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Allow myself to introduce… myself

So I’ve decided to start writing this blog thing again and I thought I might as well begin it with an introduction… and I’ve a feeling this is going to be a bit longer than I’d prefer. Oh well!

So who am I? I’m an Irish fella in my (very) early forties, who got married just over a year ago. If you recognise the quote in the title above (as being from Austin Powers), you might think my favourite genre of movie is daft and slightly anarchic comedy… and you’d be right, although my tastes also extend to thrillers, action, sci-fi and some horrors.

My interest in good (and slightly anarchic) comedy extends to radio, hence my love for BBC Radio 4 classics such as The Goon Show and I’m Sorry, I haven’t a Clue as well as modern classics such as Just a Minute and The Unbelievable Truth. In (believable) truth, the BBC would certainly be one of my dream places for my career to eventually take me. In fairness, I always had a love of all things creative and was, as a child, quite heavily into Speech & Drama in school, later progressing to writing poetry and short stories of my own – all (somewhat sadly) lost when in a fit of temper and lack of self-belief, I flung a book of my own collected works into the fire.

Later in life, my creative interest and focus returned to radio when the opportunity came up to work in a community station (in Dundalk) while I worked in a large electrical retailer to pay my way… so it was the pain-in-the-arse job (dealing with the ‘great unwashed’) during the week, followed by the bit of craic on a Friday night which – while it may have been voluntary – I knew that some people made a career out of. Perhaps the fact that I started in community radio meant that my introduction to working in the medium involved doing it for free, not seeing it as a ‘job’… and therefore, doing it for the love of it. That’s a good thing.

The community station is still going (and is still one of the best in the country in my opinion) and the large electrical retailer has long since closed that branch. When I later realised that it was, in fact, possible for me to do what I loved as a career instead of just as a past-time bit of craic on a Friday night, I left Dundalk and went back to college as a mature student to get qualified to do just that. It just so happened that I did this just after a particularly bad relationship breakup… so the chance to reboot my life and start afresh couldn’t have come at a better time.

The college I went to was of course Ballyfermot College of Further Education – or BCFE (or ‘Ballyer’) – and a better choice I couldn’t have made. To digress for a second, if you are of college going age (and that was early 30’s for me at the time!) and if you want to make a career for yourself in radio, then that’s the place you want to go. Don’t just take my word for it – look at the list of former students there – so many household names from radio stations around the country and beyond. Take a look at the excellent tutors who run the courses there – former and current radio greats from the likes of (the original) Radio Nova. Oh, and take my word for it… at this stage, I do know what I’m talking about.

So – back to me. Allow myself to introduce… myself… as I am now.

During college, work experience led to actual work – with my first paid (albeit part-time/fill-in) broadcasting job coming in the form of news reading on a regional youth-targeted station, covering the 8 counties of the north-east and midlands. I revelled in being able to be first to air with some breaking stories… although it certainly helped that our bulletins went out at ten minutes to the hour (in order to be ‘back to the music!’ when everyone else had their news).

Since finishing in college (with a first degree in Media Production & Management), I bounced around a bit, job-wise – firstly, for nine months as producer of a newly started late night talk show, which we took from zero to (I think) roughly 14,000 listeners across the country. In the six or so years since I left that job, that show has won a couple of awards but what really matters – the quality of what comes out of the speakers and the number of listeners – has changed very little. It’s good to know when to move on and, for my own reasons, I did. Quitting a job with nothing to go to – especially in the middle of a recession – isn’t the most advisable thing to do, but it was having a negative impact on me in a number of ways so I had to cut it loose.

I went on to read the news and produce the breakfast show on a rock station. This was good for a while but, as is the way in modern media, consolidation (with our news team merging with another station’s) and schedule changes (with the breakfast presenter moving to drive time) meant that the work effectively dried up there.

