- 11 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.
For Eimear Ní Bhraonáin, KCLR’s Head of Content, and presenter of their morning talk show KCLR Live, the general election in February had already given the station a sense of the public mood.
“We have definitely had more of a handle on people’s frustration since the election,” she reflects. “There was anger with the establishment, and people have the ability to access our show, to give their opinions and ask us questions. I think the difference between working at local level versus national is that the public knows who we are, and can track us down. With Covid, the job became extremely demanding – but you had to be there for your listeners all the time.”
As with many other local radio stations, the arrival of the virus added to the sense of responsibility felt by the KCLR staff.
“We felt we had a duty to balance things during Covid especially, because when you come on the radio every morning, you have a powerful influence,” notes Eimear. “Just inviting a local GP on the show every day to reiterate simple messages about what we need to do is crucial. But people also get weary – so you have to entertain them too. The delicate scales of (a) informing people and (b) keeping them in a good space mentally is key, because everyone is finding it very draining.”
There were particular listener experiences that vividly highlighted the toll Covid was taking on people locally.
“There was a lot of fear,” says Ní Bhraonáin. “I remember at one stage answering the phone to a local woman who identified herself to me as a member of the Travelling community, and her biggest fear was that she’d lose another baby to cot death. She wanted to know everything she could about Covid-19.”
More than ever, the broadcaster was conscious of the urgent need to battle against disinformation.
“We had to fight against that undercurrent of social media where it’s claimed that the virus isn’t as serious as we’re being told,” she says. “There are a lot of conspiracy theories. A narrow view of the situation can dominate at times. When you hear the effects of Covid from people who work in St Luke’s, in Kilkenny, when you hear the stress in people’s voices, you can’t deny it.
“When there were PPE concerns, healthcare workers would often find ways of communicating that with us, and we’d have to raise it with management at the hospital. How we convey our message is important, because people need to feel safe going into their local hospital.
“It’s a tricky balance as a reporter,” Eimear observes, “but experience has taught me resilience.”
Local radio became a coping mechanism for many community members, who needed a sense of emotional intimacy.
“It was very real for us,” says Eimear. “You get a personal relationship with a lot of your listeners. The figures every night are just numbers to some, but we know some of the people that suffered the terrible effects of the virus. It was so close to home. St Luke’s Hospital was also the first to experience the deaths of healthcare workers, and they were two locals from right on our doorstep: Catherine Hickey and Jim Kenny.
“Catherine’s 19-year-old daughter, Michaela Whelan-Hickey, was incredibly articulate in describing what she went through and the human side of the story. It is really important that those stories are told.”
• Listen to Eimear Ní Bhraonáin on KCLR Live, weekdays from 10am-noon.
Read our full feature on the power of local radio during the Covid-19 pandemic in the Hot Press Annual, out now: