- 12 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.
Declan Meehan has presented East Coast FM’s The Morning Show for the past 26 years, and has a powerful connection with his local listenership in Wicklow. With a blend of current affairs, lifestyle and entertainment, his programme had to adapt to the new Covid reality, while also aiming to achieve a balance between realism and optimism.
“We were obviously watching Covid develop from China throughout January, and then we heard about the breakouts in Italy,” Declan remembers. “By that time, we knew it was destined to come over to Ireland. Personally, I’ve got an underlying lung situation, so doctors warned me to stay out of the way. I started working from home in February and I’ve been operating from there ever since.
“After March, we tailored the programme to become more of a community station, imparting information on what was actually happening to the audience. It became more about monitoring the situation.”
Early on, the show talked to someone who had first-hand experience of the illness.
“The very first person we had on the show to talk about Coronavirus was a solicitor named Donal O’Sullivan,” Declan recalls. “He had been skiing in Italy, and got a Covid test when he came home with a nurse from the group. Neither of them had symptoms but he was positive, and he was brought to the Mater Hospital to be isolated.
“He got home eventually, but it was good to have his viewpoint anchoring it at the start, to illustrate that not everyone experiences horrible symptoms or passes away.”
Naturally, listeners in Wicklow spoke of many different experiences.
“We also had the wife of a man named Mark Burgh – Joanne – who was told that her husband wasn’t going to make it,” says Declan. “She was talking to us after Mark had actually managed to pull through – she was so full of relief, she was running on adrenaline. Joanne told us the tale in a very human way, of how the family had been suddenly looking to the future without Mark.”
There were many such powerful moments – illustrating the extraordinary sacrifices being made by people.
“Another story that stuck with me was Maria Messit from Kilcoole, a frontline nurse in Tallaght Hospital. She was so afraid of potentially bringing the virus home that she had to leave her four-year-old son, Ezra, for eight weeks with her sister. Maria came on the show to describe her reunion with her son. and it was just incredible.
“There were guests phoning in to tell the audience anonymously about people who had passed away in nursing homes, so that was very disturbing. We tried to get a balanced outlook, without saying that this was an illness that everyone would survive. We didn’t want to batter the listeners with it all the time either, so we tried to bring a sense of normality later on.
“There’s a responsibility,” he adds, “when it comes to keeping listeners entertained while discussing critical health information. We never had anyone on the show that advocated for ignoring all of the rules.”
Despite having to retain a constant sense of caution due to his lung condition, Declan’s hopes for the future haven’t waned.
“We’ve heard about the Famine, the 1918 Spanish Flu, cholera plagues – for those generations, it was years before they were coming out of the ordeal. I look at Covid as our generation’s big plague. But just look at how the scientific world is dealing with this. It is extraordinary. A solution will be found as fast as possible.
“We can all go back to giving people hugs and simple things like that when this temporary blip is over. So let’s just make the best of it and have our fingers crossed for next summer.”
• Listen to The Morning Show with Declan Meehan weekdays from 10am-noon on Wicklow’s East Coast FM (103FM).
Read our full feature on the power of local radio during the Covid-19 pandemic in the Hot Press Annual, out now: