- 18 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.
Reaching 120,000 listeners every week, Midlands 103 has served as an important outlet for the people of Laois, Offaly and Westmeath over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. Will Faulkner, the presenter of the award-winning Midlands Today morning talk show, has found that, in many ways, it was an “invigorating” time to be on air.
“There was real importance to what we were talking about,” he says matter-of-factly. “Initially, everybody was just scared, and there was a lack of information. It highlighted the importance of radio – radio listening overall was up. People turned to trusted sources to try and get their information.”
Through his show, Faulkner also witnessed the tragic reality of the impact of the virus in the local area.
“As the weeks went by, the first local confirmed cases came in,” he says. “I can recall the very first death in our area – it was a gentleman in Tullamore Hospital, and his son ended up calling the programme. He described how he hadn’t been able to be in with his dad for two weeks, because of all the restrictions that were in place at the time. Then they had a very lonely funeral, because at that stage, people really were staying at home, keeping to themselves. These days people can queue along the road, socially-distanced, but those early funerals really were isolated.”
For Will, one of his main challenges was trying “to balance the light and the shade” on Midlands Today.
“You had all of these scary stories coming in, of people on ventilators for days or weeks,” he recalls. “But in the first lockdown we also had some lovely community spirit. There was the ‘Do It For Dan’ campaign, for instance, for Dan Donoher, a child in Co. Laois. That gave people a lift. It was important to try and find those uplifting stories, as well as the stories about tragedy and grief.”
It was also inspiring to cover the stories of people who had recovered from the virus.
“There were some very powerful images,” he reflects. “There was a lady who lives in Stradbally, who had been in hospital for 49 days,” he recalls. “And people lined the streets to welcome her back. There was something similar in Mullingar – again, everybody was out, at a respectful distance. There was a real sense of solidarity.”
Christmas is a hugely important time for Midlands 103. Despite restrictions, they made an especially big effort to bring some much-needed joy to the season.
“You couldn't really bring your kids to see Santa’s Grotto in shopping centres this year,” Will explains, “So we brought Santa to the station. Children could phone in and talk to him, and that helped to replace a little bit of the magic that had been lost.”
• Listen to Midlands Today with Will Faulkner, weekdays from 9am on Midlands 103.
Read our full feature on the power of local radio during the Covid-19 pandemic in the Hot Press Annual, out now: