Campus Meets: Garvan Rigby

If you’ve noticed a change in the atmosphere around Ireland and people seeming a bit more jolly and festive, Christmas FM might have something to do with it. Ireland’s first, and only, Christmas music station relaunched last week for their ninth year on the air to an ever-delighted nation. The return of the station is a much anticipated annual countdown, as for many, co-founder of the station Garvan Rigby says, “Christmas starts when Christmas FM comes back”.

Garvan Rigby is one of the co-founders of the “full format Christmas radio station” which is, as it sounds, is devoted to “Christmas themed and with Christmas content”. As it stands it is the only station of its kind in the country, and it is treasured by many – including yours truly. Speaking about the impact the station has on the country, Rigby admits that the station “has the integral parts of Christmas … the main ingredients” which explains why so many associate the start of Christmas with the station.

Christmas FM has been on our airs for the Christmas period for almost 10 years now, despite the increasing competition streaming sites pose to radio stations. Although on Spotify has a huge catalogue of music in front of you, Rigby argues that “Spotify never has the personal connection”. What makes Christmas FM a radio station and not just a constant stream of Christmas music is “not just the music, but everything in between” from “the dedications, the children’s jokes” and most importantly, the often heart-breaking charity stories.

After all, that’s what the station is. “Christmas FM is not a charity”, Rigby clarifies. “What many people think is that when they donate or send a text they are donating to the station, but they are donating to the charity, not the station … The station is funded by sponsorship which this year is Cadbury and Dunnes Stores. All funds raised by the station go to the charity”.

Every year the station picks a different charity partner for which they will raise money through their four weeks on air, and this year it is Sight Savers. When speaking about choosing which charity to fundraise for, Rigby speaks about the difficulty as “all charities are deserving”. The station “like to mix it up, we never do the same charity two years in a row … we’ve done some different things over the years”.

(Vogue Williams, Emma Kennedy Wilson, Head of Giving at Sight Savers and Darragh O’Sullivan, Co-Founder of Christmas FM at the launch 2017).

Charities apply to the station in March and must fit certain criteria such as “all ages, all genders” giving them as much scope as possible when fundraising. Although some people may have charities close to their heart, the fact of the matter is, according to Rigby, “it’s a simple message. Make a donation and you can change someone’s life”.

One of the most important aspects of the station is, of course, the music. The station has a huge catalogue of music that they play, yet there is one song that crops up at the start of the station’s air-time, “Christmas Shoes”.

“It’s like marmite”, Rigby laughs. “It divides the nation… we put up a poll every year and there are people who absolutely hate it, and there are those that love it. So we like to sprinkle the song so those that love it get to hear the song, and those that don’t, don’t have to listen to it a lot.” And speaking as one who loves the song – I only wished they could play it more!

Would Christmas FM ever want to expand? “Of course, we’ve had countries approach us, but we have to take it one step at a time”. There is also a Christmas FM, their first time broadcasting in the UK and “the first Irish station broadcast in the UK on FM or DAB”. While it is not directly related to the Irish station here in Ireland, the premise is similar. “They have UK presenters, the music is slightly different … we would play more Irish music, more local talent”.

Because that’s, I think, is what’s at the heart of Christmas FM. It unites the country. It is a collective outlet for us to celebrate the festive period, but most importantly, it reminds us of the other part of Christmas. It reminds us to give. So while you’re singing and humming along to your favourite song this year couretsy of Christmas FM, don’t forget why the station is there in the first place.

You can donate to Christmas FM’s charity partner, Sight Savers, here.

Still here? Read next: What It’s Like To Volunteer For The Nation’s Favourite Festive Radio Station