- 20 Jan 21
In the midst of confusion, fear and isolation this year, people across Ireland tuned into local radio more than ever before. Recognising the power of local radio, and the important work that radio stations have been carrying out over the past year, we spoke to a selection of presenters from across the country – who told us how they rose to the multiple challenges of Covid-19.
Clare FM, the recent winner of the Silver Award for Local Station of the Year at the IMRO Radio Awards, continues to rank among the most popular local stations in Ireland. Over lockdown, the station saw a notable increase in their listenership – with their flagship current affairs show, Morning Focus, presented by Gavin Grace, maintaining its position as the No.1 choice for adults in Clare.
“The Covid crisis has presented an unprecedented challenge for all aspects of the media – but from a local radio point of view, the spin-off from it is that there does seem to be a stronger connection with community, and people’s sense of place,” Gavin notes. “My abiding memory from the early stage of the pandemic was our efforts to highlight the work that different groups were doing, in communities across Clare – to reach out and help their neighbours. There was a groundswell of support, and a real push to make sure that no one was left isolated. It was the worst of times, but it brought out the best of people.”
In the midst of these troubled times, Gavin has found that the pandemic highlighted the importance of the media in general, and local radio in particular.
“In terms of local radio, people have always had a desire to know what’s happening where they live,” he says. “Outside of Dublin, Clare was one of the first counties in the Republic of Ireland to have any confirmed cases, so there was a big interest in it from very early on. And then, when we started to get county figures, people wanted to know how many cases were in their area on a given day. So while it is a national pandemic, in the early days, people still wanted to know as much as we could tell them about what was happening in their community.”
Of course, 2020 also brought plenty of challenges – particularly during the early stages of lockdown.
“Things in 2020 that I never thought would happen include broadcasting a current affairs programme from my son’s playroom,” Gavin laughs. “I had to do that during the first lockdown. One morning, I managed to step on Barney The Dinosaur – and ‘I Love You, You Love Me’ started playing. Thankfully my microphone was off at the time, so no one heard it on air!
“When I think back to that time, that’s what I remember – in really difficult circumstances, the industry as a whole really stood up. We were impacted, but we did our best to try to keep the show on the road.”
In the run-up to Christmas, Gavin reckons that now is “the time to recharge and reflect”.
“There’s a sense of optimism in the air now with the vaccine, and there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel,” he says. “Over Christmas, people will retreat into their own families and their own communities as much as they can – so in the build-up, we’ll look to reflect that. We’ll also look to reflect that a lot of people won’t be able to do that over Christmas. A lot of people won’t be able to come home. There’s also people who have lost loved ones, and haven’t had the chance to say goodbye properly.
“So it will be a very different Christmas. What we always try to do on radio is to capture the moment – whatever that moment is.”
• Listen to Morning Focus with Gavin Grace, weekdays from 9am on Clare FM.
Read our full feature on the power of local radio during the Covid-19 pandemic in the Hot Press Annual, out now: