It was like coming full circle chatting to Matt O’Keeffe on his farming programme on KCLR last week. Local radio is where my radio career began. It was October 1993 when I started at Shannonside/Northern Sound. I was only the same age as my university-going daughter is now. I had to pinch myself. The money was poor but I had been warned as much. It didn’t matter as this was as close to getting into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
I was given many jobs including presenting the weekend sports programmes, reading the daily sports bulletins and the three-times-daily farm news bulletin. In time, I would attend local authority meetings and present my own weekday current affairs show. I read the news and the death notices too. In local radio, you learn how the medium works from scratch, warts and all. It was and probably still is the perfect apprenticeship to a career in national broadcasting.
My only faux pas reading the deaths was to read the same death twice and midway through reading it for the second time, in a moment of panic needing to say something as a form of apology I blurted out: “Oh, he is dead already.”
Inventing a new breed of cattle, “sentimental heifers” was another howler. But proof if proof was ever needed that we all make mistakes and go on to better things.
Little did I think entering the studios of Shannonside/Northern Sound 29 years ago that farm animals would form the fulcrum for my life on the national airwaves.
The late great Eugene McGee, my mentor, in a thinly veiled swipe at RTÉ but in good spirits joked at his book launch a few years ago that it was no surprise RTÉ would hire a young fella from Castleknock to read out the cattle prices.
Of all my duties that got me in the door in Donnybrook some five years later, it was my experience of reading the daily farm bulletin that did it. Since the beginning of local radio, nearly all their schedules included a daily “farm news” slot aping what RTÉ had perfected with Michael Dillon.
As I leave broadcasting, I can look forward to getting the popcorn out on general election count day next time round. For I have been in a count centre at every election since 1997. That one was for Northern Sound.
Plonked in a pop-up studio in Cootehill, it proved historic with the election of Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, a product of the peace process that saw the first Sinn Féin TD of the modern era and the beginning of the Sinn Féin surge. It was local radio at its best. I interviewed Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Albert Reynolds live on air, with Reynolds noting it was historic in itself as it was the first every broadcast interview with all three together.
Around midnight, with the hall all but empty, Seymour Crawford (FG) got in on the seventh count along with Andrew Boylan (FG) and Rory O’Hanlon (FF) to complete the count. Brendan Smith (FF) had secured the second seat. As all the elected TDs had done, a drained and emotional Crawford came to the microphone and to paraphrase him, he spoke directly to his elderly mother who was listening at home and whom he lived with. “Mother, you can go to bed now. I got elected. My mother is blind and all she has is the radio so thank you for staying on air Damien.” I still well up remembering that exchange. The power of local radio.
Thanks to signing up to a seven-day trial in order to download an app I needed but forgetting to unsubscribe when I was done, I am now €239 lighter. What’s Joe Duffy’s number again.