January 3, 2011
It’s 8.15am on New Year’s Eve.
AC/DC’s Thunderstruck – a song that, if you have been frequenting night clubs down the country recently, you’ll have noticed has replaced AmhrÃ¡n na bhFiann as the finale of choice – is blasting out on the Morning Show on Radio Nova.
Over on Morning Ireland, Brian Cowen is telling me about the wonderful life and times of Bertie Ahern as the self-reverential ding-dong of Irish politics rambles pathetically on. For those more interested in Angus Young than Aengus O’Snodaigh, Brian Eno than Brian Cowen or Rory Gallagher than RuairÃ Quinn, it is clear that radio stations like Radio Nova are filling a vacuum.
Although no figures are out yet, it seems that Nova has got people talking, which is exactly what radio stations have to do to succeed. I know a little bit about how difficult this is. As the first voice heard on Newstalk’s Breakfast Show years ago, I now realise how difficult it is to get people to tune in, no matter how hard you try.
The Radio Nova mobile phone app was one of the most successful downloads last year. Its Facebook page is going from strength to strength and anecdotal evidence, from the quality of its ads in recent weeks, suggests it is doing the business.
It is tapping into something. It has identified a new type of person: its target audience. It is focusing in on ‘Nova Man’.
While Breakfast Roll Man won the last election for Bertie, based on the promise of unending prosperity and the upward march of the housing market, Nova Man might determine the next election.
Whereas Breakfast Roll Man was full on, wedged up and incessantly, infectiously optimistic, Nova Man is circumspect, knowing and, above all, Nova Man has been burnt. He is not easily impressed. He knows what he doesn’t like and it is the establishment parties with their vested positions, but he doesn’t know yet what he does like and from what he sees there is no real alternative. No one is speaking to Nova Man.
I noticed Nova Man first on the sidelines at an under-eight soccer match. Five dads were on the side of the pitch rhapsodising about this new station, Nova, back in early October.
These men, in their late 30s and early 40s,were rejoicing at a radio station playing Teenage Kicks before 7.30am, playing the Doors’ LA Woman, Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb, the Clash’s Rock the Casbah, Blinded by the Light by Bruce Springsteen, Rat Race by the Specials or Monkey Gone to Heaven by the Pixies – all before the children were dropped to school.
When they weren’t talking music, they were talking politics and finance and how we are going to get out of this mess collectively, which was of course, nothing more than the personal becoming the political.
Nova Man was facing huge problems and wanted to discuss these in the context of our society, rather than in the context of himself alone.
A few days later, a taxi driver eulogised About Nova describing it to me as ‘lad rock’.
He spoke of a sort of guilty pleasure that lots of men and women experience when they hammer out the riff of Radiohead’s Paranoid Android on their own ‘air guitar’ at a red light in Castleknock. It is the same sweet satisfaction that many get from tapping out the beat of Smells Like Teen Spirit on the snare drum that is your steering wheel while stuck in traffic on the Stillorgan Road.
Just for a beautiful minute, to Nova’s soundtrack, you are Slash strutting the stage, stroking your Stratocaster to Sweet Child o’Mine at Madison Square Garden, rather than the product manager of a new brand of breakfast cereal.
Like the blokes at the soccer match, what bonds all these Nova people together, is demography, a shared, unpretentious musical heritage and nostalgia.
The fathers at the football match come from all sorts of backgrounds – some are professionals, some are civil servants, some self-employed and more than a few are in deep financial trouble, either having lost their jobs or entered negative equity, with businesses struggling or a combination of all three. They have a stake in this society, they have children, homes and a life in Ireland.
Most emigrated in the 1990s and came back to build the place. Some made silly mistakes; most didn’t but are now being asked to pay for the greed of others.
They are angry, not least because they are the generation that has been shafted twice by Fianna FÃ¡il, first by Haughey and then by the Ahern/Cowen axis.
What they remember is going to bed as kids in the suburbs in the late 1970s and early 1980s with a radio listening to Radio Nova – Dublin’s most successful pirate radio station.
They remember having the tiny Korean transistor under the covers and hearing Out of Control for the first time ever and thinking could these guys really be from Dublin?
They also remember Haughey telling their parents to tighten their belts.
The old Radio Nova was their childhood. It was exciting, illegal and therefore coveted.
They were too young to get the famous Radio Nova Boogie Bus, which left outside Trinity to take adults to a den of iniquity called Club Nova in Kilternan, where in my mind anyway, only beautiful things must happen to beautiful people. After Tamango’s or Flamingo’s, Club Nova was Dublin’s Studio 54,Manumission and Pasha rolled into one.
Today, the suburban child who fought sleep to learn off the opening lines of Rattrap, who did his best Geldof snarled lip attitude is part of a crucial demographic in Irish society.
He is Nova Man. In the months ahead, he will be a key battle-ground for the political process.
He is too old to emigrate, too young to give up.
He is too conservative for radical change, too radical for more of the same.
He has too much of a stake to knock everything down, but realises that everything needs to be rebuilt. And he wants someone to listen to his story.
The party that wakes up and tunes in to Nova Man, will be the one that gets the people talking.