Dublin Digital Radio: Tuning in at the right time

Sophia McDonald chats with DDR about the future of radio broadcasting in Dublin’s increasingly gentrified city

An independent station with a flair for creative freedom, Dublin Digital Radio has thrived in an industry seeing increasing cuts and closures. With digital stations RTÉ Pulse and RTÉ 2XM sent to the gallows after RTÉ announced massive cuts, DDR, a volunteer-based station, continues to shine in Dublin’s dismal cultural climate.

Devised in 2016 by Brian McNamara and Sean Finnan, DDR has flourished since its establishment. Talking to Trinity News, Finnan shared how he and McNamara wanted to start DDR: “because we felt there was a gap in broadcasting [and] media… in general.” Three years later, the station airs over 140 shows and has become a community for creatives and artists, all of whom are volunteers. Shows are broadcast live on DDR’s website and shared on their Mixcloud account promptly after airing. The station’s ethos is based around “providing a quality platform for the various communities striving to create a socially and culturally progressive city” as well as being “inclusive” and striving to topple “media and cultural gatekeepers without losing [a] local [essence]”.

“…the station airs over 140 shows and has become a community for creatives and artists, all of whom are volunteers.”

DDR is currently based in Jigsaw, a community space on the northside of Dublin. Although this allows the station to curate shows and host parties, operating out of a room rather than a fully-functioning studio isn’t the most ideal. This has led to the station’s need for crowdfunding for a new fit-for-purpose sound-proof studio which will allow the residents to have more equipment at their disposal as well as a practical office space and guest lounge. Thanks to the support of their listeners, DDR were able to raise the €15,000 needed within a week. The new studio will be located in the old fruit and vegetable market in Smithfield. With construction already in the works, there is hope it will be ready before the end of the year.

Along with their Patreon, studio parties and table quizzes, the station is able to fund themselves, making them completely independent from any and all advertising. The station won the Mixcloud Online Radio Station of the Year award back in 2018 — a feat which speaks to the quality of the shows produced. They have also accumulated 150,000 live listeners and more than 200,000 playbacks of their shows since their initial broadcast. Unlike larger radio stations which specialise in a specific genre, music of all genres, as well as documentaries and discussion shows are included in their programming.

The parties which raise funds for the station are unique and intrinsic to DDR. With only a small space to play around with, the studio transforms into a dance floor. Finnan described the studio as having “no bar, no security. We do the door. We dictate the atmosphere,” making these parties like no other in Dublin. Residents play their sets throughout the night and the opening slot is given to a performance artist, usually a resident of the station who sets the tone for the rest of the evening. They differ completely from the usual nights of generic pop music found elsewhere and enable DDR’s listeners to contribute to the station whilst enjoying the free-spirited nature of a night on the town.

“Thanks to the support of their listeners, DDR were able to raise the €15,000 needed. Amazingly, the company was able to do so within a week.”

As the station has grown, so too has its community. DDR’s collective promotes creativity and freedom. The radio company acts as a network for all those involved. As Finnan explained: “I think the best thing we’ve done in the time we’ve been around has been creating so many different relationships…and bringing people together who have similar interests in similar things but may not have been in the same space.” At a time when Dublin is experiencing multiple crises, creative spaces are suffering. Places like Jigsaw offer people the space to develop ideas: “We could not have existed without paying for a studio and that was because of goodwill and good luck that we were in with Rabble (the non-profit newspaper, now defunct) and Jigsaw. That was an example of how cheap… and functioning space[s] work. They offer spaces to people, cheap spaces in order to pursue ideas that were probably not done before. Without cheap spaces, you can’t pursue those ideas. It’s incompatible having a blossoming cultural scene with the rents that are happening in a city like Dublin.”

As an alternative media platform, without the rules and regulations of a formal radio station, DDR’s DJs are free to create and air whatever they want. Izzy Thomas Howard runs a weekly show called Reverend Bill’s Unrighteous Radio which centres about Folk and Blues. Upon initially pitching the show, she received an all-round “positive reaction” and was told her show would be a “good contribution to the station”. Since starting last summer, Howard has been able to use her time at DDR to explore her radio persona and work on her show. “Not only am I proud of my show but of DDR and continuing to [be able to] represent them. I want to make my shows good because DDR is good. I want to put the work in, not only for myself to be polished and feel good about myself and about my show…I want to put the work in because [I’m] representing something that’s moving in an exciting direction.” Howard mentioned that DDR has a “youthful spirit to it that’s so much fun”. According to Howard, this happy-go-lucky attitude which the radio station exudes is apparent from its programming and events as the collective strives to capture something special.

“We could not have existed without paying for a studio and that was because of goodwill and good luck that we were in with Rabble and Jigsaw.”

Not only has DDR given its residents exciting opportunities to grow as artists and radio hosts but it has also worked in collaboration with other fellow creative bodies. Last March, as part of the Science Gallery’s Open Labs exhibition, DDR had a five-day residency. DJs and residents set up an online radio station which exhibited to the public how the station operates. The radio station also gave lectures in an effort to inform prospective radio hosts about the logistics of getting involved. At Open Ear Festival, DDR had an installation which explored the concept of stray frequencies which drift through Sherkin island off the coast of Cork. Using software-defined radio, people could directly interact with radio waves. DDR broadcast live from the festival, allowing their listeners as well as the festival-goers to experience the installation.

Going forward, DDR has the opportunity to become a cultural institution. Founded on inclusion and diversity, the station has built up a dedicated community. Their studio is the first landmark of many and DDR is carving out its own space not only physically but also culturally during a time when cultural space is being threatened by incessant gentrification. The station is acting as a beacon of hope for radio enthusiasts and creatives who are witnessing the likes of RTÉ cutting back on alternative media. The future is bright and DDR is just getting started.