- Lifestyle & Sports
- 26 Sep 14
New Galway Bay FM Programme Director Jon Richards talks to Stuart Clark about his lifelong love affair with radio– and why his hometown is rocking!
Jon Richards is on the penultimate leg of his round-Ireland motorbike trip when Hot Press catches up with Galway Bay FM’s newly installed Programme Director.
“I’m doing Dingle Peninsula up to Tralee today and then all of The Burren before heading back to work on Monday, batteries fully re-charged,” enthuses Jon, who’s been with the station since their 1989 start-up. “In all, I’ve been on radio locally for 40 years, so I have a real understanding of what people here want to listen to and a great team of broadcasters who share my desire to serve the community as best as we possibly can. I have a very clear vision of where we want to go with Galway Bay FM. To me this is more than a job. The station is a commercial venture because it has to be, but it's also a passion for us all.”
The good news for Irish musicians is that Jon is an ardent champion of homegrown music, and was pivotal in Galway Bay FM signing up to the Irish Association of Songwriters’ PLAY IRISH initiative.
“I guess we were the ‘guinea-pigs’ who proved that you can play Irish artists, unsigned ones included, on primetime,” says Jon, who in 2001 picked up a Fair Play For Airplay Award. “As far back as I can remember there’s always been a healthy music scene here, and venues willing to give new talent a try.”
Richards is copious in his praise for the Róisín Dubh and Monroe’s Live bookers – Gugai and Gary Monroe, respectively.
“Both venues are thriving,” he notes. “Gary has been doing trojan work in bringing music to Galway that people mightn’t ever have heard before. If an act he believes in doesn’t immediately attract an audience, he’ll keep bringing them back until they do. That takes guts – and money!
“Gugai is hugely passionate about his music and willing to take risks ,too. You have big international acts coming in and playing Dublin, Cork and the Róisín – he’s really put the city on the rock ’n’ roll map. It’s also a brilliant incentive for Galway bands to have two such fantastic venues on their doorstep.”
The In-Studio Sessions Jon used to air on his drivetime show spawned three compilation albums, including a Hot Press cover-mount starring the likes of The Devlins, Ron Sexsmith, The Frames, Mundy, Kristin Hersh and a pre-fame Damien Rice.
“That was really special,” he reminisces. “Damien, Vyvienne, Shane and Tommo came in to the studio before O hit the shelves, and we let the tape roll. We recorded ‘Cannonball’, ‘Blower’s Daughter’, ‘Woman Like A Man’ and all those soon-to-be hits. The moment they started playing I said to myself, ‘You’re witnessing a pivotal moment in Irish rock music’ – and so it proved! I was immensely proud that Damien ended up using some of those recordings on his official releases.”
Jon spied an old musical friend three weeks ago.
“Yes, I ran in to Steve Earle and the ‘Galway Girl’ herself out in Salthill,” he smiles. “They stopped and had a catch-up, which was great. There was a gig Steve played in the Black Box whilst living here, which was simply electrifying. Damien Rice played two gigs either side of exploding with O in the Róisín and the Black Box, which are also indelibly stamped on my mind.”
It’s evident throughout our chat just how much Jon loves his home city.
“I’ve had many an opportunity to leave Galway but have always gone, ‘Where else am I going to get the quality of life I have here?’” he concludes. “You never feel like a stranger – no matter where you go there’s somebody you recognise. It’s a city that loves its music, its film, its comedy and theatre – and is willing to support its own through thick and thin. Galway’s a very special place.”