Get an earful of this
Would you love to be on air? Students are queuing up to take part in RTÉ 2FM's transition-year radio project, writes John Holden.
As technology changes the way we communicate, older methods usually fall by the wayside. In recording, for example, the first mass-market product was the record. This was supplanted by the cassette. Then both were replaced by the compact disc. Now the CD is losing its popularity to downloads.
So what about radio? With the invention of television and, more recently, the advent of the internet, you'd think it might have passed its sell-by date. Yet it's still going strong a century after the medium was invented, popular with people of all ages. What is its appeal?
"It's as live as you can get," says Brendan Phelan, a 16-year-old transition-year student at Heywood Community School, in Ballinakill, Co Laois. "Everyone listens to the radio at some time or another, and it is where you hear about important news as well as listening just for entertainment. Now radio can go even further, as you can listen to any show, anywhere, on the web."
Fifteen-year-old Sinéad O'Gorman, a fellow student, agrees. "It's all about getting information to people quickly, whether it's news and current affairs or music and entertainment. Everybody can hear what is going on in the world. What makes radio particularly interesting is that everyone can get involved by contacting shows directly."
Students at Heywood have just finished a radio-production workshop with RTÉ TY Radio, learning how to research, produce and present a programme. Three hundred schools applied for a visit from the 2FM crew; only 24 were successful. The team gives training in areas such as scriptwriting, voice production and recording techniques. Students also learn about libel and copyright laws, bias, sensitivity and what it takes to entertain a national audience. After the workshops, schools submit proposals for one-hour shows; six are selected to be made and transmitted on 2FM, in this case in 2008.
"There are 20 on our radio team," says 16-year-old Ricky Nolan. "I'm hoping to be a presenter, but I'm not that good. So I've started debating to help build up my confidence. In the workshop we did some practice with interviews and recording, and we tried to write up some of our own dialogues. We did some brainstorming when the 2FM crew left, because we need to figure out what we're going to do for our proposal. We have a couple of ideas, though. We might interview the chairperson of the local rally-sports club about 'boy racing', and then we could do a piece promoting safer driving. Two Heywood students, Amy and Lynn O'Callaghan, are going to be on a reality show on TG4 called Underdogs soon, so we will probably interview them as well."
As Ricky and his fellow students learned, however, you can't just do what you like on air. "You have to be very careful what is said, so that you don't offend, insult or wrongly accuse someone of something," says 15-year-old Deirdre Bonham. "Everything has to be planned beforehand, so that everyone is treated equally. For example, if a politician from one party comes on a show, another politician from a different party would have to be given the same air time, so that the coverage isn't biased. You also need logbooks, so that everything is recorded, and understand copyright, so that nobody else can steal your ideas."
Skerries Community College, in north Co Dublin, was one of the final six TY Radio entrants last year. Hildegard Ryan worked as a reporter. "At first we wondered how we were going to fill an hour with material," she says. "But soon enough we found ourselves having to edit loads of stuff out. I went to Swords and interviewed the band 21 Demands. We also did a feature on another band, Delorentos, interviewed the organiser of the Skerries Soundwaves music festival and did a feature on Olympic sailing. I learned so much about how programmes are put together. Everything was pre-recorded, but there was a huge amount of research needed for each slot.
"Interviewing is definitely one of the hardest parts," she says. "You have to be careful the interviewees don't say anything they shouldn't, and you need to make sure they are coherent and professional. Plus you, the interviewer, need to make sure to keep the conversation flowing. The last thing you want is dead air."
Sixteen-year-old Róisín Macken, who produced Skerries Community College's radio show, says it was her best TY experience. "I have to admit, it was really hard work being a producer. I needed to make sure everything was in order, help write scripts, and edit takes. The hardest thing was probably doing the takes and making sure there were no mistakes. I also had to listen to interviews and make sure the right questions were being asked. Still, I really enjoyed the experience. It was the highlight of my year."
