RTÉ publishes thousands of early radio recordings online

Padraig Conlon 23 May 2023

RTÉ has announced the publication of some of its earliest radio recordings from the RTÉ Archives, which are now available online for the public to enjoy.

The collection, available at RTÉ Archives | Acetate Disc Collection (rte.ie), includes over 5,300 recordings made for RTÉ Radio between 1927 and 1970s and gives a fascinating and rare insight into the voices, sounds, topics and processes involved in the creation of early radio broadcasting at RTÉ.

Over the last three years, RTÉ Archives has been creating digital files from thousands of fragile acetate discs which contained the original recordings.

The recordings are now preserved for the long term thanks to the support of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, Archiving Scheme, which has now been incorporated into the recently established, Coimisiúin na Meán.

The acetate disc is the earliest sound recording format held by RTÉ Archives. These discs were used in the production, recording and broadcast of programmes for Radio Éireann.

Among the collection are full programmes and news broadcasts. There are also sound effects, inserts, performances, interviews and reports, all created for use in the production of radio programmes.

Commenting on the publishing of the Acetate Collection, Bríd Dooley, Head of RTÉ Archives said: We are delighted to open up this hugely evocative collection from the earliest decades of broadcast recording technology.

“It will take audiences back to the mores, sounds and voices from 1927 onwards as the new Irish State was emerging, many decades before television itself came along.

“It provides a unique insight our audiences can now enjoy and will be a source of important discovery for researchers, programme makers, historians and educators alike.

“We are very grateful to Comisiúin na Meán for its support of the very specialist preservation and cataloguing development work involved under the Archive Funding Scheme, and to our partners at the Irish Traditional Music Archive who, together with our team of archive specialists, developed the catalogue and the online publication.

“At the beginning of this project we had the labels and recordings, whereas now we have a rich and searchable resource. We will continue to enhance the collection as we learn more about these recordings.”



Opening of the Cork radio station 6CK (1927) 

The earliest recording from the collection features the opening of the Cork radio station 6CK on the 26 April 1927.

“In opening the Cork station tonight, I hope to bring before the world a new and largely unexplored vein of Irish talent.” (Minister for Posts and Telegraphs J.J. Walsh)

LISTEN HERE:  RTÉ Archives | Collections | Opening Of Cork Radio Station (rte.ie)

Maud Gonne Recalls Evictions (1947) 

Among the Irish and international figures featured in the recordings is the nationalist and political activist, Maude Gonne. Recorded in 1947, she recalls witnessing evictions in her youth and taking part in the Land War.

“I didn’t want to go to balls and parties anymore for I would have had to dance and eat with the evictors.”  

LISTEN HERE: RTÉ Archives | Society | Maud Gonne Recalls Evictions (rte.ie)

Provincial News Round Up (1957) 

A local news report from with an international element that features Hungarian refugees who left their country following the Hungarian Uprising was crushed by Soviet forces in 1956. The refugees were housed at a former army camp in Knockalisheen in County Clare. The report here is from Provincial News Round Up in October 1957.

LISTEN HERE: RTÉ Archives | Collections | Provincial News Round Up (rte.ie)

Sean McBride jokes about the merits of radio (Wexford Festival 1952) 

The merits of radio come up in a lighthearted debate at the 1952 Wexford Festival on the benefits to mankind of some technologies. Up for discussion and comparison are the benefits of radio, the internal combustion engine and the gramophone.

Seán MacBride jokes that they are “disastrous” for mankind. Another participant says that radio is “an invention of the devil” that has “reduced people to a moronic state”

LISTEN HERE: RTÉ Archives | Collections | Wexford Festival : Festival Forum (rte.ie)

Christmas in Amiens Street, Dublin (1949) 

One of a number of recordings made for the programme ‘Christmas Preparations’.

Presenter Norris Davidson describes Amiens Street Station Christmas decorations, and interviews Mr Farrelly, Station Master, about Christmas at the station.

LISTEN HERE: RTÉ Archives | Collections | Christmas Preparations : Station Master (rte.ie)

Unfortunately, recordings on acetate discs do not sustain repeated playing. The content on the discs would become inaudible after being played multiple times and the discs are considered a vulnerable format. With funding from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (now Comisiúin na Meán), RTÉ Archives has completed the creation of digital files for this collection and is now making these files available to be listened to by the public.

For more on the Acetate Collection, visit RTÉ Archives | Acetate Disc Collection (rte.ie)

For more on RTÉ Archives, visit www.rte.ie/Archives.

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