I’ve never enjoyed being unemployed, but that’s the situation I then found myself in. Sure, I kept trying, kept sending the demos out, did bits here and there – produced a couple of short-run one-off series, read weekend news… work, however, was “few and far between” and hardly enough to pay my way, so I was still somewhat reliant on those state benefits. Again, this didn’t do much for my feelings of self-worth – and this was compounded by the fact that the one thing that the authorities (at the time anyway) seemed to be inordinately suspicious of, was a person who was both unemployed and working part-time. I seemed to be more the subject of scrutiny than those who simply weren’t bothered working, even though I was always completely above-board and honest with them.

How dare I complicate matters by filling in forms to say how much or little I’d worked each week and submit letters (at their request) from the station saying that yes, this was all the work they could currently give me. How dare I create extra work for them by having to have regular meetings with the social welfare people explaining ad-infinitum the transient and the part-time nature of my work. How dare I not just go properly unemployed and thus save them all that extra paperwork… or get a ‘real job’ like my old retail one – one which might slowly numb my mind, but hey – at least it’s an honest week’s work for an honest week’s pay. I was under constant embarrassing scrutiny, and it seemed they did their best to make it increasingly difficult to access the meagre funds that I was perfectly entitled to.

I eventually decided to give the welfare system the two fingers and strike out on my own – registering for income tax and declaring myself a sole trader with a business name. I had such grand plans to use my IT skills;- fixing computers, doing network installations, writing websites, all that jazz… while realising that, while no longer ‘following my dream’ of a media career, this would at least be a realistic and practical path. The dreams would have to go on the back burner, or so I thought.

While running the ‘business’ (not very successfully, it must be said) from home, I reverted somewhat to my voluntary/training roots with radio… so I was doing the stuff I wasn’t too fond of during the week (for money) and volunteering (on a Friday afternoon) on an online station which was run by a national broadcaster as a training station to help people get into radio. Luckily enough, this led on to me getting back on air with commercial radio – with a weekend music show on a well known and respected local station.

I was also, in this time, writing my own web site about radio (- called “RadioNation” – it was basically an Irish version of RadioToday, the radio news site, before RadioToday decided they’d launch an Irish version themselves), through which I came to the attention of a local station based in the midlands… whose programme director got in touch to ask… did I know anyone who could do commercial production & station sound? Their commercial production manager had to leave suddenly due to a personal family emergency. I didn’t, but I said I’d ask around.

The thing was – and still is – that the head of commercial production position in radio is a fairly specialised one and there are only so many people in the country that can do it and do it well. This means, of course, that it’s a good job to get – and a fairly secure one if you’re good at it. When I couldn’t find anyone who could jump in, they asked if I could give it a shot myself… I’d never done anything on this scale before, but I was only too happy to try it. I filled in for a few weeks here and there, then a few months later, the arrangement became more permanent. That was 3 years ago now and I’m glad to say I’m still there!

In that time I’ve learned a lot – I’ve refined and redefined a lot about how the job is done (you have to make it your own, in a way) and I’ve also filled in on air – on breakfast, the afternoon show, drive time, the rock show and a specialist music show, as well as presenting my own show for a month (during “silly season”, when there was a lot less news to talk about so the main daytime talk-driven show took an hour off) – which I’m planning on submitting for the radio awards this year. I have a lot to thank this station (Midlands 103) for – without the steady work, I wouldn’t have been able to get married, and would be in a lot more financial difficulty than I am – but the main thing is the faith they’ve shown in me. Sometimes a bit of faith and belief in someone is all it takes;- encourage them to shine and they will. After past difficulties, it’s also had a very much-needed positive effect on my personal self-worth and mental health, which I am very grateful for, and I now look to the future far more positively than before.

In conclusion (finally!), what will this blog be? To be honest, I haven’t figured that bit out yet. It may be a collection of random observations, stories of travel and discovery, silly things I’ve seen on the web or elsewhere. It may be some or all of these things and it may just be a place for me to practise my writing. I believe we all have a novel in us bursting to get out. I tried to get mine out recently and while I have a few thousand words committed to a Word document, I have no idea where it’s going yet. As David Bowie said, “I have no idea where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring”. Well… I’ll do my best!

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