To make it to the final six, schools need to stand out from the crowd. "Be individual," says Roisín. "For example, even though we were only asked to submit a written proposal last year, we did a DVD as well, where we showed interviews with students from our karate team and football team, and we did a tour of our school."
The days of the pirate radio station in your bedroom seem far, far away. But Ray D'Arcy was able to start his career from a shed when he was 15 - so why not see TY Radio as a golden opportunity to show off your broadcasting talents.
See www.rte.ie/2fm/tyradio. If you live within about eight kilometres of Blackrock in Co Dublin, you can tune into BCR, Blackrock College's transition-year radio station, on 92.1MHz, between Monday and Friday next week
How Ruth Scott and Damian Farrelly got into radio - and how you might, too
"When I finished school I wanted to do communications in Dublin City University, but I didn't get the points. I was pretty disappointed. I did European studies in University of Limerick instead, which had absolutely nothing to do with radio. During college, though, I did some work for the rag-week radio station. There was a competition, called DJ for a Day, that I took part in and came fifth. It gave me a lot of confidence and convinced me that I could do this. So I went and got lots of experience on local radio stations and did another DJ for a Day competition. This time I won it and got offered a job doing the AA Roadwatch traffic reports. After that I did stints on Limerick's 95FM, RTÉ and 98FM, and now I'm on The Frequency on 2FM at night.
"The average day on the show is pretty relaxed. There is no major panic in the morning. I usually think about going to the gym or catching up on some paperwork - and doing neither. Around midday I try to listen to the huge amount of CDs that I get every day, to add to the evening's playlist. I usually try to spend some time on the internet, to see if there is anything interesting happening that I could look at on the show. Later I do up a playlist and make sure I have all the music I'll need for the first hour of the show, where listeners choose what I play.
"We've done some cool stuff on the show, like on Halloween night we broadcast from a haunted castle. But what is great about the job is that I regularly get to meet my audience. I've done MC for youth county enterprise boards around the country, and I've found that The Frequency is like its own little club.
"To be successful on radio you need to flesh out every nugget of an idea that you have. Then you also try to remember that listening to the radio is usually a solitary activity. People listen to it on their own in the car or in their bedrooms. So producers need to think of it that way. Presenters should also avoid saying things like "all you listeners out there in radioland" or other such naff language.
"Cover stuff that is current and that you have an interest in yourself. People know when you're fake, so you have to make it relevant to you. It doesn't matter what it is. If you're passionate about it, then it should work.
"A radio show will only succeed if you work as a team, which can be hard at times. More people want to be behind the microphone than can be, and there are so many roles in production which are just as important."
"I did communications in Crumlin in the early 1990s, and from there I went to IADT, in Dún Laoghaire, to do a radio and journalism course. Then I started sending demos to stations. East Coast FM picked up on one, and I got to do a pop show there. After that I got a call from FM104, and I started working for them on the weekends. I worked seven days a week for a couple of years. I had to work really hard during that time. Then, in 2000, I got a call from 2FM.
"On The Frequency we have production meetings each week, where we talk with our producer, look at new competitions and agree on playlists. When I fill in on the morning show I have to be up at 3.30am every day. But I have a four-month-old baby, so I'm used to being up that early. Besides, radio is a labour of love, especially music. You need to know and enjoy your music. I used to be a drummer, but I haven't played in years. It is good to have music in you, though.
"There are no rules to success in radio, and luck definitely comes into it. But there are some things to keep in mind. Naturally, presenters must take care of their voices. Teamwork is also essential. If you want to make your proposal stand out for the TY Radio project, I would suggest doing plenty of local research. Maybe find out about celebrities that grew up in your area, find out info on any local castles or monuments and do some research on the history of your place. Then also find some musicians and play some music, just to have a bit of a balance."
The Frequency is on RTÉ 2FM, Mon-Fri 7pm
Next week: Making iton to thebig screen