad and worried for all the musicians starting out their careers here now who will not have the same champions we had starting out 15 years ago. Who will they have? What’s left?”

Choice Music Prize nominated songwriter Ailbhe Reddy has similar concerns about how the next generation of acts will breakthrough when commercial radio in Ireland keeps closing its doors to new acts.

“John has always been the first port of call for many new artists looking to get their music out there. He keeps up to date on what everyone is doing, and is the first to support most of the Irish acts that have gone on to find success.” she says before noting that Barker is a great sounding board for many independent artists. 

“I first met him at a gig in 2014 and he’s since listened to every release I’ve ever put out ahead of time, and always given great feedback. There’s very few folks out there with his passion for music!”

While John Barker may not have the profile of DJs like Paul McLoone and Fergal D’Arcy, his loss is likely to have a far more negative affect on Irish musicians’ prospects than theirs as it will mean a loss of over a hundred hours of radio programming dedicated to contemporary Irish music will have vanished from the airwaves only to be replaced by yet more Coldplay.

The international success of new Irish acts like Pillow Queens, CMAT, NewDad, Kojaque, BiigPiig, Bicep and many others in recent years shows that the standard of Irish music outside the daytime pop bubble is incontrovertibly high. With the continually narrowing offer being provided by commercial stations, it is once again time – as it was at the time 2FM was launched – to create a space for other types of music. Irish radio is failing the current generation of acts to the same degree as it was failing the generation that cried out for the creation of 2FM.

It is clearly time to create a 3FM, if you will, a station to occupy the the BBC6/KEXP gap in the Irish market. A station that doesn’t believe that the appetite for other genres of music only commences after 8PM. A station that is prohibited from having more than 20% crossover with the playlists of the existing commercial stations.

Let’s be clear though, there is nothing wrong with 2FM, Today FM etc. They are and always will be an essential part of the radio offer, delivering the hits to people in a very efficient manner. But there’s simply too much of that formatting in the Irish radio landscape.

A myriad of campaigns to get more Irish music on radio have failed over the years for various reasons, but largely because they have collectively failed to point Irish musicians’ anger at the main culprits for the state of the Irish radio landscape; the regulators. After all, everything that’s good or bad about Irish radio falls square at the feet of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. They issue the licences, they monitor the clauses. And nothing will change without their say so.

Tune in to the final Totally Irish with John Barker on 98FM from 9-11PM this Sunday.