- 08 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.
Galway Bay FM's Keith Finnegan
The Covid pandemic asked unprecedented questions of all media organisations. That was even more true of those that directly serve and interact with their local communities. The early days were a deeply uncertain time for those grappling with how to cover the story, whilst also trying to figure out the logistics of doing so.
Like all local radio stations, Galway Bay FM rolled with the punches – and produced powerful programming that reflected deeply on the experiences of their audience.
“I can recall the day the pandemic came to light for Galway Bay FM, on March 12,” says Keith Finnegan, who presents the weekday morning show Galway Talks. “We worked right through it and kept the programme going for three hours a day. But I never thought we’d still be here nine months later. It’s more difficult now than it was during the first lockdown, in my opinion. People are cranky and there seems to be more issues with mental health, because of the dark evenings and dark mornings.
“Galway Bay FM has unique access to all of the national authorities: the HSE, the Government, the city council, the hospital consultants. At the beginning, it was all about getting the information out there. I was working six days a week for the first while just to keep people informed – and it worked, because Galway has had some of the lowest incidences of the spread of the virus.
“I didn’t think it would last this long, to be honest,” he says. “Nobody did.”
In interacting with listeners, Keith and the Galway Bay team were exposed to one of the harshest aspects of the lockdown: those who, because of public health restrictions, were unable to attend funerals.
“We had families calling us in relation to the death of a loved one,” Keith says, “and the fact that they didn’t get to say goodbye to them is honestly gut-wrenching. We’ve also had people on-air who are stranded abroad, which is very tough. But the hardship stories we hear most are from those who didn’t get to see their relatives in their final hours.
“To put it crudely, when they died, they were just sent to the morgue and the family never got to see that person again. It was very cold and clinical. We’ve also had many carers on the line who felt isolated and lonely, or were forgotten about entirely.”
Was it all about Covid – or was it possible to let a bit of light in?
“I insisted we keep a delicate balance on Galway Bay FM, so it wasn’t wall-to-wall Covid. Otherwise, we’d have driven our audience around the bend altogether and caused more anxiety!”
The broadcaster heard directly about the toll the pandemic took on people’s mental health.
“I’ve had a lot of calls from people with depression and anxiety,” he notes. “A lady wrote me a very articulate letter this morning to ask if we could try to get her daughter’s council house back in Galway for her after she experienced horrific domestic violence. Her daughter couldn’t return because her former partner threatened her life.
“The pandemic has shown the importance of having a safe home, one without fear. Those are the types of stories that have surfaced during Covid that have astounded me. The fact is that they turn to us for help.”
Keith Finnegan feels that the effects of the Covid era will be lasting.
“I think Galway has changed forever,” he suggests. “I don’t know if it will ever go back to being the way that it was. People around the world now understand how fragile life is, after seeing the devastating effect this has had on society. It may make us cautious in case something else comes down the line. I thought a pandemic like this one would never happen here - it’s a surreal experience. Galway will bounce back, but there will be many casualties. The show is here to support everyone.
“That generous spirit is unique to Ireland, but Galway has a special place in people’s hearts. It’s just such a small world once something like this happens.”
Listen to Galway Talks with Keith Finnegan weekdays from 9am to 12pm.
Read our full feature on the power of local radio during the Covid-19 pandemic in the Hot Press Annual, out now: