Lonán Ó Briain (University of Nottingham)

Broadcasting Rock: The Fanning Sessions As A Gateway To New Music


Shortly after the partition of Ireland in 1921, the two countries on either side of the new border established state radio stations to curate and promote their own distinct national cultural heritage. Nevertheless, listeners could tune in to broadcasts across the border to hear the latest popular hits if their own national station wasn’t playing them. This paper uses The Fanning Sessions, perhaps the most respected popular music radio show in Irish broadcasting history, to understand how certain broadcasters attempted to create an ‘all-Ireland’ borderless representation of Irish popular music. Drawing on interviews with host Dave Fanning and producer Ian Wilson, the research examines the pivotal role of these media for musicians and fans. An appearance on Fanning’s show was a career defining moment for emerging artists. Beyond radio airplay time, featured musicians were offered extensive recording time in the high-spec studios of RTÉ, something that was otherwise beyond the financial means of young performers in the 1980s, which enabled them to produce demos and, in many cases, secure their first recording contracts. As mediators between artists and audiences, these broadcasters retained powerful gatekeeping roles that positioned them as the arbiters of taste.


Lonán Ó Briain is associate professor of music at the University of Nottingham. He is the author of Voices of Vietnam: A Century of Radio, Red Song, and Revolution (OUP, forthcoming) and Musical Minorities: The Sounds of Hmong Ethnicity in Northern Vietnam (OUP, 2018) and co-editor of Sound Communities in the Asia Pacific: Music, Media, and Technology (Bloomsbury, forthcoming) and Made in Ireland: Studies in Popular Music (Routledge, 2020).

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