00:00 Saturday 18 April 2009  Written by Leo MCMahon

Disappointment locally as West Cork Today axed

LISTENERS to local radio station C103 were disappointed this week to learn that their weekdays morning programme 'West Cork Today,' presented by popular broadcaster David Young, has been axed.The announcement was made to David Young just ten minutes after what turned out to be his final broadcast from the Bandon studio on Holy Thursday by a member of senior management from Cork 96FM and C103 and by the human resources manager of the station's owner UTV Media. He has been given two months notice and office administrator, Donna Deasy from Bandon, one month's notice as employees of the station, which only last year re-launched itself as C103.

Speaking to The Southern Star from his home in Ballinspittle - instead of from his studio - on Tuesday morning, David Young said he was, naturally, very disappointed, but said he thoroughly enjoyed his five years working in West Cork. There had been a license arrangement with the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) to broadcast from studios in Mallow and Bandon, but before meeting management last Thursday, he understood that permission had been obtained from the BCI to allow future broadcasts from Mallow on a county-wide basis under the programme name 'Cork Today,' which is being presented by Patricia Messenger (previously host of 'North Cork Today').

David said he was informed that the decision was taken for financial reasons. However, during his tenure as presenter of 'West Cork Today', listenership figures were very strong and in 2007 the programme was shortlisted, along with those from national stations, in the PPI Radio Awards.

He stated that he himself was assured by local management that he had fully fulfilled his remit and he and his assistants at Bandon were complimented on the high standard and professionalism of the show, which was recognised nationally.

TO THANK

The unexpected nature of the announcement, said David, meant he had no opportunity to go on air again, so he wished to take the opportunity to thank the many listeners to 'West Cork Today' and all the team in Bandon.

"In the past few days, I have received numerous e-mails and texts from listeners who are very disappointed there is no longer a 'West Cork Today' programme every weekday morning from 10am to 1pm. These are the people who made the talk show, because it belonged to the listeners.

"They set the agenda and they gave vitality to the area," said David Young, who recalled the major input into issues in recent times such as the campaign to bring back the Swansea Cork Ferry, Bantry Hospital, the proposed Annaghamore development and the Special Scenic Landscapes directive controversy.

Wishing C103 all the best for the future, David said he hoped that at some stage, a current affairs programme would again be broadcast from Bandon because the region needed it and he believed that if people were in control of their own affairs, an area consequently thrived and prospered.

As for the future for the Westmeath native, who was head-hunted five years ago from Kerry to present the West Cork programme, David added: "West Cork Today was my full time gig. I still have a mortgage to pay and I need to find a job in the coming weeks".

Chief executive of Cork 96FM and C103, Kieran McGeary, told The Southern Star that the decision was based on a review of operations with the aim of trying to gain as many new listeners as it could in the West Cork area. It was also a fact that there was a certain amount of duplication with regard to programmes from North and West Cork being broadcast on air simultaneously and a certain degree of confusion among listeners.

The radio station, he stressed, was fully committed to continuing operations from Bandon, where two years ago, it invested around §250,000 in upgrading the facility at MacSwiney Quay. Today, it was not so relevant where one broadcast from and he assured listeners that there would be no reduction in the service to the people of West Cork.

Bantry native Martina O'Donoghue continued to present her daily 'Drivetime' programme from Bandon from 4 to 7pm and 'Cork Today' programmes would be aired from the Bandon studio from time to time.

Kieran pointed out that Patricia Messenger was no stranger to Bandon and West Cork, being the first voice on air from the the station 19 years ago. Laura Hallissey from Bandon, producer of 'West Cork Today,' would continue in that full time role with a colleague from North Cork for 'Cork Today' and her remit was to feed in material from her base in Bandon

C103 is part of UTV Media, which bought out both Cork-based 96FM and County Sound 103FM in 2001 and owns five stations in the Republic.

The axing of 'West Cork Today' has been met with a strong reaction in the region.

Regular contributor Quentin Gargan, Bantry, said he was astonished by the news.

"Radio licenses might be seen as lucrative hot property for the station's owner, UTV, but for us listeners that license implies a public service obligation to provide a vital local service. It appears that the idea is to cut costs by homogenising both the North and West Cork programmes into one to save on a couple of salaries yet it comes in a year when UTV's operating profit from radio rose by 12% to stg£18.5 million.

"West Cork badly needs its own radio programme and David Young has provided an excellent service for many years, giving people the opportunity to air their views, however diverse. The move to shut down this programme may be economic folly, because it is listened to and advertised on, due to the fact it provides a local news lifeline. Cork is too big a county to have one programme.

Quentin Gargan appealed to listeners to write to, phone or e-mail the BCI (e mail: info@bci.ie) requesting that the decision be reversed.

Eileen Kingston, Inchydoney, said she had the privilege of being the Clonakilty regional reporter since the days of County Sound in 1991 and looked forward to continuing doing so. However, she, along with many listeners who had contacted her, were concerned that an adequate radio service for West Cork is provided in the future and took the opportunity to thank and wish David Young all the very best.

Her comments were echoed by Joe McCarthy, Ballinascarthy, one of the founders of WKLR and, later, County Sound around 20 years ago.

Michael Regan, Ballydehob, a regular listener, contacted The Southern Star, saying he feared West Cork regional issues may not be addressed as incisively and the wider community could feel less engaged as a result of axing 'West Cork Today'. He also expressed disappointment that the presenter wasn't shown the courtesy, nor given the opportunity to thank his listeners and they, in return, didn't get the opportunity to express their appreciation,

"David Young had an affinity with his audience and built many relationship on a first name basis. He was very personable and sparky and addressed topics in an unassuming yet highly effective manner.

"What's more, the personal attention David brought to the programme engaged listeners and helped to lessen a sense of distance for people who are out on the peninsulas. Will the new schedule be able to recreate this?" he opined.

Michael Regan added that according to UTV's own figures, C103 West Cork had an audience of approximately 55,000 and as 'West Cork Today' filled one of the prime time slots, it would definitely be missed by its absence.

The issue was also discussed at Tuesday night's meeting of Bandon Town Council. Mrs. Rose Holland expressed concern at the job losses and also said that the ending of the West Cork regional programme would have a big impact on the town and region.

Mrs. Margaret Murphy-O'Mahony said local people would lose their grasp on what was happening in their area because the information and ability to make an input wouldn't be so readily available. Mayor Liz O'Brien concurred.

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