Just over 20 years ago, things were very different on the radio scene, with Radio 1 and Radio 2 dominating the national airwaves and a few pirate stations broadcasting local news around Clare.
But that all changed when Michael Evans and Flan Galvin became the main driving force behind obtaining a radio licence for a local station in Clare. After much hard work, Clare FM burst onto the scene with Caimin Jones on board as the station’s first chief executive.
Mike Ryan, sales manager, joined the radio station shortly after it first began broadcasting. “It was all very exciting when we first started, everything was new. In the early days we were nearly like a first-year class in college starting out.”
Times have certainly changed, he said. “We didn’t even have a mobile phone, let alone the internet or email. Sometimes I wonder how we did business at all,” he laughed.
“From a sales point of view, before Clare FM there was very little access for local businesses to radio advertising. What local radio did was bring local businesses to a wider range of people, not just in Clare but also in Galway, Limerick and even West Tipperary.”
He recalled just some of the major events that had a huge impact on Clare and their coverage by the radio station. “The first really big story we had to deal with was Imelda Riney. We had a situation one morning where Fiona Samson was kidnapped and virtually minutes later Paul O’Carroll was giving a live report from the kitchen in her house. It was very tough on the reporters at that time because they were very close to it.”
And of course, the Munster final victory of the Clare footballers in 1992, along with the hurling victories of ’95 and ’97 were other huge occasions brought into the homes of the people of Clare by the station.
Taking over at the helm 11 years ago Liam O’Shea, managing director, has been instrumental in turning around the fortunes of the station. “Clare FM was not in a good financial position at that time, while a lot of effort was going in to broadcasting, it needed to be looked from a commercial point of view. The balance of producing good radio and turning a profit was difficult but I am delighted that we did indeed manage to strike that balance and the high esteem that Clare FM is seen in on a national stage is testament to the fact that quality broadcasting is always our highest priority.”
In terms of highlights, Mr O’Shea said, “There have genuinely been so many but one that always stands out for me was when we travelled to New York in 2002 to talk to the Clare diaspora and to report on how September 11 impacted on people. Cormac MacConnell, Susan Murphy and myself went down to Ground Zero to capture the mood.
“Nothing prepared us for the raw emotion that we felt. I had to put a coat over Cormac and the microphone as the wind was howling and it was interfering with the quality of the sound; it was a freezing cold night. Cormac stood for a minute, took it all in and proceeded to give us a description of the ‘weeping sisters around the place that needed no name’. He spoke for four minutes non-stop and it required no editing. It was a magic piece of radio gold.”
While those at the station recall fondly Clare FM’s past, there is plenty to look forward to, with the broadcaster recently launching its new schedule. The station has had a busy year already, rebranding itself with a new logo and launching its new website.
Programme controller Paul Moriarty explained why he believes Clare FM is going strong after 20 years and why it will continue to do so.
“This is a radio station specifically for the people of County Clare, we don’t pretend to be anything else. We don’t want to be regional or national, we’re local and we’re staying that way.
“Clare FM has very much been about the people and the voices who have been on the air, whether that be the presenters, journalists or producers, right down to the actual listeners.
“We are all about having an openness between the staff at the station and the people who actually listen, that is something we have very much taken to our very core. A lot of other stations are very much about format and, while Clare FM has developed and modernised many things over the past number of years, at its core is still very much about keeping that real connection. It was amazing recently, we had a Clare man listening to the Muhammad Ali visit from his home in Israel last week.”
Keeping the link between broadcaster and listener is something that the station will be continuing, as its new schedule takes to the air. “We have brought Ed Myers on board, who would be a very recognised voice in the Mid-West, to present our new flagship weekday show and we have some other new voices coming on air over the next few months.
“The priority for us as we celebrate 20 years and look forward to the big 21 is very much getting out and about around the county. We are aiming to hit all four corners of Clare as well as broadcasting from our Ennis and Shannon studios.”
Other new voices to be heard on Clare FM will be The Clare Champion’s very own Peter O’Connell, who will be presenting Sideline View every Friday at 6pm.
Susan Murphy, head of operations, paid tribute to the station’s loyal listeners, both those who have been tuning in since day one and the station’s newer audience. The latest JLNR figures put Clare FM among the top five local radio stations in the country.
“I think Clare people are so used to us now, they’ve forgotten we weren’t always there and that’s a great compliment.
“We’re part of people’s lives now. Our listeners and advertisers continue to support us and without them, where would we be?
“I’ve been here 16 years, with Michael Evans and Dominic Considine giving me a start, Michael has always been a huge supporter of the station.
“It’s just a privilege to work in an industry that changes on an hourly basis and to work with such a talented bunch of people.”